An Alarming Phobia

G writes: I have to turn the alarm system off at work and start getting very anxious hours before I even go to work. I don’t understand why and it interferes with my working life. I am a great worker and confident person, but feel foolish that this is causing me grief. Once the alarm is off I carry on my day as if nothing has happened but before I feel my heart will jump out of my body. I know there is nothing to fear and you just put in the code and its off….why am I doing this???

As you might know, an irrational fear of a particular thing or circumstance is called a phobia. Your body has an inner alarm-system. This system gets turned on when your brain and nervous system believe that you are in danger. Somehow, this inner alarm-system is getting turned on by the thought of turning off the alarm.

Like all things in the human psyche, this is a mystery. We need to be detectives who are willing to delve deep to find out the cause and solution to the problem. Some behavioral therapists would say that it is not important to know the cause. The treatment is the same. If you turn off the alarm enough times, it should become less frightening. As far as you are concerned, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

If you understand why you are doing this does not mean that it will definitely go away, but in exploring this you are likely to learn other things about yourself that may be even more important than getting over your fear.

Remember that we call a phobia a symptom. What is a symptom? It is a sign, signal, or symbol. It tells us that there is something out of balance somewhere in our system. Symptoms are there to help us. Symptoms are nature’s way of telling us that there is something we should be paying attention to that we are avoiding. Sort of like an alarm!

Usually the symptom that nature uses to get our attention involves pain. Woody Allen once said, why couldn’t god just have installed bells? But all too often it is only pain that moves us to act.

There are some techniques that can help us get over a phobia. A method called systematic desensitization can work well. One therapeutic technique that can be quite helpful is called EMDR. Let me know if you want to know more about these techniques.

But what I would say is that this is the universe’s way of giving you an invitation. It is telling you that in some way you are living out of harmony with your essential nature. What nature is asking you to do is to go on a journey of self-exploration. The great quest to find your true self is long, hard, and can be frightening. But the reward is that you will both get the life you want, achieve true fulfillment, and live in harmony with the ways of nature. This may not explain your phobia, but may be the great gift your phobia is offering.

The best way to live the examined life is to find a good guide. A great therapist can be such a person. Hopes this helps. If you have any further questions, let me know.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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