Exposure is the main technique to constructively handle fears, i.e. with the aim to living the life you would like and not avoiding doing the things you would like to be able to do.
There is research showing that the brain never erases things or situations that it has been afraid of, but instead keeps watching for similar events as a part of learning what to be attentive and apprehensive to.
Hence, the main focus to overcome fears has to be on relearning, which can be obtained through repeated experiences of more positive outcomes/reaction patterns, both emotionally and cognitive towards the feared object/situation. The brain has to repeatedly re-experience that the situation is not dangerous and also consciously recording this for fear to diminish and become more manageable.
Emotional exposure aims to create strong emotional reactions, which often lies behind fear and anxiety. Emotional exposure can be both towards:
– Internal situations, such as thoughts, memories or bodily sensations, like in trauma, emotional relationships etc.
– External situations that evoke feelings such as places or situations where one feels uncomfortable or avoids completely
Hence, in exposure it is important NOT to avoid the feelings that arise, or any other kind of psychological discomforts, to achieve the most benefits – being able to eventually live life without avoiding doing the things that one would like to be able to do or to participate in.
More about how to design an exposure session and important reflections to be made before and after exposure in next week’s post.
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