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Fear and Phobias: Part 2


Recap of Part 1


In Fear and Phobias: Part 1 we talked about fear: how it can be caused by anything, no matter how laughable or downright bizarre.
We looked at how phobias are irrational and how fear is encoded in our DNA as part of the fight-flight instinct for self-preservation – and how that could explain why so many people feel an aversion to public speaking.
Finally we covered how fears are caused by traumatic experiences, leading to negative associations being made in the subconscious mind, which are then reinforced by repetition.
For example, if you were stung by a wasp when you were young, you made the subconscious association of wasps = pain. After that, any time a wasp flew towards you, you felt an immediate fear response, probably fleeing while flailing your arms in an undignified manner, reinforcing the fear link.
Luckily I’ve never been stung by a wasp, but that has never stopped me beating a hasty retreat whenever one gets up close and personal. However, while wasp stings are apparently pretty painful, you don’t tend to think that you’re going to die as a result. Unlike the experience I once had when that’s exactly what I thought was going to happen.


A fear of roller coasters


I was about 11 or 12 years old and I was on a school trip with my class at a place called Thorpe Park (at the time, the south-east of England’s version of Disneyland). It was towards the end of a previously fun-packed day day out. My favourite ride was Phantom Fantasia, I think I went on it at least twice.
The one which we had saved for last was a roller coaster called Space Station Zero, and I found myself queueing up along with the rest of my class to go on it. It was all indoors, and the dark, dimly-lit waiting space was obviously designed to heighten the suspense of waiting. It worked: I remember there was a door strategically located near the front of the queue for anyone who decided to opt out at the last minute. I also seem to remember joining in hearty laughter at some kid whose nerves got the better of him – probably to cover up for the fact that I’d been considering doing exactly the same thing. If I’d only known what was coming, I’d have been right behind him.


A near-death experience


So that was it: no going back. Next thing I knew we were clambering in pairs into our seats and a “safety” bar coming down over us. What happened next is rather a blur, but you know the feeling you get when you’re watching a psychological thriller, and you get one of those shocks that makes your stomach lurch and sends a nasty chill through you, if only for a split-second? Well,that’s what I experienced for the next two to three minutes straight.
I should explain something about Space Station Zero: it didn’t go upside down, but instead whizzed round and round what I recall was a planet-shaped globe in the centre. And the faster we shot around that planet-shaped globe, the more I felt the centrifugal force sucking me out from under the casual constraints of the so-called safety bar and into space. I’m convinced to this day that if I had released my death-grip on that bar, that is what would have happened.
Although my eyes were squeezed tightly shut most of the time, I remember at one point opening them for a few seconds as if in a plea to the boy next to me for help (not that he could have done much anyway). And in response I vividly remember him grinning away delightedly at my terror.
Need Hypnosis fear of rollercoasters
When the ride eventually came to an end, I couldn’t have got out of it fast enough. As my heart rate gradually slowed down, I promised myself that I would never put myself through that kind of experience ever again. The association of roller coasters = extreme pain was etched in my subconscious as if in granite. And for the next few years, I reinforced that association with great conviction. I didn’t care what people thought, I put my foot down.


Confronting the fear


But the strange thing is that the fear didn’t last. For some reason I managed to break the pain association, and it was on that exact same ride about five years later. By that stage I was naturally taller, and, finding myself back at Thorpe Park again, I decided to face my nemesis. Maybe I realised that the previous experience had happened because I’d been quite small at the time, so having grown a fair bit it was no longer a danger. Maybe I was just challenging myself to push my boundaries so that I didn’t have to have that fear any more. Maybe the instinct for self-preservation had temporarily deserted me. Whatever the reason, with a sense of anticipation, I went back on it.
This time it was an amazingly exhilarating experience. Not the actual ride though. I’d been expecting something pretty intense, but this time I had my eyes open the whole time and I could plainly see that all we did was orbit a planet-shaped globe at quite a rapid pace. What really made that ride wonderful was the feeling I had of conquering a fear. It was one of those elating moments that you always remember – almost as vividly as the terrifying ones.


Fear as opportunities


What’s the point of this story? It’s kind of fun to revisit an experience, and I enjoyed doing the picture. I suppose it illustrates how a fear is formed and reinforced, and at the same time shows that it’s not permanent. The flexible, “plastic” nature of the human mind enables us to always be able to re-write certain programs that no longer serve a useful purpose, and hypnosis is a powerful tool to make this happen. I can attest to the euphoric feeling you initially get when you do overcome a fear, and the satisfying feeling of control you are left with when the euphoria wears off. In that sense you could say that fear is a signpost to those feelings, provided you overcome them.
They say that the majority of people who do rock climbing are afraid of heights, because they get the biggest adrenaline buzz and feeling of achievement as a result of confronting their fear. I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere between what’s exciting and what’s life-endangering and reckless. There are videos of people who get their kicks dangling off the edge of bridges and cranes, or walking along scaffolding on skyscrapers. See if you can watch this without your palms sweating:

They know that they can do it a few feet off the ground without any problem, so the only difference is in their mind, and they are determined to conquer their minds.
Hmm, suddenly getting up in front of an audience doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

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