Sometimes you can work out why you are afraid of something. perhaps you are scared of driving because you were in a car accident, or were bitten by a dog when you were a child and have been scared ever since. Other times it just isn’t that clear; there maybe a combination of factors that ignited the fear.
What is clear is that we are not born with phobias, they are something that we learn. Learning a few fears is a useful survival tool, after all small children are adventurous and sometimes reckless, not understanding the consequences of their actions. Learning to be fearful of a busy road or cliff edge can keep them from harm.
However, it is when we associate a situation, person or object with fear or anxiety that we learn to be afraid of it. We can do this through direct experience such as being bitten by a dog. It is no suprise that this can lead to being afraid. However, often we become fearful by seeing other people behave anxiously or afraid in a situation.
Take the small child who sees their mother scream and run away when she sees a spider. The child doesn’t need to understand what the threat is to become scared themselves. Mum screaming is enough to make them anxious, add the spider in there, and the next time the child sees a spider they will be scared themselves. They have learned the fear by pairing the spider with anxiety.
We don’t need to directly experience the threat ourselves. There was a sharp increase in the number of people reporting a fear of sharks in the mid 1970s. People who lived a long way from the sea became anxious that they would be attacked by a shark. The chances are that they had never seen a shark so why such an outbreak of galeophobia? In one word ‘Jaws’. The film played on our ability to learn to be afraid by seeing other people’s experiences. The characters in the film were terrified, and rightly so, but those watching it had little if any chance of being attacked, it just felt like they would. They had learned to be afraid by associating sharks with the anxiety they felt during the film.
Sometimes it is information that fuels a fear. Plane crashes are rare but make the headlines when they do happen. All that terrrible loss leads to headlines around the world and can bring on a fear of flying.
The good news is, as you learn phobias, you can also unlearn them. Hypnotherapy can help change and re-wire the brain, breaking the connection between the situation or object. It can help you change the way you think and physically react in fearful situations, and rebuild your confidence in your ability to cope.