The Four Fearsome Hurdles in Relationships and Life

The four fearsome hurdles were coined by psychotherapist, teacher and writer, David Richo, in his book Past is Present, which also inspired last week’s post (about transference).

The fearsome hurdles are four specific tensions that impact us all in relationships and life. These things are a given of life, and core issues in relationships. The four fearsome hurdles are:

  • Comings and goings.
  • Giving and receiving.
  • Being accepted and being rejected.
  • Letting go and moving on.

The hurdles evoke varying degrees of fear in us, and are likely windows of opportunity for transference in our relationships (i.e. when you bring a past emotional wound into the present).

If you can bring greater consciousness to how you feel during these four (really eight) events, you may notice how fearful and anxious they make you, which is the starting place for freedom from those fears.

This post offers some advice based on David’s book on how to navigate the hurdles with greater equanimity.

Fearsome hurdle 1: Comings and goings

Although sensitive people are probably more affected, all of us have some challenges with handling change, both good and bad.

Comings may bring up the fear of challenge in something new. The original threatening arrival was that of a new sibling, if you are a middle or older sibling. You would have perceived this as a threat to your own survival.

Even our own comings can be a problem, if we carry with them a sense of expectation of how we are supposed to be greeted. As children we are often welcomed warmly by our caregivers. As adults we may experience a slight tension when our arrivals are met with indifference, or even a frosty reception.

Pay attention to how you feel when you enter the office at work or arrive at home. It’s subtle, but you may be carrying expectation, which becomes problematic if unmet!

Goings may bring up a fear of abandonment or of being cast adrift. The goodbye of the end of a relationship is often scary, since doing so means getting on with your life, which can feel more daunting then staying in the unsatisfying status quo.

Pause now and reflect on how you tend to feel at the point of comings and goings.

Do you experience tension, anxiety and fear?

How to deal with this fearsome hurdle

David suggests that the psychological skill to develop is to say an unconditional ‘yes’ to the given of comings and goings in life. Accept new challenges with grace, and let go of what is ready to disappear. (You’re not going to be able to do this unless you practice mindfulness).

Whilst you’re at it, accept the reality that survival in this day and age means making new friends more easily, and saying goodbye more easily too.

(See this personal guide to how I learned to better handle change).

Fearsome hurdle 2: Giving and receiving

Love is giving and receiving the five As: Acceptance, Attention, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing.

Funnily enough, it is receiving love that is often more troubling for a lot of us. It takes more courage and skill to be loved than we often think. It is especially challenging if you are used to being in control.

Giving and receiving also bring up issues around how we handle money and our resources. We may be uncomfortable about receiving money as a gift or loan, or we may compulsively or uncontrollably waste money.

Our way of handling money usually reflects back on how our parents handled it.

How to deal with this fearsome hurdle

Explore whether you were given what you needed in childhood. Recall birthdays and Christmases, and ask yourself how you felt.

Gradually, you can move yourself into what David refers to as the “pure adult present”: that nobody can give and receive what we need consistently all the time, and that is okay.

Fearsome hurdle 3: Being accepted and rejected

Rejection is problematic for pretty much everyone, even though most of us have experienced rejection or abandonment to be ultimately good for us.

For example, after being forced into time alone, you might have discovered that a lot of valuable self knowledge comes with solitude. Or abandonment by one partner may have resulted in finding another who is more trustworthy.

Abandonment hits us all hard, because your identity sort of gets frozen in time. You no longer have the ability to reestablish a sense of you are in that person’s eyes. As humans flourish by evolving, that can be a frightening idea.

How to deal with this fearsome hurdle:

Feel your feelings. Respect other people’s decisions.

Accept your own grief about being rejected.

Fearsome hurdle 4: Letting go and moving on

Fears around letting go and moving on arise from experiencing a loss of connection and a loss of what is comforting.

Interestingly, David says that hesitancy about moving on is a sign that an individual has yet to embark on their own hero or heroine’s journey.

How to deal with this fearsome hurdle:

Take an inventory of how you are stuck, how you move too slowly or too quickly, and how you procrastinate.

Work to become aware of, and ebb away, your desire for control.


The four fearsome hurdles are the universal ways we feel fear and tension. They are a useful lens on your mindfulness practice.

Whenever you notice yourself experiencing some tension around these four events, remember that everyone does, but also remember that you can develop skill about handling the events with less fear and greater equanimity.

Grow your comfort around these four elements of life, and improve your overall levels of freedom and happiness.

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