Phobias are very common – up to 1 in 10 of us will be affected by a phobia at some point in our lives – and they can take many forms. Although some phobias seem to have a genuine protective purpose – such as a fear of heights or fear of snakes – many seem to be totally irrational.
In reality, all phobias have a root cause and phobic behaviour is there to serve a purpose – usually to protect us from some perceived danger. Phobias usually start when a person is exposed to an event which is emotionally intense. When faced with overwhelming feelings, the mind goes into survival mode, and looks around the environment for the cause of the danger.
Whilst almost any object, situation or place can act as a trigger, the most common phobias include:-
- Aerophobia – fear of flying
- Acrophobia – fear of heights
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces / fear of panic attacks
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
- Brontophobia – fear of thunder
- Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces
- Cynophobia – fear of dogs
- Globophobia – fear of balloons
- Glossophobia – fear of public speaking
- Emetophobia – fear of being sick
- Entomophobia – fear of insects
- Hydrophobia – fear of water
- Ichthyophobia – fear of fish
- Odontophobia / Dentophobia – fear of dentists
- Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
- Ornithophobia – fear of birds
- Pyrophobia – fear of fire
- Spheksophobia – fear of wasps
- Trypanophobia – fear of needles / fear of injections
- Xenophobia – fear of strangers
And there are many more – even a fear of phobias (phobophobia!) Phobias usually become a problem when the mind picks the wrong source of danger, or where it ‘generalises’ the source to include other items which seem irrational to be afraid of. An unchecked phobia can continue to generalise over time until it becomes difficult for a person to do anything without fear – known as agoraphobia, or fear of panic attacks.
Obsessive behaviour can often arise from such unchecked fears, and is often linked to a fear of losing control or fear of getting something wrong – the obsessive behaviour becomes the way of trying to retain control or avoid a perceived catastrophe.
Taking back control of your phobia
Once our mind has selected what it thinks is the cause of the danger, the memory and its associated emotions are usually buried out of conscious awareness, and used as a reference point for future encounters. This is partly to protect us from the emotions, and partly so that we cannot interfere consciously with this survival mechanism.
This is why phobias are so hard to control consciously, and why people often believe that they just have to ‘live with’ their phobia. In reality, a phobia is simply a learned response – you were not born with your phobia – and anything that is learned can be un-learned!
In fact, psychologists have suggested that we are born with only two inbuilt fears – the fear of loud noises (which is expressed in the startle reflex) and the fear of falling (which people with fear of heights trigger inappropriately).
Hypnotherapy is so effective in helping people to overcome phobias because it allows us to find and safely release the emotions of the sensitising event, which originally caused the phobia. And with the unhelpful emotions gone, the mind no longer has a reference point for the phobia, meaning the phobia just disappears.
The great thing is that it doesn’t matter how long you have suffered your phobia – I have worked with clients who have suffered from phobias for 40 or more years who have been helped in this short amount of time.