The KEY Questions: Must we live in fear?

‘Koumpounophobia’ may be one of the strangest phobias of them all, and not just because of its weird name. To a non-sufferer the fear of buttons may seem almost comical, irrational to the point of silliness, but to those afflicted it’s no laughing matter. We can all relate, at some level, to the fear of spiders, mice or even birds. All these mostly harmless creatures share a common feature in that they often dart around at speed. Seeing something move very quickly out of the corner of your eye can trigger alarm and an accompanying adrenaline surge – useful in times of real danger.

But fear of buttons? What’s that about? What’s going on?

Anyone who’s ever suffered a panic attack can testify that it’s not so much the fear of anything specific that has gripped them but ‘fear of the fear’, the conviction that they are about to lose control. We are, in a very real sense, afraid of the power of our own thoughts. Understanding how this works in humans is the first step on the road to being free.

One of the most common phobias is the fear of speaking in public, (‘glossophobia’). Just the thought of having to stand up in front of others to deliver a speech can reduce even the most outwardly confident person to a quaking, incoherent mess. The palms sweat and the mouth dries up. The heart begins to race. We imagine every possible humiliation in High Definition and Surround Sound. Called upon to be witty and sophisticated it seems inevitable that we will lose the power of speech, or at the very least forget everything we had planned to say. Worst-case scenario: we become convinced we will faint clean away. And because we humans are so infinitely suggestible, some or all of these physiological changes will begin to manifest in the body, causing a negative feedback loop, convincing us that we were right to be scared! The fear of speaking in public becomes the fear of fear itself.

In NLP, the answer is to literally re-program the mind, the underlying assumption being that the client wasn’t born with the fear, at some point in the past they acquired it. Babies have some in-built reactions to potentially dangerous situations – evolution has seen to it that they are wary of heights, for example – but otherwise they are free of negative programming. They haven’t yet ‘learned’ fear. Something happened to create that initial trigger, the thought in the person’s mind that equated some otherwise commonplace, everyday event with life-threatening significance.

The fear wasn’t learned gradually but instantly, and we now know that it can be unlearned just as quickly.

Take the example of buttons. A baby girl sits on the living room carpet, happily playing with her toys while mum chats to a friend in the kitchen. Nearby, hidden from the adults’ view under the edge of the sofa, is a small, brightly-coloured circular object, looking a bit like a sweet. The baby picks it up, pops it into her mouth …

Fear of buttons is clearly irrational, but a parent’s fear of their child choking to death is not. The mother’s cry of panic as she runs into the room to see her beloved little girl in danger, coupled with the sensation of choking, is enough to create, in the baby’s pre-cognitive mind, a lifelong phobia. And lifelong means exactly that, because once a phobia has established itself, repeated exposure to the initial stimulus, whatever it was, can only reinforce the idea in the sufferer’s mind that the situation is hopeless. The sight of a button/spider/bird triggers the belief, self talk and the negative feedback loop does the rest.

People often cling to their fears. ‘I have had this fear so long, it’s a part of me. It’s who I am’. But the Three Principles tell us that we are the director of our own ‘movie’, as well as the actors, and the audience. We can decide the outcome. I have been privileged to help countless people overcome their various phobias, by getting them back in touch with their unconscious desire to be as free from irrational fear as that baby girl was before the life-changing event. You can help others to come to the same realization, and you can do it for yourself.

So what are you afraid of?