How to overcome phobias

By John Brant | 21st March 2016
A photograph depicting a woman hiding in a large cardboard box, her eyes looking directly at the camera with her hands holding the edge of the cardboard box.

Most of us have phobias that we can live with or manage (such as being frightened of spiders, snakes or other animals). However there are some phobias that can control our lives and can have a serious impact on our well-being. In this short article we suggest two techniques that can be used to overcome or eliminate phobias –we suggest that you try the one that most appeals to you. There is a third NLP based technique that we offer at the retreat, which requires the help of a coach and we touch on that briefly too.

A phobia is defined as an intense irrational reaction to a stimulus and we often pick these up by modelling others (for example if your mother or father was very frightened of spiders it is likely that you will be too!). The phobic reaction involves a video playing out in your mind (for example imagining a snake biting you and you feeling the pain). Most people are not aware of these internal videos because they can happen quickly and subtly (at the unconscious level) in the mind. You need to be very alert to see them.

Approach 1 – Mindfulness

The first approach for dealing with phobias is that of mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to manage stress or negative behaviour patterns. The technique is intense but is very effective as it involves coming face to face with the thing you fear. This technique can work really well with phobias of animals. The key to getting this technique to work in practice is to do it in stages.

Mindfulness is a meditation technique and involves keeping your attention in the present and so not being caught up in the mechanics (thoughts and associated emotions) of the mind. (Read more about mindfulness here). For severe phobias the technique starts with taking a picture associated with the thing that you fear. Start with something that brings up a manageable amount of fear, so for example if you fear large hairy spiders, start with a picture of a smaller, less hairy one or a picture of one shown in the distance (not close up!).

The technique starts by you remaining intensely alert whilst staring deeply into the picture. Staying present and watching as your mind tries to take you away into a pattern of thought, pictures and videos which generate fear and panic. If this doesn’t work at first, try being present with the picture initially for a short period of time (eg 5 seconds) and then build up the time spent being present with the picture. Also try to ground your awareness in your breath and body as you stare into the picture. If you are carrying out this technique correctly your fear or panic will subside (this is the indicator you are looking for). It should only take a few minutes, and then you can move on to something more intense (more closely resembling that which you fear). Continue progressively until you are ready to work with the phobic subject directly. Once again you will need to take it in stages. Firstly become very mindful and present at a distance from the subject of your phobia. Then slowly start to bring the subject of your phobia closer. Once again become very present to what is happening within you. Stare deeply into the subject of your phobia and watch how your mind tries to take you away and play videos to you. Keep your attention on the subject until the fear starts to subside. Eventually you should be able to use mindfulness to tackle the very thing you fear the most 

Approach 2 – Awareness of Our Own Fear Inducing Patterns

The second approach is to use your phobia to become more conscious of your own behaviours or patterns that induce fear in others. This is a very insightful approach to dealing with your phobia although it initially takes effort and does rely on you keeping an open mind. This approach is based upon the premise that the things we disown about ourselves appear in our lives until we are fully aware that they are part of our being (this is a technique developed and adapted from Dr John Demartini’s work). Putting it another way, if something creates intense fear in us, then this is a signal for us to become aware of where we are doing the same to others unconsciously (ie creating fear in them without being conscious of it). And if we are able to become aware of the unconscious pattern the phobia drops of its own accord (as it is no longer serving any purpose). For this method to work it is necessary to carry out the following process.

Search for an example of a time when you have created any intense fear in others (people or animals). Write down and identify as best you can exactly when the event was, where you were, who was involved and who was there to observe it. Note that the fear inducement is likely to be spread over a number of subjects rather than just concentrated on one. Therefore the important thing is to continue searching for times when you have created fear in others and write them down in the form of when, where, who was involved and who observed it until you are certain that you are inducing fear to exactly the same extent as fear is being induced within you via your phobia. You will need to set aside a few hours to complete this process. Here is how it might go:

Example: Phobia of spiders
Question: When have I created fear in others? (Remember, here it’s any fear – not just fear associated spiders).

  • I got angry and shouted at the children and they were scared. When? Yesterday. Where? At home in the kitchen. Who was involved? Me and my two children. Who observed? I observed them getting scared.
  • I was shooing away the next door neighbour’s cat and the cat got scared. When? This morning. Where? Our garden. Who was involved? Me and the cat. Who observed it? Me, the cat and the neighbor who was out in their garden on the other side of the fence.
  • I pulled my son back from running across the road, scolded him and made him scared about the thought of getting run over. When? One month ago. Where? Road outside his school. Who was involved? Me and my son. Who observed? Me, my son and two other parents waiting to pick up their children from the school.
  • Etc

Continue adding incidences of creating fear in others until you understand that this unconscious pattern of creating fear in others is exactly the same as the fear that is created within you through this phobia. As you become more aware of your fear inducing patterns, so the fear demonstrated through your phobia will diminish. This diminishing fear is the indication that you are bringing unconscious patterns into consciousness.

A Bonus “Phobia Scramble” Technique

There is a third technique which we sometimes use at the retreat for dealing with phobias which uses NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). The technique addresses the phobia through directly “scrambling” the videos and pictures created in the mind that leads to the phobic reaction. This technique needs a coach to work most effectively and so is listed here for completeness. This technique is very effective at eliminating phobias, can be done quickly and is fun too! If you are coming to the retreat and want to eliminate phobias then ask for the “Phobia Scramble”.

The great news is that we don’t need to remain stuck with our phobias. All it takes to overcome these extreme reactions is a little courage and some focused work. You can also use your yoga practice to help you – read more here. Best of luck from La Crisalida in becoming phobia free!

Here at La Crisalida Retreats we offer a range of retreat options including Life Makeover Retreats when we normally offer two workshops a week which we select from the following (depending on the group): Finding The Authentic You, Vision Boarding, Finding Your Life’s Purpose, Creating Balance In Your Life, Having Faith (Letting Go), Courage to Create. We also offer mindfulness workshops and meditation.  Life coaching is also available at the retreat for anyone who feels they would benefit from one-to-one life coaching expertise.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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