Often when someone suffers from a fear or a phobia, one of their biggest questions is “Why me?!”
It’s a great question, so let’s take a look a what’s going on. We’ll have a look at
- What actually is a phobia?
- Are we just born with them?
- Why do we have them?
- Where do they come from?
Along the way, we’ll discover that these answer give us a strong indication as to why we can completely conquer our fears and phobias. Although that may be a topic for another blog perhaps!
What is a Phobia?
A phobia is an intense irrational fear of something which poses you no threat.
Now, just because it is irrational, doesn’t mean the phobia isn’t extremely real for the person suffering from it. The feelings are real, the symptoms are real, the fear feels terrifyingly real.
And don’t for one moment assume the person with the phobia isn’t aware that it’s irrational – they probably already know that! Telling them “Stop it, it’s irrational” isn’ going to help in the slightest!
Are We Born With Them?
Many people assume that we are born with our phobias. “There’s nothing I can do about it, it’s just the way I am, I was born with them.”
Whilst that might feel reassuring, it is completely wrong on all three counts!
We are not born with phobias or fears – indeed, we are not born scared of anything. As parents of young babies will very often confirm, especially once they are able to start crawling and exploring the world (mainly by attempting to put it all in their mouth, or to climb it).
Why Do We Have Them?
If we are not born with phobias or fears, why do we have them?
The simple answer is – we learn them.
As we grow and develop, we learn how to be scared. This is true both for phobias and for fears.
Where Do They Come From?
So if we learn them, how do we do it?
There are three main ways in which we learn our fears and phobias, which I’ll cover here. Before we look at them, it’s worth noting that in most cases, we learn these fears and phobias during the ages of 0 – 7 years of age – due to the way in which our brains develop (a topic for another blog!) However, i is still possible for us to develop fears or phobias at any age, albeit less common.
If we have an experience which has a lot of strong negative emotions, we learn to be scared.
For example, if we are unfortunate enough to be attacked by a dog when we are young, our unconscious will very quickly learn that dogs are highly dangerous, and that emotion and lesson is seared deep into our unconscious. So that when we are older, even though we know dogs are generally safe, we still have that deep fear about them.
Because our survival instincts, which get triggered by life-or-death events, is much faster than our ability to logically analyse a situation (it has to be!).
So our unconscious sees a dog, recognises this is a Thing which was highly dangerous when we were young, so it puts us on Red Alert. By the time our conscious has logically analysed the situation and realised the dog is harmless, our body is already prepared to run or fight – adrenaline flooding through, heart pounding, breath rapid…
Suppose one of our parents is terrified of spiders. Every time they see a spider, they freak out.
As a young baby, learning how the world works by observation, we see our parent freaking out when they see a spider. We start to learn that spiders are dangerous, and that the right way to react to them is to freak out.
Sometimes we can be directly taught fear.
“Don’t talk to strangers!” – a powerful and important message for younger children, but alas one which is often instilled with a lot of fear. Is it any wonder that so many people grow up scared of speaking with new people, even when we are adults?
What Are The Implications?
The fact that we are not born afraid, but that we learn our fears, is a very important one.
It means that under the right guidance from an expert, we can learn new and more empowering ways to behave.
We can quite literally unlearn our phobia!
Which is where I come in when I work with my clients – with over 5,000 lives transformed on 5 continents since 2010.
For a more in-depth look at all of these points, illustrated with stories and examples, please check out the episode of The Keith Blakemore-Noble Radio Show titled “The One About Why We Have Phobias” – At just over 26 minutes, it’s a fascinating insight!
Award-winning coach, international speaker, multi-time best-selling author, hypnotist, occasional magician, and writer of this post, Keith spent his first 40 years suffering from several phobias including being terrified of speaking with strangers. After one incident too many, he started studying and training in NLP & hypnosis to conquer his own issues, found he was rather good at it, and changed careers (aided by redundancy at just the right moment after 20 years in IT). He helps people transform their deepest fears into their greatest strengths, and having helped over 5,000 people across 5 continents, he is the UK’s #1 Fear Strategist.