Posts Tagged ‘phobias’

Overcoming Phobias

Snake (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I shared last week, I did not post for several days because I took my son to Disney World. Boy, did we have a good time!

In addition to the fun of visiting an amusement park, I was able to celebrate an important phase of healing: I have overcome my phobia of airplanes! I am so relieved to finally put this behind me.

I have been phobic of riding in airplanes throughout my adult life. I do not remember it bothering me when I flew as a child, but I became anxious about it as an adult. I had recurring dreams about being in an airplane when it crashed. Just the thought of sitting in an airplane would cause me to feel deep anxiety.

I was obsessed with watching programs about airplane crashes. I remember watching a special called When Planes Go Down and memorizing all of the safety tips they shared. I wear jeans because they are more fire-resistant than other fabrics. I only wear sneakers because sandals could fly off my feet in a crash. I would count the number of seat backs from my row to the nearest emergency exit and commit the number to memory. That way, if I survived a crash, I could feel my way through the smoke to the exit.

I would tense up at lift-off and at landing because that it when most crashes happen. I would panic at any sign of turbulence. I was a complete wreck on an airplane, spending most of the time praying that I would be okay.

I did none of this on our flight down or back. I was completely calm. I was not worried a bit. Even when my son got concerned when we hit some turbulence, I was reassuring to him and truly did not worry about it. It is a miracle!

You might be asking how I got there. I did it through finally reaching a place where I know, at a heart level, that I am going to be okay. If I live, I will be okay, and if I die, I will be okay. I truly believe that the spirit lives on after death, so I have nothing to fear. Once you lose the fear of death, the rest is easy.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man on Bicycle (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I shared yesterday, I was in a car accident on Wednesday. Because of this, I was much more cautious behind the wheel on Thursday. I was nervous when I passed the same spot where I saw the vehicle coming toward me the wrong way in my lane. I stayed in the far right lane on Thursday and will likely not drive in the far left lane for a very long time.

On my way home from picking up my kid, I was in the left lane on a road with two lanes of traffic going both directions and a turn lane in the middle. My lane was stopped because someone who was trying to turn across my lane had pulled out about ¼ of the way into my lane. The car in front of me squeezed by, but it took some maneuvering with oncoming traffic whizzing by in the next lane. I chose just to wait for the car to complete its turn. I did not want to risk getting rear-ended two days in a row if I had to move into the other lane to squeeze by this guy, doubly so with my kid in the car.

Eventually, after maybe 2-3 minutes, someone from the other lane let the car complete its turn. After than, one of the cars that had been waiting behind me drove alongside me and blared its horn repeatedly, startling my son and prompting a bunch of questions. Then, as he turned off the street, he gave me the finger – not a hand gesture I want to explain to my seven-year-old child.

I kept thinking that if this guy only knew that I could have been killed yesterday in a head-on collision and was, in fact, rear-ended yesterday, maybe he would not have been such a jerk. Or maybe he would have been, but that’s a whole different topic. This got me thinking about how frequently we judge one another based upon very limited information.

How many people have rolled their eyes about my phobia of Russian Nesting Dolls, not knowing that those objects were involved in a savage gang rape? How often do I rib a friend for a quirk that is actually the residue of deep trauma?

We cannot know all that another person has experienced, but we must try to be open to accepting that all of us act and react the way that we do for a reason. In most cases, people are not purposely trying to be quirky or annoying. There are often reasons behind why we do things the way that we do them. Rather than try to make people feel badly about themselves for making different choices than we would like, perhaps we can all try having a little more compassion for one another.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Multiple Buds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common aftereffect of childhood abuse. OCD is driven by anxiety, and the OCD symptoms help the anxious person to manage his anxiety.

I used to struggle with a number of OCD symptoms. Some would come and go, such as blowing on my hands. Others lingered for years, such as saying a mantra in my head to reduce my anxiety. Some were just amusing but not harmful, such as having to check the alarm clock exactly three times before falling asleep. As I have healed from my past and reduced my anxiety, my need for these OCD behaviors subsided. I still have some residue, but most are now healed.

OCD is all about taking control. As a child, I had no control over my life or even my own body. So, I sought control in things that did not matter through my OCD symptoms. My anxiety would build and build, but I could release some of it by doing one of my OCD actions. If I had to hold it in for whatever reason, the anxiety would build until it was nearly unbearable.

One secret to reducing anxiety is processing anger. I was unaware of having rage issues because I stuffed the anger deep inside of myself. It was not safe for me to express anger as a child, so I denied it. When you do not express emotions, they become more powerful. It is only in expressing them that they can be released and then lose their power over you.

When you do not express your anger and stuff it down inside of yourself, it turns on you in the form of anxiety and/or depression. Many people who struggle with severe anxiety and/or depression are angry people who rarely express those emotions. As you start expressing your rage, it finally has somewhere to go, and you will feel your anxiety ease.

This is exactly what happened to me. I had accepted that I would always be “weird” with my OCD symptoms. Through therapy, I learned to how process and honor my anger in a safe manner (that is, after I came to realize that I even had anger to process). As I processed my anxiety, my anxiety level went down substantially. Today, I feel very little anxiety, so I have no need for my OCD symptoms to manage it. When I notice that I am feeling compelled to do those OCD things again, I explore what repressed anger might be driving them, express the anger, and then experience relief from the compulsions again.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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