Phobias—It’s All In Your Thinking

Phobias—It’s All In Your Thinking

What kinds of things are you afraid of? Do they make any sense to you? How about elevators? If an elevator can terrify you, then you can learn to respond differently. You can change any pattern of behavior you experience.

I can’t know your inside experiences anyway, so why talk about it? You don’t have to talk about your inside experiences to change them. In fact, if you talk about it, your therapist may end up being your professional companion. You know what your phobia is. Is it something you see, or hear, or feel?

I can give you some guidance here that might help.

I am going to ask you to do some things that you can very quickly do in your head. If you do it correctly, the phobias won’t bother you again. You will see my directions one part at a time and I want you to take a moment and do them step-by-step.

First, I want you to imagine that you are sitting in the middle of a big movie theatre, and up on the screen you can see a black and white snapshot in which you see yourself in a situation just before you had the phobic response.

Got it?

Then I want you to float up and out of your body, up to the protection of the projection booth in the theatre. You can see yourself sitting in the middle of the theatre, and you see yourself still up on the movie screen…ok?

Now I want you to turn that still picture up on the screen into a black and white movie, and watch it from the beginning to just beyond the end of the unpleasant phobic experience. When you get to the end I want you to stop it as with a slide, and then jump inside the picture and run it backwards. Everyone will walk backwards, and everything will happen exactly in reverse, just like rewinding a Netflix movie, except you will be in the movie yourself. Run it backwards in color and take only one or two seconds to do it. Do it fast, just as fast as you can manage it and still see it.

Now think of what you were phobic of. See what you would see if you were actually there.

Fear is a curious thing. People move away from it. If you can ask someone to look at something they are terrified of, they won’t be able to look at it. On the other hand, if you ask them to just see themselves looking at it, they are still looking at it the thing that frightens them, but for some reason most people can do that comfortably. It’s the difference between sitting in the front of a roller coaster (my fear) and sitting on a bench and seeing yourself on the roller coaster. That is enough for most people to be able to change their responses. You can use the same procedure for victims of all sorts of crime and abuse.

Most people have a hard time believing that you can cure a phobia that quickly. Here is what makes it work; it’s your brain. Your brain learns by having patterns go by rapidly. Imagine if I gave you a movie, but only one slow frame at a time, every day, for a couple of years. Would you get the plot? Not likely. You only get the meaning of the movie if all those frames go by rapidly.

If you can ask someone to look at

something they are terrified of,

they won’t be able to look at it.

One of the helpful things about phobic people is that they are already rapid learners. They have already proved it. Phobics are people who can learn something, something quite ridiculous, very quickly. Most people tend to look at a phobia as a problem, rather than as an achievement. They never stop to think, “If he can learn to do that, then he can learn to do anything!”

It’s amazing that someone can learn to be terrified so consistently and dependably. If you accept the idea that phobias can only be bad, the possibility that they could be a positive experience might never occur to you. You can make pleasant responses just as strong and dependable as phobias. There are things that people see and feel joy every single time—babies and puppies do it for nearly everyone. If you don’t believe it, I have an experiment for you. Find the toughest, meanest looking fellow you can, and put a small baby (or puppy) in his arms and have him walk around in a store. You follow a couple of steps behind him and watch how people respond. You will be amazed.

Most people tend to look at a

phobia as a problem,

 rather than as an achievement.

Here is the dangerous thing about this technique. The phobia experiment takes away responses to feelings, and will work on pleasant memories just as well as on negative ones. If you use the same technique on your loving memories with someone, you can make that person just as neutral an experience as that elevator mentioned previously. Couples often do this quite naturally when they get divorced. You can look at the person you once loved passionately and have no feelings about him or her whatsoever. When you recall all the nice things that happened, you’ll be watching yourself having fun, but all your nice feelings will be gone. If you do this while you are still married, you’re really going to be in trouble.

It’s one thing to review all the experiences you have had with someone—positive and negative—and decide that you want to end the relationship and move on. But if you dissociate from all the good times you had with that person, you’ll be throwing away a cherished set of positive experiences. Even if you can’t stand them now because you or they have changed, you may as well enjoy the pleasant memories. Right?
Some people have gone so far as to dissociate from all pleasurable experiences, “so they won’t be hurt again later.” If you do that, it will work, but you won’t be able to enjoy your life even when it’s nice. It becomes like watching someone else having fun, and you never getting to play. If you do that with all your experiences, you become a living existentialist—the ultimate uninvolved observer.

Some people see a technique work and decide to try it with everything. Just because a hammer works with nails, doesn’t mean that everything you see is a nail. The phobia experiment is effective in neutralizing strong feeling responses—positive or negative—so take care when you use it.

Oh, one more thing. Do you want to know a great way to fall in love? Just associate all your positive experiences with someone and dissociate from the unpleasant ones. It works fabulously. If you don’t think about the unpleasant experiences at all, you can even use this method to fall in love with someone who does lots of things you don’t like. The usual way it is done is to fall in love this way and then get married. Once you’re married you can turn it around and associate with the unpleasant things and dissociate from the nice ones. Now you respond to only the negative thing and will soon wonder why “they’ve changed.”

(Spoiler alert) They never changed; your thinking did.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.