Phobia self help – your triggers

How to build your hierarchy

This takes a little time and thought but it is worth it. It provides a framework for systematically reducing your anxiety. (It’s worth printing this page so that you have it available when you begin creating your hierarchy.)

By the way, Systematic Desensitisation is a very old and rather cumbersome way of dealing with phobias. I’m including it here because if you don’t have access to a highly skilled and well-recommended NLP therapist (check out ) it is a method that you can use on your own.

Overview of the process

You are going to make 3 separate lists on three sheets of paper and then use these to to prepare a fourth list – which becomes your hierarchy of anxiety.

(The following list is one that you might create if yours were a fear of flying phobia. However you use the same process for any phobia. )

The four lists are

  1. The various steps you encounter in going through the phobic situation
  2. The likely physical and mental sensations that you might experience and which would add to your discomfort
  3. The various aspects of a ‘worst case scenario’ in which you lose self control
  4. You final working list – your hierarchy

List No. 1 – the steps in going through the situation

This is a list of different aspects of what you are phobic of which you sort into ascending order of intensity. So, for example, if you are a nervous flyer you might begin your hierarchy by listing all of the steps in a plane journey in some detail:

    1. Thinking about travelling by plane
    2. Telephone to book your seat
    3. Packing your luggage
    4. Travelling to the airport
    5. Arriving at the airport
    6. Checking in
    7. Going into the departure area
    8. Boarding the plane
    9. The doors closing
    10. The safety drill
    11. Taxiing
    12. Taking off
    13. Climbing
    14. Experiencing turbulence
    15. Changes in plane speed
    16. Changes in engine noise
    17. The plane manoeuvring
    18. Beginning descent
    19. Final approach
    20. Touch down
    21. Decelerating
    22. Leaving the plane

    List No. 2 – the physical and emotional sensations

    This is a list of the thoughts, behaviours and sensations which might further increase your anxiety, for example:

      1. Feeling nervous
      2. Dry mouth
      3. Heartbeat increasing and becoming more pronounced
      4. Hands or legs trembling
      5. A look of concern from one of the cabin staff as they pass by your seat
      6. Having to ask for help from the cabin staff

      List No. 3 – your worst case scenario

      Do this list because in entering a phobic situation we can be as fearful of our own responses, in particular of losing self control, as of the actual phobic stimulus.

      By desensitising yourself to these internal  ‘disaster movies’ you make it unlikely that you will be overwhelmed by your fears.

      Pick three or four scenarios ranging from mildly panicking to completely losing control. For example:

        1. Becoming very weepy
        2. Becoming weepy and trembling noticeably
        3. Becoming weepy, trembling and being unable to sit still in your seat
        4. Losing control and having to be restrained by the cabin staff

        You may, at first, feel reluctant to do this list because these may be images you would prefer to not even think about.

        But remember that they are likely to occur to you in the phobic situation – so it’s best to use your new  desensitisation skills to defuse your disaster movies in advance.

        List No. 4 – your final working list

        Now you need to select your personal anxiety peaks from your 3 initial lists. So put them side by side and select the most fearful thought. Write this on the fourth list and then cross it off the initial list that it appears on.

        Now select the next most terrifying thought and put this on List No. 4. This is number 2 in your hierarchy.

        Repeat this process until the thoughts and images you are adding to List No. 4 are so mild as to be unimportant. Your list-making is complete.

        You are now almost ready to begin using your hierarchy along with relaxation to desensitise yourself.

        Before you do read the desensitisation page once again.

        Then go to the Using Desensitisation page.

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