Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My Review - David Richo's Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

David Richo is a psychotherapist and well-known author. His many popular books combine Buddhism, poetry, and Jungian psychology to create tools for personal and spiritual transformation. I have enjoyed several of his books in the past, including the the three listed below.
His newest book is Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy (Shambhala Publications, 224 pgs.; $21.95. Released in Dec. 2010). [Amazon]

Daring to Trust

Here is a brief bio of David Richo from his page at Amazon.com:

David Richo, PhD, is a therapist and author who leads popular workshops on personal and spiritual growth. He received his BA in psychology from Saint John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1962, his MA in counseling psychology from Fairfield University in 1969, and his PhD in clinical psychology from Sierra University in 1984. Since 1976, Richo has been a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor in California. In addition to practicing psychotherapy, Richo teaches courses at Santa Barbara City College and the University of California Berkeley at Berkeley, and has taught at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. He is a clinical supervisor for the Community Counseling Center in Santa Barbara, California.

I was a fan of Richo's When the Past Is Present, so when the opportunity arose to review this new book, I accepted. However, I was sent an unformatted galley for the Kindle, so any material I quote will not have page numbers, and the Kindle locations will be approximate because of the lack of layout in the galley.

On to the review . . . .

So, think back on all of your failed relationships. Can you identify a common factor in all of them that caused them to fail? If you, like me, can identify a lack of trust (which manifests in many ways, including emotional distancing, not being vulnerable, or even more obvious issues such as cheating), then this is the book that may help change that pattern.

Richo argues that trust (and its failure) is at the root of most relationship problems. Many authors would have written a book that simply looks at the issue of trust and offers various platitudes or strategies to reframe our issues with trust - perhaps with some silly argument that men and women are from different planets. Fortunately for us, Richo did not write that book.

Rather, in the vein of his earlier book, When the Past Is Present, Richo asks us to look at our own lives and make honest assessments of our ability to attach with others:

We can address, process, resolve, and integrate the pain and dysfunction of our past. To address means to reflect upon, appraise, and challenge our beliefs about an experience. We then process our experience—that is, feel the feelings that arise and notice how they connect to our past. Then we can move toward resolving our issue. This means no longer being held up in our move toward relating with others. We then integrate our work into our lifestyle. We do this when we take the necessary but risky steps toward trusting others without being stopped or driven by fears that restrained us in the past. - Highlight Loc. 400-404

Doing our own work, real shadow work (remember that Richo employs Jungian theory in his books), is a crucial part of the process. It's also a way that we can identify and begin to heal some of our attachment failures from childhood.

Our trust capacity is proportional to the trustworthiness we have found in all our fellow travelers on life’s voyage, especially in Mom and Dad. Thus, we are not alone in building our flotation skills on life’s tempestuous sea. Trustworthy people in our lives from childhood to the present moment live on in our psyches as accompanying and stabilizing presences. They become part of our inner resources, the psychological and spiritual structures in ourselves that give us power to face threats and deal with our needs. - Highlight Loc. 67-70

Richo employs attachment theory frequently, although not in such a way that non-psychologist readers will struggle with the terminology or the meaning. Essentially, out attachment patterns (secure of several forms of insecure) that we acquire in childhood have a powerful influence on our adult relationships.

Richo explains three of the insecure forms of attachment (avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized) in the following passage (I'm presenting this as bullet points for clarity):

  • Anxious-avoidant children seek constant assurance, approval, and attention from their caregivers, and then as adults, they may demand this from partners. They may cling to others and come across as excessively dependent. They are more pessimistic about themselves and others and cannot easily trust themselves. They also find it hard to trust others because they believe they are unworthy of meriting enduring love from them.
  • Anxious-ambivalent children are compulsively independent. As adults, they may continue that style. They see themselves as self-reliant and give the impression of not needing close bonds with others. They often conceal their authentic feelings. If someone rejects them, they simply absent themselves, making the resolution of issues in the relationship impossible. If their partner clings, they become distant or aggressive, being quite alert to what feels like engulfment.
  • In addition, there is the category of the disorganized person. This person can focus neither on self nor on other because the original experience of engaging and responding was threatening and bizarre. In childhood, he felt fright with no remedy possible, a style not sustainable for long. As a result, a disorganized person becomes fragmented easily. He can fall apart in stressful situations since he lacks the resilience and equanimity that come from security. - Highlight Loc. 451-60

He comes back to attachment theory in various ways throughout the book, which I appreciated quite a bit. When we can begin to see that most people we know and with whom we may enter into relationship are doing the best they can with the emotional patterns learned as infants and toddlers (including ourselves), it fosters in us a compassion for others, and an unwillingness to so easily blame empathic failures on intent - we see the wounding behind the action, and we understand that it is rarely intentional.

