A phobia is a fear, a fear that for many people is debilitating and life changing. But let’s just explore the whole concept of fear for a second. Fear is good. Fear is an emotion that protects us when we are in danger. Imagine a world with no fear, and you imagine a world of lawlessness and anarchy. Without fear, we would have little or no incentive to behave and protect ourselves. Fear is our brain’s way of protecting us.
Throughout the ages we have learned to be afraid of certain things and situations. It is fear that protects us from snakes, sharks, and situations that can harm us. We are right to be afraid of snakes–many of them are venomous and even if they don’t kill us, we know that at best we will feel pain. Similarly we know that if we fall from a great height, the chances are we will break a leg or possibly die. So in these situations we are right to feel fear, because it protects us.
Most people don’t particularly like spiders or snakes, but they don’t suffer from a major phobia. So when does a normal fear become a phobia, and what causes some people to develop a phobia of everyday situations and objects?
The answer to what causes a phobia is specific to each individual, but certain situations may contribute to the situation. For example, a person who experiences a panic attack in an elevator might avoid taking an elevator after that for fear of experiencing another panic attack, despite the fact that the environment probably played no role in the initial attack. The individual will, perhaps subconsciously, blame the elevator for the attack, and ultimately the elevator and the panic attack become so interlinked, that soon a fear of elevators and enclosed spaces has developed, and the individual now suffers from claustrophobia.
A phobia may also be inherited, or rather taught. Take the case of Brian, an 11yr old boy who is afraid of flying. Why is an 11yr old so afraid of flying? The answer may be that his mother is also afraid. We learn from our parents, and trust them to protect us. Therefore, if our parent, who is supposed to protect us, is afraid of something, we learn that it must be harmful and that we too should be afraid of it. The big danger here is that what might be a mild fear in a parent, can develop into a full debilitating phobia in a child.
The one thing that all phobias have in common is that they are psychological, and therefore the treatment of phobias lies there. By understanding why we suffer from a specific phobia, we can begin to treat it. One of the best ways of treating phobias is with hypnosis. Hypnosis works by re-training the mind subconsciously to react to the phobia differently. By doing it subconsciously, a great deal of the stress and anxiety is taken out of the treatment for the client–for many people, even talking about their phobia can cause severe stress.
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