Fears and phobias, why do we get them?

Phobias are an 'irrational' fear, but this doesn't mean a lack of bravery. One can be the most courageous person and have a phobia of spiders. The 'irrational' bit is when trying to tell a person with a phobia that there is "nothing to worry about", will not work and may even be counterproductive. This is because the person with a phobia has a very strong perception of their fear and how it physically feels. It is a genuine fear which requires understanding and acceptance.

"When perception comes in the door, reality goes out the window" is a well know phrase that describes the difficulties we can find ourselves in when we confuse perception and reality. Some of our perceptions about ideas, concepts, people or things can be culturally constructed. We may associate Christmas with snow or, if we're Australian, heat.

When we have perceptions on a subject, those perceptions can be shaped by our cultural assumptions rather than having a natural basis. Perception can also be shaped by external stimuli, we see how others do something and we learn from it. This can occasionally cause a vicarious phobia, we can become scared of spiders because, as a child, we saw a family member’s fear reaction.

We also assign meaning to things that happen to us, classifying things ‘"good or bad, helpful or useless..." human perception requires these frames of reference to help us make sense of the new, and to "pattern match" for recognised things.

"I haven’t had this type of vegetarian sandwich before, but I like sandwiches and I like vegetables", this gives a frame of reference to the new sandwich with some pattern matching, so the thought process is fast and efficient. This is our prefrontal cortex using it’s imagination to predict the outcome. It is the same thought process that means sandwich makers don’t make really odd or novel sandwiches, cheese and chocolate sandwiches don’t tend to work in their imagination either!

A repeated negative action or thought also becomes habit. Negative pattern matching, airplanes and fear, airplanes and the last airplane disaster movie for example, are negative-repeated thought patterns that become habit whenever anyone mentions flights, planes, holidays or travel. This negative thought pattern tends to be an "all or nothing" approach. The thinking style becomes rigid and inflexible and is also associated with the physical feelings of fear, the racing heart, sweaty palms and feelings of panic. So when someone else says "flying is safe, you’ll be fine!", the person with the phobia feels misunderstood and not reassured.

A perspective change is a way of breaking the habit. The hypnotherapy or NLP rewind technique changes this perspective and hypnotherapy uses a state of low emotional arousal to change the physical sensations of fear to a more relaxed state. Then to assist future pattern matches, the reframe technique allows the left prefrontal cortex to do its virtual reality pattern match job in a new, positive way. Now we can see flying, or spiders, in a calm and confident way. Leaving us focused on the solution and not the problem.

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