* * * * *

In order to get fully on board with Richo in this book, knowing his definition of trust and how it functions is important:

Trust is not a feeling. It begins as a belief about the other, based on our own surmise or on the promises made to us. Then, as the evidence mounts that someone is indeed reliable, our trust becomes an ongoing quality of the relationship. A sense of safety and security flows from that reliability, though, of course, trust can be damaged at any time. Safety refers to an inner sense that no harm will come to us for freely being ourselves in feeling, word and deed. Security refers to an inner sense that someone will be there for us. - Highlight Loc. 159-62
Most importantly, however, he is asking us to be adults in how we conceive of trust:

The foundation of adult trust is not “You will never hurt me.” It is “I trust myself with whatever you do.” We will still be stunned, confused, and grieved by the betrayals of those we trust. But “Please don’t ever hurt me” strikes a note of victimization. Within our stronger self, we might realize: people sometimes break promises, turn out differently from what we expected them to be, change their preferences, and so forth. The adult response may sound like this: “I am prepared to deal with disappointment if and when that might happen—hopefully, never. The more invested I am in my own ideas about reality, the more those experiences will feel like victimizations rather than the ups and downs of relating. Actually, I believe that the less I conceptualize things that way, the more likely it is that people will want to stay by me, because they will not feel burdened, consciously or unconsciously, by my projections, judgments, entitlements, or unrealistic expectations.” - Highlight Loc. 178-85
This sounds easy enough, don't you think? In my own experience I can say it's much easier than it sounds. For years, my idea of trust was "please don't hurt me if I open myself to you." And I always got hurt. I was operating under this premise that Richo names - a projection we put onto the other person.

We imagine that implicit in “I love you” is “I won’t leave you.”
Over the years, I have learned to open myself to those who feel trustworthy (based on experience) and to know that if I get hurt, it will be okay, I will be sad but I will survive. I think this is what Richo is asking of us in this book.

As a neuroscience geek, I generally look for some evidence that the author has done adequate research in this area as well. So when we talk about trust, one of the things we must address is the physical element of trust that grows through touch. When we touch or are touched, our brains release oxytocin, "the cuddle hormone," as it has been dubbed in the press. This is also an element of our primary attachment to a caregiver when we are infants.

Oxytocin enters the bloodstream through closeness, cuddling, touch, orgasm. It is also released in women during breast-feeding, so that the mother-child connection can happen in a calm atmosphere. Less stress means more safety, comfort, and security, the essential elements of trust that facilitate bonding. For instance, brain scans have identified how areas in the brain that contain oxytocin become activated when we remember the people we love or look at photos of them. From a physical perspective, the orbitofrontal cortex is crucial to our capacity to handle our emotions, to understand and receive the emotions of others, and to manage the stresses of daily life. Its growth is directly influenced by interactions within a mother-child bond, especially in physical touch. Thus, our original home and community environment as well as the behavior of our primary caregivers have a direct impact on the evolution of structures in our infant brain, structures that are not fully developed for five years. Our emotional and physical relationship with our parents and significant others is a driving force in how we become who we are. - Highlight Loc. 255-63

And more:

Regarding touching, it is central to trusting. Without it we may wonder if someone really cares about us. Many of us are, and have always been, touch-starved. We may have suppressed our needs for contact and communion—which is a form of despair about finding what we need in others. In adulthood we may look to sex as a substitute for the touch and holding we need. Then we use our genitals and those of others to do what hearts are supposed to do. - Highlight Loc. 266-69
Once we get the reality that trust is both an interpersonal quality in our relationships AND an intrapersonal experience of our resilience and ability to handle pain and hurt, then we can move on to look at how we manifest trust (or love) in our relationships. For this, Richo offers the "five A's": attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing.

The practice of the five A’s is a path out of grandiose narcissism into the possibility of relatedness: Paying attention to a partner frees a person from self-absorption. Acceptance of the other frees a partner from judgment of the other. Appreciation is a loving alternative to indifference and resentment. Showing affection without always demanding that it lead to sex facilitates a rich and deep closeness. Letting go of control makes it possible to honor the freedom of the other, the real meaning of allowing. - Highlight Loc. 882-85
As important as these Five A's are to a relationship, however, this is only one of six qualities that must be in place in order for us to be in a healthy relationship (this list also comprises his definition of a long-term relationship):

It is wise to trust when we see at least these six factors consistently present in the relationship: 1. Sincere work on letting go of ego for the success of the relationship. 2. A continual giving of the five A’s, shown by attunement to our feelings. 3. The abiding sense that the relationship offers a secure base from which each partner can explore and a safe haven to which each can return. 4. A series of kept agreements. 5. Mutuality in decision making. 6. A willingness to work problems out with each other by addressing, processing, resolving them together. This includes a willingness to declare our pain about what is missing in the relationship and our appreciation of what is fulfilling. These six also serve as the definition of long-term commitment. Trust then can be defined as what happens in us in response to evidence that a commitment has been made to us. Otherwise, we live on guard and our ego has to grow proportionally as our protector, albeit always afraid underneath. - Highlight Loc. 894-901

Richo suggests that when we experience the Five A's from a partner, our ego gets to relax its vigilance, need for authority, and its fear and stress in favor of love and the increased self-esteem that these experiences can offer: "being valued; making useful changes; being approved, admired, and understood; being pleased about our body; and having the space to make the choices that reflect who we are."

Throughout the book there are exercises, meditations, and worksheets to help is implement these ideas in our lives and our relationships.

Based on the quality of the information, the offering of tools, and the wisdom Richo brings to the text, I would recommend this book alongside John Welwood's Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart or Robert Augustus Masters' Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Toward Mature Monogamy. If you have been reading my blogs for any length of time, you'll know that is high praise.


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