How to unlearn fear

Nothing has meaning except for the meaning we give to it ourselves. – T. Harv Eker.

I see a spider. I am scared to death.

You see a spider. You don’t care.

Our perceptions affect our behaviour, even though our perceptions are not necessarily real. The outcome of the resulting behaviour can be positive or negative. If you don’t like the outcome that you are getting based on that perception, then you need to ask yourself, ‘Is what I believe actually real?’

Similarly, fear is a perception. It is not real. We are not born with it. We learn to associate certain things with fear. Just like Pavlov’s dogs. We can unlearn fear, if we think it is not useful. A lot of fear is not useful. It changes our behaviour in ways that do not help us.

How do we unlearn fear?

There are two key ways of learning to overcome fear:

Behavioural therapy: Gradually increasing exposure to thing that you fear to overcome it

If you fear dogs, behavioural therapy gets rid of the fear in the following way:

  1. Having a dog next door which you can hear but not see.
  2. Having a dog next door which you can see through a glass door. Practice relaxation techniques to get rid of fear.
  3. Having a dog next door but keep the door open
  4. Moving into the same room as the dog but not near.
  5. Moving near the dog.
  6. Touching the dog.

Behavioural therapy does not challenge your beliefs directly. You get used to the dog. You change your behaviour. Over time you change your belief about fear of dogs. You realise there is no reason to fear. Fear is overcome.

Cognitive therapy: Challenging and ultimately changing your beliefs about a certain situation

Albert Ellis developed the ABC model which is a very useful and simple way of doing cognitive therapy. The way is called the ABCDE model:

A= Activating event: What are the triggers that lead you to be scared?

B=Belief: What are your assumptions about this situation?

C=Consequence: What feelings/behaviours/outcomes happen as a result of the activating event and the beliefs you have about it? If you don’t like these then go on to D and E

D=Dispute: Are there any alternatives to this belief?

E=Energizing alternative: What would be a more empowering belief to adopt?

So fears are responses to perceptions that our brain has associated with a threat. You can unlearn it by breaking down the association(behavioural therapy) or think differently about an event(cognitive therapy). And you can be free from fear.