Fear of Flying: Why “Knowing” Isn’t Enough
Oct. 06, 2019
Fear of flying and flying anxiety is a very common struggle for many people. One of my specialties is helping people overcome fear of flying with a comprehensive method I created over a decade ago. In my experience in working with this phobia, I have often found that before people come to me for help, they first often try to resolve this fear by learning about how flying works. While there’s really no problem with doing this, as it’s not unhelpful, it’s overall a bit off-track as a means for actually resolving fear of flying.
One of the main concerns I have of the many programs, books, methods, classes, toolkits, and so on, that are found on the internet is that many of them are created by people (pilots, airlines, or random others) who are not mental/emotional health experts. While they may have good intentions, they don’t understand the ins and outs of how deeper underlying emotions contribute to this fear. Flying phobia is actually quite complicated and resolving it generally takes an understanding of the many deeper psychological and emotional processes that actually build and feed this fear for people. (In fact, even many therapists who don’t specialize in this fear don’t understand the complexity of resolving fear of flying.)
Knowledge and statistics-based courses and programs generally involves teaching people about the plane, flying, and why people shouldn’t be anxious. Their hope is that if they can convince you that flying is safe, then it will help you overcome the irrational fear. However, while reassurance with stats and understanding the process of flying can be helpful to a certain degree, there really is no rationalizing something irrational. Most people who are afraid to fly know that the fear is what’s known as an “irrational fear” (as it’s based on emotion, not on rational thought processes). However, simply knowing that doesn’t make the fear go away.
The thing about fear of flying that most people overlook is that it’s an incredibly emotionally-based phobia. While learning about flying, understanding statistics, and other knowledge can help with the front of the brain anxiety (things you can grasp mentally on a conscious level), the vast majority of fear of flying is actually driven by unconscious, emotional, back of the brain processes. This is the reason that many people will go through courses and books learning about flying, and then they end up coming to me saying that it was somewhat reassuring to learn about how flying works (front of the brain), however still felt terrified to fly (back of the brain/emotions).
When people try to use knowledge in an attempt to overcome a fear, it is essentially attempting to gain more control when, in reality, what is needed is to learn how to relinquish control without being in a panic. When scared or panicked, the back of the brain completely overpowers the front of the brain. There are times in life where there is discomfort and lack of control, and no matter what we try to do to control it, we have to learn to sit with that unknown and uncomfortable space, and put trust and faith into others.
This is the problem with trying to rationalize the fear with concrete information. It’s actually the emotional process that needs the work — the parts that have great difficulty sitting with the vulnerability, uncertainty, trust, and lack of control. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you can retain — the truth is, you’re still going to have to learn how to sit in the vulnerable spaces (also applies to life outside of flying).
There are various ways of developing this ability with flying, part of which involves training the brain and your emotional processes to experience flying differently (actually experiencing it differently, not simply thinking of it differently). This is a significant component of the method I use with people.
Another important element of understanding and resolving fear of flying is that it’s a very individual issue. Each person’s fear of flying stems from different roots. It is important to understand each person’s fear individually in order to know where the focus is needed. This is a big reason why the method I use has been so effective for people over the last decade. The method was created specifically with the flexibility to be molded to each person’s situation and is applied to you based on where you are coming from. Any one-size-fits-all approach you buy online or class you attend in a group means that everyone’s fear of flying is being treated the same way, no matter how different your fear is from the person sitting next to you.
If you’d like to learn more about how I approach fear of flying, and the overall complexity of this phobia, you can search the internet for other articles I’ve written. But the overall points to take from here are the following: 1) “knowing” about flying can provide some mild relief, but it is limited (it can be helpful as a small part of a larger overall process, but it is just that — a small part). 2) Soothing the back of the brain, emotional processes, is where the vast majority of the attention is needed in order to change and reconfigure how you emotionally approach flying.
The other takeaway is to keep yourself relevant in the process, no matter how you choose to address your fear of flying. The more your personal fear of flying is relevant in the process of overcoming it, the more likely it can be treated according to what you need.
Fear of Flying: Why “Knowing” Isn’t Enough
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