People, it seems, can be
phobic of just about anything and everything, as any internet
search will tell you. Lists of phobias are often presented in
a slightly voyeuristic, isn’t-that-weird sort of way. Yet for
those who actually suffer from phobias, there is much more to
it than odd entertainment value or material for pub trivia
quizzes. Phobia sufferers are, literally, in fear of their
So what exactly is a
phobia? The dictionary will define it as an irrational fear of
an object or circumstance. The important word there is
irrational, since fear is sometimes perfectly rational. If
you’re confronted with an angry lion or a charging rhinoceros,
you’re probably well advised to be afraid. That’s useful
information that you’re in mortal peril, and you should remove
yourself from danger as quickly as possible. Our instincts
take care of that for us – the so-called fight or flight
Our distant ancestors faced
literal life or death struggles on a daily basis. Imagine that
one of these ancestors is ambushed by a lion in tall grass. If
they escape, then they’ve learned something from the
experience – that the rustling of tall grass, for instance,
can signal danger. From then on, the rustling of tall grass
will trigger an instinctive fear response, preparing the body
for fight or flight.
The learned fear response is
inexact. It has to be, since it would make no sense, in
survival terms, if the precise conditions of the
initial attack had to be duplicated before the instincts kick
in. So anything which even remotely resembles, or was even
tentatively connected with, the initial attack can become a
trigger for the fear instinct. In the case of our distant
ancestor, any rustling movement might be enough to set the
instincts in motion.
It’s important to stress
that all this takes place on an unconscious level. Rational
thought doesn’t get a look in at such times. It can’t, because
the instincts are there to keep you alive, and in the world in
which modern humans evolved, standing around thinking about
things would get you killed pretty quickly.
These days, thankfully, we
rarely face genuine life or death situations. However, the
development of our society scarcely even registers on the
evolutionary scale. Our instincts haven’t caught up yet, and
they’re still doing their job of keeping us alive, in much the
same way they did hundreds of thousands of years ago.
So learning how to be afraid
is an important ancient survival mechanism. It’s just that the
phobia sufferer has learned to be afraid of the wrong thing.
It’s a vicious circle too, since every time the sufferer has a
phobic experience, it reinforces the idea that the object or
circumstance is something to be afraid of. We can also see the
inexact nature of learned fear at work. Somebody who is
claustrophobic, for example, might have their first phobic
episode in a lift, and then another one in a small crowded
room, since it resembles a lift in broad enough detail to
activate the fear pattern.
The symptoms of phobias –
racing heart, hyperventilation and so on – are caused by the
fight-or-flight mechanism flooding the body with adrenaline.
A modern analogy would be an
email that arrives marked "HIGHLY URGENT", when really it’s
just to tell you that the sandwich lady is in reception
(although some people might regard that as urgent of course!).
There are many ways to cure phobias, but they all work on the
same principle, which is to file that incoming email correctly
- in other words, to remove the unconscious fear pattern.
Hypnotherapy is particularly effective, since it deals
directly with the unconscious.
One of the fastest, and
safest, ways to cure phobias is the Rewind Technique. This is
a refined version of an NLP technique, and is remarkably
effective – even severe lifelong phobias can be cured using
this method, often in just one session. The practitioner will
use hypnosis to relax the phobic client and ensure that they
are feeling safe, before guiding them through a series of
steps designed to "rewind" phobic episodes in the imagination.
There is no in-depth exploration of distressing memories -
this can be positively harmful, since it just reinforces the
fear response. Indeed, the practitioner doesn’t need to know
any details at all. For this reason, it is also a very
respectful and effective way to treat those suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder or panic attacks.
A video of the technique in
action can be found at http://www.rewindtechnique.com/ , where
it’s used to treat a man with a phobia of snakes. The site
also contains helpful information on where to find therapists
trained in the technique
Phobias are never necessary
– they cause distress, drain energy and stop people living
full lives. Nobody should have to live with them.
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