When we think of a phobia, it is often of an external fear such as snakes or heights. Yet what is more common are affect phobias, fears of our emotional experiences. Rather than being an external fear, an affect phobia is a fear/discomfort with something that happens internally. In fact, it is these internal fears that underlie many psychological problems.
Why do we fear our emotions? And how does this cause problems?
While many people seek therapy for psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, they may not consider psychotherapy to alleviate physical pain. Many sufferers of physical symptoms including back pain, digestive problems, fatigue, sleep disturbances and many other body-based problems will seek out medical doctors, specialists, and physical therapists. They are trying to diagnose and heal their physical symptoms and become frustrated and confused when the medical system seems to offer no relief. While it’s understandable that we would seek physical relief for our physical problems, it’s important to consider psychological explanations for pain and illnesses.
It’s safe to say that many people enter therapy for what we therapists refer to as “symptom reduction.” “Help me get rid of my anxiety and depression,” clients say. It makes sense – we all want our anxiety and depression to go away because these symptoms cause us so much pain. At the same time, these symptoms are just that, symptoms of a deeper, as yet unknown, problem(s). In the same way that a physician will not just treat a patient’s fever but attempt to diagnose the underlying illness, so too I see the job of psychotherapy as discovering deeper causes and root problems.