Forcing Is Fear

Nick Williams
8 min readApr 15, 2024
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In the psychological sphere of things, forcing always comes from fear. In the psychological sphere of things, forcing is fear and this is why we can’t ‘force ourselves to face the fear’! Deliberately (or purposefully) facing fear is an impossibility, therefore; it’s a ‘contradiction in terms’, although we very rarely get to the point where we can actually grasp this. We’d understand it very easily if we weren’t the puppets of fear, but that doesn’t happen very often — in everyday life we think we’re free from fear (and are very quick to say to ourselves that we’re not under its power) but in reality we’re only in denial of it, which isn’t quite the same thing…

We might try to force ourselves to face our fears from time to time, but the point is that we are never successful — not if there’s any forcing involved, we aren’t. Forcing equals ‘running away from the situation’. “Face your fears” is the mantra we keep repeating and this sounds like great advice; we may feel unable to carry out this advice (since facing your fears is no easy thing), but at the same time we know that we ought to, we know that we should face our fears and so we don’t question the mantra. It’s a thing we need to do but can’t and so we feel bad about ourselves on this account. We know we’re not doing the thing we’re supposed to do, the thing that would solve all our problems if only we’d do it, and so as a result we feel even worse.

To know that we ought to be facing our fears, that this would be the right thing to do, but to be unable to act on it doesn’t really help us, of course — having the mantra that we should face our fears makes us suffer more not less. It conflicts us, it ties us up into a tight knot. What would help us however would be to see the impossibility of what we are trying to make ourselves do. If forcing is fear then to be told to force ourselves to face fear is clearly a double bind. The whole idea is absurdly nonsensical, and — as such — not worth considering even for a millisecond. To be ‘aware of the double bind’ is simply not to go there; there’s no purposeful activity involved at all…

It’s extraordinarily hard for us to understand this, however. We have a kind of automatic — and therefore unquestionable -belief that pressure, judicially applied, is the answer to everything. Pressure (or force) is all we know, all we trust, when things get difficult; it’s our ‘go-to’ and it’s got to work because we don’t have anything else. It’s a reflex — we do it automatically. The urge to resist comes along and we jump on board; we identify with the impulse — the impulse to flee or the impulse to fight — and we think it’s coming from us when it isn’t. First we react, and then we rationalize our reaction. We don’t think that there could be any other way; we’re convinced that there couldn’t be, in fact. Forcing — in the psychological context — doesn’t just ‘not work’, it works against us. Forcing is purely mechanical in nature, there is no subtlety in it whatsoever and nothing comes out of it except apart from the fact that we get more stuck in ourselves than ever. As is the case with the legendary monkey trap, the more we try to escape the tighter the trap holds onto us.

Forcing is fear however, as we started off by saying, and acting on fear (because we’re too scared not to!) never made anything better. That’s a rule to which there are no exceptions. Acting on the basis of fear is the opposite of ‘acting out of wisdom’; when we are being directed in all things by fear we don’t know what we’re doing, or why, and we don’t care either. We don’t care at all. All we’re interested in — when we’re in Automatic Reaction Mode — is the urgent business of ‘getting relief as quickly as possible’ and we couldn’t care less about the possible long-term consequences (of which there is guaranteed to be plenty since ‘doing things for the sake of finding short-term relief’ is the most counterproductive behaviour there is). We’re all deeply familiar with this type of counterproductivity, we’re all familiar with the notion of the backlash’.

When our forcing or controlling is crude then, as we know from personal experience, this causes more problems than it solves (and that’s if it solves anything at all, which ultimately it doesn’t). The counterproductivity involved in panicking or ‘freaking out’ is perfectly obvious to everyoneunless, that is — we happen to be caught up in the reacting ourselves at the time, in which case it couldn’t be less obvious to us — we have zero chance of learning anything new when we’re in Reaction Mode (i.e., when we’re in Machine Mode). When we react mechanically then we’re the most unconscious we could ever be — we’re pure reflex and no awareness (i.e., in this situation it’s all ‘output’ and no ‘input’).

We know that what we’ve called ‘crude forcing’ is the reverse of skilful, the reverse of helpful, but we are — nevertheless — still convinced that there can be such a thing as ‘helpful forcing’ (so to speak); we still think that all situations can be resolved by controlling, if we are good enough at it. Our great cultural error, we might say, is to believe that controlling can work in the psychological world if it is carried out on a scientific basis, if it is carried out in a systematic, ‘evidence-based’ fashion. This — so we believe — is a totally different kettle of fish to reacting blindly (which is no more than just ‘thrashing around mentally’). Our type of forcing is led by science, led by rock-solid evidence, evidence that has been obtained — we say — via ‘proper scientific research’. This is an example of unashamedly using science to validate our cultural biases — we want to believe that forcing works, that forcing does the job, and so we enlist the scientific method to help us out in this.

