Phobias


The newspapers and television news reports often contain mainly negative news, such as violent crime or murder. Readers may believe that levels of crime are much worse than they actually are, or that anyone swimming in tropical waters will likely be attacked by a large shark! However the truth is often very different, but such focus on negative news means that people are often more fearful than they need to be (real versus perceived danger). For example, the movie Jaws created widespread panic and fear of the ocean amongst many millions of people for several decades, and the perception of sharks even today is excessively negative and out of proportion to the actual probability of attack compared with other causes. For example, more people are killed by falling coconuts each year than shark attacks. But are people scared of coconuts when they walk on a white sandy beach? The perception in the UK is that child abductions and murders have increased dramatically over the last 30 years, on account of excessive media coverage of such issues and events (treating people like idiots, assuming that is what they want to see), whereas the reality is that levels have not increased in real terms at all. Certain abduction cases receive media coverage for several years, with the parents courting the media and taking every opportunity to appear on television in an undignified manner. Making serial killers anti-heros and giving them so much media attention actually gives them significance and ironically encourages more serial killers to kill as they want a few minutes of fame, or more school shootings as depressed and insecure teenagers seek a few minutes of glory and infamy in exchange for their own lives and the lives of others. They know this is one guaranteed way to feel signficant and get attention, which is what they often crave. They want their expression of protest and anger to be seen by the world. Consider the amount of media time and space in the UK dedicated to road accidents, cancer deaths, deaths of British soldiers or even fatal accidents in the shower. Then compare the amount of media coverage of the deaths of British children, particularly those with a pretty smile. Of course, non-UK nationals are not considered as important, and the status of on-going civil wars, starvation and malnutrition deaths are often not reported, and even acts of genocide only receive limited coverage, unless that geographic region is in vogue. The news and media can condition our perception of our environment, both locally, nationally and internationally; and indeed of ourselves. It is prudent to be aware of this and get some perspective!

A phobia is often defined as a fear being out of proportion to the actual danger and results in a repeated and conditioned behavioural response to a given situation or perception of the possibility of that situation arising. The perception of danger can lead to genuine panic in sufferers. The various degrees of fear (mild fear to outright panic) often result in a person trying to avoid the object, situation or conditions which are perceived as potentially resulting in that situation.

Mind, the mental health charity, defines a phobia as 'an intense fear of a situation or an object that wouldn't normally worry other people'. There are estimated to be 10 million suffers in the UK (in 2006, according to the National Phobics Society), which is approximately 17% of the population! It is the 3rd most common psychiatric disorder, after depression and alcoholism. Some of the most common phobias in the UK (in 2006) were Social phobia (17%), Agoraphobia (9.9%), Vomit phobia (2.6%), Blushing phobia (1.2%), Driving phobia (11%).

Phobias usually develop in two main ways. After a negative experience, for example, an accident, mistake, unpleasant situation or crime, but they can also be learnt from peers, siblings and parents etc. e.g. if children see that their parents are afraid of heights, spiders, losing keys, getting wet, being seen to be wrong or making a mistake, afraid of next alcoholic binge, being mugged, etc. (this is why fears tend to run in families, and also within social groups); or by watching television or reading the tabloids.

Phobias in a sense act like a bully - if you give in to your phobia, it becomes reinforced and much worse the next time it is experienced; much like many other addictive, negative patterns of behaviour. It becomes a conditioned response that after time we may perceive as part of our identity and impossible to break. Breaking the cycle of the phobia requires addressing the flawed thinking that created it, addressing those core beliefs and reference points (the legs of a table) that keep those beliefs solid and stable. We need to work on questioning and breaking down these references or table legs, to bring the table crashing down! Most sufferers of phobias use the strategy of avoidance, as it seems like the best idea, i.e. avoiding those situations entirely, so that one does not have to experience the fear in the first place. However, this is hardly a 'cure', and it psychologically reinforces the phobia's belief that there is danger. Actively avoiding such situations is not the same as not having happened to have come across such a situation, and if it did occur, it would not be a big deal. It is important not to kid yourself here.

Clearly any phobia you have that is not a real physical danger is something that we as people must try to work on and remove, so that our minds can be free of their bullying and terror. To become calmer, more relaxed and rounded people and to allow for more full psychological and spiritual growth. Fears in one area tend to spread onto other areas, and even when the trigger for the fear is not present, one can in a sense 'feel' that restriction in one's personality/subconscious in the background constantly. A fear in one area is likely to reinforce fears in other unrelated areas, the overall effect being greater than the sum of the parts.

Examples of phobias or fear could include giving a presentation, complaining, being assertive with a certain person, e.g. a family member or colleague (the belief that you simply CANNOT say what you think with them, when in reality it is no big deal, and once they are used to it, they won't 'freak out' - if they expect you to be scared of being assertive, they will cement their position with you, until you change your position with them, when the balance simply readjusts). More information on the levels of thinking, often associated with fear, can be found on the Personality Types page.

Those with phobias or specific fears tend to inhabit a world where they avoid situations that mean they have to confront their fears, and often adapt their lifestyle accordingly. They may make rational excuses for avoiding certain activities that would involve this confrontation. They may hope in the back of their minds that they do not meet anyone who encourages them or pushes them into confronting this phobia. They may well choose friends who have similar phobias and similar areas that they allow themselves to express themselves in. Where there is mismatch, as long as it is not too severe, the person in question may feel uncomfortable at times but tolerate it.

It is likely that most sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether it be stress induced from warfare (being in a fight or flight state of mind 24 hours a day for months on end) or from a traumatic criminal event such as rape, that a significant if not total recovery can result on regaining control of one's focus, rather than letting it replay traumatic events over and over again, and also delving into one's negative beliefs that help to reinforce that negative pattern of addictive focus.

The disempowering beliefs that we create that fuel phobias and anxiety disorders are examined in more detail on the Belief page.

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© 2006-2014 Fabian Dee