One of the reasons I love helping people overcome phobias is that a number of years ago, I have managed to overcome my own phobias and it’s made such a huge difference to my everyday life. I used to have an extreme fear of heights and a fear of deep water. Overcoming these types of irrational fears is freeing and not only means you can start to do more things but overall can boost confidence as you start to believe you really can take control of your life.
I also know how quick it can be to overcome a fear although getting used to being without a fear can take some people a little time. They might need to be exposed to what used to scare them a few times before they’re really convinced they are now phobia free.
Sometimes phobias are just a symptom of other anxieties or confidence issues so it’s not just about overcoming one fear it’s about learning to be emotional free and resilient.
What is a phobia?
Phobias are an irrational fear to something that others people are relaxed about. The unconscious is trying to keep you safe and so calculates in each moment if the environment or stimuli around you is this safe or not. Some extreme phobias are debilitating and life-limiting.
First thing to say is that anyone can be phobic about anything if they’ve experience some kind of extreme emotional state in relation to that trigger or if they’ve had enough smaller experiences of that fear to build up the unconscious danger response. So for example, if a mum has a fear and shows that fear in front of a young child enough times that child is likely to learn to also be afraid in those moments.
A phobia has nothing to do with the person themselves. It’s important to know that anyone can become phobic as often people associate it to themselves as some sort of weakness or personal defect. It’s an unconscious reaction and mis-calculating in the mental processing which has been learnt. The good news is it can be unlearnt.
I overcame my phobias:
There was a time when I couldn’t go up the ladder into the loft in our house or go any higher than standing on a chair. I remember once when I took my 3 year old niece centre I couldn’t go down the slide with her. She was just 3 years old and happily climbed to the top and came down by herself. She loved it so much she wanted me to go down with her but just couldn’t. My body went into the full blown fight/flight response just looking at it. My heart was pumping, I couldn’t breath properly and I just remember feeling very sick.
It might be normal to be afraid of extreme heights otherwise people would work of the side of buildings but it’s not rational to feel sick at the thought of going up in a lift or going down an escalator, or even worse a child’s slide.
I’m still not comfortable with the idea of jumping out of an aeroplane but I happily climb a ladder or go in a cable car now. I also now regularly enjoy going on small boats with my children. It’s something my family loves to do and if I hadn’t overcome those old fears I would have missed out on so much.
Working with me to overcome a phobia:
The first thing I do when working with someone who has a phobia is to find out the boundaries of the phobia. So for example, someone with a fear of dogs might be okay with very small ones or when a dog is on a lead but has a panic attack if a large dog is near them or off their lead. This gives us a great opportunity to find the patterns that their mind is going through to calculate what’s okay and what’s not okay.
I’d often next work with someone to explore their strengths and inner resources they use in other situations. Or we might explore why overcoming the phobia is so important to them and what is motivating them to overcome the fear.
Then it’s really important to desensitise them to the stimuli or the most significant memories which are triggering the internal response in the moment. I use a number of safe techniques to help someone achieve this and clients are often surprised how quickly these changes occur.
We will then work on a number of ways of building up their confidence or projection into the future of being okay in those moments. This work is always different for each client as I work at their speed and focus in on what’s important to them.
Finally, we work through a number of self-calming or confidence building techniques which they can use at home or whenever they need them which means they can start to feel confident that even if they did have certain feelings in the future they’d have everything they need to cope.