Why, I wondered, is Dr. Susan Jeffers so often connecting the word "fear" with love?
Three of Dr. Jeffers' previous books are titled, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Feel the Fear … and Beyond, and Feel the Fear Power Planner. In her current book, Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love, she suggests ways to overcome one's fears, heal a relationship, and move forward in life with confidence and love.
Speaking from her home in California, the best-selling author explains, "So many of us struggle with relationships, and often find ourselves bewildered and dismayed by how difficult and painful 'love' can be. We unknowingly base our relationships on selfish love, which is a product of the ego, and creates a need to control one's partner and to 'get' instead of 'give.'
"People don't do this maliciously, but rather from a sense of fear. The good news is that when you realize this truth - that your anger, blame and judgment are really fear in disguise - you can turn your relationship around. You can start practicing real love. And it's okay if your partner doesn't want to work on it with you - you can do it yourself!"
The author believes a commitment doesn't mean you stop learning how to love: "It is quite the opposite - commitment is where the really important learning needs to begin."
She believes a relationship has two very important purposes - a "practical purpose" and a "higher purpose."
"The practical purpose of a relationship is simply to have someone with whom to share our life. Traveling the road together can be a truly joyous experience. It feels wonderful to have a loving partner by your side in good times and in bad.
"But sometimes, problems with money, sex, children, work and the like can make that journey very difficult. It is for this reason that we need to have a higher purpose. The higher purpose of a relationship is our commitment to learn how to become a more loving person, despite what problems come up. It is our using all the problems as a vehicle for seeing what we need to work on within ourselves to keep love in our heart.
"This higher purpose is also about learning to pay attention to all the good in our relationship. Too many of us don't even seem to notice the good."
A Bit of Advice
Jeffers says she believes that if there is trouble in a relationship, fear is definitely involved. And fear can subtly destroy love.
Think of it this way, she advises:
• Fear causes us to protect ourselves.
• Love requires us to become "safely vulnerable," in the knowledge that we can handle whatever happens.
• Fear causes us to close our hearts.
• Love is about opening our hearts.
• Fear causes us always to put ourselves first.
• Love is knowing when and how to put our loved one first.
Jeffers insists that love comes from a feeling of inner strength that allows us to relax and to let emotions flow. The road to understanding the complexities of a love relationship has been quite circuitous for this psychologist.
Jeffers was born in Hazleton, Pa., but says she knew early on that she was meant to live in a big city: "I did not like the small-town feeling in such an upstate Pennsylvania community."
Born Susan Gildenberg, she went to religious school, and became a Bat Mitzvah in the tiny Jewish community. After high school, she attended Penn State, married at 18, had her first child at 20 (and her second four years later), and lived for a short time in Philadelphia and New York.
"I knew I loved writing," says Jeffers, "but at that time in my life, I led a very conventional existence."
When her marriage of 16 years ended, she wanted to return to school. (She notes that her former husband and she are good friends today, and she calls his present wife her "wife in-law.") She attended Hunter College and Columbia University, earning master's and doctoral degrees.
The next 10 years were spent as executive director of the Floating Hospital, New York's "Ship of Health," where she says her journey to self-discovery began, and which made her a "happier and more loving person."
"I had experienced a lot of anger, fear and insecurity, but I began to understand what I had been through - and more importantly, how to handle it. That led to my present career of writing self-help books."
Just as she was about to leave her job at the Floating Hospital and concentrate on her new writing profession, she met and married an Englishman seven years younger than she, Mark Shelmerdine, a producer.
After many rejections, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich began publishing her books. One day, her husband asked her, "Should we retire or start a publishing empire?"
Long ago, Susan decided to change her name: "I decided I liked Jeffers, so that was it."
She and her husband formed their own company, Jeffers Press, for distribution of her books in the United States and Canada. Random House has the publishing rights in the United Kingdom. Jeffers has written 18 books available in 100 countries, in 36 languages. She is frequently a guest on radio and television programs, including "Oprah."
This optimist believes that with the right attitude, looking inward and dedicated effort, "you find your soulmate over time in the process of living and loving together."