Phobias are the result of Fear. Many of us have fears that limit us and holds us back; We tend to avoid things and situations that cause us discomfort.
When the fears become so intense that they are avoided at all costs, they become a phobia. The individual experiences marked, extreme, enduring fear as soon as they experience (or even think about) a defined situation or object. Common phobias are:- insects, fear of heights, flying, elevators, public speaking, certain animals.
Phobias may develop acutely or more gradually:-
Association Conditioning – if an individual was driving one day and experienced a strong anxiety response, an association may form between driving and anxiety and thereafter the person can become fearful of driving.
Traumas – For example, a person who has been attacked by a dog may develop a specific phobia disorder and become conditioned to fear dogs. Quite often the origin of the phobia is not remembered by the individual because the experience happened in early childhood.
“Modelling” the behaviour. For example, if a parent exhibits fear of a specific phobic stimulus then by association the child may become predisposed to developing the same phobia disorder. Children, in particular, are very adaptable and are easily conditioned.
What happens in the brain?
Every thought, experience, event, concept or idea that we have has an effect in our brain. Whenever we think of something, we actually light up a specific set of neurons in our brain. The more frequently this event and its subsequent emotions are accessed, the stronger that network of neurons becomes. It is just like building up a muscle; It becomes easier and easier to “light up” the connections and easier and easier to access the emotion. This process is known as Hebb’s Law.
Hebb’s Law is one of the few principles of neuroscience that is fairly universally agreed on and therefore can be called a “law”. In itself this law is complicated, describing how neurons and neural networks become wired together in the brain, but is often stated as the principle that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. It helps to explain the principle of state dependent learning. It is for this reason we associate intense fear with the phobic stimulus. (Dogs)
These neurons have probably been firing together for a period of time and have now become synonymous with each other, have actually connected with each other and now are neurologically wired together; Just like a muscle becomes stronger with use then these neurons become stronger with use.
Neural Darwinism is a principle of neuroscience stating that neural networks that no longer fire are subject to pruning; links between the neurons in the network are literally severed until the network becomes incapable of firing.
How Hypnosis and NLP Can Collapse the Phobic Response
The Hypnotist and/or Coach will utilize several principles including Hebb’s Law and Neural Darwinism and hypnotic suggestion to create change in their clients.
The first step involves “lighting up” the neural connection of fear. Let’s say a person has a fear of dogs. The Hypnotist will gently ask the person to think of dogs and perhaps imagine a recent time when the fear was experienced.
The second step is to ascertain how the person wants to feel around dogs; Perhaps calm and peaceful. The person will be asked to think of a time when that feeling was most compelling; As the person does this then the associated neurons are “lit up”.
The final step is to begin to link these two together, which leads to these neurons becoming wired together. The Coach will make the “calm” network a big and robust enough state that can collapse and overwhelm the feelings of fear and a new default feeling is linked to the idea of dogs. Then, of course, the old neurological network that linked fear of dogs is now severed. (pruning).
Source “The Meta Pattern” by Shawn and Sarah Carson of the International Center for Positive Change & Hypnosis, New York.