Phobias: “A strong feeling of fear that occurs in certain situations or is triggered by the sight of certain things, and increasingly restricts the person affected.” At least that’s how Google describes it. Omniscient. As always. I’m still a long way from being that far. I still have no idea what to expect. One click and I open a list. 70 phobias, sorted alphabetically. Roughly scroll down. I am astonished, how many different ones there are. Fear of height, of depth, of noise, of one’s own reflection, of pain, of touch, of spiders, of numbers, of technology or even of men. Well, the latter three are absolutely comprehensible to me. We all have to deal with fears in our everyday lives. We can’t avoid it. Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes stronger or weaker. Part of our lives in a healthy environment. We receive signals to be attentive and careful in extraordinary situations. A basic instinct that tells us to protect ourselves from danger.
A short tingling sensation before the first date, slight excitement before an important presentation or a bit of nervousness when we cross the lonely streets in Wedding at night. Common. But how about living with such phobias every day? To wake up and know that we might encounter it again and again? Never to be sure. From the dreaded. From the feeling itself. Constantly persecuted and cornered. In public. Where one probably only encounters incomprehension and devaluation. Only rarely do we experience what happens to a person with such a limitation. I want to learn more about it, want to talk to those affected, want to know how a phobia develops in the mind and how it can be cured. A week later I meet Sarah and Bernhard, who tell me their impressive story over a cup of tea in a hypnosis practice.
FOR FIVE YEARS, FEAR RULED SARAH’S LIFE.
A light but confident handshake. “Sarah”, the young woman introduces herself with a smile. Some time ago that would have been unimaginable. Just a few weeks ago she could not have imagined sitting between her therapist and me and talking about her social phobia. Five years that restricted Sarah from living properly, during which she couldn’t even leave the house.
“It was a slow, long process that I fought against for over a year. In the beginning I noticed that I was withdrawing more and more. I was no longer interested in meeting friends, going out, it quickly became too much for me. I noticed something was wrong, but the fear that anyone in my circle would notice it was too great. So I started lying. Every kind of contact turns into a fight, and frustration and absolute loss of control. The only person I let get to me was my boyfriend. Of course the situation was also very stressful for our relationship. “
Sarah neglects her law studies more and more and everyday situations like train driving and supermarket visits are no longer possible without outbreaks of sweat and tachycardia. She avoids her friends and even isolates herself from her family, which makes her situation more and more stressful. After she hadn’t left the house for more than two years, she realized that she had to seek professional help.
“The decision to do something about it came after four, five years. One day I looked in the mirror and wondered if that was all in my life. I was frustrated, even gained 80 kilos. I finally wanted to regain control of my life. When I started the research, I realized that the classic way of psychological treatment is not mine. I knew my problem was deeper and that there was something very strong in me that had to come out. When I came across hypnosis, it was immediately clear to me that this was the solution. That goes into the subconscious, treats the cause, but does not stick to the past. And I didn’t want to work on the past, I wanted to focus on the future.”
Today she can sit in a room away from her apartment with strangers and talk openly about her past. Calm and relaxed. Today a self-confident young woman sits in front of me, for whom the fears and the associated consequences are long gone. Sarah takes a short break and looks aside, embarrassed. I take my tea in my hand. On the cup I read the inscription “Breathe – you live”.
THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL IS FOUND IN THE SUBCONSCIOUS.
The room in the practice is bright and comfortable. I see loungers, hammocks and armchairs in warm colours. Hypnosis makes me think of childlike associations of rabbits and hats, of magicians. The usual hocus pocus. My dark – mystical imagination disappears quickly when I meet the hypnotist Bernhard Tewes. A casual, fully tattooed man in his mid-30s who decided to open his own practice after his own healing experience.
“I used to be an event manager, didn’t know much about hypnosis and was in a very stressful job. I struggled with burn out, panic attacks and depression and smoked like a chimney. After some time I got chronic gastritis and at some point I couldn’t even brush my teeth without half throwing up. Also here I understood that it can’t go on like this anymore and tried to give up smoking with willpower, but failed. As luck would have it, I met a hypnotist and found it all very exciting.”
Bernhard tells me that the triggers of phobias are often different: Often it is old memories from childhood, learned behavior patterns that are reactivated. Consciousness and subconsciousness are then in conflict and pull on different strands. In the “cause-oriented hypnosis therapy” he tries to start where the problem arises, namely in our subconscious. He learns what is behind the feeling of fear and where it first arose in order to be able to specifically treat the emotion.
“When you find the trigger, it’s like taking away the feeling, pulling the root. It’s like a surgeon thinking about which incision to make.” I listen eagerly, find it interesting in theory, but I still have no real idea how it works. I’m still a little skeptical. Is the patient put to a deep sleep with a flick of the wrist and after a few minutes of talking to his subconscious, he is reborn? Then, in principle, anything would be possible. Also my technique number men phobia. My naivety is smiled at by Bernhard. “It’s like a natural state, like daydreaming.” A trance state, then. The consciousness is pushed into the background and the subconscious into the foreground.
