When the fear of phobia is overpowering…
“How long will it take?”, the lady who came to me for her fear of snakes asked, “will it be about 20 sessions?”
Oh, I hope not, I thought, I have someone in my house ready to bring out a snake for you to see. Not that she knew that of course. Me, however, I hadn’t even thought that it would take more than one session. She was so convinced, however, because it was so deep-rooted and she’d had it for so long that there was no way it could be “fixed” so quickly.
I knew how real this phobia was for her when she couldn’t even type the word. She told me that that even made her feel sick, so she gave them another name, Cecil’s. I’ve since learnt that many people give their phobia a name, it helps them disassociate from it.
As I listened to her, she shared her story of how this affected her daily life. Did I mention we live in Scotland and it’s not typically something you see when you are out and about or slithering around your garden? However, It was so real for her that it affected her day to day life. She couldn’t watch them on tv, look at pictures, be near jelly snake sweets or even play snakes and ladders.
By the time we’d finished our session, she was actually holding George, the 5ft Ball Python and posing for pictures and sending them to her son.
Is the fear really real?
I totally understood how she felt, that was me 6 years prior, only replace snakes with spiders and, moreover, heights.
The palpitations I felt were real, the sweats were real, the dizziness was real, the anxiety it created was real. So I get what it feels like to have that irrational fear.
When you have a phobia that fear is real. No matter what people tell you, to you it’s real. You may then start to associate that with anxiety, after all, some of the symptoms of a phobia are the exact same. Anxiety comes from the amygdala, the part that’s responsible for your flight, fight or freeze. The same part that’s responsible for fear. We need it to keep us safe when we are in danger. It’s when it is overactive and constantly perceives things as a threat that it becomes a bigger problem. When you have a phobia, your subconscious sees it as a threat, so it’s trying to keep you safe. But when your phobia is so severe that it affects your day to day living that becomes an even bigger problem.
Caught or Taught?
I have helped so many people overcome phobias that they have “caught” or been “taught”. What does that mean? Well, you may have experienced being attacked by a bird, like one of my other clients, and that has created a phobia of birds. She had the phobia for over 60 years. That is a “caught” phobia. Or it may be that your mum developed a fear of balloons and always runs, panics or gets a fright when they’re around, so as a kid you have been “taught” how to have the phobia. Once, I had a mother and daughter come to me for that exact thing. Both needed to unlearn the behaviours.
It’s not always what you think
Sometimes the phobia has nothing to do with what they think it does. There was the client who had tried so many different therapies to overcome her balloon phobia but wanted to try something else that I offered, Silent Counselling. She was stuck in a state of grief after losing her mum but had somehow associated balloons with it, if memory serves it was the last time she had been with her mum they had been celebrating something and there were balloons there. Another client again related his fear to balloons, but it wasn’t about the balloon, it was a fear of commitment.
Putting the fear to the test
It has been known for me to take people to bridges to look over the side so that they can test out their new way of thinking. Or even to have gone on flights with clients because they wanted me to be there “just in case”. We’ve walked together in the park to look at the birds.
Because one client couldn’t “test” her spider phobia at the end of her session, she wasn’t sure it had worked. We have a saying in our business if you want to find a spider, find someone who has a phobia to help you. She called me and asked could she come back and see if we could find a spider to check it out. So I agreed and arranged for a tarantula to visit. She was over the moon, she held it and posed for pictures. When she asked me if I wanted to hold it, my first thought was “are you nuts”. I had dealt with my phobia by this time and had only ever picked up the little ones so thought, why not. It was cool I couldn’t believe how gentle it was.
Checking it out for yourself
Now, I don’t always test work, but if I can I will. Sometimes, depending on the phobia, it’s not that easy. Like the lady who had a fear of hospitals and things covered in blood. I didn’t need to worry though. A couple of hours later she sent me some pictures of a friend’s severely injured hand. She decided to also test it out by driving to A&E and seeing how she reacted.
There are so many proud moments when my clients find they are free from their phobia. Including the one who had needle phobias, and now has tattoos. Or the one who hated insects, any kind of insect, but when on a trek to Tanzania and loved seeing all the creatures.
Phobias, big or small, no matter how long you have had it for, can hold you back from achieving many things in your life. Some of which can affect your health, such as fear of the dentist, doctors or needles. The fear can be overwhelming, and you may find yourself trying to avoid situations that can make you feel frightened or anxious.
Sometimes you use the word anxious instead of the word fear when you have a phobia. As I’ve said, the way a phobia makes you feel is very similar to how you feel when you’re anxious. So is the phobia making you feel anxious? Possibly.
By freeing yourself of your phobia, you are also reducing your feelings of anxiety. There becomes no need to constantly think about all the things that would trigger it. Once you realise the fear is irrational, no matter how real it seems, it lessens your need to hold onto it and it’s time to let it go. If your phobia is one that can hinder you medically, don’t wait until you’re in a situation that will trigger it. Get it dealt with before you find yourself there.
Your subconscious doesn’t decide that today I’m going to be a little bit scared and then next week a little bit more and work itself up into a full-blown phobia, it learns it quickly and just as quickly as it can learn, it can also unlearn it.
Just imagine how good your life would be without having to worry about what’s around the corner, or what will happen when you’re in the dentist chair. How good it will be to go about your daily life in a “normal” way.