In this phobias guide:
Experienced hypnotherapist Faith Waude DHP has treated thousands of people for issues such as fears and phobias. Writing exclusively for Psychologist World, Faith takes us through the psychological techniques you can employ to self-help yourself to overcome those fears forever…
First, to define a phobia…
There are literally thousands of different kinds of phobia; practically all of them have been given names, ranging from Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) to Xenophobia. (Fear of strangers or foreigners), it would take a whole volume to even attempt to list them all.
A Roman writer named Celsius first used the word phobia to describe ‘morbid fears’ and since then that name has stuck, even being used by William Shakespeare.
Many people have phobias without even realizing it – people who blush furiously when facing a situation where they feel they are being looked at, probably have no idea that they are suffering from scopophobia (a fear of being stared at) whilst another person who is actually afraid of blushing could be said to have ereuthophobia (a fear of blushing).
Queen Elizabeth I had a fear of having a rose anywhere near her, but it is doubtful that she’d ever heard of the term anthophobia and King Edward VII’s fear of the number thirteen affected him so much that he could not bear to be at a table where there were thirteen people present.
Although each phobia is given a different name and all seem unique to the person suffering this extreme fear, they are actually a symbolic outward expression of internal anxiety – a free floating, nameless, formless thing that is within themselves but outside of their own control.
This free floating anxiety attaches itself to something within the individual’s environment in order for them to make sense of it. It is far easier to attach an anxiety to, for example, a fear of spiders, than it is to try to understand what these internal conflicts represent and to then deal with them. In a way, phobias are more common in intelligent people as it takes a degree of intellect for a person to project these free floating anxieties outside him or herself.
The gain to the intellect is that it is far easier to project these unwanted feelings onto something that they can understand and so avoid, rather than try to work out what it is that is causing the anxiety.
Should the sufferer avoid whatever it is that represents his phobia (e.g. thunderstorms) and still feel bouts of anxiety, then his phobia will escalate at an alarming rate and he or she could develop numerous other fears and phobias, such as fear of electricity, fear of sudden, loud noises, fear of leaving the home, etc. until he or she has a long list of phobias.
Symptoms that appear physiological often develop out of the unexplored anxieties and can range from stomach ulcers, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, rashes, to stuttering, blushing, warts, impaired memory, palpitations – the list is endless.
If a persona suffering from a stomach ulcer was taken into hospital and operated upon, their stomach ulcer might disappear and they would be proclaimed as fit and healthy again. However, if that menacing, free-floating anxiety was still lying dormant within the person’s subconscious mind, chances are that they would later develop a different symptom. The mind carries it’s memory traces and patterns and these are likely to be repeated if the cause of the anxiety or phobia is not revealed and dealt with.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
A person who is confronted with the symbolic situation or object of his phobia could suffer a variety of symptoms depending on the degree of anxiety felt. The most common ones are: palpitations, sweaty hands or back of the neck, racing heart, pounding head, tremors, breathlessness, fainting, constricted muscles, light-headedness and shaking – quite often the person suffering the attack feels rooted to the spot.
The first time an anxiety attack is experienced it usually seems to happen for no apparent reason, therefore, the subject cannot rationally explain it to himself ad it is literally a ‘fear of the unknown’.
Once the panic attack is over, the subject returns to normal, realizing that no harm has really been done. However, because it cannot be satisfactorily explained, the sufferer never knows when it is going to recur – it has been likened to living next door to a volcano – that could erupt at any time.
In fact the victim of the panic attack is subsequently watching and waiting for the next onset, so much so that, when it does happen again, it erupts with a vengeance, increasing the level of anxiety to an alarming degree. This leads to a ‘vicious cycle’ of the mind affecting the body and the body counteracting by affecting the mind’ until the whole pent up emotion is discharged and the energy dissipated.