HYPNOSIS IS NOT ASPIRIN, THE HYPNOTIST IS NOT A MAGICIAN.
In the hypnotic state, the “critical factor” is the part that protects the subconscious from change, permeable. Normally, like a firewall, it constantly selects which information reaches the subconscious and which does not. In a hypnotic state, one has the possibility to link new thought proposals, new suggestions, behavior patterns and let go of things as if a hard disk were being cleaned. This only works if the client allows it. Hypnosis is like a common dance, not a single fight. If the person to be hypnotized wants to keep control or doesn’t get involved, it won’t work. It also becomes difficult for patients with delusions such as schizophrenic psychoses. Because not all mental illnesses can be treated with hypnosis. Bernhard then sends these clients to the neurologist.
“It is also important to understand that hypnosis is not an aspirin and I am not a healer or magician who snaps and then everything is forgotten. This is complex psychology. In general, however, the guiding principle for me is: the greater the pressure of suffering, the greater the change. “
Bernhard smiles, then he continues. He gestures strongly. One could imagine him being like a tour guide who encourages his patients to activate and find their own resources. But the process happens to the client himself. That is why he is developing an app for self-hypnosis. If the clients get involved, then they gain experiences that give them the courage to continue working on it, and that ultimately leads to changes. This power is much stronger than consciousness.
“Like a kind of problematic clothesline, it is cut off at the back so that all the negative feelings disappear. The client notices that the problem is no longer there and feels different. Then it’s about the emotional linkages, where the fear is linked to something positive, then it can neutralize itself.”
Of the total of four sessions for which Sarah paid 350 euros each, she was already able to go to the park and the supermarket after the first. She walked for hours through the streets to soak up the impressions. Never before had she perceived the beauty of the dusk, the chaos of the busy city so intensely.
“From session to session, I then put my foot down. In the beginning we worked a lot with suggestions, so it was first about getting to know hypnosis and building trust in Bernhard. The second session was not so nice, because we went very deep. The euphoria was blown away. I came out in a very bad mood and just cried for the first few days without really knowing the reason. The third was the best session. After that I felt tidy, very liberated. Three weeks after the therapy I attended the Xavier Naidoo concert with 20,000 people. I was a bit tense, I only saw the masses in the darkness, but exactly at that moment Xavier Naidoo came in with the song “Being Free”. That was a very moving moment. It really gave me goose bumps.”
When she tells me about it, she looks me in the eye for a long time, they glow. As if we were in the concert hall at that moment. I also get goose bumps. It really seems to work.
I’M NOT HYPNOTIZABLE? ONE SURPRISING TEST.
Then something unexpected happens. “Please put your tea away,” Bernhard turns to me. I look irritated at him. Okay, they have now enough of my naivety and turn me into a rabbit. “Close your eyes, stretch out your arms and try to imagine that you are holding heavy books in your right arm. And your arm is getting heavier and heavier.” I’m not nervous. I am deeply relaxed. The only thing I concentrate on now are the heavy books on my right arm. That simple? I am away, but also somehow there. I don’t sleep, but I’m not quite conscious either. I can control myself, but I am too busy with the books.
“I’m putting more books on it, more and more.” Do there really have to be so many? I have to smile, I can hardly hold my arm anymore. Although I can realize that they are not real books, I feel them strangely. Feel the load, the stacks, feel the heavy pull down to the floor. “Your left arm now feels light as if thousands of balloons are hanging from it. Lots of balloons, so your arm starts to float.” I realize for myself how absurd all this is, but my arm actually goes up in the air and calls me crazy, but there really were thousands of balloons.
When I open my eyes, it’s as if nothing had happened, to my amazement I don’t have aching muscles the next day either. Well, after the event I look a little different at hypnosis. Maybe there really is a language, an access to our subconscious. Deep inside. But is this remedy then lifelong valid and is there a guarantee that it really lasts?
“Of course, circumstances can happen that can change something. Nor can we rule out the possibility that there may be impulses that cause or trigger a certain reaction. In my experience, if the work was cleanly cause-oriented, then it is as if the old program had been deleted and a new one installed on the hard disk, and then it remains there forever.”
Sarah can now claim to be cured. She can manage her everyday life completely on her own and enjoy her beer in a pub like everyone else on a Friday evening. Like Bernhard, she wants to train as a non-medical practitioner and become a hypnotist. She would like to pass on her healing experience and perhaps even treat people with social phobias in order to be able to “be free” together in the end.
Interview & Text:
Masha is the founder of Literaa Poetry and the better half of Pedro.
She likes to write columns and lifestyle topics and takes care of the editorial staff.
Read more about Masha here.