Dangerous freedom or peaceful slavery?

Facing and transforming fear

Maria Arpa
Robin Shohet


Compiling this special edition of this journal on fear, shame and trauma has been an exploration of ideas and theories that, as guest editors, we have developed both individually and together over the many years we have known each other.  These might seem quite heavy topics, and even perhaps to be avoided, until we see that this very avoidance gives them more power.  Our belief is that by acknowledging them – not easy by any means, as there is both a personal and societal collusion to keep them hidden – we can use this acknowledgment as a source of connecting people rather than alienating them from each other.

What has led us to want to do a special edition of e-O&P is a wish for freedom for ourselves, for those we love, for our client group, for organisations and for society as a whole.  And we both, from our different backgrounds, have come to the conclusion that unacknowledged fear can distort the intimacy in relationships that most of us both crave and avoid simultaneously, leading to the dysfunctional behaviour we see so often in organisations and at all levels of society. In trying to protect ourselves individually and collectively in different ways, we make people “other”, which increases our fear of them.  And we can see this being acted out around the whole Brexit vote, which was fuelled by a campaign of fear.

Robin’s background is one of psychotherapy and supervision; Maria’s is of social change through mediation, dialogue and nonviolence.  Both of us are interested in fostering clear and honest communication at all levels, starting with oneself and working outwards.  Soon after the publication of this special edition, we will be convening a Gathering to explore this topic in more depth.  We hope you will join us.  Watch this space!

The articles

Maria Arpa’s article immediately throws down the gauntlet and notes that this might induce discomfort. She describes a domination culture that is so deeply ingrained into our way of thinking, that we will hurt ourselves to conform to it, not recognising how much we have allowed ourselves to be controlled.  The mechanism through which this control is exercised is fear.  She suggests that even attempting to change the structures of an organisation will not solve the problem as it is rooted in our thinking and conditioning.  Many years ago Robin, wrote an article How Green is Your Mind, which suggested that faulty thinking was really the source of pollution, and that concentrating on ecological measures to combat pollution did not tackle their source in the mind.

Ben Fuchs sees fear as a virus that is transmitted so easily in organisations.  He distinguishes between authentic fear and anxious fear, the latter dominating in the health system which is his focus. The domination culture transmits fear and anxiety, and he makes the point that no one counts the cost in both human and financial terms of the resulting burnout, absences, and inefficiency.  He describes his work in helping people to slow down and recognise the defensive routines people find themselves in, and to move from being trapped inside the box to moving out of it.

Zoe Cohen looks at the prevalence of shame.  Shame is perhaps why we are so prone to catching the anxiety virus, because it will not allow us to share what is really going on with us.  Shame is embedded in our education system through fear of failure, but perhaps is even inherent in learning itself, as the very requirement to learn in retrospect implies that we were somehow deficient in the first place. She implies that this is the dark side of an improvement culture, which allows little tolerance for failure, and increases a sense of shame because we are not able to acknowledge our very human vulnerabilities.   However, if such an acknowledgement is enabled, there are opportunities for growth.

Glen Williamson builds on the idea of different types of fear.  He uses hang gliding as an example of how what might feel dangerous in a situation is actually safe (throwing oneself off) and what feels safe is actually dangerous (holding back).  Our instincts and feelings can be deceptive and he points out that there is a big difference between ‘being’ and ‘feeling’ safe.  (This theme is taken up in Robin’s book reviews of Wilful Blindness and The Untethered Soul later in this edition.)  Glen then goes on to describe the acronym F.E.A.R – False Evidence appearing Real.  He then gives a personal example of working in a sales team with two different managers.  One deliberately used fear, and the other helped people to manage their fear, thus creating a culture of support with success at all levels, evidenced in significant increases in employee, organisational and customer satisfaction.  This begs a question of why we tolerate cultures of fear when they patently don’t work, and this is an issue that we could well address fruitfully during our gathering later this year.

Jeff Putthoff describes his work with disenfranchised youngsters in the USA.  At first sight this does not so obviously connect with OD culture.  But in showing how the survival culture of his client group impacts on the workers, we realise how easily, as workers, our own survival patterns are triggered. Even with the best of intentions, it is easy for us professionals to become alienated from our client group, which happened in NHS trusts like Mid Staffs (see the book review on Wilful Blindness).  The way forward, he found, was a rigorous self-examination by workers, built on a greater understanding of survival patterns. This can lead to radical empathy rather than burnout.

Finally, Robin Shohet is interviewed by a colleague, Ben Fuchs.  Robin has been facilitating groups on fear and love in supervision for twenty years and describes some of his work in helping people to recognise fear when they might not have been aware of it.  He is particularly interested in how it affects the cases that are brought or not brought to supervision, and how the mind invents excuses to keep a fear that is not useful (Ben calls this ‘anxious fear’) to justify not risking vulnerability.  Robin invites workshop participants to look at the belief systems that can lock unhelpful behaviour in place, and invites a form of inquiry into what we find most difficult to face.

Our invitation

We invite you to explore the topic of fear, shame and trauma through reading and discussing these articles. Notice if they challenge or excite you, check whether this perspective in any way alters the lens through which you see the world of work, and ask yourself, ‘What could I do differently as a result of this information and these diverse perspectives?’  And watch this space for details of our f2f post-publication Gathering in London, probably in early December.


In addition to the authors who have contributed to this edition, we would like to thank a number of others whose work behind the scenes has made this publication possible.  Our thanks to all those who over the years have given their time to enable AMED and e-O&P to thrive, and particularly to the editorial team who volunteer their time to produce this quarterly online journal.   As commissioning editor, Bob MacKenzie has patiently guided us in our writing and editing. David McAra has expertly converted ‘manuscripts’ into their final pdf format.  Julia Goga-Cooke has fashioned the shorter Digest of this edition, Linda Williams has managed with customary efficiency all the necessary administrative chores involved in posting and distributing an online publication, and Ned Seabrook has made individual articles available following publication.

About the guest editors

Maria Arpa (www.mariaarpa.co.uk) is founder of the Centre for Peaceful Solutions and author of The Heart of Mindful Relationships and Mindfulness at Work. Maria created the Dialogue Road Map as a model for heart based communication. She helps individuals, groups and organisations find and nurture their inner mediator. Neighbours at war, family break-ups, business deals gone wrong, gang violence and youth conflict are all in a day’s work for Maria. Email: maria@mariaarpa.co.uk.

Centre for Peaceful Solutions (www.centreforpeacefulsolutions.org)

Robin Shohet is co–founder of The Centre for Supervision and Team Development and co-author and editor of various books on supervision including: Supervision in the Helping Professions, Passionate Supervision, Supervision as Transformation and Clinical Supervision in the Medical Profession. He has been using Appreciative Inquiry with teams and organisations for the last ten years, and is currently writing about the spiritual dimension of supervision.  E-mail: robin.shohet@cstd.co.uk.

Centre for Supervision and Team Development (www.cstdlondon.co.uk)

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