Understanding Your Phobia

15.02.2018 |

Episode #1 of the course How to heal yourself from phobia step by step by Gracelynn Lau, MWS


Welcome to your journey to heal yourself! I honor you for all the steps you’ve taken to confront your phobia.

My name is Gracelynn and I lived with phobia for decades. I overcame my animal phobia in 2010 after suffering from it for 28 years. Now I live on a farm with livestock and have three semi-wild cats and a farm dog. I am also a horticulture therapist and mindfulness meditation teacher who guides individuals to design practical applications for emotional resilience, specifying in recovering from traumas. In this course, I will show you how to approach your phobic situations gradually and begin to take back some of your life.


What Is Phobia?

How much do you understand your phobia? How would you describe your phobia to a five-year-old? Find a piece of paper and write down your own definition.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, 2013) used to categorize and define mental illness, there are three types of phobia: agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia. But if you search in the Oxford Dictionary, there are more than 150 terms for different phobias. The spectrum of phobia is far and wide, from the fear of intimacy (aphenphosmphobia) to the fear of small spaces (claustrophobia), from fear of needles (trypanophobia) to the fear of talking on the phone (telephonophobia). The most common specific phobias include animals, insects, heights, driving, flying, dental or medical procedures, and elevators.

In DSM-5, the major diagnostic criteria of specific phobia are:

1. persistent and excessive fear of a specific object or situation

2. a rapid anxiety response to the exposure to the phobic stimulus

3. avoiding the phobic stimulus or responding to it with great anxiety

4. significant interference of the phobic reaction with the individual’s personal life

The Nation Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) definition proposes an additional characteristic: “A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.”

Do these definitions speak to your fear? Now look at your own definition again. I would like to emphasize three things here.

First, the seemingly out-of-control, intense fear you have been dealing with is NOT your fault. There are many brain regions involved, like the insular cortex and amygdala.

Second, although this fear is causing certain dysfunction in your daily activities, you are not alone. According to the NIMH statistic, specific phobias affect at least 19 million adults in the US (8.7% of the population), which does not include individuals under 18. Among them, less than 40% are receiving treatments or seeking help.

Lastly, even though this overwhelming fear is irrational and unreasonable and you may not understand WHY you fear, you can still reason with the fear to find out WHAT it is you really fear. When I was scared of dogs, I thought it was the danger of being bit that frightened me, but it was instead their hair and enthusiastic jumping when I really thought it out.


What Is It You Really Fear?

Here’s an exercise for you (five to 10 minutes). On a piece of paper, write down:

Fear of ___________ (the object or situation):

I feel extremely frightened when …

Because …

Complete this sentence stem in writing. Repeat it at least six times with different completions for each time. Here’s an example:

Fear of strangers:

I feel extremely frightened when a stranger approaches me, because they may attack me.

I feel extremely frightened when a stranger approaches me, because I may faint and humiliate myself.

I feel extremely frightened when a stranger approaches me, because they may talk to me.

I feel extremely frightened when a stranger talks to me, because I can’t have eye contact.

I feel extremely frightened when a stranger has eye contact with me, because I can’t look them in the eyes.

The purpose of this exercise is to work out what the real fear is. Remember that whatever you resist persists. The only way out is through. To get through your fear, you must first understand what it really is.

Congratulations! You have walked another step forward! Tomorrow, we will talk about recreating a healthy relationship with fear; we will also set tangible goals to face your phobia.

Lots of love,



Recommended reading

Figuring Out Phobia


Recommended book

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne PhD


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