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>>>weapon. Our minds can leverage the basic thoughts we have and combine these together with logic and reason to produce, via communications, organisations and tools something far in excess of what a single person and their body could normally accomplish on their own.
Fear can be viewed as positive when it is used in its correct human context - as an emotion to help someone in distress or danger become temporarily stronger and faster, the better to deal with it. No one can dispute the usefulness of this in a fire or a mountain emergency for example. Or where you can recognise you have some anxiety about doing something but feel enough challenge and control to deal with it successfully, e.g. going self-employed after a redundancy.
Fear becomes something much more unmanageable when there is no apparent real and logical source for it and the person being fearful feels out of control and the feeling of being anxious and scared persists over time. Or happens suddenly and catastrophically for no apparent reason.
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Fear is a natural emotion where a person feels that danger is present and it is also something people feel when they tackle something new - something outside their present comfort zone.
Human mental evolution well exceeds the body's which is happiest roaming open country, doing physical work, hunting, gathering and preparing food, eating, fighting or defending against aggressors and having sex to procreate - raw survival. The body's nervous system is a very precise and intricate set of circuits and mini-brains set up for specific functions like respiration, heartbeat, digestion, sex and emotional reactions. It is a very literal system with few intelligent - as we would rationally see it - options for changing its mind. See a bear coming towards you on hind legs in a foul mood - no conscious thought required. In prehistoric times you may have been prepared to fight it yourself if you were stupid enough or felt brave and had plenty of friends with spears in which case the body's resources of strength and movement would have increased suddenly to cope.
By contrast the human mind is capable of thought far beyond the capacity of its owner's body. The sheer range of thought and its application can run from the aesthetic appreciation of a beautiful painting to the terrifyingly powerful force of a nuclear >>>
Elsewhere in these articles I have written about the difference between the conscious and sub-conscious (or unconscious) minds. As a quick reminder the conscious mind - the kind you think of as your everyday normal mind tends to be logical, reasonable, uses mathematics, helps you to read and write and use language to communicate. You think of this as your waking mind which can analyse and compare. You might think of it as your sensible mind.
By contrast the subconscious (s/c) regions of the mind tend to use recognition, rhythm, visualisation, imagery, creativity and emotions as their ways of communicating. When you dream, the s/c is active. The images in the dream are not necessarily logical - often dreams seem bizarre but they are offering their own way of interpreting events or problems in subconscious terms. So dreams tend to present a lot of symbols, jumbled sequences of events and allegories or metaphors, sometimes even puns and jokes. The s/c seems to have a survival function. It relies a lot on habit (this is where smoking and overeating come in). It has little sense of time - the past and the future might just as easily be the present. This last fact is very important as will be discussed later. The s/c can take things very literally and does not have the same capacity to evaluate differences between things like the conscious mind. >>>
>>> Something else about the subconscious mind is that it is by definition not available consciously (normally). A good example of this is that you might have known you were dreaming the night before but now you've had breakfast and a cup of coffee the whole event has now gone from awareness and you just cannot remember clearly what the dream was about.
There is a strong link between the subconscious mind and the autonomic nervous system. If the subconscious perceives danger it activates the 'fight or flight' responses via the brain and nervous system. The problem arises when the subconscious gets confused about when it should switch on and may then not switch off, when a situation of chronic fear can develop.
I have heard one instance where a student who was waiting for his flight to be called and drank a few cups of coffee while he waited. The physical effect on his system was fairly profound and he ended up having a panic attack on the aircraft. He only found this out later in hypnotherapy. So the reverse of psychological to physical can happen and the subconscious can sometimes not distinguish between the sources.
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There are numerous web references to lists of phobias, which I don’t intend to repeat here. But if you look them up you’ll be struck by what people can have a paralysing fear about.
It seems incomprehensible (logically) that anyone could ever have a fear of books or hearing good news but there they are on the list.
Before we go too far it would best to define a Phobia as an abnormal, intense and irrational fear of a given situation, organism or object. [Greek - phobos- fear]. Collins English Dictionary.
An Anxiety is described as a state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible future misfortune , danger etc.; worry. The difference is in the intensity of the experience and people generally will feel varying degrees of unwanted fear from very mild to extreme as in phobia. People who are phobic are usually also chronically anxious types of individual.
