The Courage To Commit

Rollo May was a late twentieth century clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and existentialist. His deep insights into human nature are available in the may books her published during his lifetime. One of the, a collection of his lectures is, "The Courage to Create."

May discusses the fact that there are four types of courage.
They four types of courage are: 1. Physical, 2. Moral, 3. Social and, 4. Creative.

He states that courage is not the absence of despair or the hopelessness and despondency that so many people seem to experience. Rather, courage is the capacity to move on despite despair.

Let's look at May's four types of courage:

1. Physical Courage: May explains that this is the most obvious type of courage. However, he dismisses the stereotypical view that courage means fool-heartedly risking one's life or behaving in violent ways. Instead, he defines it as the ability to listen to and think with the body. Examples of this are rooted in yoga, meditation and other efforts to be in touch with our physical selves.

2. Moral Courage: This rises out of compassion for other human beings and their suffering. It is the type of courage that is demonstrated when someone intervenes to stop a bully from beating up a helpless victim. History is filled with people who were willing to show valor in order to help others who were suffering. These are individuals who stand up for fellow citizens against repressive governments who terrorize the citizens of a nation.

4. Creative Courage: This will be discussed in a later essay. Suffice it to say that this refers to having the courage to bring something new into the world. Artists, novelists, sculptors and others, including parents, can demonstrate this type of courage if they are doing something truly unique.

3. Social Courage: For the purposes of this essay, this is the most important type of courage because it involves human relationships. Rollo May discusses the fact that entering into an intimate relationship with another requires social courage. The reason for this is that intimacy means that two people are taking a great risk.

Why is intimacy so risky? It is impossible to know how a this type of relating will affect us. To quote May, "Will we grow in self actualization, or will it destroy us?...if we let ourselves fully into the relationship for good or evil, we will not come out unaffected." (The Courage to Create, pg. 17).

The type of intimacy that Dr. May is referring to is what he calls authentic intimacy. He astutely states the fact that in our society today, people avoid this type of relating. Instead, they focus on inauthentic intimacy that he defines as strictly physical. In other words, it is easier for two people to be physically naked in front of one another than to be psychologically and emotionally naked.

Those of us who work in the mental health professions frequently see this type of avoidance of authentic relating. It is visible here, at Mental Help.Net, through the many E. Mails and comments about feeling alone, never having someone to love, never being able to find the right person and never feeling loved.

According to May, there are two types of fear that are the motivation for avoidance. One fear is of being abandoned. This happens in people who need to feel deeply dependent on another and worry that, if they become involved, they may suffer rejection and abandonment. Better be alone than risk abandonment. The second type of fear is of being swallowed up by the other person. This is an opposite to the first fear in that the individual worries that they will lose their independence if they become involved.

May also states that commitment is healthiest when it moves forward despite doubt. He reasons that doubt is inevitable in many things. The very process of making choices in life means giving up other alternatives, whether in relationships, careers, cars or anything else. Therefore, there may be nothing wrong if two people are aware of their doubts. In admitting to one's doubts a person is demonstrating an interest in the truth and knowledge.

It should be said that the type of doubt that May is talking about has nothing to do with a partner being abusive or cruel. Rather, this is the type of doubt that is quite normal to most people when entering into a relationship.

Interestingly, Dr. May cautions us against those who are absolutely certain that they are right about everything. Dogmatism is not helpful and actually reveals lots of inner weakness on the part of the dogmatist. As an example, May makes reference to Abraham Lincoln during his presidency. He openly admitted to his doubts but moved ahead in his commitment to the nation and to following through on the Civil War.

So, how do you deal with or cope with the types of relationship problems discussed here? Dr. May would recommend a type of psychoanalysis that focuses on the real relationship between patient and therapist. In his view, psychoanalysis helps people confront their fears and learn more deeply about themselves.

Regardless of the type of therapy, entering into psychotherapy is a good idea for those searching for an authentic relationship.

Your comments and experiences are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD