According to WHO, half of the world’s adult population suffers from fears that interfere with normal life. So, 40% feel tension during each flight, 22% – during treatment at the dentist, and 12% have phobias – sudden and paralyzing fears: for example, a person simply cannot get on a plane or go to a doctor’s office.
Nervous tremors, a feeling of complete insecurity, horror seize some of us in front of an airplane ladder, in front of a closed (or open) space, alone or when it is necessary to speak in public … These emotions – uncontrollable at first glance – poison everyday life. But they are not fatal – the phobia cannot be controlled, but you can get rid of it or significantly weaken its influence.
Alarm failure in the body
Let’s imagine a situation in which a car alarm is triggered. Someone opens the car, and there is a sound – loud enough to be heard, but still not deafening to the human ear. The alarm works as long as it takes to be noticed, but the owner can turn it off. A faulty alarm will become inconvenient and useless – it will be triggered too often, sound too loud and for a long time …
Fear works in a similar way. It also signals: something is wrong. Natural fear draws our attention to danger. Painful fear, like a damaged alarm, is excessive, unjustified and meaningless.
“It often manifests itself in ‘strange’ behavior at the most unexpected moment,” explains the cognitive psychologist Alexei Lunkov. – A person can be “numb” during a harmless conversation or run out of the room, noticing a spider on the wallpaper … “
“It is not possible either to explain the strength of this fear, or to suppress the fear in oneself,” says psychotherapist Margarita Zhamkochian. “And the obscurity always increases the panic.” A person is driven by an irresistible irrational desire to get away from a frightening situation or object, and even talk about it. This panic, unrelenting fear, leading to irrational behavior, is phobia (from the Greek “phobos” – horror).
A phobia in an adult is a problem that requires help, and in a child it is a danger to his development. “Children learn something every day, and painful fears deprive them of the opportunity to learn new things,” says psychiatrist and psychotherapist Elena Vrono. Phobias can appear early in life, but more often during adolescence. If a child complains about fears, you cannot shame him or laugh at him. There is no need to look with him in the closet or under the bed for the “monsters” that frighten him. “Support him, play with him,” advises Elena Vrono. “And the reason for his fears is best dealt with with a specialist.”
How we react: passively or actively
Fear is the body’s natural reaction to danger – real or imagined. By itself, it does not create serious difficulties for us; on the contrary, it allows us to react intelligently to a dangerous situation. So, a professional climber at high altitude behaves carefully, but his fears do not prevent him from moving towards the goal.
All natural fears force us to act actively, while phobias are passive: a person is not looking for ways to get rid of his fear, he is simply afraid.
“At this moment, rational fear gets out of control, feelings and emotions cease to be controlled by consciousness,” adds Alexey Lunkov. – Phobia is an obsessive painful condition that is not associated with real danger, but arises whenever a person is faced with a frightening situation. At the same time, his whole life is subordinated to one thing: “If only I do not face this.”
Most often, phobias are associated with animals, natural elements and phenomena (depth, height, darkness, thunderstorm …), transport, blood and wounds, social situations (views, judgments …) and being in public places. There are many phobias associated with the body: fear of suffocating, falling, fear of nausea …
Phobias and gender characteristics
There are twice as many women with phobias than men. Researchers studying human psychology at different stages of evolution believe that this state of affairs has developed largely due to the traditional distribution of responsibilities.
American sociologists Takott Parsons and Robert Bales put forward a hypothesis according to which many gender differences are explained by the “instrumentality” of male behavior and the “expressiveness” of female behavior.
Hunting, cattle breeding, fishing – once the main occupations of men were associated with risk and danger, but an irrational fear would make them simply impracticable. The woman, the keeper of the hearth and the teacher of children, on the contrary, had to be very careful, pay attention to the dangers that threatened the death of children and family.
This distribution of gender characteristics, as well as the characteristics of the upbringing of boys and girls, persisted in most societies.
“As a result, modern girls, girls are very susceptible to the fears of their parents and loved ones, they more subtly recognize the emotions of those around them, more easily become infected with fear,” says Margarita Zhamkochyan. “In addition, modern parents are tolerant of their daughters’ fears and encourage their sons to not be afraid of danger.”
On the other hand, the male desire to cope with difficulties on their own affects the statistics: women suffering from phobias are more likely to seek help, and many men prefer to endure and do not fall into the field of view of specialists.
Relaxation and the “ladder of incentives”
Irrational fear causes muscle tone, which is why it is so important to be able to relax. “Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy helps those who suffer from phobia to master relaxation methods – meditation, auto-training,” says Alexey Lunkov. – Then the client, together with the psychotherapist, compiles a hierarchy of disturbing situations: for example, in arachnophobia, the weakest stimulus may be the word “spider” written on paper, and the strongest – a spider sitting on the palm. Gradually moving up the “ladder of incentives” from weakest to strongest (with the help of a specialist or on your own) and using relaxation techniques at the moments of meeting with something that frightens, you can tame your fear. Some arachnophobes, for example, at the end of therapy even decide … to kiss the back of a large tarantula spider.
