A phobia is an extreme irrational fear of or aversion to something. It can be to anything – an object, place, animal, colour, sound, action, etc. Examples are: Arachnophobia (spiders), Belonephobia (needles).
This is opposed to a rational fear – one which is a normal, beneficial response to something known to be dangerous or life threatening (like fear of polar bears or frostbite when on an Antarctic expedition) or as a result of trauma (fear of driving after surviving an horrific traffic accident).
Fear is a motivator. It is a natural design feature to make us avoid danger or to prepare us to deal with life threatening situations. According to the level of fear, the adrenal glands release cortisol (scouting for danger) or adrenalin (readiness for fight or flight). For phobics the fear can bounce between the two. It might hover in dreaded anticipation (cortisol) and then explode into panic when the trigger is actually encountered (adrenalin). Even at its mildest, a phobia is beyond a heightened awareness of the trigger. It can often escalate into panic or hysteria if the trigger cannot be avoided. This is not a healthy situation for the body or psychology.
Many sufferers are embarrassed by their phobia(s) – internally berating themselves for being “stupid” or “cowardly”. This is probably due to the extreme and uncontrollable reaction and sometimes because of nature of the trigger (Ex; Gerontophobia (old people, Dendrophobia (trees).
Symptoms can vary along the spectrum from emotional discomfort to terror. The physical manifestations include:
- Increased heart and breathing rates
- Sweaty palms, face or body
- Elevated blood pressure
- Need to evacuate bladder and/or bowels
- Retching or vomiting
- Desperate attempts to escape
The anticipation of experiencing any of the symptoms can induce people to go to great lengths to avoid the trigger. It often entails cunning plans, excuses; even lies to prevent contact and to keep others from finding out. Phobias can have an effect on family and friends as well – fear of heights, water, flying, travel, etc can make holidays with others very restricted or even impossible. Some people are even disabled by them – so filled with dread and fear they are not able to leave home or get to work.
Many therapists believe all phobias are rooted in some past trauma. Some suspect it may be a relic from a past life trauma. Others take the view it may be blip form the Twilight Zone. No one really knows for certain.
Historically, the best treatment was the desensitisation method and it is sometimes still used today. It is a process of introducing very small exposures to the trigger over a period of time gradually building on duration and tolerance. This can take a long time, lots of money and be distressing.
Modern psychotherapeutic approaches include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Hypnotherapy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), FFT (Field Thought Therapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), and NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming).
The approach I use is a combination of NLP and hypnosis. It is a process of emotional and psychological distancing and usually gets resolution in one or two sessions. I really enjoy working with phobias because it provides such quick relief, there is no pain or exposure involved for the client and there is no homework to assign. Most of my clients think it’s amazing! Finding freedom from phobias can be fun.
Come and see me – You don’t have to live with that FEAR.