[This blog contains excerpts from an interview with Dr. Robert Firestone by Fred Branfman, political activist and author of Voices from the Plain of Jars. To read Part I of this interview, click here.]

Part II:

Fred Branfman: When most people think of the word “courage,” they think of people who fight wars, jump out of airplanes, do cross-country skiing, extreme sports. What do you mean by the term “courage?”

Dr. Robert Firestone: The courage to live according to your principles, and to tolerate the pain or the anxiety of being different from other people, of being creative, of living a unique existence; the courage to face death with equanimity. To stand by one’s beliefs is part of that, too. It takes courage to stand behind one’s beliefs when they run counter to a society or a group or pressures from other people.

Being a nonconformist—not defiant or rebellious—requires unusual courage and dedication, because we tend to feel considerable guilt and fear when we break with tradition. It increases our feelings of aloneness and isolation. We are also faced with the threat of retaliation from others, because the views we stand for are different from those of the majority and may arouse their existential anxiety.

FB: An archetypal example of courage in our society is the cowboy who rides into town and protects it from outlaws, risking his life.

RF: I’m not discounting that. Taking action, going against the fear and yet taking appropriate action, is courageous. I’m impressed with people who fight for their belief systems, and will fight against tyranny. I see that as courage.

FB: It’s interesting because what you have been describing in relation to vulnerability is another kind of courage—the courage to feel painful feelings. To be able to cry…

RF: To be truthful, to cry, to feel…

FB: Yet often the people who seem to have the courage to risk their lives are not vulnerable personally…

RF: There are different aspects to courage. A person can be courageous in one area but not in another. The true courage is to value your life and still fight for what’s right.

FB: I was thinking one of the problems American society has in this area, for example, the last time I can remember a political leader crying in public was Ed Muskie. And as a result of his crying, he had to drop out of the Presidential race. It almost seems like our leaders are forced to project invulnerability, the image that they have all the answers…

RF: There are times to cry and times to not cry, appropriately. I think a combination of those traits is important. I think it’s very important to not react in terms of feeling at various times in life, in coping with certain kinds of situations. It’s a balance of being emotional about the appropriate emotional issues, and finding rational, practical solutions to life. You’re allowing yourself to feel freely but, on an action level, you’re concerned with reality issues and your values. So it’s very important to balance emotionality with rationality.

FB: Could you talk a little bit about why people might want to think about the case for being more vulnerable, being willing to tolerate more pain in their life. Why is that a desirable state for people?

RF: Partly because you can’t suppress parts of yourself without hurting or damaging other parts. What we’re talking about in being “vulnerable” is being alive to your life; being fully emotionally responsive in regard to what’s happening—that’s living your life. Whereas in blocking out your feelings, you’re limiting your aliveness, you’re deadening yourself. In remaining defended, you’re restricting your life in countless ways in order to avoid the full emotional experience of living, which includes both ups and downs.

I’ve also found that, in general, people who remain vulnerable and open to experiencing painful emotions are more willing to take appropriate risks in life and are more humane toward others. In being vulnerable, they are also better able to face death straight forwardly without becoming delusional or creating solutions to reduce or deny existential realities. As Robert J. Lifton put it, “To live with ambiguity is to accept vulnerability.” A person can face life with all of their feelings at the moment—anger, fear, pain, sadness—and not become cynical or despairing. Vulnerability means having the courage to live and cope with life, all the while maintaining the full potential of being human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


1 2 3 4
July 11th, 2017

The Eric Hoffer Award for Books… Winner

Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation, Robert W. Firestone, Prometheus Books – What causes our self-destructive […]

July 11th, 2017

Why Every Therapist Should Read Dr. Robert Firestone’s New Book “Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation” by Howard Rosenthal, EdD

Originally Published on Some people collect stamps, others baseball memorabilia. I prefer psychotherapy and treatment related books. It would […]

March 7th, 2017

How to Befriend Yourself: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to Living

In addition to training and experience, the ideal attitude of the therapist toward the client would best be described by […]

November 27th, 2015

Insight into Extremism and the Terrorist Mentality

What causes prejudice, religious wars, terrorism and genocide? In fact, what are the psychodynamics behind extremism, absolutism and all insidious […]

October 7th, 2015

Why Are So Many Parents Limited in Loving Their Children?

In order to place the title of this blog in context, I would define parental love as behavior that enhances […]

March 7th, 2015

BC Psychologist Featuring an Article by Dr. Robert W. Firestone

Read the Winter 2017 edition of BC Psychologist, featuring an article by Dr. Robert W. Firestone.

March 7th, 2015

Amazon Book Reviews

Discover what readers are saying about Dr. Robert W. Firestone’s latest book Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of […]

March 7th, 2015

Interview With The Glendon Association

Dr. Robert W. Firestone was interviewed by The Glendon Association’s Communication Director Jina Carvalho. Robert Firestones’ latest (fourteenth book ) […]

March 7th, 2015

Manhattan Book Review: 5 Star Review for Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice

Originally Published Here  Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation We rated this book: $18.00 In […]

March 7th, 2015

The Many Reasons Why People Lie (Article Featuring Dr. Robert W. Firestone)

Originally published on here Whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, conversing with your co-worker in the next cubicle, […]