Three sources of phobias
How does a person acquire a phobia? “The basis of this experience is primarily biological,” says Aleksey Lunkov, “since some people are genetically predisposed to panic fears. They are generally oversensitive and over-emotional. From the point of view of psychology, this innate feature can be enhanced or, conversely, extinguished by education and events taking place in life. “
The social factor also affects the development of phobia: new realities of life, certain social situations also increase (or weaken) our susceptibility to exaggerated fears. So, phobias associated with land or air transport have become much more today, but we also travel and fly much more often than 20-30 years ago.
“Sometimes phobias arise as a result of severe fright, often experienced in childhood,” says Margarita Zhamkochyan. “The suddenness, for example, the barking of a dog, an instant response fear … and a harmless animal is already perceived as a threatening monster.”
Healing by provocation
Our fears are treatable, sometimes unexpectedly quickly. What about phobias? This uncontrolled emotional overreaction occurs only in certain situations – just as an allergy becomes immune overreactivity in response to a specific allergen.
To get rid of such dependence, it is necessary to artificially induce a reflex of sudden fear: to consciously put oneself in frightening situations, getting used to them and gradually increasing the influence of provoking factors.
This technique is similar to allergy treatment: there is a gradual addiction to the allergen and at the same time a decrease in sensitivity to it. For example, in order to stop being afraid of pigeons, you first need to get used to the image of these birds in the photo, then accustom yourself to look at a pigeon in a cage, and then go to a flock of pigeons in the park …
The goal of psychotherapy is not to free yourself from a phobia, but to introduce fear into a natural framework: it must become adequate and controlled. Often, those who suffer from some kind of phobia begin to “fear the very fear.” And the exercises of “getting used to fear” in combination with relaxation techniques help you learn to accept it as inevitable. Having ceased to be afraid of your fear, you can begin to relate to it more calmly – to understand, react, overcome.
4 steps to stop your phobia
1. Don’t submit to your fears. Excessive fears limit our freedom and can enslave us: “Don’t go out, don’t approach, don’t talk about …” The more you obey them, the stronger they will become. Treat intense fear as an intruder, and learn to understand what you want (to be free) and what the phobia wants (to enslave you).
2. Think about the cause of your fear and move on to action. It is always helpful to know where the fears come from. But you shouldn’t devote all your time and energy to finding the reasons. Find the strength to face the object of your fear directly.
3. Learn to relax and meditate. Exercise regularly to practice accepting your fear. Project, for example, a frightening situation on an imaginary movie screen – zoom in and out of the “image”. Look at yourself from the outside, not forgetting that you are in a calm and safe situation. Finish your “viewing” with the most routine action for you that you often do at home: start reading, washing dishes, drinking a cup of tea.
4. Don’t stop making efforts. Excessive fears usually indicate increased emotional sensitivity. This quality is positive, and therefore you shouldn’t fight it mercilessly. Get used to the frightening situations gradually, with the advice of a therapist if possible.
It is not true!
This technique is similar to a game, but the phobia is afraid of such games. A psychotherapist or friend who wants to help you get rid of your unconscious fear takes your point of view and tells you why you should be afraid, for example, of flying airplanes. Try to convince him, saying: “This is not true!” – and giving a counterargument to each of his statements. After several such conversations, your own feelings at the thought of flying will cause you a pleasant surprise: the fear suppressed by your own arguments will be much less.
“Understand that healing is real”
Psychologies: Anxiety and Phobia – Are They Related to Each Other?
Elena Vrono: In the modern world, there are many diseases that humanity pays for the development of civilization, and phobias from among them. Life becomes more and more stressful, and anxiety, as a natural defense mechanism, warns us of danger and forces us to act – to flee or to fight. Anxiety is essential for survival, but it is usually the one that triggers the phobia mechanism.
That is, the anxious person will develop a phobia over time?
No, there is no fatal predisposition to this even in those who were born a little more anxious than others. But a constant disturbing background can become a risk factor, and in special circumstances, disrupt the usual course of life.
One of my patients locked the door of the apartment for an infinitely long time, returning dozens of times and checking the lock. For the time being, he coped with his anxiety, until he had to simultaneously pass exams at the university and get a prestigious job. He was late for an important interview and could not get a job. It was at this moment that a feature of his constitution – increased anxiety – turned into a disease.
How to behave when faced with a phobia?
It must be understood that healing from a phobia is real. Possible psychotherapeutic assistance, drug therapy, as well as their combination.
Here is one of the effective psychotherapeutic exercises: in the moment of panic, remember the state when you were happy, when you felt very good, pleasant, and fun. To remember up to sensations, up to a pose and try to immerse yourself in this state.
Absolutely getting rid of a phobia is unrealistic, but with the help of a specialist, you can curb it, weaken its influence and achieve your own power over it – in this case, you can learn to cope with your fear and not let it interfere with your life to the fullest.
Film “Fears and Phobias”. Even the most harmless at first glance fear can develop into a phobia that will turn our whole life upside down. The British BBC film explores the nature of our fears and how to overcome them.