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Phobias - Part 1

Phobia Causes - Part 2

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Causes of Phobias

How do phobias happen?

Unconscious or emotional learning takes place to keep us safe. In primitive conditions when coming into contact with something dangerous, the mind/body would create the optimum state for survival - a panic attack.

This type of learning is not of the intellectual, or rational type. If you had to think, “Yes, I think this would be a good time to have a panic attack" our species would have died out long ago. This type of learning takes place at an emotional level so that the response can bypass the ‘thinking brain' In the past, an immediate phobic response to a predatory or poisonous animal would have been exceedingly useful.

We therefore evolved with the ability to become phobic. In today’s complex world however, this learning mechanism often works in an inappropriate way. For an example of this, see the introductory paragraph of our anxiety article.

To become phobic, all you need is a high anxiety state paired with an object. The object does not have to be causing the anxiety. Robert Graves the poet, for example, had a phobia of phones because he was using one when a bomb went off near him during the war!

You can also generate a phobia through the misuse of the imagination. Children often get phobias this way, or by seeing a phobia parent.

Non-specific phobias can come about either through a 'spreading-out' of panic attacks, or through a person's levels of general anxiety becoming so high that panic is easily triggered whenever stress levels are raised even slightly.

What can be done about phobias?

In order to cure a phobia (which is usually surprisingly easy and painless) we need to change the experience on an unconscious level.

Simply put, the person needs to be able to treat the phobic object in the same way as they would any other everyday object. The best way to do this is to keep the person relaxed whilst they imagine the phobic object. Hypnosis is extremely useful to keep the person relaxed whilst doing this.

This process is called 'de-conditioning', and it simply changes the association a person has with the phobic stimulus.

When dealing with non-specific phobias, the person often needs a combination of de-conditioning, cognitive anxiety management techniques, ongoing relaxation and gradual exposure to the problem situation, such as going out of the house.

For those suffering from excess anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias, you may like to look at our audio program, the Panic Prevention Programme.

To learn more about how emotions and the emotional brain works, see the article on Emotional Intelligence.

Back to Anxiety, Panic and Stress articles

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Mark Tyrrell
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