Beyond Fear by Dorothy Rowe

by stephenpalmersf

In my twenties I spent a lot of time in second hand bookshops, where I hoovered up works by Nicholas Humphrey and Erich Fromm, amongst many others. Dorothy Rowe’s books were placed in the same section, and so it was inevitable that I discovered her in the end…

An Australian by birth, Dorothy Rowe first worked as a teacher and child psychologist before arriving in Britain in her forties, working at Sheffield University and later as the head of Lincolnshire Department of Clinical Psychology. She spent much of her time working with depressed patients, and came to reject the medical model of mental illness, instead working within personal construct theory. Rowe believes that depression is a result of beliefs which do not enable a person to live comfortably with themselves or the world, notably the belief in a “just world” – that the bad are punished and the good rewarded – which exacerbates feelings of fear and anxiety should disaster strike. Part of recovering, Rowe says, is accepting that the external world is unpredictable and that we control relatively little of it.

Beyond Fear, the first Rowe book I bought, was published in 1987. It comprehensively sets out the various reasons why fear – whether consciously felt or not – affects our lives, and what the behavioural consequences are.

The opening sections deal with fear, how it is denied, and how we use our bodies as both reasons for fear and explanations of it. This chapter in particular had resonance for me, as I strongly think Western patriarchal society refuses to acknowledge thoughts and feelings in favour of the more obvious, more “present” physical explanations – thus, men are deemed to be violent in the main because they have a lot of testosterone, not in the main because they are taught by society to follow a particular gender identity.

The second section deals with how fear changes us mentally: turning fear into anxiety and phobias, into obsessions and compulsive behaviour, into depression, into mania and into schizophrenia.

The final section shows how fear can be turned into courage. All three sections use case studies to illustrate the main points Rowe makes.

I’ve read many of Dorothy Rowe’s works, but this one had the most to offer when I was a younger man. Its sheer clarity and insight regarding the human condition was an eye-opener to me. I read many of her other books afterwards. As Fay Weldon pointed out in the cover comment, “Dorothy Rowe shows us the path to personal and political, if only we would take it.” For compassionate humanity too, Rowe is exceptional; her compassion shines out of every sentence.

Readers of the Factory Girl trilogy will note that my three books are dedicated to Nicholas Humphrey, Dorothy Rowe, and Erich Fromm in memoriam. These three thinkers were my main influences as, many years ago, I began to ponder the world around me.