A phobia is an excessive and irrational reaction to a particular object, scenario, place or person. Phobias quite often interfere with a person’s daily life and can make things quite difficult. Someone with a phobia will go out of their way to avoid the feared object, person or place.
Phobia are most often developed in childhood or early adulthood. It is unlikely that you will develop a phobia after the age of around 30. It is said that people who are predisposed to anxiety are more likely to develop a phobia.
A phobia can establish itself very quickly and it can relate to many different objects, situations or events. In some cases, a person remembers how the phobia started and there is a totally rational reason. For example, if a young child is bitten by a dog, it is very easy to see how they could develop a phobia of all dogs. Their brain would link that traumatic and painful feeling to any dog and convince them that all dogs are dangerous and must always be avoided. Over time this can expand to a picture of a dog, the sound or smell of a dog or seeing a dog on TV. You can imagine how restrictive this could be and how it can impact someone’s day-to-day life.
A child who has a parent with a particular phobia is also likely to learn the phobia.
I once worked with a 70-yr-old lady who had suffered from a lifelong phobia of spiders. We took her back to the initial sensitising event (ISE) in hypnosis to find out how the phobia developed. She remembered that her mother had once kept her trapped on her bed for over three hours until her father came home. She remembered being very scared as her mother was upset and crying. The reason was that there was a spider on the bedroom floor and her mother had a phobia of spiders. The lady was only three years old at the time and had found the whole situation very distressing, as you would. She hadn’t previously remembered the exact event but she had learned that spiders must be extremely dangerous and she must always avoid them. This had stuck with her throughout her whole life and caused years of trauma. We fixed it within a few sessions and she doesn’t even think about spiders anymore. If she sees one, she calmly removes it and the fear has never returned.
Sometimes, the actual object or scenario just becomes related to a separate trauma and people can’t think how or why their phobia developed and it seems totally irrational. For example, maybe they were in a frightening situation and felt under threat and there just happened to be a pencil nearby (it could be any object). If they were focused on that pencil when they were feeling extremely frightened, the brain can relate the two and from that moment onwards, any pencil could trigger that fear again and bring all those feelings to the surface, making the person feel that they are once again under threat and producing a phobic response. Of course, the pencil was completely innocent, but the brain doesn’t know the difference and automatically links the two. From then on it relates that particular object, place, person or scenario to danger, disgust, embarrassment or some other negative emotion and the phobic reaction is set.
However, whatever the brain has learned, it can un-learn. Maybe it would be better to say it can re-learn another way to think.
If you have a phobia, your brain is linking the object or situation that you fear to the fight, flight or freeze response. Your conscious, thinking mind doesn’t have time to kick in as the unconscious processes take over in a second and you are automatically thrown into survival mode. This is why phobias often seem so irrational.
Symptoms of a Phobia
If you have a true phobia, you are most likely to experience at least some of the following symptoms when faced with the feared object, situation, place or person. The symptoms are very similar to a panic attack as it is the same part of the brain that is triggered into action. Your brain senses danger and will do whatever it can to save you, preparing you to fight, run away or freeze until the danger has passed.
A sense of impending doom
A pounding or racing heart
Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
Feeling faint or weak
Shaking or trembling
Rapid speech (or inability to speak)
High blood pressure
Chest pain or tightness around the chest
Some of the most common phobias are:
Acrophobia – fear of heights
Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces
Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
Aviophobia – fear of flying
Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces
Cynophobia – fear of dogs
Dentophobia – fear of dentists or dental treatment
Glossophobia – also known as performance anxiety or the fear of public speaking
Hemophobia – fear of blood
Nyctophobia - fear of the dark
Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
Social Phobia – fear of public situations
This is a small list and people can develop a phobia of absolutely anything, so please don’t ever be embarrassed to come and tell me about your particular fear. I have met people with a phobia of escalators, lifts, lights, wasps, particular body parts, the sun, public toilets, buttons, holes, tomato ketchup…you name it! As I said, it is often the connection that the mind has created rather than the object. The trick is to break that link and instead teach your brain to stay relaxed and calm when you come into contact or even think about the previous trigger.
How Does Hypnotherapy Help?
Some people find it helpful to go back to the cause and we can do something called the "Rewind Technique". This takes you right back to the source of the phobia and undoes the link that your brain made between the object, person or place and the fear response. It is a bit like resetting your brain back to before the trauma ever took place so that the brain has no reason to be scared. You’ll remember the event but you will no longer have the powerful fear response. In some cases, this is all that’s needed and a client can walk away after just a couple of sessions with the phobia completely gone. I’ve found it depends on the individual and the severity of the phobia, however, so would never guarantee a two-session success and usually work with my clients for much longer.
Another technique I often use either instead of or as a follow-up to the Rewind Technique is something called Systematic Hypnotic Desensitisation. This is one of my favourite techniques and works amazingly well for phobias. I will first ask you to think about some of the scenarios that trigger the phobic response. We’ll create a hierarchy of fears, starting with something that makes you feel just slightly uncomfortable and leading up to something that really brings on the phobic response very strongly. I will ask you to rate the sense of anxiety from 0 to 100 for each scenario. Then we start at the bottom and each week, work up the hierarchy at your own pace.
This technique relies on you becoming relaxed and calm and then imagining each scenario and rating your anxiety level. We go over and over the same event in your mind whilst you are in hypnosis until we get your anxiety response down to an agreed acceptable level. You then go away and test the response before we move on to the next scenario in your hierarchy. It is a very gentle technique that puts you in complete control. The brain doesn’t know when something is real or imagined, so it is as effective as if you were actually in that situation, although a part of you knows that you are completely safe in my therapy room the whole time. It really is incredible how effective this technique is. It rewires the brain so that it breaks the link between the object, scenario, place or person and the fear response and instead links it to a feeling of relaxation and calm. The panic response just doesn’t happen anymore, which most clients describe as “weird”.
Many clients experience something called “anticipatory anxiety” as they are so used to their brain setting off that fear response. They become worried and anxious before they face their fears in real life and they wait for the usual response. However, it just doesn’t start. After a bit of practice, the anticipatory anxiety disappears too, as they become used to the new reaction and the sense of calm they feel instead.
I love helping people overcome phobias!
If you would like to find out more, please get in touch. I work from Serendipity in Honiton high street and at Axminster Health and Wellbeing Centre. I also offer appointments online, so we can work together via Skype or FB Messenger and you needn't leave the house!
Please don't suffer any longer. I can help you overcome that fear and make your life so much easier.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.