RELEASING ANXIETY AND FEAR

CHAPLAIN PAUL G. DURBIN, Ph.D. 

(1) INTRODUCTION

(2) STRAWBERRY SCARECROW

(3)  THE SYMPTOMATIC APPROACH

(4) CIRCLE THERAPY

(5) SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION

(6) MARTHA'S CASE HISTORY

(1) INTRODUCTION:  In addition to the Holy Trinity and the Human Trinity, there is an Unholy Trinity. I first heard of the unholy Trinity for an audio seminar by Dr. Daniel Zalling of the Ohio Institute of Medical Hypnosis. Dr. Zalling speaks of the Unholy Trinity as being anxiety, fear, and guilt. I would like to take the liberty of combining anxiety and fear and adding anger. Therefore, the Unholy Trinity consist of (1) anxiety and fear, (2) anger, and (3) guilt.

Throughout history, certain periods or "Ages" have been designated to identify that period. We have had the Stone Age, Ice Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, the Age of Reason, the Atomic Age, and it could be said that the current age is the Age of Anxiety. We are anxious and fearful about many things. Montarique said, "It is fear that I stand most in fear of." President Franklin D. Roosevelt said to a fear paralyzed nation at the beginning of World War II, "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself."

The days in which we live are interesting, exciting, sometimes thrilling, sometimes disappointing, and sometimes a bit frightening. Everyday we see our scientific knowledge and skills move forward with giant steps. We have spoken proudly and somewhat boastfully of all we have been able to do and accomplish. But if you look carefully, you may notice that many are beginning to tremble like someone holding a time bomb in his hand and he doesn't know when it is set to go off. Anxiety and fear seems to be destroying the paradise we have developed here on earth.

One of the problems hampering the building of the Golden Gate Bridge was distinctly human. It was estimated that some 35 lives would probably be lost during the construction. The workmen were filled with increasing fear. Many of them began to worry whether or not he would be among the predicted casualties. Every practical precaution was introduced, but nothing seemed to relieve the anxiety of the workman. It was obvious that their work was affected by the dreadful thought, "What if I should fall into the deadly water below."

Finally, the chief engineer came to the conclusion that it was the fear of falling rather that the actual probability of falling that troubled the men. If every man had the guarantee that should he fall from the bridge, he would not fall into the deadly water, but would be safely caught; the anxiety would be relieved and his work would improve. The answer was a great net which was hung under the bridge. It cost $80,000 but the expense proved to be a good investment because the net was in place, the fear of falling was greatly reduced. The men worked faster and more efficiently since they now had a satisfying answer to the troublesome question, "What if I should fall from the bridge?"

The fact of fear is a fact of life. We have fears of the past, present, and future. What if I should lose my job? What if I should lose my health? What if my spouse should leave me? What if I am robbed? What if I should die? These and other questions only add to our anxiety and fear.

Anxiety and fear are destructive agents which prevents us from fully enjoying life. The ancient Vikings had a proverb which might shed some light on this problem. "Vain is the strong oak in our ships without strong hearts in our People." One could paraphrase that proverb with "Vain is the strong oak in our ships when there is fear in the heart of our people." Like a long finger stretching over the centuries, the truth of the proverb is pointing right at one of our weakest points. Vain is all the progress we have made in the material world, the machines we have built, and the power we have harnessed; if we are not able to properly control and use our power. What good are inventions and discoveries, skills and techniques, great learning and extensive education; if one's life is lived in fear.

(2) STRAWBERRY SCARECROW: In an essay, Frank Boreham tells us that as he walked in the country, he came upon a field of strawberries. In the center of the field was a strikingly ugly scarecrow. His arms were stretched out as if to catch any luckless individual or creature who would dare to trespass upon the field that he had been charged to guard. What filled Frank with wonder was this: One bird was sitting on an arm and another on the head of the awful looking scarecrow. They had eaten their fill and would enjoy some more strawberries as soon as their hunger demanded it.

