The phobia of crossing bridges
This refers to the relatively uncommon fear of crossing road or rail bridges. (Fear of crossing narrow or exposed foot bridges is much more common although this is generally an example of fear of heights.
Fear of bridges and self esteem
Being an uncommon fear adds to the discomfort and to the reduction of self esteem that goes with every phobia. The person thinks “if it is uncommon then I must be strange”.
This is not true. The way in which we develop or learn to have either a common or an uncommon phobia is exactly the same. And neither reflects anything about you. You are not your behaviours!
Your phobic habit is just that – a habit that you learned to experience. The fear reaction indicates that at some stage in your life you learned to have an emotional or gut reaction to the stimulus.
Dealing with it
The first stage is to recognise and to affirm to yourself that it is just a behaviour. Yes, it is a very uncomfortable and very inconvenient one but it is, nevertheless, just a learned behaviour.
And what you have learned you can un-learn!
There is little value in wasting time and money trying to discover the original cause of your fear of crossing bridges. This may satisfy your (or your therapist’s) curiosity but it is not particularly relevant to getting rid of the condition.
Now, as with all phobias, examine how you do it. Yes, of course you don’t do it deliberately but you do do it – even though the process occurs automatically.
It is your brain, your body, and your emotions that are involved – so you do it.
A typical fear-cycle
Once the trigger is encountered you rapidly go through a series of steps. These vary from person to person but will typically involve an escalating cycle such as: think of or see the ‘trigger’ – remember past moments of being uncomfortable in similar situations, begin awfulising self-talk, imagine a disaster movie of what is likely to happen, feel awful. Then you re-run this sequence a number of times faster and faster – and feel terrible. And it all happens automatically!
The mechanics of your fear-cycle
Remember you are studying the ‘mechanics’ of your fear. You are examining how and not why you do it.
It usually involves lots of fearful anticipating – thinking ahead about all the awful things that could or might occur! What if I got a panic attack and freeze half-way across. Or lose control completely etc.
Commonly a person with a phobic response will talk to themselves about what might possible happen and/or mentally visualise these uncomfortable events.
This self talk and visualising will activate your body’s fear-handling process – the ‘fight or flight response’ – start the thinking-feeling cycle of discomfort.
Have you noticed how you do it? Great! You are on your way to eradicating the response. (And remember to keep reminding yourself that it is just a learned response and not an illness.)
The next step is easy because you’re probably an expert in this area. How do you know when to start the fearful thinking?
To experience the fear you must ‘know’ when to begin the negative thinking (that’s the self talk and visualising I mentioned earlier).
There has to be a trigger that alerts your mind-body that it is time to start the feelings and thoughts. The trigger can be approaching a bridge or can be even thinking about a past or forthcoming crossing.
So, for you, what is the first thing you see or hear before the whole series of physical and mental mechanisms kick in? (Do remember, it is not what do you first feel – because the feeling is just the result of the negative thinking.)
The question is what you see or hear that results in the fearful feeling! Is it the sight of a bridge? Or the train approaches a bridge? Or is it simply seeing a bridge?
Most people will have more than one trigger. If you do have quite a few simply pick the trigger you most commonly encounter.
Arrange the triggers in a sequence
You have now established the manner in which your fear cycle starts and then spirals upwards into a panic.
Your next step is to eradicate the fear and if you are going to do this by yourself it is best to do so slowly and thoroughly using desensitisation.
Patiently un-learn your way to freedom
Once they know they can get rid of the condition some people spoil their chances of success because of their impatience to get rid of all of their fear triggers immediately NOW!
Even with the assistance of a skilled professional it is likely to take a number of sessions to fully eradicate the fearful habit if you have had it for some time. After all, you’ve been ‘practising’ for months or years.
So allow a realistic amount of time – a few hours with the assistance of a professional and a month or two if you are doing it yourself and practising on a daily basis.
Too long? What’s your hurry? You have had the habit for a long time – what’s another few weeks when you know you are on your way to freedom!