The thing about phobias is that they can be of anything. And the other thing about phobias is that you can’t fake not having one.
If anyone has ever wondered whether at least some of NLP and hypnosis works, then they should talk to a phobic, and get an understanding of their fear. They should watch how the phobic’s skin goes pale, how their eyes widen and become utterly fixed on the thing they are afraid of – whether that thing is physically in the room or in their imagination. They should maybe watch the phobic break down and cry at the very thought of the thing that is causing the fear – or at least get the sense of what their personal boundaries and limits are. Then they’ll understand what a big deal a phobia can be.
It’s also worth understanding that some phobics are fine to see their object of fear from 20 feet off, while others can’t even bear seeing it at all. Someone with a fear of heights might be fine at 1 metre, and a wreck at 2. But whatever the truth, there will be a boundary beyond which the phobic can no longer contain their fear. They will quake, they will shake, they might run for it, they might cry, or they might faint.
Whatever their response, they can’t pretend they’re not afraid. So, when, at the end of a 20 minute NLP session, someone suddenly shows you that they’re not afraid any more, then they really aren’t afraid. There’s no trick. to them touching the thing they feared. It’s just that the phobia has gone.
For many, that’s the clincher with NLP. That’s the thing that suddenly makes you realise – if you ever had any doubts – that NLP really works.
As we walked into the room on that day, there was a kind of excited buzz about the whole Phobia Day phenomenon. Yet that excitement was also mixed with an almost childish fear. It was the strangest vibe, to feel in the room.
Soon, Paul McKenna arrived and started to talk about how to get rid of phobias. No doubt about it, he was funny, and he was smart. He began, straight away, undermining our sense of fear, while at the same time playing with our emotions in other ways.
After a while, he got a thumbs-up from the side of the room. The promised animal handler, Glen, was here, and he had bought some seriously scary creatures. A snake and a spider. And big.
So Paul asked for someone with a fear of spiders. A woman near to me put her hand up and said that, yes, she was frightened of spiders. And so it was that to the room’s applause, he took this pale and shaking woman on stage.
The techniques he used were straight NLP techniques. The first thing he did was to gauge how frightened she was of tarantulas – and the fact is that she was pretty terrified. He got her to give her fear a number. On a scale of one to ten, just how terrified was she was she? Well, she was right up there at number ten. Then he asked Glen to come into the room. Glen was a strange-looking individual, it struck me then. I didn’t realise at the time that there was a certain sense of theatricality in the way he presented himself that sent an unspoken message of authority to people who saw him.
He wore a kind of pale brown shirt with various badges on it, and epaulets, that made him look like a major in a tropical country. As if, whilst putting down a native uprising and being superb with the sabre, he also happened to have brought back from the land of Johnny Foreigner the odd snake or two. That uniform, I suppose, gave reassurance. It told people that he know what he was doing.
What he was doing right now was walking toward the girl on the stage with the plastic box in his hands, and a great big spider, splay-legged pressed up on the top inside corner of the box, as if it were trying to get out and get at her. I felt the hairs on my neck go up as I watched, and I saw her eyes widen.
“Stop,” she said, suddenly, and Paul McKenna gestured to Glen to stay back, and go out of the room.
Now he did his thing. The first thing he did was get this girl to find “one point” – a trick that Paul had lifted from aikido that is designed to give you more stability. Immediately she reported that fear level in her body dropping.
The next thing he did was spinning. This is the NLP technique in which you imagine and visualise the way that fear is moving in your body. You take it out of your body and flip it around so that it is going at a fast rate, and then imagine the feeling re-entering your body. And somehow, for some reason, it changes the way that you experience the feeling.
Now the woman’s fear was at seven, and dropping. “Shoot white light down your legs,” Paul instructed her, and she found the fear dropping and dropping.
Now Glen brought the spider back in again, with a big smile on his face (Glen’s that is. I couldn’t see the spider’s smile from where I sat).
We all looked backwards and forwards, between him and the drama that was about to unfold on stage as he advanced…