Fears are for Halloween, not for life.

Halloween is coming up, that time of year when we get ready to give ourselves a fright with masks, costumes and scary movies. This kind of fear won’t do us any harm; it’s nothing more than a little kick-start and shot of adrenaline for our systems.

Other types of fear are far less healthy though and can, in fact, become seriously debilitating and damaging to a person’s overall quality of life. I am, of course, talking about phobias. What is the difference between a ‘normal’ fear and a phobia? Well, put simply, if you saw an escaped lion coming towards you and decided to jump out of its way – that’s a pretty normal and understandable expression of fear and it serves a purpose of survival. However, if you felt unable to walk into a shop in case you saw any kind of representation of a lion – even a cuddly toy – then that’s a phobia.

The thing is, people who suffer from phobias are usually conscious that what scares them isn’t a rational fear. They probably know that what they’re afraid of either couldn’t actually hurt them or that the chances of what they’re afraid of happening are completely disproportionate to the stress they experience.

So if the answer to removing power from a phobia doesn’t lie with your conscious mind, where does it lie? With your subconscious mind. Phobias are a result of your brain having been programmed to respond in that way to a certain stimulus. The good news is that what has been programmed can also be deprogrammed.

Phobias may be learned from a parent passing on their own phobic feelings to a child, for example, or they may have cause that’s a little bit harder to unravel. For instance, many people experience phobias relating to objects that couldn’t possibly be harmful… so how can this have come about in the first place? Well, often the answer is that the crippling terror people experience as a result of phobias doesn’t even stem from what they think they’re afraid of.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you were a young child and were in a hospital awaiting news of a family member. This would be a traumatic and confusing enough time already but now imagine that bad news was given in front of you by the doctor and they were holding a clipboard in their hands.

To protect you, your brain might have blocked out what could otherwise have seemed like overwhelming feelings. The problem being that a few years later you were unable to understand why the sight of a clipboard filled you such feelings of terror. I have treated victims of phobias before who have experienced this kind of (though not that exact example of) what is called projection, with the key being that they were not consciously aware of it.

I specialise in analytical hypnotherapy, meaning trying to find the root cause of a problem rather than looking to merely treat the symptoms. Taking people back to recall the first time they experienced the feelings that are blighting their life can finally give them an understanding of their fear. Knowledge is power, as they say, so that understanding alone can often bring a sense of control over the fear and free people from it. In other cases, the initial issue that has been repressed may then still need to be dealt with to allow the phobia to be resolved.

Though the process might sound daunting, the good news is that phobias can be treated and resolved.

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy some healthy and fun frights over Halloween!

Photo by Giuseppe Milo used under Creative Commons License.

This article was originally published in Dunfermline Press in October 2014.