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August 21, 2014, 5:57 pm

Psychiatrist takes unflinching look at fear

In “The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: Thirty Truths about Fear and Courage” (DeCapo, $19.99), Dr. Gordon Livingston examines the ever-changing faces of one of humankind's most powerful emotions: fear. He explores how it has evolved from the primal impulse to escape death to a modern-day compulsion to avoid failure and humiliation, and shows how fear can become overwhelming and debilitating, resulting in a chronic inability to cope.

Livingston, a psychiatrist, exposes the collection of human fears — loss, intimacy, aging, inadequacy, etc. — openly and honestly, in the hope that people will face them head on. He shares his own story of resilience after the loss of his two sons to suicide and leukemia 13 months apart, tells how the strength of a bedridden young woman with a rare and fatal autoimmune disease brought her the highest level of achievement during her 25 years of life and lauds the importance of true heroism as demonstrated by the astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia. Most importantly, he admonishes the reader to cultivate the antidote to fear: courage.

Overcoming our fear, says Livingston, constitutes the most difficult struggle we face. “It is within ourselves, where we confront our deepest fears and insecurities, that we find our own forms of courage or cowardice,” explains the bestselling author (a West Point graduate who was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam). “Like any other virtue, bravery is manifest in our habitual actions. Fidelity to an ideal, risking ourselves to stand up for the powerless, refusing to crumble beneath the weight of time, all require a steadfastness that is uncommon in a culture dominated by glamor, celebrity and instant gratification.”


Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .