The Fear of Public Places, Public Speaking, and Buttons

Excerpted from the book Fear Less for Life by Steve Arterburn, Paul Meier, and Robert Wise

‘Let us examine and probe our
ways’(Lamentations 3:40).

Marjorie couldn’t remember when
her button problem started.At some
indefinable time she began to have a fear of those shiny little fasteners
holding her clothes together’particularly when they lay harmlessly in another
person’s hand.At first, the sight of a
button in someone else’s hand created just a slight sense of dread within
Marjorie, but with time the feeling increased and her anxiety became more
pronounced.Finally, anyone opening his
palm and revealing a button would send Marjorie into a panic attack.While no good reason for the overwhelming
fear seemed to exist, Marjorie had a phobia of buttons.

Mary Brown preferred to stay in
the house.Often when sitting in a
public place like church or a basketball game, Mary would be gripped by
fear.She wanted to stand up and scream,
‘Somebody call an ambulance! I’m suffocating.
Help me!’Mary’s first attack
occurred during her teenage years.As
the years went by, her dread of crowds grew, and by the time she reached
college she did everything she could to stay out of packed areas such as football
games.On some occasions, she would
break out in hot and cold flashes.Her
heart would start to pound and Mary quickly felt dizzy.As her panic grew worse, she would
shake.The world seemed to be getting
smaller and smaller.Mary Brown’s
entire life seemed to be shrinking to an intolerable size.Mary suffered from agoraphobia.

The origin of a phobia is often
difficult to trace.Probably some
situation or experience created a sense of urgency, and that’s were the problem
started.But many times a therapist
cannot find the root cause.Phobias
simply may feel as if they floated in through our bedroom window and grabbed
us!Consequently, the source isn’t the
issue with this problem.

A Vast Array of ‘What-Ifs’

The director of Washington’s
Center of Behavioral Medicine called phobias ‘the malignant disease of the
‘what-if’s,’ the exponential growth of imaginary disasters that can choke
rational thought.’And that’s the
problem!The capacity of a long-held
dread to emerge from insignificance and grow so large it keeps us from thinking
intelligently makes phobias difficult to face.
The contamination of our rationality keeps us from enjoying life in a
full and meaningful way.

You may be surprised to
discover that people can develop compulsive fears of everything from darkness
to dolls to dust.Some of the more
common fears are of heights, cats, people, spiders, closed spaces, germs,
darkness, flying, and mice.These
phobias typically arise from a fear of physical danger or personal injury.

What is a Phobia?

Phobias are obsessive,
compulsive, constant fears that remain one of the most powerful forces in the
human psyche.Born out of the concern
for self-protection, a phobia raises our apprehensions about survival to the
ultimate level of self-preoccupation.
Even though fulfillment of most of our phobias demands that we negate
what logic tells us can’t be denied, the fear still ‘feels’ rational’even when
we know it’s irrational.

One of the strange dimensions
of this fearful intrusion is that people with phobias already recognize the
absurdity of their situation.While
people who are paranoid believe there is a basis for their apprehensions,
phobics know this isn’t the case’but it doesn’t make any difference.The obsessive fear continues.Even though it’s irrational, the people with
a phobia don’t imagine they are afraid, they truly are afraid!

But wait!There’s good news ahead.

While the origin of a phobia
may be difficult to identify and the effects of the fear can prove
overwhelming, phobias are one of the most curable emotional problems.A wide variety of therapeutic techniques can
help phobics find relief.

What Can We Do?

You may be surprised to learn
that early in the Bible is an important story about one of the first phobias
noted in literature.Because this man’s
greatness remained so vast, we don’t usually explore his emotional needs but he
did have a significant problem.

Turn to Exodus 3, and you’ll
read the story of the Lord confronting Moses with the task of returning to Egypt
to challenge the pharaoh.The earlier
chapters reveal a picture of a normal, emotionally healthy man, but as this
chapter opens we discover Moses had a phobia about speaking in public.All the classic symptoms are there.While Moses could act with considerable
boldness, speaking brought him to his knees because of his phobic
reaction.

This man of God had a mission
paramount to Israel’s future and ultimately the Lord’s intentions for the
entire world.Moses surely needed the
miraculous gifts God gave him for the task.
He could turn his rod into a snake or the waters of the Nile into
blood.But God instructed Moses to use
his brother, Aaron, as his spokesman.
In other words, Moses was left to confront his psychological problem in
much the same way we are!And that’s
what causes us to grow.

Reading between the lines, we
can pick up some important clues from the story of Moses for how we can find
help in dealing with phobias.Here are
three specific ways you can start bringing change.

Recognize
You’re Not Alone
‘Moses had to recognize that he wasn’t by himself up there
on the mountain when God spoke through the burning bush.His first step was to recognize that God
walked with him.At every moment of his
life, the Creator of the universe stood by Moses’and if you are His, He stands
beside you as well.

Feel like a
freak in a normal world?It isn’t
true.The world is filled with millions
of people struggling with exactly the same fears.Many people seek out support groups that allow them to talk about
their fears with a larger framework of friends who share the same phobias.These friends can call each other when they
feel their phobias gaining control.
Such emotional support lifts strugglers to a new level of competency.

The most
important discovery is that God has always been with you during this
conflict.You need to call on Him to
help you keep from thinking your all alone in a huge, unconcerned world.

Enlist
Your Family
‘Understanding and bolstering from our family members makes a
world of difference.You need to be
honest and straightforward about your fear.
Their help may be needed in getting you involved with professional care.More important, you need to be able to talk
with someone close at hand about what you’re feeling. Having the people you care about listen with openness and
compassion can give you emotional strength to face your phobia.

Consult
a Professional
‘if you need insight, input, and direction to find your way
out of the maze of your phobia, you can turn to a counseling professional with
special skills in this area.One aspect
of this step involves accepting that treatment costs money.We have known those whose churches have
supported them and others who’ve raised the money in a variety of ways.Whatever the source of payment, treatment is
worth it.No one should spend his life
struggling with overwhelming fear and anxiety attacks.Usually the counseling is short term,
lasting from three to twelve months.
Remember, as terrible as phobias feel, they are the most curable of all
emotional problems!

Ephesians 5:13 says, ‘Everything exposed by the light becomes
visible.’It’s important for you to be
wiling to allow God’s light to shine on your life and make known those things
hidden in darkness.Ephesians 5:14 goes
on to provide a rallying cry for all who are stuck in fear:

‘Wake up, O sleeper,

rise from the dead,

And Christ will shine
on you.’

So whatever is holding you back, whatever excuse has kept you dead in
fear, rise and wake up to a world of people you want to help you experience the
freedom that can be found when fear is resolved.

To find a Christian counselor in your area click on this link.

If you found this article
helpful, I encourage you to explore the book Fear Less For Life. Also,
please consider attending our Healing is a Choice Intensive.

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