Almost all mental health professionals — if questioned on the matter — would say that control IS useful in the psychological realm if it is done in the officially-prescribed manner. Forcing is forcing however, no matter how much we finesse it. No matter how much we dress it up (and try to make a proven technology out of it) — forcing — in the psychological sphere — always equals fear. There’s no such thing as ‘forcing that does the job it’s supposed to’ — even if we do solve one problem we create three more. Forcing equals fear and action that is born of fear is always counterproductive. We’re trying to conceal the iron fist under a velvet glove, but that crude fist is always there all the same, even if it isn’t immediately visible to us — it’s there and it creates more problems than it solves. ‘The iron fist of our controlling’ is only good for perpetuating the strife, perpetuating the conflict.

This is very hard for us to see however — the main reason for that being that we don’t want to see it. To hear that we can’t extricate ourselves from whatever type of painful mental situation we’re stuck in by ‘being strong and taking control’, by ‘being confidently assertive and getting things to happen the way we want them to’ is completely unacceptable to us — it’s completely unacceptable to us because we’re dependent for our sense of well-being upon the belief that we absolutely do possess self-efficacy in this regard (i.e., that we are ‘in control’) . We have zero trust in what we might call ‘the natural process’, in other words, and ‘having zero trust in the natural process’ is another way of taking about fear. The more afraid we are the more we invest in control and so this means that control isn’t a ‘manifestation of our strength’ but a sign of our weakness — if we are overly hung up on a goal-orientated approach then this shows that we’re afraid of what imagine might happen when we can’t call the shots ourselves.

The idea that we can ‘get things to be the way we want them to be’ if only we can apply ourselves enough, if only we can put the necessary work in, is pretty much an article of faith with us. And by the same token, the idea that we CAN’T change our state of mind (no matter how hard we try, no matter how sophisticated our techniques might be) sounds like pure defeatism to us. It goes totally against our core beliefs. Not ‘automatically struggling to prevail’ only seems ‘perverse’ or ‘defeatist’ when we’re in Denial Mode, however; when we’re in DM then any suggestion that it is ‘fundamentally impossible to change our mental state just because we want to’ is going to be rejected out of hand; the suggestion that it’s ‘impossible for us to prevail’ is absolute heresy to us. We are going to dismiss the suggestion that control is legitimate in the psychological sphere of things because we’re looking at things from a fear (or compulsion-driven) point of view, in other words, not for any other reason. We’re under a compulsion to ‘fix the problem’ because being aware of the problem freaks us out…

There are, we might therefore say, two approaches that we might take when we come up against difficulty — the conscious approach and the mechanical / unconscious one. The mechanical approach (as we have just said) is to put all our energy and resources into either fixing the problem or escaping it, we’re not being interested in on anything that’s going on beyond this. Fear is the very antithesis of curiosity; we just want to ‘solve the problem’ and that’s all — there’s no curiosity involved whatsoever, not even a smidgen of it. The conscious approach is the reverse of this therefore in that we are genuinely interested in what’s going on; it’s not that we want to understand the process so that we can use the knowledge to quickly fix whatever the problem is and this is how the mechanical mind — which is never without an agenda (the mechanical mind is its agenda) — always works. Consciousness, on the other hand, operates without an agenda and this is why we can say that it is ‘playful rather than serious’. It has no goals because it isn’t ‘intrinsically needy’, which the conditioned self always is.

There is a world of difference between the one approach and the other — When we use the mechanical approach then we’re not bringing the whole of us to bear, so to speak — we’re keeping it at arm’s length, we’re trying to separate ourselves from it. We may talk about ‘being present with the problem’ (or ‘not judging’, which the comes down to same thing) but the only way to be present is to have no agenda and thought can’t help us here. To have ‘no agenda’ means that we are even-minded with regards to outcomes, even-minded with regard to the vexed question as to ‘What happens next?’ and although this might sound as if it should be perfectly straightforward to put into practice, it’s actually the most difficult thing we’ll ever have to do. ‘Forcing’ — on the other hand — happens by long-established habit; the difficult thing isn’t ‘reasserting control by whatever means we can,’ therefore, the difficult thing is finding the courage to see what happens when we let go of all that controlling…