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About the Fear of Flying - The Psychology of Fear

Aug 17, 2007
Fear is like a self-replicating computer virus. It needs only to start for it to develop a momentum of its own. It is difficult for anyone suffering from a fear to examine it objectively because the very process of examining it will change it, and in all probability change it for the worse. Our fears control many of our conscious and unconscious thoughts and a fear will gather information to support itself, while at the same time prevent us from collecting information to dislodge or deny it.

The problem is to break the cycle of fear. At the start of overcoming our fear, we are vulnerable in the way that an alcoholic is to drink or a reformed smoker to a cigarette. They have to resist the thoughts of temptation and you have to resist the thoughts of being vulnerable and fearful. And you are vulnerable because a fear will attack at unguarded moments and enter your mind without your realising it.

An unguarded comment from a friend, an ill-informed comment in the press, a so-called television documentary, constantly and gently filling your mind with doubts. By contrast, a drinker or smoker will at least be aware of the temptations before him or her and succumbing to the temptation will be obvious.

Suffering from a fear of flying means that we pick up negative information subliminally and therefore not be able to reject it. Much of the information that causes and maintains a fear is lodged in the part of our memory (the long-term memory) to which we have no obvious access but paradoxically is easily retrieved.

Even our conscious and positive thoughts that might otherwise protect us from our fear are influenced by these unconsciously held pieces of information.

This is why it is so difficult to dislodge fearful thoughts. We can rationalize and write down all the reasons that our fear is illogical but still something inside nags us and says don't believe it and this of course reinforces the fear. So the bad thoughts make it worse and the unsuccessful good thoughts make it worse by their failures. Being fearful is easy, fighting the fear is harder. Thats why its easy for the fear to take over.

Overcoming a fear of flying involves making decisions that have serious and costly implications. A family waiting for one family member to make their mind up whether to travel or not puts enormous pressure on that person quite unintentionally. And the effects and influences of that occasion add to the pressures of the next. Someone with a fear of spiders or heights doesnt usually carry the responsibility of a whole family's happiness. Nor does it have the prospect of considerable financial penalties...

To introduce hard facts like statistics into the process puts even more pressure on to that person. This in turn aggravates the situation and puts more negative thoughts into the long term memory, but this is typically the families/friends/partners only avenue of encouragement. The downward spiral can go out of control easily. The task might seem hopeless but its not. To restructure the information so that it is allocated to another part of the brain is what many therapies do, whether its by some form of temporary self deception or by a structured approach. However, it needs to be done at a time of no pressure not at the airport or in the run up to travelling. So you need to start your strategy now. Its likely to take longer than you expect but the upside is that itll be more successful than you believe. Be confident that you will succeed.

And smiling when you think of your fears will have a very beneficial effect. Try it.
About the Author
Having spent 27 years as a BA Pilot I became the youngest person in the UK to hold a flying instructors licence and became the youngest person to be the Chief Instructor of a CAA approved flying school. If you have a fear of flying check out http://www.flyingwithoutfear.com, for help and resources.
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