Many people—if they’re like me—are just as afraid of life as they are of death. In fact more so. Shyness in childhood is quite normal between the ages of four and seven. But some of us get stuck at around that age—often through traumatic events—and are left with residual fear and anxiety that can develop into social phobia later on. This is more likely to happen in adolescence, when hormones are swirling around in the body and mind.
I remember being terribly afraid of the dark when I was little. Once I woke up screaming about a dark shape underneath the bed. Dad came running in. He flashed a torch under my bed. But it didn’t help, as it gave credence to my fears. What would have helped would have been if he’d let me climb into bed and snuggle up between him and Mum. Later on, I was afraid of going to the dentist. But I’ve learnt as an adult to relax and am no longer afraid. it took longer to overcome a fear of flying, but in the end I succeeded there too.
Fear of giving speeches in front of a large audience is a common fear worse than death for many people. I also suffered from this, despite having been a teacher for many years. There are so many things to fear in life. And so many diverse sources of fear for different people. Some people are afraid of spiders. I had a huntsman spider (fortunately not a funnel-web) run up and down my legs and thighs recently when taking in the washing and remained calm, partly for my young grandson’s sake, who was nearby at the time. However, having to walk into a room of people I don’t know is still anxiety provoking for me. What is it about social phobia that is so hard to overcome? For some people it reaches a level that is pathological. Sixty percent of people who stutter avoid speaking and become socially phobic as a result of their fear of having to communicate.
It is this avoidance that is often central to phobias. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has opted for the name ‘social anxiety’ rather than ‘phobia’ as it is more inclusive of diverse conditions. People with this disorder believe they are being watched and judged by others. Some become so fearful that they avoid all social interaction by staying indoors.
There are many strategies sufferers can utilise to deal with or overcome their alienation. Cognitive behaviour therapists have many strategies to assist sufferers. These often include gentle continued exposure to the source of fear over time. Or if you’re one of those hardy types—like me—who wish to “get to the bottom of things”, you might try psychodynamic therapies that plumb the depths of childhood trauma.
These days, too, there are therapists using “energy” or “spiritually” based methods that are often miraculously effective.I have found meditation to be one of the best methods to overcome fear-based issues and generalised anxiety that exists. Writing is another way to do this, especially memoir writing.
Another very recent perspective on phobias is to link them all to the underlying fear of death. See this interesting conversation on this topic at http://theconversation.com/fear-of-death-underlies-most-of-our-phobias-57057
Cognitive behaviour therapy is the preferred approach for tackling phobias in this country. Medication, combined with talk therapy, for cases of anxiety and clinical depression has superseded the widespread use of psychoanalysis compared to in the past. Powerful drugs are available for serious emotional mental illnesses, such as bipolar and schizophrenia that were the scurge of psychiatrists in the past. However, many personality disorders are resistant to these surface approaches. Sufferers might benefit more from a return to an in-depth, psychoanalytical type approach.