In the same essay, Frank writes of other birds not in the field: Some were perched on the fence and others were in the trees that surrounded the field of strawberries. All of these birds seem to desire the strawberries, but they had not eaten a single berry. Why? Because they were afraid of the terrible scarecrow that stood guard. Our first reaction is to feel that they were very foolish birds, but how often have we been defeated or denied joy in our life because of a scarecrow? Some fears are real, some are scarecrows. It is not so much the reality of life which defeats us as how we perceive reality.

Some years ago, a certain man, who was crossing the Atlantic by ship, tried to travel as economically as possible. To save on the cost of meals, he took along a large supply of crackers and cheese. When the trip was almost over, a fellow passenger casually asked him why he had not eaten in the dining room? Somewhat embarrassed, the man admitted that in order to save money, he had been preparing his own simple meals in his cabin. Imagine how discouraged he was to be told that the cost of the trip included the meals.

We feel sorry for that man, but there is something else that is more discouraging and sad. It is to make the journey of life, eating one's cracker and cheese in loneliness, sadness, and sorrow; when one could have been feasting at the table of God's rich grace; enjoying all the spiritual blessings that God provides for all his children. Isn't it sad to realize that people go through life living with fear and anxiety. They choose to nibble on the crackers and cheese of an inadequate interpretation of life. Though they are straining, striving, seeking; they are not at peace. Fear and anxiety holds them in captivity.

To be human is to sometimes be afraid. General Patton, a great soldier of World War II, once said, "If bravery is a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man." Some fears are friends, while others are foes. Some fears are useful, some are abnormal. Some fears are an aid to fulfillment, while others are destructive to our well-being. Normal fear directs us to look both ways before crossing the street. Abnormal fear prevents us from crossing the street or to deny our fears and cross without looking both ways.

Jesus told the story of a ruler who called three servants to come before him and gave each of them a certain amount of money. The first two used their money on profitable ventures and increased the amount. The third man hid the money so its value decreased with the rising cost of living. The ruler returned and asked the servants to give an account of how they used their money. To those who gained money, the ruler said, "Well done, you have been faithful, enter into the joy of the Lord." To the man who had hid his money, the Master said that he must give up that which he had been given. It seems to me that the central teaching point of this parable is neither upon increase or lack of increase, nor reward and punishment, but the central point is on fear and lack of trust.

If the third man in trust had used the money for worthwhile causes and returned empty handed, I believe the ruler would have sent into the joy of the Lord with the other two. His mistake was not having failed to produce, but that his fears were so great that he didn't even begin which is a failure to trust. Because of this man's fear, he was like those birds who sat looking at his strawberries but who had not eaten a single strawberry. He allowed himself to be defeated by a few scarecrows.

The first scarecrow we can identify in this parable is that of the man' own seeming littleness. He did not feel he had the ability or talents to increase what he had been given. It appears that we all began life from this position for the feeling of inferiority is apparently universal.

In those early years, it seems that just about everybody is bigger and smarter. With this perspective, the child spends a great deal of time asking himself, "How can I act so that these giants will like me?" This is the need to be loved, appreciated, complimented, accepted, and recognized. It is natural for us to have these desires but for some people, this need determines how they feel about themselves and the world. This scarecrow of this position is a fear to trust oneself.

Eleanor Sommer wrote, in an article in Unity Magazine (May 1996), that nightmares were part of her life when she was a little girl. When she woke up in the middle of the night trembling and fearful, her mother would come into her room and comfort her, saying "You are the captain of your own ship. Steer it wherever you choose. Steer it away from bad dreams and toward something beautiful and happy." She wrote that she was not always successful in changing bad thoughts, but was most of the time, enough of the time to keep following her mother's advice. Her mother's advice was helpful for her throughout her life for she had learned to steer her own ship and trust herself.

A second scarecrow may have been unfavorable circumstance. This life style is typical of a person who in his or her childhood did not experience a proper amount of caring love. Such a child comes to feel that his needs may not be met, so why be considerate of others. As they grow to adulthood, they have difficulty forming meaningful and lasting relationships. The individual has the attitude, if I had an understanding Lord, if I were in good health, if I lived in a different town, if I were in good health, if I lived in a different job, if I has more talents, if luck was on my side, if I was only appreciated, I could develop myself better. However since these things are as they are, I can not be the person I would like to be." The scarecrow of this position is the far of others and of circumstances.

