Overcoming our phobia

When I was learning to overcome my driving phobia, Mike Weatherstone’s book, “How to Successfully Treat and Overcome Driving Phobia by Yourself”, helped me to understand and treat my phobia. I believe the insights he has offered in this book are applicable to phobia in many other forms.

According to Weatherstone, “A phobia is…a fear of something…Fear is a perfectly natural and necessary part of life, without which humans (and most other species) simply would not have survived long enough to evolve…We accept therefore that fear is an essential part of living…Humans are quite adept at learning how to cope with fear by evaluating and minimizing risk and training for the task in hand…A phobia is what happens when that normal protective instinct gets out of control and becomes a fear of something which is, to all intents and purposes unjustified…A phobia on the other than is an irrational fear of something which ordinarily should not cause us to be afraid…It’s as though the irrational part of our brain completely overwhelms the rational part. “

In addition, Weatherstone points out that “…fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of the dark – and of course…- a fear of some aspect of driving. All of these things can cause us real hard and a fear of them is perfectly normal. We are usually able to manage and control this fear so we can do certain necessary things like flying, climbing a ladder or driving.”

For Weatherstone, people with a phobia will experience “the ‘fight or flight’ reaction…one is our fear pushing us away from the situation and the other the pull of the strong desire to experience the relief of not having to face it”.

“The exact cause of driving related phobia is often difficult to determine. It can develop over many years …However, sooner or later unless addressed, the phobia is likely to become worse and extend to other situations. It is usually a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.”

Weatherstone believes CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a great tool for us to cope with our phobia. For Weatherstone, CBT is “designed to achieve two main objectives – to change the way we perceive things to be more positive, and to alter behavior to create a more beneficial outcome”.

“By definition, if you are suffering from a driving related phobia then your perception of danger has become distorted. In other words, your mind is causing you to react in full threat mode where no actual (or at least very little) threat exists….CBT seeks to re-balance or ‘re-set’ the way your mind perceives the danger so that you no longer react in this way to dangers which do not in fact exist. This is done by a very gradual step-by-step process…Keep in mind that your phobia probably developed over some considerable time. Accept that it may take some time to reverse the process and be content to take it slowly…over a period of time the mind gradually starts to believe what it is seeing. At that point we are well on the way to altering the way we perceive the threat and our goal is in sight.”

Currently, I am still on my journey of altering the way I have been perceiving the threat. Most importantly, I feel hopeful and have no pressure on myself.

Being subjective vs objective

Are you subjective or objective? How can we be more objective?

I think what Elizabeth Thornton has offered in her book, “The Objective Leader”, has offered us insightful descriptions and comparisons of subjectivity and objectivity:

“Leadership effectiveness is measured by our ability to achieve results. We analyze the situation, make a decision, take action, and hope for the desired result. Our results are determined by the actions we take. Our actions are determined by the decisions we make. Our decisions are based on what we think or believe about the situation. The challenge for leaders is that it is quite natural for us to perceive and respond to everything we experience through the lens of our mental models. These mental models are our deep-rooted ideas, assumptions, and biases about the way the world works and how things ought to be. When we encounter a person, situation or event, we instantly project our mental models, which are often based on our backgrounds, past experiences, and fears. The end result is that we often perceive, judge, and respond to people, circumstances, and events incorrectly, and we fail to achieve our intended result. Our ability to evaluate situations, make decisions, and take effective action is directly related to our ability to be objective – to perceive and respond to things as they really are…I do not believe we, as humans, can be 100 percent objective…The good news is that we can challenge our underlying assumptions and the way we frame our world in order to reduce our subjectivity and respond more objectively to what actually is….When we can ask ourselves about other possible ways of looking at a situation, we are being objective. When we can understand and consider another person’s point of view, we are being objective. When we can identify and evaluate assumptions and conclusions other than our own, we are being objective. When we can put our past experience behind us, use it only as a data point but evaluate situations in the present, we are being objective. Therefore, our working definition of objectivity is seeing and accepting things as they are without projecting our fears, mental models, and past experience, and responding thoughtfully and deliberately to the people, circumstances, and events in our lives”.

Although this book is for leaders, Thornton’s insights on subjectivity and objectivity are applicable to everyone. In my own reflection, I realize how subjective I have been according to Thronton. At the same time, I am inspired and encouraged by Thornton that we can be more objective.

Normal Enjoyment or Addiction?

As a priest/pastor, I need and hope to help people to conquer their addictions, for example, alcohol. At first, we need to distinguish what might be considered normal use of alcohol, for example, from dependent or addictive use of alcohol (and a variety of other substances and “things”).

In his book, “Addiction and Pastoral Care”, Nicholas Roberts quotes different experts’ definitions of addiction, addiction “is a syndrome in which a reward seeking behaviour has become out of control” and “an excessive desire for the consumption of a variety of drugs and difficulties in giving up their use…”

According to these definitions, I do not think my normal enjoyment of coffee should not be considered an addiction. At least, I can have my days without coffee, but what about my cell phone? Are there any harms if I have been addicted to the cell phone?

The way to handle negative people

We may need to cope with negative people in our daily life. In his book “The Tao of Daily Life”, Derek Lin has offered us the way to handle negative people:

“Criticizing others while being unaware of their own faults is something that many people do. We can even say that it is something we all do from time to time…when people lash out at us with venomous criticism, we should not accept it passively. We should certainly protect ourselves by putting some distance between us and them if at all possible; protect ourselves in other ways if not. The crucial point is that we can do so without feeling offended or insulted because these people are simply being themselves. It is their nature to be critical and judgmental, so it would be absurd for us to take offense, It would be pointless to get angry.”

The question for you and I to ask ourselves at first is if we have recognized and accepted our negative nature. We have to keep ourselves away from being negative toward ourselves and others.

I have the experience – opening up to physical pain

In her book, “small bites: mindfulness for everyday use”, Annabelle Ziner wrote,

“Most of us have never been taught how to deal with physical pain in a positive way. (I agree with Annabelle) Emotional pain often arises as a result of physical pain, and this can cause us to suffer. We suffer because our mind builds a resistance against the unpleasant feeling of physical pain. The mind says that this pain shouldn’t be there…No one can escape this fact. The body is not set up to exclusively produce pleasant feelings; there will also be unpleasant feelings…Adopting an open, compassionate attitude toward pain is one of the most important steps you can take toward suffering less….After you’ve carefully investigated pain, you can move your attention to a different or more distant area in your body where there neutral or pleasant sensations. For example, when you’re experiencing a headache you can focus instead on the sensations in your feet or hands. This helps enlarge your field of perception; the pain is no longer the only thing in your mind. You allow the pain a wide space in which it can exist with other sensations…At the end of the practice, you should be aware of feeling your entire body one more time and smile at it kindly…”

When we went to a dental clinic for teeth cleaning and filing, I used this method to cope with my pain. My head hurt a lot when I was suffering from COVID, the practice of this method in a mindful way helped me not only cope with the pain but also had the energy to take care of the other three people in the same house.