Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

overcoming phobias

In the terrific book, "Prozac Backlash" (which, unlike "Hormone Heresy" is well-documented and written by a doctor who practices what he preaches) Dr. Glenmuller tells of "exposure therapy" for persons with phobias. He tells how the patient is gradually exposed to the object of fear, learns at each step that it will not harm him, and, ideally, also undergoes psychotherapy intended to root out the original cause of the phobia. I suspect that this digging into the past helps the patient realize that the fear is irrational.

I did none of this in conquering my own fear of height. My approach was simpler and every bit as effective, and I never found out the actual cause of the fear. I suspect I gained it by suggestion from my mother, who also had this phobia (along with many others that I did not gain). But I don't know. It's as good an explanation as any, yet I did not even look into that part of it. I just set out to attack the fear from a rational point of view and succeeded.

I grew up believing that deep psychotherapy was the only way to get to the root of my problems, that I would never solve any of them without that. I do believe that therapy has helped me tremendously over the years. However, I also believe that I am fully capable of doing the work myself, at least at this stage of my life. I go to my therapist once a month these days, and mostly spill what I have worked out about myself. She does not direct, although sometimes she asks questions that get me thinking. I would get nowhere if I were not intensely committed to working out what about me gets in my own way.

As long as I was convinced that there was no way I could help myself on my own, there simply was no way. As long as alcoholics are convinced that they cannot make it on their own they won't. As long as depressed patients are convinced that they cannot make it without drugs they won't. It's necessary at times to look at these beliefs. They have us tied up, trussed, unable to move on our own. This is a form of "learned helplessness". I apologize to those I may have offended here but I don't take it back. I have come full circle from believing that we are victims of our own histories, unable to break out, to believing we have far more power than we let ourselves use. Incidentally, this is not a sermon to "snap out of it," to those who are in pain. I know pain, mental, emotional pain, as well as anyone else, and I know that the last thing we seem capable of doing when we feel badly are those things that will help us. It is perverse and I understand it. We can forgive ourselves for not acting. We can forgive ourselves for relying on drugs long enough to get back on some sort of track. I don't advocate the "buck up!" school. I don't suggest that this pain is not real and is not debilitating. I do suggest that we can take one tiny step at a time, even if that step is to lie down and accept being a rug for a day or a week or whatever, and know that we have it in us to get past it.

Speaking of suggestibility! My mother mentioned, when I was in seventh grade, that she had had laryngitis when she was my age and it kept her out of school for six weeks. I developed laryngitis and I malingered for eight weeks! I do not think I was conscious of what I was doing but I was certainly highly suggestible to have done this. Funny thing about that period is that it took me about two days to get back on track at school when I returned. I felt disappointed by this, that the rest of the class had not really been learning anything anyway.

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