There are three main types of Phobia -
Some experience a very specific fear - e.g. spiders, interviews, meeting new people etc. Others have a much more widespread fear or anxiety generally and about more situations - e.g. agoraphobia where the sufferer fears not just open spaces but often public transport and crowded streets or shops. This type of fear is much more disabling. Specific fears can often be dealt with by an person who knows to stay clear of cats or needles or whatever they are scared of. It is far harder to avoid life completely.
For people who do not suffer from intense fear or panic this is very hard to understand and often someone with a phobia finds it difficult to convince people that they are not pretending to be exceptionally fearful. A client of mine who suffered from panic attacks in the street described it as an Oh, My God!!! kind of feeling as if she was going to pass out and she also described it as such an intense fear that she would have to go straight back home (safe place) as if her mind was out of control of what her legs were doing. Since she also had small children with her the panic was intensified because she feared what might happen to them if she fainted or became a gibbering wreck.
People suffering from phobias tend to hide and control external evidence of their fear and so look normal. This very normality tends to mask the problem and other people can be unsympathetic and quite often do not understand what is going on with their friend or relative. Underneath the veneer the sufferer can be very anxious and completely lack confidence and self-esteem. It is not an exaggeration to say that phobias can ruin a person's life if left untreated and with little or no support from their peers and immediate family. >>>
>>> The source of fear and phobias
Some incident happened in the person's past which was very frightening to them at that time, usually, but not always in childhood. The danger was clearly present or implied. Notice that the traumatic incident may not be something which the person would find all that disturbing as an adult - what frightens children can be fairly mild in adult terms. The important point is that at the time they were 'scared to death' of something. The memory of this would be deeply etched into the subconscious mind and their conscious appreciation of the incident would be low or non-existent. If it was very disturbing in all likelihood the memory would be completely repressed as too painful to bring back to consciousness.
If this were the first such experience of deep fear in the person's life we might call this the Initial Sensitising Event (ISE). Circumstances like the ISE in future will bring back the same feelings of terror and dread without the person being aware why (because it is sub-conscious - below awareness). These so-called Secondary Sensitising Events (SSEs) start to build on the power of the original ISE and if enough of these are experienced, fear of whatever started the process becomes a phobia. If the fears start to be experienced in many different locations and situations, the phobia becomes more generalised e.g. agoraphobia.
In hypnotherapy we can clear up what caused the phobia historically. Sometimes this can produce a spontaneous recovery. At other times there is a problem because the person continues to have panic attacks despite being no longer afraid of the previous apparent cause (e.g. spiders, needles etc). There can also be the situation where someone has just thought themselves into being terrified about something even though there has been no bad experience with it.
The negative-thinking habit is something we all do from time to time - the little internal voice or dialogue where we think, for example, I wonder if I can cope with that speech tomorrow - I've never been very good at it in the past - I just get so nervous and embarrassed. This is a form of self-hypnosis where the person is pre-programming themselves to fail. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The subconscious mind is only too eager to latch on to the dangerous aspects and since it has little concept of time starts to activate the panic mechanisms immediately. So no sooner has the thought taken place than we start feeling anxious, heartbeat increasing; becoming worried for no good reason.
In the same way, someone who has found and made conscious the psychological cause of their fear or phobia may still have panic attacks simply due to the habit of being afraid of panic. The habit is often just as problematic as the original source because it may have been a way of life for many years. It can feel very strange for a phobic person to feel that they no longer have to worry constantly. The fear habit - negative thinking - has been so ingrained that a whole way of thought now has to be changed and switched through 180 degrees.
Negative thought affects perception of the past, present and future and can in itself be disabling. Typically a sufferer of panic attacks will worry about 'What happens if I collapse in the street; people will be looking at me and I'll feel a complete idiot'. When challenged, they will usually admit that it has never, ever happened.
Conversely positive thought - the 'can do', 'I can handle it' approach restores ability and freedom of action.
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This is the manifestation of the 'flight' part of the panic symptoms. For someone with a specific phobia such as fear of flying, they have learned over time that they stay comfortable as long as not travelling by air, so will either holiday at home or if they must go abroad will do so by sea. If for some reason they are forced to fly they will either experience major panic or will find any excuse to escape from the commitment if possible. It doesn't mean that this person is completely incapacitated, just in specific circumstances.
