I was recently hiking in a steep canyon where the trail went to the very edge of precipitous cliffs with only a thin guardrail between me and certain death. I also walked across a number of high suspension footbridges that bounced as myself and others walked along it.
While I have resolved my fear of heights by using the same tools on myself that I use with clients, I was noticing my responses to these situations as I was in them.
Most of the time I had no discernible response—I was in the moment enjoying the beauty of the canyon and river running through it. I deliberately played with the situation in my mind, imagining there was no guardrail and checking in with my response to standing at the precipice. I was mindful of what I was feeling in that moment.
When working with clients to overcome their fears through hypnosis, I often ask them to do the same: to check their responses to a situation.
What is Fear?
When I work with clients on fears—whether it is a fear of public speaking, spiders, or flying—I always ask the same question: Once we are done with our work, what is an appropriate response for you to have? Sometimes I get answers like, “I want to be supremely confident,” or “I don’t want to feel anything.” While these may seem like good answers for someone who has had a lifelong phobia of public speaking, it often is an unrealistic goal.
Why is it unrealistic? Think of something that you are not afraid of, like having dinner with a good friend. In that case, do you want to feel nothing at all? Or supremely confident? In one case, you might feel numb; and in the other, you may come across as arrogant. The appropriate goal may be that you are present, relaxed, and enjoying yourself. If you imagine trying that on in the case of something like public speaking, It will probably allow you to connect better with an audience than feeling nothing or trying to come across as super confident the whole time.
For someone with a fear of flying, you might just want to feel relaxed, and unphased by the fact that you are gliding in a large tube 30,000 feet above the ground, so you can focus your attention on reading, watching a movie, or talking to your travel companion.
The point is, you may still feel something when looking 300 feet down a sheer cliff drop, like I was. For me, when I took the label off of it, it just felt like energy. Often we have a feeling, and then we put a label on it. Once you label something, you give it meaning. The question is, what does it mean that I have some feeling in my chest? Is it fear? Is it excitement?
Reframing Fear with Hypnosis
There are a couple definitions of the label for fear that can be instructive. In other words, when you feel that particular feeling, do you make it mean that you should:
What if you approached that feeling with a bit of curiosity instead, and labelled it as such:
You have had a strong response as a result of imagining something, whether it be the audience pointing and laughing at you, or the cable snapping on the bridge, causing you to plunge to your death on the rocks below.
Here is another way I invite my clients to interpret those feelings after we have started to transform the images, thoughts and feelings:
In other words, face that you are having a feeling, accept that you are having a feeling, engage it with curiosity, and reframe the meaning to something less negative or more positive. This is what I can walk you through in our sessions together.
First, we work to reduce or eliminate negative feelings, and then assign positive meanings to the feelings do come up—so that you are left with positive thoughts around the situation that you previously feared.
Once the “negative” feelings are gone, you may then be able to imagine what it would be like to have positive feelings for a situation that you used to have strong negative feelings for. That is how it possible to overcome fears with hypnosis.