As a behavioral and hypnotherapist, I have had countless clients over the years tell me that a certain fear or phobia is constraining their life, and preventing them from reaching their full potential.
Whether it’s a common fear such as public speaking, or a more unusual one such as fear of a particular animal or object, I always tell my clients the same thing: almost all of our fears are acquired, which means that we’re not born with them and we have the power to get rid of them.
The best way to dissociate irrational fears is to identify the root cause of them. For example, fear of public speaking is always a fear of being judged and then rejected. Giving a speech magnifies this fear because if you mess up or sound unintelligent, there is an entire audience present to witness your failure and judge you.
Fear of a certain food, place, or activity may trigger a memory that was very unpleasant or harmful in the past. In this case your fear is somewhat irrational, as you have forged a negative association with something that’s very unlikely to happen to you again.
Central to my practice as a therapist is the idea that the mind controls everything – whether it’s fear, addiction, compulsion, or your body’s inability to carry out a normal function. Just as your mind has always told you to be scared in a certain situation, it can equally tell you to not be scared in the very same scenario. The important thing to remember is that you are in control of your mind, rather than the other way around.
How you feel about something – whether it’s a certain food, place, or activity like speaking in public – is entirely dependent on two things: the pictures you make in your head and the words you say to yourself.
Think about how you might feel happy to hold or touch a ladybird or butterfly, but doing the same to a cockroach or moth would be terrifying; all four are insects that crawl or flutter, but the former two are positively associated with being cute or beautiful while the latter two are thought of negatively as pests.
If you have a fear of injections, it’s because you link pain to the idea of an injection, but if you’re already in extreme pain you’ll start to link pleasure to an injection. If you can change what you link pleasure and pain to, you can begin to alleviate your fears.
Think of two people who are sitting next to each other on an American Airlines flight from London to Los Angeles. One is thrilled that they are about to go on holiday and their mind is full of thoughts of sunshine, convertibles and movie star sightings. The other is dreading the takeoff, certain that terrorists will target the plane because it’s an American Airlines flight and terrified that any turbulence will bring down the aircraft.
Both individuals are on the exact same plane, subject to the exact same level of risk, and have the same level control over the situation (very little). Yet the person who has formed positive associations with the experience is suffering much less. You can choose to be the former person to overcome your fear.
Even if you’ve had an extremely negative experience in the past that causes your fear today, there are certain physical changes you can consciously make to your body that will help trigger a calming reaction.
For example, lowering your shoulders and swilling saliva around your mouth counteracts the natural reaction to fear (i.e. tensing up the shoulders and getting a dry mouth).
At the same time, tell yourself the opposite of whatever your fear is by using a positive affirmation: “I love insects, they are part of the beauty and perfection of nature” or “I love flying on this plane because it’s taking me home to the family I love.”
While you may not believe your affirmation the first time you say it, with repetition and belief, it’s amazing how your mind will respond. Try it.