In an earlier article Phobias What are They I told you about the way Jane reacted when confronted with a snake. What follows is a brief introduction to the model I use to explain phobic reactions and why they are so very real for the individuals that experience them.
All phobias are apparently irrational, but in truth they are not. They are in fact based upon primitive self survival knowledge / instinct. In order to stay safe we must be aware of dangers in our environment. Natural dangers are: –
Heights – you could fall off
spiders – some spiders are poisonous
snakes – some are poisonous
being enclosed – the cave roof could fall down or you might be trapped in a confined space
dogs or other animals – could save you
Vomiting – a sign of possible dangerous disease or just plain unpleasant
darkness – not possible to see dangers
open spaces – there are dangers all around in the World.
The list is intensive All these phobias have one common element, possible threats to life. Other phobias may be connected to life threatening or fear inducing situations. Fears of such things as buttons, birds, touching, nakedness, etc. all are linked emotionally to some situation in which a sense of fear or panic was induced.
For instance the fear of buttons could well stem from an early childhood experience of having a button tangled in long hair. Or of being unable to remove a coat or cardigan causing a young child to panic.
All phobias seem to stem from some significant experience. This significant event is linked to our basic, primitive, fears and fixed permanently in the mind Many people are unable to recall the event as it is back in very early childhood.
Another factor of phobias is that they can grow just like snowballs, each time the phobic reaction occurs it strengthens the fear. This is because each experience is linked emotionally to the previous one. When the reaction is triggered you are reacting mentally to all previous feelings of fear in the same context. Your mind has created a structure to deal with the fear and each time you go through a similar experience the structure grows larger and stronger.
Imagine it this way.
The mind stores all experiences good, bad and indifferent with the emotion experienced at the time. The first experience of a fear is linked to the second and subsequent events of the same kind. Thus the phobia can grow and grow becoming more powerful with age. Phobias are emotional events and our brain is set up to react to fears before logic can assists us.
A simple diagram can give an idea of this structure. Imagine a nest of squares. The smallest square is in the center and each subsection square is larger and contains the previous ones. Links connect the squares together The diagram represents how the brain builds an experiential structure. The central square represents the first experience. This is then embedded in and linked to the second event and then linked and embedded to the third. This causes the emotions from each event to be linked together. Each new experience triggers the emotions of all past experiences and the new one is added to the structure. To remove or reduce a phobia what needs to be done is to break the links between each emotional memory or override the structure with a new one.