A third scarecrow was a mistrust of his Lord. The person who holds this attitude perhaps suffered physical abuse as a child. He may come to feel that his environment not only rejects him, but is hostile to him. He builds a protective shell around himself from which he strikes out at others.

The one who hid his money said to the ruler, "I know you are a hard man, taking what you did not lay down, therefore, I put one over on you and hid the money, here, I returned what you gave me." The scarecrow of this position is a fear of God. The man who did not increase failed because he feared himself, others, and God.

When a person can release fears and experience trust, he can live a more meaningful life. This is a mature stance which permits growth, understanding and meaning. The person sees himself as worthwhile and has respect and concern for others. He recognizes his scarecrows for what they are and enjoys the strawberries.

Some of the fears commonly expressed by clients are fear so of flying, heights, falling, needles, failing, rejection, pain, exposure, poor performance in sports, public speaking, responsibility, sexual performance, homosexuality, the unknown, death, contamination, blood, animals, impending danger, water, the dark, open spaces, closed space and loss of control.

A fear becomes a phobia when it reaches the point of being triggered by irrational and unknown factors and when it is experienced often enough to disturb a person's everyday life. People with phobias react uncontrollably and unreasonably to the situation they are afraid of because they do not understand the repressed conflict that causes the intense reaction. It is what the fear represents as an unknown danger, and not just the fear itself, that creates the phobic reaction to it.

With a fear, the client can usually tell when it began. A person has a fear of dogs because he remembers being bitten by a dog when he was 6 years old. A person with a phobia just knows that they are extremely afraid of a dog. Thinking of a dog, seeing a picture of a dog, seeing a dog several blocks down the street can trigger the panic reaction.

There are three main ways to deal with fears and/or phobias: 1. Symptomatic Approach, 2. Circle Therapy, and 3. Desensitization. 

(3)  THE SYMPTOMATIC APPROACH: This approach works well with high direct suggestible clients. In effect, the therapist literally suggests the problem away. Example; "You are releasing your fear of dogs as you are becoming more and more comfortable when you see a dog."

By using this approach, no harm can come and it works with a small percentage of people. If the symptom recurs, it may indicate that the fear may need to be approached in a different way.

(4) CIRCLE THERAPY: Circle Therapy is a very successful therapy dealing with fear. It should not be used with phobias. In the hypnotic state, the client is led to feel the fear. As the fear builds and I notice an abreaction (a venting out which is reflected in facial expressions or body movement), I tell the client to "Feel it, feel it: now take a deep breath, blow out the fear and pass it, let it go, and you go ever deeper into the hypnosis state." I then give positive statements that the next time they feel more comfortable and in control. Again have them experience the fear, let go, feel better. Each time you make the circle, the fear and abreaction is reduced. When it is apparent that the client is letting it go, I say, "Feel it but the harder you try to feel it, the more difficult it becomes to feel it. In fact, you begin to identify an amusement about the situation. You begin to smile and feel at ease." If regression is used or not to find cause, a suggestion such as "Let go of the past, the past cannot affect you now, and the next time this situation occurs, you feel comfortable and relaxed."

Dr. John Kappas states that during circle therapy, the client faces his fear in a controlled situation of the hypnotic states,

1. Weakens the symptoms and allows the client to face it again once the abreaction has ceased.

2. Allows the subject to face the cause without experiencing the symptom.

3. Increases the subject ability to adopt.

4. Can relieve the fear of loss of control and the dread that fear will someday control the subject completely.

5. Helps remove the fear of facing the trauma alone.

6. Allows for a positive behavior to be substituted for a negative one. 

(5)  SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION: Desensitization is very similar to circle therapy and can be used for either fears or phobias. The main difference between circle therapy and desensitization is that the client is not allowed to fully experience the situation. Using the finger rising technique, have the finger rise as soon as the fear begins to be experienced and let it go, feel calm and relaxed and the repeat. Visualize that you feel calm and relaxed when in a situation that normally causes fear.

