The term phobia is actually much mis-used. A true phobia is in fact quite rare. What most people call phobias tend most often to be fears.
Its important that anyone who helps people to overcome fears and phobias understands the difference between the two because the way a phobia is formed is very different from the way a fear develops. So naturally, resolving a phobia requires a completely different process to resolving a fear.
It’s important that a Practitioner knows what they are dealing with in order to proceed in the right way and not waste the sufferer’s time.
The sign of a true phobia is that there is no thinking time involved.
The sight or sound of the trigger causes the phobic person to react before they have time to think. It’s a trigger:response system with no cognitive thought process between trigger and response.
I was once in a bar where a man who had a dog phobia was sitting at a table just inside the door. Someone walked in with a dog on a lead. The man yelled out and at the same time he leapt from his chair up onto the table. There was no pause for thought, the sight of the dog simply caused him to act without thinking. That’s a true phobia. It’s like an on/off switch. It’s off and then it’s on.
With a fear there’s a gradual build up, like a sliding scale. If that man in the bar had a fear he would have edged away slowly or become increasing more agitated.
A phobia goes from 0 to 10 in an instant whereas a fear needs time to build and gradually gets stronger.
A person with a phobia will act without thinking when it’s triggered – they could run into a road or lose control of a car because the response happens without any kind of rational thought process. A phobia is a dangerous thing to live with. I remember working with someone who was spider phobic. I asked this person to look up. She assumed I had asked her to do this because there was a spider above her head (my request had nothing to do with spiders) and so instead of looking up she simply bolted for the door. She was halfway down the corridor by the time I convinced her to stop and tell me why she was leaving.
A fear on the other hand starts small and increases. Over time someone who has had a fear response they have run many times will become more efficient in recreating that response. Practise makes perfect so the more times you run that fear response the better you get at it. A fear starts at 0 then goes through 1,2,3,4 etc. all the way to 10. The longer the response runs the stronger it becomes. So it’s possible to chip away at a fear and decrease it over time.
Whether fear or phobia, the important thing to remember is that change is possible. Making a change to the way you respond in a situation will produce a different outcome. Letting go of a fear or phobia can reduce the stress load you carry day to day. Think about the woman who ran out of the room when I asked her to look up. She changed that response and this meant that she no longer had to be on full alert looking for spiders everywhere she went. Overcoming her phobia meant that she was able to remove a spider from her house when she found one – no more phoning her Dad or brother in the middle of the night to come and do it for her.
It isn’t just about feeling different at those times when a spider appears. It’s about being able to relax in your own home every evening, being able to walk into a building without having to check the ceiling for cobwebs, being able to enjoy having a picnic on the lawn without that being a stressful event.
I remember working with someone to resolve a fear of heights. This gentleman reported back a couple of weeks later saying how he was now able to enjoy family shopping trips without the worry of avoiding going to the first floor in retail centres. He also noted how he felt so much more confident in himself – it’s amazing how making one good change can affect the way we feel about so many things, and ultimately affects how we feel about ourselves.
Making a good change for yourself is such an empowering thing to do and your mind recognises when you have done this and starts looking for all the extra benefits of the change that you have made. Do something great for yourself and you can be sure your unconscious will work hard to make sure you get maximum benefit!