Have found 'root' of my phobia, now how do I cure it?
May 24, 2011 4:02 AM   Subscribe

I have found the root of (what is becoming a debilitating) phobia, now what do I do to get rid of phobia completely?

I have an intense phobia of a particular animal. I won't say in this open forum what it is, but it is something common and something nearly everyone encounters quite often.

I have vivid memories of NOT being afraid of this animal up until about the age of seven, and then I have no memories until around ten or eleven because I suffered a childhood disease that had me in a coma for an extended period.

So, I have traced the root of the phobia back to a particular scene in a particular children's book. I am positive this is the 'root' of the phobia, but now that I know that, what can I do to combat it?

I've tried psychotherapy, I've tried anti anxiety drugs (which are difficult to use, because of unknown exposure to thing I am phobic about), and they have horrible side effects. I've tried the counselling and the 'flooding' method for counteracting my phobia and that didn't work either.

I've also tried the NLP 'Visualise the thing and then reduce it in size and make it black and white and then smaller and smaller until it is inconsequential" routine. That seemed to cure my phobic night terrors, but not the actual phobia.

I cannot talk about the thing, seeing a picture of it/them, causes flight or flight, actual exposure can lead to full on panic attack shock - with the horrible accompanying adrenaline come down - and I really just want it all to stop.

In nearly all other respects I and others consider me a well balanced adult. I normally face my fears when safe to do so, and I don't squick easily. I would really appreciate some concrete advice on how to stop being afraid of this thing - forever.

I dont expect to ever be all "oh look it's *animal* yay", but I'd like to not have mild panic attacks at the mere glimpse of one on tv, and full blown screaming 'peel me off the cealing' attacks when actually exposed to one.

Also I'd like to point out that I've heard all the 'just man up' or 'just talk yourself out of it' solutions, and I want concrete, constructive advice. My phobia is real, and having an increasing effect on my life. It is not some 'silly irrational fear', or 'strong dislike'. I know my reaction to the phobic thing is disproportionate, I just don't' know how to stop having the disproportionate fear reaction.

Oh the animal itself is not dangerous, and I've tried to learn more about them to demystify them, but doing so often involves large pictures of them which I can't face because of the phobia!

Thanks for your time :D
posted by Faintdreams to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: how about just starting out by being around the book itself? and getting comfortable with that? Then later try to understand the scene in the context of the story and maybe that will help objectify it rather than it being very personal for you. Just small steps in getting more aware of the target phobia.

I had something similar (though not in your scale) earlier in life, and later it helped to see things from a larger scale and then slowly work down to the details that affected me. Now, this particular thing has absolutely no effect on me whatsoever.
posted by alchemist at 4:10 AM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: You dont say for how long you tried some of your tactics, or whether you tried doing them on your own---the NLP and flooding for example (I'm not a fan of flooding)....but phobias is one of the things systematic desensitization is good for -- with a professional.

NLP can also involve much more than the strategy you mention, and involves dialogue--not self talk-- so doing it on your own isn't your only option.

If you seek additional help, ask professionals if they've had any success with your specific phobia, or if they have some creative ideas for addressing it -- you want someone who is, not excited exactly, but basically excited to tackle this with you. Someone who sounds like its really easy isn't what you want, ie. Someone who acts like they have all the answers. You may want someone who has some experience but is willing to follow the mystery with you when their first answers aren't right.

I think you learned the lesson many people learn who are struggling -- despite what popular media say about struggles, having insight into WHY you struggle with something doesn't take you very far in changing it --- and if the why is in the past, your brain knows you can't travel back in time and change it, so it can leave you feeling more helpless and diverted from changing the present for awhile.

I wish you luck.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:24 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All the things I would suggest you try you have mentioned already. You may very well have exhausted these options, but I can't help reading some small measure of defensiveness in your pre-empting, essentially, of all the major recognised therapies for phobias. I would therefore encourage you to persevere with professional help. I think finding someone you can trust will go a long way to helping you address your issues.
posted by londonmark at 4:27 AM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Two other suggestions--I don't have personal experience with these but they may be worth looking into.

Researchers have used virtual reality (3D graphics) to create carefully controlled exposure to items that produce phobia such as spiders and scary heights. I believe they've had good luck reducing fear symptoms this way. See Hunter Hoffman's work at the HITlab in Seattle. I know V.R. equipment is not common--you may be able to simulate this with videos or computer graphics models of the animal?

Alternately, have you looked at EMDR treatment to undo the original trauma? I believe EMDR is controversial (and I'd bet you can find posts about it here), but with some research and a therapist with good references it may be worth considering?
posted by mvd at 4:51 AM on May 24, 2011

Go back and try some of the methods you used before, especially exposure therapy, which I understand can be really effective. Sometimes it takes several tries with different therapists before a method works.
posted by yarly at 4:53 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sedona method might work.
posted by Not Supplied at 5:21 AM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: I don't know about other methods, but if you want to learn more about the creature (which seems like a good idea) without seeing any pictures of it, have someone cut and paste text from websites into a plain-text document so you can read without a chance of of images.