With a more generalised phobia such as agoraphobia panic has happened in the open, or in busy streets or crowded public transport and the normal reaction is to avoid these situations if possible, usually by being accompanied by someone close who can be trusted. If the phobia develops further the agoraphobic may well become housebound. This type of avoidance is obviously unhelpful and damaging as a strategy, usually in a major way.
People can sometimes have a use for their fear in that they may:-
If these issues are not addressed then improvement in the condition is unlikely.
However, quite often the phobia lacks such a purpose or secondary gain and has been acquired through some traumatic event or by learned, negative thinking about the object of fear.
Hypnotherapy offers a powerful way to treat phobias, anxieties and fears and the symptoms such as panic attacks since under hypnosis a client has more effective access to the subconscious. Either suggestion therapy or hypno-analytical methods can be used to get to the roots of the problem in that part of the mind.
If the problem could be thought away consciously, the client would already have done that. However, since it is below his or her awareness level hypnosis is used to help access the source.
I always emphasise to clients that there is as much work or them to do as there is for me. Understanding plays a key role in helping get a resolution and the client has to have a commitment to deal with the problem as part of the therapeutic partnership. For example one hypno-analysis technique is age regression. During hypnosis the memory is markedly improved and it is possible to get back to the incident which is the cause of the phobia. This can be temporarily upsetting but the more the incident is reviewed, the more the conscious mind recovers information about it and the reason for the phobia can be very revealing and often surprising. Often the object of fear is found to be nothing to do with the original fearful incident, but the client has consciously grabbed on to some aspect of it to rationalise it.
E.g. the young man who drank a lot of coffee and just happened to be in flight when he had his panic attack. He wasn't afraid of flying - it just so happened he was flying when the panic attack happened for some other reason (which he was not aware of). What he was aware of was that he had the attack while on an aircraft and from then on had developed a fear of flying. This was quickly resolved under hypnosis but you can imagine that other phobia sources can be more frightening than this. Unfortunately my supply of magic dust has run out and one client who asked whether I would knock her out and she would wake up cured had to be disappointed with that solution!
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is often cited in conventional medical circles as being effective with phobias and I agree, but I would add that the techniques become much more powerful with hypnotherapy for the reasons above. I encourage my clients to study, read and absorb fully a really excellent site by Dr. Reid Wilson, PhD on different aspects of anxiety. At any rate the parts that apply to them. Not everyone is phobic, but they may suffer from social anxiety or some other aspect relating to fear and many parts of Dr Wilson's site are useful and can apply. There are many other sites and books which are helpful.
One such example - Susan Jeffer's book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway has been useful to a number of clients of mine, especially in overcoming the fear habit phase of therapy. Dr Jeffers makes some very valid and useful points about fear, especially on how to turn fear into a positive force rather than give in and retreat . The value of proper counselling in addition to hypnotherapy is great and for phobia sufferers with real problems in real situations a listening ear, advice and guidance can make a lot of difference.
In treating phobias or anxieties, it is very important to practice what has been learned both in therapy and from other sources. This gives the confidence to move on and try bigger and better challenges. The emphasis initially is to start slowly and build up. Your mind is an excellent feedback mechanism, but it does work on a gradient. Too steep a gradient and failure is likely. Too shallow and there is no feeling of gain. So 'homework' consists of study, self-hypnosis to reduce general anxiety levels/increase positive thinking and a plan for the next period to use the techniques learned (e.g. proper breathing control, symptom control). The plan should include what the client can achieve which pushes the limits further and gives a better feeling of confidence in his or her abilities.
A complete therapy includes this consideration of what happens in the real world; therapy without practice is like having the map but not going walking. On the other hand walking without a map can be a risky business!
On quite a number of occasions now I have given sessions for agoraphobia or related phobias at the clients' own home. Circumstances vary - some people can drive, with difficulty maybe. Others do not have someone who could drive them to my office, or are in any event tremendously fearful about going out at all. In these cases I realise that the best option may be for therapy to come to them, with a suitable quiet environment available if possible.
If you suffer from agoraphobia you will be aware that the home environment is "safe ground" and you are more likely to be comfortable there than in surroundings you are not familiar with. Therapy is more effective when you are relaxed, so depending on the individual I will agree to this approach.
About Fears and Phobias
Fear and the Mind
When Fear gets out of Control
Agoraphobia - home visits
Cattle at Fonvuick, near Killiecrankie. Ben Vrackie in the distance.
Old farm ruins between Craig Fonvuick and Creag Bhealaich, Perthshire