Hypnosis and the Treatment of the Agoraphobic Eleven
by Michael J. Hadfield D. Hyp, MBSCH
Agoraphobia: 'fear of the market place...' and not as many people assume, a only a fear of open spaces.
No phobias that are fun to experience but agoraphobia may be one of the worst types. This is simply because it's almost impossible to avoid the specific object of this phobia on a day to day basis because the object is life itself. Fear of life manifested as a fear of social encounters; a fear of being trapped; a fear of feeling and / or looking foolish, fear of humiliation, etc.
Another serious aspect of agoraphobia is the speed with which it can develop to the point where the sufferer becomes afraid to leave the home. Often its onset is initiated by a panic attack - which is in itself alarming enough, without this possible consequence. The closing in of a personal world, sometimes within a matter of weeks, is a terrifying experience and one that friends and relatives find almost impossible to understand and cope with.
I have observed eleven factors that are frequently present with agoraphobia:
Addressing these items under hypnosis and working towards bringing about change in these eleven points is the key to releasing this imprisoning fear.
Self-esteem has turned into a bit of a buzzword these days. However, from an agoraphobic's perspective it is something that needs to be addressed. And for the purposes of this discussion it's going to mean: how important you think you are in relation to others.
Now, if you think you are about as important as a worm (I'm a gardener so I, along with Charles Darwin, happen to think that worms are hugely important), you're not going to want to mix with anyone else, because they'll be able to see how unimportant you are. You can see it, so it's got to be clear to everyone else. This alone is a good reason to avoid others. But I'd like to point out that just because you believe can see it doesn't mean everyone else can.
Everyone needs to feel important. From a Mum getting a spontaneous hug from her child, or a thank you for a well-cooked meal, to a degree ceremony with a huge audience - we all like to have at least someone recognise our worth. Consequently we will avoid circumstances that make us feel unimportant. If we feel less important than everyone, then we will avoid everyone. If we need an excuse, because our avoidance behaviour itself is socially unacceptable, then our wonderful, self-protective subconscious mind will come up with a solution - it might even go so far as to create a socially acceptable (i.e. medically identifiable) health problem.
Lack of Job Interest
In my experience many people don't enjoy their livelihoods. To the majority what they do is OK, but not what they would do if they had more choice. Often at the lower wage end of the employment world, work is seen largely as drudgery - something necessary in order to pay the bills but having no fulfillment value.
Work may seem like a trap. An individual somehow ending up doing what they do without knowing quite how it happened. It may pay well and was once enjoyed but now it isn't but as the salary increased and the lifestyle improved, along came dependence. So the job is tolerated, but the stress involved has increased because the financial obligations are too strong to just give it up and do something that is more fun but for a lower salary.
Lack of Creative Outlet
I have identified this as a key element in many psychological problems. Changing just this one aspect of life brings about profound changes in all the other aspects without doing anything else. We are, each of us wonderful creative beings. Each one of us has a mind that is beautifully imaginative. But what happens is that we are frequently taught that our creations are not good enough. I see this reflected in the eyes of so many who come to see me for help. Let me give you an example from my own childhood - Art. My drawing skills are still around the level of a five year old, they never developed beyond that. I remember many hours, right up until age 15, in art classes. But I was rubbish. I have identified two problems. Lack of encouragement and lack of teaching. I never once in all those years of art classes saw a teacher demonstrate a technique, show anyone how they could improve their work, or give a word of praise to anyone whose work wasn't already high quality. All the art teacher did was to state what was to be drawn/painted, and then select the most 'life-like' to go on the wall.
This lack of encouragement for demonstrating our unique view of the world; the lack of praise for an effort that is the very best we could produce given our personal skills, abilities and eyesight; the lack of being lovingly shown, without criticism for what we've already achieved, a better way to achieve what WE want to achieve, rather than what someone else wants us to achieve; is the source of much pain and failure in later life.
I've since discovered that with the anyone with the right teacher who wants to improve can be an artist at an acceptable level. And the right teacher is one who demolishes the barriers to success that we carry within. The right teacher is one who knows that we can do what we want to do, but are afraid to do it. The right teacher allows, praises, and encourages pure expression of self.
Creativity isn't just about art. Art is just an example. Cooking a meal with love and arranging it beautifully on the plate is a work of creativity. Planning or planting a garden or a window box is a creative act. Walking down the road and daydreaming is a creative act. Starting a business is a creative act. Putting together a jigsaw, or solving a crossword puzzle are creative acts. Writing an article for an e-zine, or designing a web page, are creative activities. Creativity is putting you out into the world and changing that world, making that world different, either in your dreams or for real. Your creativity doesn't have to be better than anyone else's. It just needs to express YOU.
This shows up as a lack of feeling safe in your world. It can manifest as an unhealthy obedience to, and fear of, authority figures - such as parents, teachers, employers, and supervisors. It can show itself as an inability to say 'no' when you really want to say 'no' but you feel guilty about letting someone down, or think that because someone asks you have to say 'yes', because they will think badly of you or stop liking you. In truth if you start to say 'no' when you want to, you will find that people like you more because they value your honesty, and they know that when you say yes you really mean it and are a genuinely willing participant.
Lack of Individuation
This is a nice way of saying you never really grew up. But telling someone they haven't grown up can be perceived as an insult. What this means is that you may well have had over-protective parents who were fearful of your safety, and in your best interests they prevented you from taking those risks - like getting lost, falling out of a tree, exploring a graveyard at night, staying out a little later than was safe - that children actually need to take in order to discover that although their world can be a frightening place at times, they need to experience those fears AND discover that they can survive them. You even need to fail publicly as a child and feel embarrassed and learn that this too is a survivable event. This is what I mean by 'growing up'. I have to admit that falling out of a tree, as an adult, is a lot more physically risky than doing it as a child. And if you've already arrived at severe agoraphobia then the graveyard at night time is probably a no-no. So to start with go back to creativity and just imagine yourself doing those things that were forbidden as too risky, even though all your friends were doing them and you just ended up feeling isolated and alone. Imagine how your world might be different now, if you'd done those things then.