If it were me, I'd also try drawing pictures of it myself, starting with simplified models that don't look much like it (stick figures) then gradually trying to add more detail (simple outline, then maybe as a cartoon character, etc). I'd be curious to see if I something I created myself could cause me panic and/or help with the phobia but naturally you may not feel the same way about experimenting on yourself.
posted by mikepop at 5:45 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've had some success with hypnotherapy for getting over old issues, and more recently, I'm in love with EMDR, which has a lot of data supporting it as an effective treatment for PTSD and other traumas. Have you tried those?
posted by rosa at 6:21 AM on May 24, 2011

I've gotten rid of phobias for people many times using NLP, including much trickier things than what you describe for people that have had them for much longer. The technique is literally called the fast phobia cure. As you're already practiced with visualizing and submodalities this is how you do it:

1) See yourself sitting in a movie theater. In front of you is a screen.
2) On the screen you see yourself in black and white, 5 minutes before the "initial phobia event" (that you identified).
3) Now float out of yourself sitting in the movie theater into the projection booth.
4) Now you're in the projection booth, looking from far and above, seeing yourself in the theater that is seeing you on a flat screen in black and white.
5) Now let the movie run at normal speed for those subjective 5 minutes.
6) At the point that the "phobic event" happens, you "jump " out of the projection booth into the movie and step in to you in the movie, associating with you at that moment.
7) Now make the movie color and real, and very very quickly make the movie go backwards all the way to the beginning. At the beginning you again pop out of the movie and are back in the projection booth seeing yourself seeing yourself, just as you started.

You can repeat this a 2-3 times if you want.

I can explain how this works later if you want.
posted by blueyellow at 6:47 AM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

blueyellow, I would really like to know the details on the method you describe when you have time. (My husband suffers from a very challenging phobia -- I'll keep my eye on this thread.)
posted by pupstocks at 8:33 AM on May 24, 2011

I'm a certified NLP and Ericksonian Hypnosis trainer. Also have a phd in neuroscience. I think NLP is very effective, if done right, because it deals with our subjective experience directly and induces change quickly in our minds using the very ways our minds' encode our experience.

For example, I've done this technique with a man in his 70s with a bee phobia since he was a child that was severe enough that he literally couldn't sit on his own porch. I've also done this with someone that had over 10 surgeries by the the time they were 5 and had become terrified of needles and like you would freak out if they saw them on tv. In both cases it took about 15 minutes to get rid of the phobia permanently using the above technique.

The important thing about the technique is the details. Make sure you read it thoroughly and do it exactly as written. If you run into problems let me know.
posted by blueyellow at 9:31 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just on the topic of researching *animal* to learn more about it, you can do this somewhat more safely by disabling images in your browser and using a flash blocker to keep any flash from loading. Then you'd just be left with text.
posted by galadriel at 10:47 AM on May 24, 2011

I have an extreme phobia of fish. I say this because I thought it might help to know that you aren't alone. It helps me to make a joke of it with my friends, so they don't think it's odd when I start to panic after seeing a fish. Knowing I can feel comfortable and accept that I have the phobia has lessened my anxiety over fish in general.

At this point in my life, I have accepted my phobia rather than try to overcome it. Before I accepted my phobia, I could barely think about fish because my mind would instantly start to worry about how I "had" to get over my phobia and I would start imagining all the steps involved with getting over my phobia. Now, I can at least think about fish without feeling uncomfortable because I have decided to not force myself to overcome my fear.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:38 AM on May 24, 2011

Let me give a brief explanation of how the technique works.

A phobic response is considered a hyper-associated state. We are usually somewhere on the spectrum between disassociated and associated. Which can be interpreted as how connected we are to our current experience. Both are useful at different times. In a phobia some kind of trigger causes our mind to go towards an uncomfortable state and be hyper associated, very connected to it.

In the technique above we initially build a very disassociated state. The whole movie theater exercise does that. You can test it out. Think of a memory and compare the experience of seeing yourself in the memory vs the experience of seeing that memory through your eyes. The movie theater with the multiple stages adds levels of disassociation.

From this place of safe disassociation you can safely run the movie up until the trigger. At that point we associate in. Literally jumping into the movie. Once we associate we can teach the mind to take a course that is different from its usual phobic response. Instead we run the movie very quickly backwards all the way to the beginning and to the initial strong disassociated state we built.

Doing this once to a few times is enough to teach the mind to have a new response to that trigger, basically a non response.. and typically the phobia is quickly forgotten.
posted by blueyellow at 3:22 PM on May 24, 2011

Hi faintdreams. I'm afraid of butterflies. So is Nicole Kidman. There's a community of other lepidopterophobics at ihatebutterflies.com. Perhaps search the internet for communities of people who share your phobia and maybe they can help you. :)
posted by IndigoRain at 10:11 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A huge thankyou to all who responded. The phobia trigger response tips wer especially helpful, and the reassurance that phobias ( in and of themselves) a widespread and very varied also helped. I am marking this as resolved, because it has given me the impetus to search out a nlp partictioner who might be able to help me brainhack myself OUT of the phobic fear response.

Thank you everyone.
posted by Faintdreams at 4:23 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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