Archive | April, 2013

What are you afraid of?

22 Apr

Most of us a little bit scared about one thing or another: scared of things that, for fairly rational reasons, we just don’t like, or would prefer to avoid. But, for some people, it’s something way more than being scared, it’s something beyond their control and it’s called a phobia.

A phobia is an anxiety disorder that’s commonly referred to as a persistent fear of an object or situation, one that the sufferer will either go to great lengths to avoid, or endure with marked distress. It’s a fear they recognise as irrational and one that is typically disproportionate to the danger actually posed by the thing itself.

The word comes from the Greek, Phóbos – meaning ‘fear’ or ‘morbid fear’ – and is itself a derivative of Phebomai – meaning ‘to flee’ or ‘withdraw’ – hence the running away from the thing that scares you.


In Greek mythology, Phobos was the god of fear and terror. It’s also the name of the largest of the two Mars moons.

In psychotherapy, there are three main types of phobia: social, specific and agoraphobia.

Social phobias are broken down into two types, generalised social phobia (or social anxiety) and specific social phobia (where the anxiety is triggered only in specific situations).

Specific phobias cover almost anything and everything else including fears of flying, animals, catching a specific illness, water, heights, clowns, buttons, injections, thunder, bridges and, even, work.


Each specific phobia has its own name. The fear of clowns, for instance, is called Coulrophobia (and no, it’s not just restricted to evil clowns, but covers the nice ones too) while the fear of work is known as Ergophobia.


There’s even a phobia that is culture specific, in that it’s almost exclusively experienced by Japanese people: Taijin Kyofusho, a fear of offending or harming other people.

Agoraphobia gets its only special category however, as it’s a much more complex affair (or multi-phobic, to be precise), and can include a generalised fear of leaving home or other safe places, coupled with a fear of having a panic attack, a fear of open spaces, of being socially embarrassed and more.

However, CBT is considered to be the gold standard treatment for anxiety disorders (including phobias) by the NHS.

Not only that, but lots of research highlights the efficacy of hypnotherapy in the treatment of the same.

Put the two together and not only are you are looking at a more effective treatment package, but also faster results too (studies have shown that the two therapies together can be more effective and more rapid than when either one is used alone).

CBT has a very definite viewpoint on emotional problems, including phobias, namely it’s not the thing that disturbs you, but what you tell yourself about the thing that provokes your disturbance.

Unhealthy beliefs about a situation or an object will lead to an unhealthy and phobic you, whilst a healthy set of beliefs (whilst not quite having you fearless in the face of your thing) will lead to what we call healthy concern – a much more manageable emotion in which you realise, whilst you may never be comfortable around it, you can most definitely handle the ‘thing.’  (You can learn about these different types of emotions and what provokes them from our previous blogs or you can also check Visual CBT on Amazon by Avy Joseph and Maggie Chapman.)

Hypnotherapy in the context of beliefs can help support the work that CBT is trying to do.

However, it can also be used to gradually desensitise you to various aspects of your phobia (for instance, someone with a wasp phobia might have a phobic reaction on seeing pictures of wasps or even the word itself) as you build up to confronting the main event.

It can also be used to change your self-belief, mood and get better (typically, phobia suffers can suffer from depression and self esteem problems as a consequence of the phobia).

By-the-by, whilst the Office of National Statistics claim that 1.9 per cent of the adult UK population are phobic at any one time, animal phobia is the number one phobia in women, followed by heights; whilst heights is the number one phobia for men, followed by animals.

Finally, there are four states that are incompatible with fear: hunger, thirst, relaxation (which is why hypnotherapy works so well) and sex.

So, if you’re hungry, thirsty, under hypnosis or just plain …erm … “excited”, your phobia is not going to get a look in.

I don’t know…

8 Apr

In this blog we will look at why it is difficult for some people to say ‘I don’t know?’
The answer is simple, anxiety. Our feelings and emotions like anxiety and depression are determined not by events but by the way we think about these events. An event can be about all sorts of things including imagining saying ‘I don’t know’ or actually saying ‘I don’t know’. The specific triggers can vary from person to person.

At the heart of anxiety is irrational or unhealthy thinking or beliefs about the threat or risk of saying ‘I don’t know’ (be it real or perceived) to ourselves or to our personal domain (the things and people that matter to us). Rational or healthy thinking about this risk leads to what we call healthy concern or nervousness, different to anxiety or to panic.

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Anxiety about saying ‘I don’t know’ is commonly triggered by two things:

• A perfectionist internal demand to always know and viewing ‘not knowing’ as something catastrophic, unbearable or proof of worthlessness or of being a total failure. Not knowing is not just perceived as bad, it is perceived as ‘end of the world bad’.

• An internal demand to always be thought of in a positive way by others and viewing negative judgement as catastrophic, unbearable or proof of worthlessness or of being a total failure.

Irrational or unhealthy belief at the heart of ‘anxiety’ and avoidance:

I absolutely must know, if not it would be awful, catastrophic, I couldn’t bear it or tolerate it, it would prove I’m a total failure.

The above does not accept the possibility of not knowing, even though in reality the person may not know.

People must not judge me negatively, because it would be awful, I couldn’t bear it, it would prove I’m a failure.

The above does not accept the possibility of negative judgement, even though it exists for everyone. The worth is linked to other people’s opinions.

Rational or healthy belief at the heart of healthy ‘concern’ and non avoidance:

I would really like to know but I accept the possibility that I may not or don’t know. If I don’t know it would be bad but not the end of my world, I would find it difficult but I will tolerate and bear it, it would not mean I’m worthless. I accept myself as a fallible human being like everyone else.

The above attitude allows for the possibility of not knowing to exist without linking one’s worth to it.

I would prefer it if people always thought positively of me but I accept that some might not (when I say I don’t know). It would be bad but not the end of the world, I would find it difficult but I can stand it, it would not mean I’m worthless. I accept myself as fallible. My worth does not depend on whether people like me or not.

The above belief accepts that negative judgement exists without linking one’s worth to it.

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So how do you free yourself from the paralysis of anxiety about saying I don’t know?

1) Change your beliefs about not knowing. Accept that you are human and therefore fallible. None of us know all the time.

2) Keep the badness of not knowing in proportion. Of course not knowing something may be bad in some situations and may have negative consequences but nevertheless the world does not come to an end. So keep it bad but not the end of the world bad.

3) Develop resiliency to not knowing. Accept you will find it frustrating, difficult, uncomfortable, but the truth of the matter is that you do survive it. Telling yourself you can’t tolerate nor stand not knowing is simply not true but it does impact greatly on your feelings of anxiety. So tell the truth ‘it’s hard but bearable’.

4) Accept yourself as fallible. No one is perfect so not knowing something at times is human. Believing that you’re a total failure or a worthless person because of it is unhelpful and is at the heart of your anxiety.

5) Accept uncertainty. Accept that at times you are unsure.

6) Put it into practice and say ‘I don’t know’, ‘I’m not sure at the moment’, ‘Let me think about it and I’ll come back to you’, ‘I don’t know but I will find out’. Then in your head repeat ‘I accept myself as fallible. My worth does not depend on whether I know or not or on whether people judge me or not.’

Accepting ourselves as worthwhile but fallible human beings frees us from the anxiety of saying ‘I don’t know’. As a consequence, we then can be free to find out and learn and improve and it also connects us to people as we come across as confident and happy in our own skin.

You may be interested in learning more about self acceptance and ego disturbance in our new Master Class Treating Ego Disturbance on 1st June 2013.