I spent time recently with one of my oldest (as in longstanding!) friends catching up after not seeing each other for a few years.
As we reminisced about some of the holidays we’d had I was amazed to discover that we shared a first – our first flight had been together – we’d been on a long haul flight to Chicago. First time on a plane; first time overseas, etc etc. She recounted the problems there had been with the flight, a flight that had happened 27 years ago and about which I could remember almost nothing. Apparently it had been so bad that another friend on the same flight (an ex-BA air stewardess) had said “please don’t think of that as a normal flight, it wasn’t”.
Now what I’ve not mentioned is that my friend is terrified of flying – really really scared – since that first flight, if she’s managed to get on a plane in the past its been with the help of drink and drugs and these days she has family unvisited in South Africa and her holidays are taken in the UK with a recent venture onto cruises – so long as you can drive to join the boat!
But wait a minute; we both experienced the same first bad flight, what happened to create a life affecting fear for her and an experience I can hardly remember for me?
I guess there can be lots of reasons that one person might be more susceptible than another, perhaps you’re someone who already has a tendency to worry about what might go wrong or perhaps you’re generally nervous about new experiences. Or you genuinely have an awful experience, but something convinces you that this is the way it will always be.
A phobia only takes one experience to become lodged in the brain, after that the brain takes over and repeats the awfulness of the experience for you. We all know that repetition is important when you want to get good at something – practise makes perfect – unfortunately that’s as true for the bad things in our lives as it is for the good stuff.
With a fear or phobia the practising is going on in our heads, our minds are doing the work for us by reliving and re-experiencing every detail of the incident. One of the best examples of this I ever came across was one of the first people I helped with their fear of flying – she hadn’t just practised, she had all the awards and medals it was possible to get in fear of flying! She’s much better now!
What have you experienced that has created a fear or phobia for you?