Insecurity In Relationships
You know you're with the wrong partner, you know the relationship you're in isn't working, yet you are terrified of being alone. You feel aren't loveable, so you'd better put up with what you get, because if you give this up, there won't be anyone else and you'll spend the rest of your life alone.
This is what the fear says. And while ever you believe what it says it becomes true in your experience. You will be alone if you give up what you've got. Not because you aren't loveable, but because you believe it. Beliefs aren't necessarily truths. But if you believe you aren't loveable that's what the world will see, someone who doesn't love themselves. And if you can't love yourself no one else will. But you might be seen as vulnerable and consequently find yourself being exploited when you thought you were being loved.
It may seem a bit harsh but agoraphobia is what you do to yourself when your world becomes so intolerable that you feel you'll go insane if you don't find a way to become remote to it. And that's exactly what your subconscious mind does, without your permission; it creates a way for you to escape. What it creates isn't pleasant, but it means you don't have to face anyone who might see the truth of you - that you aren't loveable, or clever, or artistic, or have any real value.
In a loving relationship with a caring partner, there can sometimes be an unhealthy dependence. This is frequently because of one partner's 'need' to be needed. This is the most difficult aspect I face when treating agoraphobia, because the partner's need to be needed resists, and occasionally even sabotages, the changes that I'm trying to bring about.
This problem is again created in childhood if you were raised with:
Fear of the Cure
Ultimately, if you want to be free of this problem, you know that you will be able to go out whenever and wherever you want. You will have to go out alone. You will have to go shopping in supermarkets, go to theatres, travel in trains and planes. You will have to make decisions and choices for yourself. You will have to do things that others may look at and judge unfavourably.
Right now, in the safety of the fear, all of those things seem horrific and just thinking about them will produce an intense anxiety re-action simply because you can't see how you can get from where you are now to where you want to be without lots of pain. So it's probably safer to stay where you are.
Nothing to Live For
If there is no interest in life, no fascination for the world, or an aspect of it, no joy, or pleasure; if every morning when you wake, your waking thought is 'Oh no! How will I get through today.'; if every moment of that day is longing for nighttime and the oblivion of sleep; then you will experience no drive to be well. If you want to change, if you want to be free of this incapacitating fear that is spoiling your life, then you have to want freedom. You have to want it more than you want to stay in bed. You have to want it more than you want to sleep.
Lack of Play/Fun
What do young children do more than anything else - play. They turn everything into a game as long as they are contented. What don't adults get much of? Play. You need to play. You need to be playful in your approach to life. Life can be serious all on its own. It doesn't need your help. You can have fun and it won't mind. When was the last time you had a good laugh? When was the last time you knocked a ball around without trying to win or beat anyone? When was the last time you flew a kite without needing to have a bigger/better/faster/more colourful kite than everyone else? When was the last time you made a mud pie? When was the last time you wore a funny hat?
Lack of Regular Exercise
Lack of regular exercise - for obvious reasons is also a factor of significance. Exercise releases endorphins, which raise your mood state. It lets your body know you care about it and can create a sense of routine which is always important to the healing of any psychological illness.
Healing with Hypnosis
Hypnosis is wonderful because it can make the healing process easier. It can make the healing process easier without losing sight of the fact that at the end of the day you are going to be doing what terrifies you right now. Your fear is all in your mind. Your fear arises out of your thoughts and your thoughts arise from your beliefs and ideas about yourself and your world. Your fear comes from your subconscious mind and this is the area that hypnosis can change. You are still going to have to walk out of the door on your own one day, and you may still feel a little anxious, but you'll do it and feel good about having succeeded and each success will build on the next and the next until you look back on this period of your life as just an interesting excursion into the shadow energies of your unconscious mind.
A course of treatment for agoraphobia, with a hypnotherapist, should deal hypnotically with each of the areas that I've addressed. Because without bringing about change to the underlying causes, you haven't affected a structured change, you've just treated the symptoms - the way many drugs do. And the problem may then re-emerge at some point; maybe in a different form such as a physical illness.
None of the problem areas that I've highlighted can prevent you from getting better if you really want to get better and are willing to do what is necessary to get better. This might mean taking a risk like going on your own to visit a good hypnotherapist. And even if you can't do that initially and need to start with home visits, it would be a goal to hold in mind.
Whatever is going on in the life of an agoraphobic is because the subconscious mind believes it to be in their best interest. With hypnosis we gain access to the subconscious, reprogram it and enlist its support to bring about change.
Treating agoraphobia is not a rapid process. It takes several hypnosis sessions and progress can seem slow. With each change made you have to re-adapt and become comfortable with that change in order to be ready for the next one. Each step is a small one so there is never any sense of being overwhelmed. This is why we don't focus on the end result because that may initially seem too frightening. We focus on today and what we can change today in line with experiencing a freedom for the future. During treatment with hypnosis you are in control and one of the problems with agoraphobia is a fear of loss of control. You control the pace of the process to ensure you are always comfortable with it.
Hypnosis isn't a magic wand that will make everything go away in a flash. But it does makes the process of healing gentle and never takes away your sense of achievement at having accomplished the shift from hiding away to being free and comfortable out in the world.
Michael J. Hadfield D. Hyp, MBSCH Practice in Cheshire: Contact Tel: 01928 575 784