In desensitization, I may have the client view the fear from a distance and suggest a feeling of being calm and relaxed. Next, I have the client come closer to the fear and letting go of anxiety and fear. I make a point to face fear in a normal way, because it may be a normal fear that has been exaggerated. To fear a rattle snake is a normal fear. To be so afraid of rattlesnakes that you can't visit your uncle who lies in the country is abnormal.

(6) MARTHA'S CASE HISTORY:  Martha came to me with a fear of flying. I used a desensitization experience with her. Using a finger rising technique, I had her lift her first finger of her left hand as soon as she experienced any fear with the imagery being used. When her finger lifted, I asked her to take a deep breath and as she exhaled to let the fear go, feeling calm, relaxed and at peace. This would be repeated till the fear was released.

(6) Fear of Flying Desensitization: I had her imagine calling the airline and choosing a flight best suited for her schedule, packing for the trip, checking baggage, waiting for boarding, entering the plane, taking off, flying to her destination, landing, and leaving the plane. At each step along the way, when she felt fear, she lifted her finger and let the fear go: feeling calm, relaxed, and at peace. We repeated this until she was able to face the fear in a normal way.

(7)Self Esteem: I concluded the session with Martha with a Self-Esteem script:

Go deeper now within yourself, relax... As I speak to your subconscious mind, know how truly precious and wonderful you are, how important you are to yourself and others. Affirm now, as you go deeper, your desire to feel good about yourself as you become more responsible, honest and loving in all your relationships. It is truly a wonderful feeling to make decisions to increase your feeling of self-worth that help you be a positive and productive person. You have a deep sense of pride and security. As you go deeper now within yourself, relax. Your subconscious awareness expands...Because you truly love and care about yourself, you take time to think carefully and truthfully before you make any important decisions. You face problems with joy and meet them head-on, knowing you make good decisions which put you actively in charge of your life and leads you on constructive, loving, meaningful paths. It is truly a wonderful feeling to release anger, guilt, grief, rejection and frustration and choose love and commitment.

You joyfully choose to be all that you can be, to share your love. sincerity and commitment with family and friends. You bask in God's love and acceptance, knowing you are a precious child of God and that God loves you. Knowing that God loves you, it easy for you to love...for you know that you are loved, that you are loving that you are loved. How powerful that feels! How wonderful! Gratitude fills your body and spirit as you realize you are in charge of your life! And what a wonderful life it is! (I told her Frank Boreman's strawberry field scarecrow story and continued:)

You have recognized your scarecrow for what it is and can now enjoy the strawberries of flying. You feel good about yourself in a joyful, unselfish manner. You feel good about yourself and you can now enjoy flying..

Go deeper within yourself now, and relax. Just relax. How good it feels to just let go and drift down deeper and deeper as you listen to the sound of may voice. You are confident of the changes you now feel, want and accept for yourself. How happy you are to be responsible and in control of yourself! You are radiant, energetic, confident, and filled with an incredible sense of personal power and freedom... Isn't it a wonderful feeling to know that you choose positive attitudes and adventures which enhance your well being.

As you look to your future, it is a bright and exciting future. You realize that you have released your fears and its negativity... It is truly past, faded, gone. Close the door on the mistakes, fears, and pain of the past as you look to your wonderful, shinning future. You are a productive, honest, caring loving adult. You treat yourself with love and consideration. You make decisions which enhance and better your life and your relationships. You build bridges of strength and confidence one day at a time. You see the scarecrow, recognize it for what it is and enjoy the strawberries. Feeling good about yourself and enjoy your next flight.

I see Martha from time to time and she told me that she is now able to enjoy flying and refers others to me who have a fear of flying. I am happy for her because her job requires that she flies often.

The Bible is a great psychological book as well as a religious book. Jesus knew that the abnormal experiences of fear and anxiety were destructive to health and happiness. Jesus said, "Will your worries and anxieties add a single moment to your life?" (Matthew 6:27) St. Paul wrote, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind." (II Timothy 1:7) Release your fears and anxieties so that you may be free to live the more abundant life.