LEAVING HOME: PART 2

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Have you ever considered how many contexts (situations) there are in which to be afraid of something? In Part 1, Agoraphobia was described as a fear of being in open, unfamiliar places; or of leaving home. This is the most commonly reported type of phobia. However, many people also acquire fears of height, small quarters, bridges, snakes and other animals, water and more! Actually, a phobia is a psychological limitation which may be developed in almost any context.
 
Someone who has a phobia made an unconscious decision, under stress sometime earlier in life, in the presence of an overwhelming situation. That individual succeeded in becoming incredibly consistent; something most people often find difficult. Every time those certain events occur later in life, he makes the exact same response. It's a remarkable achievement! Despite the changes which occur in life otherwise, over the years, he is still able to respond the same way to those stressful things!
 
As consistent responding to stressful events is already streamlined in the agoraphobic's behavior, what remains is to change the ritual that occurs regularly. Since most phobic behavior is internally generated through pictures, dialogue or feelings, a useful coping strategy consists of paying attention "on the outside." That is, attending to the visions and sounds in the environment, and the feelings that are created where the body meets that environment (i.e., a chair, the weather, etc.). Since one presumably cannot attend to both internally and externally generated events simultaneously, this first step can reduce the amount of time one spends in a state of anticipatory anxiety (fear of fear). By developing and honing this coping strategy you are exercising tremendous control over the quality of your experiences.
 
There is another dimension of this process that is central to phobic responding: The position of the individual in the panic situation. People have strategies-- sequences of internal responses-- which produce behaviors, phobic or otherwise.. We represent the information received from our senses-- visual, auditory or kinesthetic (feeling) -- in some organized pattern, which then allows us to behave in certain ways. A typical phobic strategy involves someone visualizing a scene from within (that is, not picturing himself, but actually being inside the scene) and having strong feelings while being in that picture. So a person who imagines having to leave the house and drive to the store, where long lines of people await him, reacts to that scenario with overwhelming anxiety, and remains home. He may believe that he is not calm or confident enough to do it.
 
Another way of viewing that scenario, is that the individual, being "inside" the dreaded scene, is having difficulty getting to his resources (strengths) in that situation. That is, while at other times in his personal history, he has a set of experiences called, calm and confidence, when creating a situation where leaving home is necessary, he has difficulty getting there. Considering the situation in this manner suggests that there are times (resources) when someone does not act phobically; and therein lays the suggestion for change.
 
Pay attention to the difference between these two kinds of experiences. In all of your non-phobic experiences, are you inside the scene, as opposed to picturing yourself going through it? While an elaborate presentation of therapeutic treatment techniques for phobias is not practical here, one aspect is simple, elegant and quite effective. It involves separating your internal feelings from your phobic pictures. You can accomplish this by imagine seeing yourself going through an experience (rather than being inside the scene as before), while paying attention to external feelings (such as your body in a chair), or simply to more pleasant ones, that are occurring here and now. Would you care to try something?  Get comfortable, take a couple of deep breaths and relax...
 
Recently, each of you has experienced something of great value because of the outcome it produced. I would like you, with calm, confident feelings to allow it to emerge in your consciousness. Take all the time you need here, and then continue reading. You can acquire new learning from that experience, as you see and hear yourself go through it again. Now, I would like you to select a specific stressful situation that you know will inevitably occur. Stay in touch with the feelings from your valuable experience. Notice how you can apply the new learning to the stressful situation. In this manner, you are transferring useful information from one part of your personal history, so as to increase your choices as a creative individual in the present. Review the steps until you are comfortable. And when you are finished... leave home.