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If Fear's been Holding You Back

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"Fear is a tyrant and a despot, more terrible than the rack, more potent than the snake."  ---- Edgar Wallace

Surprisingly, about 1 in 10 people suffer from a phobia - an intense and overwhelming fear, with a specific trigger. The most common are public speaking, spiders, flying and heights; with the more unusual including fear of buttons (koumpounophobia).

Sometimes the fear came from a personal experience, leading to avoidance of / adverse reaction to similar situations; but in some cases, the fear is learned from others. Many fear sufferers are embarrassed by their reaction – they know it’s illogical to scream and run from a tiny spider, they recognise it’s holding back their career to be afraid to present; but the reaction’s automatic.  Sometimes it can lead to great limitations and personal sacrifices to avoid the feared object or situation:  I recently heard of someone whose fear of needles is so extreme that he’s refused a life-saving operation.

Nor is the situation helped by the misconception that to get over fear, you have to be repeatedly exposed to the feared situation to desensitise; which simply isn’t the case.  The brain learns incredibly quickly – often, the event which led to the fear was over in seconds, yet it can shape the person’s behaviour and experience for years.

With a little understanding of our own mental software, we can change our thinking process and the experience it generates; and that’s what NLP (neuro linguistic programming) is all about.  If you have an unhelpful fear, try this:  Read through the next paragraph before you begin, or ask someone to read it to you, so that you can slowly follow through the steps with your eyes closed:

Take a few moments to relax into a couple of deep breaths.  When you’re ready, think of the feared situation, and notice how you picture it in your mind’s eye.  If the picture is moving, freeze the frame; push it away so that it appears smaller, and you can become clearly aware of its edges.  If you’re seeing the picture as if it’s happening around you, step out of it, so that you can see yourself inside the picture.  Then as you push it even further away, fade the colours, and have the focus get fuzzy, so that the whole thing can disappear into a misty swirl.

Repeat this a few times to teach your brain the new pattern, then notice what feels different.  This technique alone might not completely neutralise an extreme fear (there are others which can) – but it’s an example of how a few simple adjustments can change how you experience the world around you. 

Like everything we use in NLP, it was developed from studying what already worked – from interviewing people who’d got through their fears by chance, finding out how they’d changed their thinking process, and developing to teach to others.  So it all stems from real life, practical experience of what works.  Simple, effective, and within everyone’s reach.

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