Hypnosis and the Treatment of the Agoraphobic Eleven

Agoraphobia: fear of the market place.

not, as many people imagine, a fear of open spaces.

There are no phobias that are fun to have, but agoraphobia is one of the worst, simply because it's almost impossible to avoid the object of fear on a day to day basis. This is because the object of fear is Life itself. Fear of Life manifested as a fear of social encounters; a fear of being trapped; a fear of feeling foolish; a fear of looking foolish; fear of humiliation?

Another deadly aspect of agoraphobia is the speed with which it develops to the point of the sufferer being afraid to leave the house alone. Often its onset is started by a panic attack - in itself frightening enough, without this possible consequence. The closing in of a personal world within a matter of weeks is a terrifying experience, and one that friends and relatives find almost impossible to understand and to cope with.

I have observed eleven factors that are frequently present with agoraphobia:

1. Low self-esteem
2. Lack of interest in job
3. Lack of a creative outlet
4. Insecurity
5. Lack of individuation
6. Insecurity in Relationship
7. Strong dependence
8. Fear of the cure
9. Nothing to live for
10. Lack of play/fun
11. Lack of regular exercise

Addressing these items under hypnosis and working towards bringing about change in The Eleven is the key to releasing the imprisoning fear.

Low Self-Esteem.
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 discussed. 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 can see it doesn't mean everyone else can. You can see your dreams - but no one else can!

Everyone wants 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 and honour 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 create a socially acceptable (i.e. medically identifiable) health problem.

Lack of Job Interest.
In my experience most people don't enjoy their livelihoods. To the majority what they do is ok, but not what they would do if they had a free choice. And at the lower wage end of the employment world, work is seen largely as drudgery - something necessary in order to pay the bills and just survive until it's time to draw a pittance of a pension, or until life is over.

Work is often a trap. An individual somehow ending up doing what they do without knowing quite how it happened,, it pays well, they used to like it, now they don't, but as the salary increased the lifestyle improved with it and the financial outgoings increased to keep pace until life is lived in a certain amount of luxury. So the job is tolerated, but the pressure and stress increase because the financial pressure is too strong to give it up and do something fun for a lower salary. Again you are trapped trying to survive; probably at this point with a spouse and children who would not be pleased were you to substantially reduce their affluent life-style.

Lack of Creative Outlet.
This I have identified as a key element in 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 and wonderfully 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 art teachers 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 right teacher anyone who wants to enough 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 we 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 ezine, 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.

If you do nothing else after reading this, add a few moments of creativity to your world every day.

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 - like 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 if you say 'no'. 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 and be whole and alive and ok. 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 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 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 and die all alone.

This is what the fear says. And while you believe what it says it's perfectly true. 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 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 used when you thought you were being loved.

Seems a bit harsh that, but agoraphobia is what you do to yourself when your world becomes so intolerable that you'll go insane if you don't find a way to escape from 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 value whatsoever.

In a loving relationship with a caring partner, there is often an unhealthy dependence. This is frequently because of the partner's need to be needed. This is the most difficult aspect I face treating this problem, 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 born from your childhood if you were raised with:

- Parents who, because of their own beliefs about what was in your best interests, failed to ensure that you experienced the world in safe ways - on your own.

- An early life that didn't provide you with challenges to overcome.

- Parent's, teachers, significant adults who found it difficult to watch you fail (and learn) and gave constant correction or took over when a task wasn't being completed fast enough or accurately enough.

- Adults who were over-critical, creating this feeling of inadequacy that leaves you with a sense of 'I can't do it on my own' I need you there 'just in case?'

Fear of the Cure.
At the end of the day, 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 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 destroying 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 a sense of routine 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. Because with hypnosis it's all in the mind. Your fear is all in your mind. Your fear arises out of your thoughts and your thoughts arise from your beliefs and ideas about you and your world. Your fear comes from your deep subconscious mind and this is the area that hypnosis can impact. 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 an interesting excursion into the Shadow energies within your 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 cure, you've just treated the symptoms - the way many drugs do. And the problem will 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 for you is going on because your subconscious mind believes it to be in your best interest. With hypnosis we gain direct access to the subconscious and can suggest that what it is doing is actually not as helpful as it thinks it is and that we wish to enlist its support in bringing about change.

Curing agoraphobia is not a rapid process. It takes many hypnosis sessions and progress is slow - but easy. It is slow because with each change you have to re-adapt and become comfortable with that change in order to be ready for the next. 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's too frightening. We focus on today and what we can change today in line with experiencing a freedom for the future. During treatment you are in control. One of the problems with agoraphobia is a fear of loss of control. You control the pace of improvement to one that you are comfortable with.

Hypnosis isn't a magic wand that will make everything go away in a flash. But it is a magic wand that makes the process of healing gentle and caring and never takes away your sense of achievement at having accomplished the shift from hiding away at home to being free and comfortable and confident out in the world.

Michael J. Hadfield MBSCH is a registered clinical hypnotherapist.

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