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Fear of heights - Part two July 2005

Amazon book - Anxieties, Phobias and Panic: A Step by Step Program for Regaining Control of Your Life  

Fear of heights

Going for the goals

Part two of Sandra Lawrence’s attempt to cure her fear of heights with hypnotherapy

It becomes clear that I don’t suffer from vertigo. I don’t feel dizziness or faintness up high. What I do feel is blind panic and it has a name.

I suffer from acrophobia – a fear of heights. Claire asks if I have always done so. I say no –after my accident I tried to go up high and froze. She is unsurprised. “Most people with a fear like yours have either been through serious trauma, or a series of small incidents and inherited parental fear which can add up to a phobia,” she explains.

Cox’s gentle questions lull me into a semi-trance state. She picks up on my own words, which she repeats to me, a technique known as “clean language.” I tell her about my accident – working in a theatre I managed to “fly” the wrong way – 45 feet into the air with my hand wedged in a pulley.

Cox asks me to imagine a heightsituation, breaking down my actions: how many steps up I can go before I start to become afraid, exactly where in my body do I feel the fear? (A pricking in the back of my legs.)

“This is classic Neuro-Linguistic Programming - ‘chunking down’ a problem into manageable segments,” she says, getting me to describe it in metaphorical terms – the shape of the fear, what it wants to do and how I feel about it.

I find myself getting fuzzy. A few minutes later I apologise for having fallen asleep. Cox tells me I haven’t been asleep. She has been talking and I have been responding for the past 45 minutes. Not only that, I awoke when she asked me to.

I have been hypnotised.

Sensible shoes in St Paul’s

I am rather excited about St Paul’s Cathedral. I enlist the company of a friend, wear sensible shoes, tie my hair back and carry a rucksack-style handbag. The stairs are wide, and I feel almost as if I am cheating. To prove I’m not, I march straight up beyond the gallery, as far as the public can go. The steps become narrower, and then turn to wrought iron - through which I can see rather further than I would like. I’m doing it. I stand at the top, surveying birds-eye London with my stunned friend, grinning like a lunatic.

For the rest of the afternoon, my legs shake uncontrollably.

Why I am shaking

Cox decides to delve a little deeper, using a little classic Freudian psycho-dynamic work to find why I am shaking. I once again ‘fall asleep’. This time, I am vaguely aware that at one point I shout, “It wasn’t my fault – I just forgot”. I have been blaming myself for my accident – and not trusting myself with heights ever since.

Monumental moments

All 311 steps of The Monument were designed with a hole though the middle so that a telescope could be placed through - which means that if you look down you can see all the way. Cox and I have worked on what I would do if I met people going in the opposite direction, but I am still nervous. Going up, however, is fine.

I even step on a narrow bit when a fat woman with a rucksack crashes past me. Some bemused German tourists take a picture for me in exchange for my pointing out St Paul’s. I resist relating my experiences there last week. It won’t mean much to them.

Going down is less easy. I bring into play some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, modelling myself on a showgirl friend of mine, who goes down steps in seven-inch platforms by feeling her way down via the back of the stiletto heels. Imagining myself as a showgirl does the trick. Safely on the ground, I insist I am given one of the colour-in certificates they normally reserve for the under-tens.

And so to my b?e-noire

It was the scene of a previous failure, Alfred’s Tower, a folly built as part of the Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire. Approaching it this second time, it doesn’t look 160 feet high, but I can already feel that tingling at the back of my legs. I try to put the fears out of my head, and boldly go forward.

The steps are as uneven as before. There is still no handrail. I am not happy about this. I am really not happy about this. But I’m doing it. I’m doing it. I’m not avoiding heights…

Safe on solid ground again, I find myself dreaming. Like an ex-vegetarian who can suddenly order anything on the menu, I can travel anywhere I like. A balloon ride, perhaps, a Tall Ship’s trip. Climbing through the canopy of a rainforest sounds fun. I wonder what the inside of our loft actually looks like….

Claire Cox, CHP(NC) NRHP (Assoc)
Woodberry Stress Management, 020 8444 0519



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