The Truth About Phobias
Feeling terrified of something we know can't hurt us is extremely frustrating and, to some extent, humiliating. Why isn't our usual logic and rational thought kicking in and making sense of the situation?! We feel stuck and unable to deal with the situation, which results in us having to avoid, avoid, avoid!
Phobic fear increases the longer we have it due to the power of our imaginations, as we can't always remember the time the dreaded phobia hit us and so we fill in the gaps with increasingly terrifying expectations. Even the thought of the phobic stimuli can trigger intense feelings of dread and panic which feels inescapable and cruel. The social embarrassment of people noticing our fear can also keep us from exposing ourselves to situations where the phobia could be triggered. Our comfort zones become restricted, our lives become smaller and our fear increases.
So why are our brains punishing us in this way?
One of the easiest ways to protect ourselves from danger is for our brains to store an instant alert to something that has exposed us to danger in the past. This is how we 'learn from experience' by forming habits, where we subconsciously carry out a set of actions without having to think about them. These habits are formed to make life easier for us, so that we can multi-task and direct our brain power to newer learnings and experiences. However, sometimes, our brain misunderstands and makes a habitual link between an innocent stimuli and intense fear - which can stop us from living life how we really want to.
So what determines the habits that our subconscious chooses to save and why does it sometimes get it wrong ?
Habits are stored when we either: repeat something enough (around 21 times); are in a purely non-judgemental state, which can happen in childhood when we believe everything we are told, or in hypnosis when our critical faculty is temporarily distracted or; when our conscious mind incorrectly misjudges a situation - perceiving a threat when there isn't one. Most phobic habits are stored during the last two states but in some cases, if we continually misunderstand our level of danger, repetition can grow into a phobia.
Sudden fear is often the over-riding emotion that can store an instant phobic response, due to the miscalculation of the level of danger attached to the situation when it initially occurs. With this faulty critical judgement, perceived threats can be taken as absolute, so things that make us jump or trigger our imagination can become incorrectly stored as objects, places, situations and, even people, to avoid! Once we are faced with the phobic stimuli, or even if we think about it, we experience the exact same emotions as if our lives were in real danger - the 'fight or flight' response.
This fundamental protection mechanism is there to truly protect us, hence, if we are faced with an oncoming vehicle when we are crossing the road, we need the sudden surge of adrenaline to give us the energy and alertness to assess whether we should attack or, as in this situation, flee from the inevitable danger of being run over and killed! This habit is, therefore, protective and should ALWAYS be triggered if we are close to being hit by oncoming traffic. However, if our extreme fear continues after the event and we focus too much on the danger that we were in, when we no longer are, this in itself can create a phobia of crossing the road. This could be because we have either misunderstood that we were not in control of our decision of when to cross the road or we obsess about what might have happened! The anxiety, hence, continues even when we consciously know we are safe. The brain may then attach the fear with the 'thought' of crossing the road and, voila, a phobia is born!
As with the above example, some phobias can be extensions of potentially dangerous situations but some can be less easily understood, like perhaps a phobia of buttons or odd socks. However, the fear response is exactly the same because the emotion experienced when the phobia was implanted, which could have been when we were a young baby for example, is just as alarming. Hence, phobic fear is very real and equivalent to how we would feel if there was a true threat to our lives. However, phobias are nothing to be embarrassed about as they are simply a reflection of your strong ability to hypnotise yourself!
So how do we get rid of these pesky phobias?
Its actually very simple. By using a combination of rational behavioural therapy in and out of hypnosis, the unwanted phobia can be desensitised and reprogrammed so that you are no longer living in fear! By opening the mind back up, just like a surgeon, I can put things back into place and then close that portion of your mind so that the new healthy response is safe and in place.
Can phobias come back?
Once the truth of the situation has been experienced, it would not be possible to convince yourself of the opposite again, due to your calm, adult mind processing the information. If, on the other hand, you found that you had replaced one phobia with a newer one, e.g. you can now travel on a plane but can no longer take the train, this would be a strong indication of a general anxiety disorder, where your anxiety is looking for somewhere to manifest itself. This would, instead, require working on the source of your anxiety which would be clearly apparent to me once we discussed your situation.
"I can't put myself though the therapy - its hard enough trying not to think about it now!!!"
Many people with phobias feel too in fear of even thinking about their situation, let alone facing up to them in therapy. However, as my clients always tell me, and I myself experienced having had a fear of spiders from a very young age, it really is pain-free and the only annoying part is that you'll wish you'd done it sooner - knowing how it feels to be free from something that has unnecessarily hurt you for so long!
You will be opening up your mind to 'free the monster', not allowing more in!
Please feel free to call or email me for a chat to discuss phobias or anything else that is causing you, or someone close to you, unnecessary worry.
Take back control so you can get on with living!
The Worry Expert
Feeling terrified of something we know can't hurt us is extremely frustrating and, to some extent, humiliating.