What's Your Biggest Fear?
Why is it so common for DP sufferers that amongst all of their many anxious thoughts, they have a specific fear that can feel like the hardest to tackle?
Depersonalization - What's Your Biggest Fear?
I recently received an email from a depersonalization sufferer who said that, while he was recovering well, there was one specific fear that he could never seem to shake.
What was this persistent fear? Driving his car.
He had carefully and consistently implemented the rules outlined in my book and was seeing fantastic results, experiencing virtually no anxiety / dp in his day to day life. However, when he sat into his car it would invariably trigger a panic attack and feelings of depersonalization seemingly out of nowhere.
He contacted me in a state of extreme worry, deeply concerned that this specific fear was permanently ingrained and that no matter how much progress he made, he’d never be able to escape it, and therefore, never really be able to escape DP.
It sounds scary, but none of this was surprising to me in the least. It’s incredibly common for people with anxiety / dp to experience, in the midst of all their smaller fears and anxious thoughts, one single fear that’s quite intense and particularly difficult to shake.
In fact, I experienced this myself. My fear was of travelling abroad.
Why was this? I think there’s a few reasons, but the main one is that quite soon into my experience with DP, I attended a family holiday abroad and had a particularly difficult time at the airport and in the plane -- in fact, I had a consistent series of intense panic attacks throughout.
Though I didn’t realise it at the time, that was creating a strong association in my mind between travelling and anxiety / panic attacks / depersonalization. Years later, when I had all but defeated the condition, I still found that whenever I travelled, even on a leisure holiday, I would experience intense anxiety and dp. These episodes were very difficult to manage, as it felt like I was briefly back to square one -- in spite of all the other progress I had made.
I was only when I referred back to my own rules that I realised what was actually happening.
This wasn’t a rational fear, like being in mortal danger (being chased by a wild animal etc) -- this was an associational fear. The only reason it existed at all was because in the past I had experienced intense fear while travelling. It was a trained Pavlovian anxious response, not an instinctual one that I actually needed for survival. And as such, I knew that I could overwrite it 100%.
How could I do that? By going headlong into the fear!
By travelling over and over again, by ignoring the fear and doing it anyways, I would rewire my brain to stop associating travel with danger. That simple repetition would overwrite the negative thought patterns and teach my brain that there was simply nothing to be afraid of. And it worked -- just as it did for my client with a fear of driving and just as it does for everyone else. Why? Because there is no real difference between that big fear and the smaller fears -- it’s just a bigger association. And as such it can be defeated and overwritten.
I have heard of so many different versions of this ‘big fear’: Planes, cars, dogs, holidays, drugs, mirrors, even people’s own family and spouses. The important thing to remember is that the association itself is unimportant -- it’s just something that you happened unconsciously to latch onto as a source of fear.
There’s nothing special about it and you can overwrite that association, just as you can with every other association -- and recover 100% from depersonalization.