Why do you think we have emotions? Wouldn’t life be simpler without them? Do we have emotions to give gossipers something to get excited about or to provide soap opera writers with script material?
Of course not.
As with everything else in human make-up, emotions exist to keep us safe and alive…and able to thrive.
On this page we’re going to look at how and why hypnosis can cure social anxiety in order for you to feel so much more comfortable and even confident in all social settings.
Let’s get started…
Emotions motivate movement
Embedded in the word “emotion” is another word: “motion”. Emotions are there to make you move, either towards something or away from it.
We all have deep basic needs – for warmth, security, love and connection and, of course, food and shelter. We have needs for status, significance, attention and to feel safe in our lives. And there’s the need for stimulation, to exercise our creativity, and to learn and produce in the world.
Some emotions drive you toward experiences that would help meet these needs and ensure your survival. And other emotions serve to drive you away from experiences or situations which, you feel, would prevent you meeting your essential needs.
But this is the question…
What happens when you get directed the wrong way by your feelings? What happens when you are pulled towards social contact by your needs, but away from it by social anxiety?
The “motion” in “emotion” has you moving either towards what you feel you need or away from what you feel you don’t want. Think lust, love, anger, greed, hunger – all feelings that motivate us towards an experience. And think about feelings that drive you away from something – fear, terror, disgust etc.
Hopefully, your emotions get it right and drive you toward what is good for you and away from what is bad for you. But sometimes they don’t.
This is what effective therapy addresses, solving the inner conflict.
You avoid what you fear – but also fear what you avoid
If you suffer from a social phobia, you both want and don’t want social contact. You are pulled and pushed in different directions by you feelings.
The thing is that if social contact was bad for us, it would be great to be terrified of social events because it would be life saving.
But a socially anxious person instinctively knows they need social contact at the same time as fearing it; they are pulled and pushed at the same time by their emotions… tricky!
And it gets worse.
One problem is that the more you avoid something, the more the fear around it increases. It’s as if your “emotional brain” draws conclusions from your behaviour: “She’s avoiding this situation all the time, so it must be genuinely dangerous. So I’ll ramp up her fear of this situation even more to make sure she won’t go near it.”
This is what most anxiety is about: protection from perceived danger.
Lion tamers and human cannonballs
On the other hand, there is a way of switching off fear around things you should fear simply by making yourself face it and move towards it.
I’m thinking of the old-time circus lion-tamer calmly putting his head in a lion’s mouth, and of those perennial favourites, the human cannonballs, getting themselves fired from a cannon. Not hobbies I’d recommend.
The point is that even dangerous acts like these can start to feel “normal” to your emotional brain if you voluntarily do them repeatedly. The “emotional brain” concludes “This must be safe, or else why are we doing it?”
So yes, we avoid what we fear, but we can also come to fear something just because we avoid it so much.
A number of approaches have been tried over the centuries to overcome the difficulties this presents. None are as successful as hypnotherapy.
Consider, for instance, what happens with “exposure therapy” and “cognitive therapy” in the context of dealing with fears like shyness and social anxiety…
Exposure therapy: A step too far?
The understanding that emotions are physical drivers away from or towards something is extensively used in exposure therapy. (1) This approach typically has you gradually having more and more contact with what scares you.
So the spider phobic might on week one see a drawing of a spider. On week two they’ll see a photo of a spider, on week three see a toy spider. By week four they’ll touch the toy spider, week five has them seeing a movie of a spider and week six an actual live spider.
This can be very effective if you can be induced to remain calm through the gradual exposure (sometimes known as “systematic desensitisation”). It would be easier and faster to use hypnosis and the rewind technique (and if you are a therapist, you need to add it to your therapy ‘toolkit’).
The idea behind exposure therapy is that spiders need to start to feel a “normal” part of experience, and this is done through forcing oneself to go towards rather than away from the feared object or situation. It’s classic behavioural therapy, and probably what the lion-tamer did to get the nerve he needed.
Another kind of exposure therapy takes a less gradual approach and is known as “flooding” (2). Yikes! This might see the spider phobic being put in a room full of spiders, with the idea that fully experiencing your worst fear – and surviving it – will put an end to that fear.
So does it work?
Therapy for the failed therapy
Yes, it can work – provided the person undergoing the therapy is taught to relax deeply, such as by using Zen Breathing. But (you knew there was a “but”) I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had to treat to help them recover from the effects of previous therapy or counselling when it’s gone wrong.
These are the ones who didn’t get better, the ones who couldn’t get past the photo of the spider on week two, the ones who were deeply traumatised by being thrown in at the deep end of having to speak in front of a hundred people when they were still chronically shy.
And we now know about the negative effects of Critical Incident Debriefing and how this can often reinforce trauma in the brain. (3)
There has to be, and fortunately is, another way.
The beauty of hypnosis when treating fears, phobias and anxiety
Hypnosis, used competently, is the perfect way to expose someone in a safe and relaxed way to a situation they had been avoiding.
As far as your emotional brain is concerned, if you have relaxed deeply and felt spontaneous at a party a few times while in hypnosis, this is a sufficiently strong indication that this situation is not dangerous, and that this kind of social event can now be “retagged” as something you can potentially go safely towards – before you’ve even been to an actual party.
Someone who hasn’t left the house for years can “leave their house” in hypnosis and “experience it” before they go out the door in real life. The ‘exposure therapy’ is fully within their own control, in sync with a relaxed mind and body.
When you then “do it for real”, it will already feel more familiar and therefore not as threatening. The previously dreaded social event may even, dare I say it, turn out to be relaxing and fun.
But it’s important to understand here that we are talking about more than just what you believe…
Feelings and thoughts can be at odds
You can fully believe something is good for you and still fearfully flee from it. You can fully believe something (or someone) is bad for you but still be emotionally driven towards it (or them). Think abusive relationships.
Cognitive approaches to dealing with fears often come unstuck over this, as fears aren’t driven so much by “faulty thinking” as by more primitive emotional conditioning geared towards survival.
I talk about this in ‘The fatal flaw in CBT’.
The thing is it’s much easier to access, and modify, these primitive emotional drivers through the use of hypnosis than it is through reasoning.
Thus, when I help someone with social phobia it’s generally obvious the phobia has gone the moment they open their eyes, because calm, disassociated hypnotic exposure to the previously feared trigger – while feeling completely relaxed – has transformed their response.
They know it wasn’t “real” but nonetheless a new positive blueprint for responding with calm in social situations (or dealing with a spider) has become established in their subconscious. Being relaxed is the new “normal”.
Start feeling more socially confident today!
So what about you?
I know you’re serious about overcoming social anxiety otherwise you wouldn’t have read all this.
The 10 steps to overcome social anxiety course, like all the ten steps courses, has a hypnotic download for each step of the way.
This is partly because social skills can be developed and honed during hypnotic rehearsal but also because I want you to experience hypnotic “safe” social experiences before you go into these situations for real.
In this way the horrible away from feelings of fear can gently be replaced with the happier toward feelings of pleasure and positive expectation when it comes to your socializing and meeting new people.
And by so doing, the world opens up to you!
- Wikipedia entry: Exposure therapy
- Wikipedia entry: Flooding
- Critical Incident Stress Debriefing: helpful, harmful or neither?