Many of us have something that we do not like, or try to avoid.
It may be heights, spiders, water, enclosed spaces, sickness or something else. If this avoidance or fear is extreme, and is associated with nausea, trembling, rapid heartbeat, and pre-occupation with the feared object, it may be a phobia.
According to HealthDirect (1) “phobias are persistent, irrational fears. A phobia may be of an object or situation, with a strong desire to avoid the fear and, in some cases, an inability to function at normal tasks (such as a job or a social situation).”
They are a form of anxiety disorder, affect about 10% of the population, and women are more likely to be affected than men.
There is long list of possible phobias, including phobophobia, which is a phobia about phobias (2).
(I understand that phobias can cause a great deal of inconvenience to those who currently have them, so please do not think that I am trivialising phobias by including this picture of a slightly apprehensive but friendly ghost.
I always include an image in my blogposts, and I did not want to include a picture of a commonly feared object such as spider etc. in case this caused issues for some readers.)
Where do phobias come from?
So, where do phobias originate?
David Samson, a psychiatrist who specialises in treating phobias with hypnotherapy explains that:-
Our memory begins before we are even born and continues all the way through until the day we die. All this data is recorded somewhere. Ten per cent of it gets stored in the conscious while the other 90 per cent is stored in the subconscious.
For approximately the first six years of our life, virtually everything that you see, feel, hear or smell gets dumped into the subconscious. Once you get to six years of age, a different process happens and the conscious brain takes in all this data, but it then filters it into the conscious and subconscious. But it’s the pre-six-year-old stuff that I deal with because it’s when learned behaviour takes place.
A one-year-old seeing a spider for the first time would have no natural instinct to be afraid of it and would most likely be inquisitive. Problems arise from the reaction to the one-year-old’s fearlessness.
A child moves their hand towards it, then a parent walks in and tells them in a louder-than-normal voice not to touch it, uses a faster-than-normal hand movement and perhaps even kills it. This is something extraordinary and suddenly the child has learned something. A folder is created in the subconscious called ‘spider’, and within that folder is something to be fearful of. This so-called folder will lie dormant until the subconscious – your protection mechanism – thinks you might be in danger.
Let’s say many years later the child is at a friend’s house and out of the corner of their eye they see a spider. Their conscious brain, the more intelligent bit, tries to rationalise it, but more pressure is placed on it by the subconscious, which is telling them to get the hell out of there. In a nutshell, this is how phobias develop (3).
Most phobias have started before late adulthood (30 years old or over), and can be caused by a stressful or frightening event, or by seeing a person who you respect (a parent, caregiver, etc.) show a phobic or extreme reaction such as described above.
Our brains record and remember dangerous or frightening events which may occur to us throughout our lives, and recall this memory if we experience a similar situation later on in life, even if it is less intense than the original situation.
Research has shown that phobias are linked to a part of the brain called the amygdala, which releases the “fight or flight” hormones which get us ready to face danger. However, with a phobia, the danger we sense is either grossly exaggerated, or absent altogether, and the brain relives the original stressful event.
How can phobias be treated?
Luckily, phobias are highly treatable. If the situations which trigger a phobia are easy to avoid, this may be a suitable solution. If this is not practical, then it is good to know that phobias are generally treatable, and can be resolved by one or more treatments. These include various behaviour therapies, medication, and hypnotherapy.
If you would like more help with overcoming phobias, or simply wish to find out information about possible hypnotherapy sessions, please give me (Lisa) a call on 0403 932311. We can have a chat to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you – with no obligation.