Overcoming Fear.

‘Nothing has meaning except for the meaning we give to it ourselves’

T. Harv Eker

PERCEPTION AND FEAR – how we perceive something determines how we respond to it, including our behavioural response. This is true even if our perceptions are inaccurate, distorted and misleading.

When we fear something (even if, in reality, what we are afraid of presents no real danger to us) we will tend to avoid it.

Very often, avoidance behaviour, caused by fear, spoils our quality of life. For example, someone may be afraid of interacting with others and therefore avoid social situations and become reclusive and lonely.

One way to overcome such a problem would be for the individual to ANALYZE THE REASONS FOR HIS/HER FEAR ; the question needs to be asked : ‘is the situation I fear truly dangerous to me, from an objective and realistic perspective, or is my imagination inventing/exaggerating reasons to be fearful which have no real basis in reality?’

It is important to overcome fears which are spoiling our chances of living more fulfilled lives.

FEARS ARE LEARNED AND CAN BE UNLEARNED :

Our fears are not innate – we are not born with them. They are learned as we go through life and can be unlearned. Let’s look at an example :

Suppose an individual grew up with  parent/s who made him/her feel worthless and made him/her feel very awkward and uncomfortable. And let’s say, as a result, the individual grew up fearing social situations as s/he believed other people would also make him/her feel worthless  (even though, in reality, there is no reason to make such a supposition). How could such a fear be overcome? Two main psychological approaches that could be effective at helping the individual overcome such an irrational fear are :

1) BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY

2) COGNITIVE THERAPY

Let’s briefly examine these two approaches in turn :

1) BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY – if an individual fears social situations, behavioural therapy would approach the problem by gradually introducing the person, in small steps, to the feared interpersonal interaction. For example :

Stage 1 – meet up with old friend

Stage 2 – meet up with well known acquaintance

Stage 3 – meet up with less well known acquaintance

Stage 4 – attend a small gathering of old friends

etc…etc…

Obviously, the above is just an example, but the idea is to gradually build up to attending increasingly challenging social situations  (or, in more general terms, to gradually increase the individual’s exposure to the feared stimulus) – the individual can tailor the stages in any way s/he wishes, ideally under the guidance of a therapist.

Behavioural therapy works by indirectly challenging the irrational beliefs the person holds which are maintaining his/her fear. Over time, in our example, the individual will come to realize that social situations are not a danger to him/her in any real sense – slowly, s/he will become more comfortable and at ease.

2) COGNITIVE THERAPY – this therapy involves a therapist talking to the individual who has the irrational fear and helping that individual to diretly CHALLENGE THE VALIDITY OF HIS/HER FEAR. The therapy aims to dismantle the very foundations (ie the deeply held, irrational, underlying belief) that the fear is built upon.

Often, in order to achieve this aim, the therapist will use what is called the ABC model  which was originally devised by the psychologist Albert Ellis. Below I explain what the letters stand for:

A – activating event (ie the trigger that led to the sensation of fear).

B – belief (the person’s assumptions about the situation)

C – consequence (ie the feelings and behaviours which arise as a consequence of the above).

If C (consequences) is undesired and spoiling the person’s quality of life, cognitive therapy encourages the individual to move on to steps D and E. I explain these below :

D – dispute ie what are the more positive alternatives to the belief which is causing the fear? For example :’ just because I got on badly with my parent/s, this does not mean I will not get on with other people’ would be a preferable alternative.

E – energizing alternative ie what would be a more empowering belief to adopt? eg’ the more I interact with others, the better I will become at doing it’.

I hope you have found this post of use. Please leave a comment if you would like to. I’ll respond asap.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc: PGDE(FAHE).

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