Taking The Brakes Off With Cognitive Hypnotherapy

Are you driving yourself with the brakes on? Not something we’d choose with our car, or ourselves. I’m talking about those times we have when we start to get the jitters. Like when we’re thinking about getting on a plane, doing an interview or maybe just going for a night out and meeting new people. All examples of the times we just know there’s something in the way and we can’t really be who we want to be in those times.

Our brakes are founded in events from the past. At the time, often in childhood, it can have seemed innocuous and with many clients this means it’s not what they thought it was that started their fear. Similar to a peanut allergy, the initial stimulus can leave a lasting imprint served up in more severe reactions later. Past experience can be very useful too and there much we’ve learned that is positive to help us. Clients don’t come to see us for hypnotherapy about that though. You come to see us for help when your unconscious is serving up unhelpful feelings. You need that help because you’ve tried hard and that hasn’t helped and you know rationally that it makes no sense and the skills that would help. Very often you have those skills, you just don’t seem able to get them going when you need them.

What’s imprinted in our memory is there all the time whether we like it or not because that’s how our brains work. It’s always there interpreting the present based on past experience and using the meanings it has made out of those to help you predict what’s most likely to happen to keep you safe. The more that happens, the more likely you are to continue avoiding what bothers you and that causes even more pain. So, there’s no such thing as ‘scary’ per se, your mind decides that for you. Everything we do is based on interpretation and perspective is everything. That’s why some people can breeze through a presentation and others are petrified.

Due to experiences they’ve had, some people just don’t react in this way to a particular stimulus, it can become a more general to life and you may know people you think have got their brakes well and truly welded on like that.

The question is though, would you drive a car somewhere spending all the time with the brakes on or looking through the rear view mirror? Of course you wouldn’t. A look at what’s behind every now and again is useful. To get to your destination in one piece, you need spend most of your time observing what’s in front, apply the brakes only when really necessary and take in the surroundings too when you can.

I’m thinking about this because a client emailed me not so long ago to give me some great news about how she’d managed to cross a bridge over the Grand Canyon that she’d been worrying might ruin a trip of a lifetime before she met me. She’s had a fear of heights as long as she can remember in certain situations.

Before she left for her trip she came to see me to see if hypnotherapy could help. I helped her to reframe a time where her mind got the idea that fear about height was useful (to keep her ‘safe’). I also helped her learn a few techniques to help her manage ‘in the moment’ on her trip and gave her a personalised hypnosis MP3 to listen to before and during her trip.

What’s really great about her feedback is not just she was able to take her brakes off and get the most out of her experience going over a bridge she didn’t think she’d enjoy. She’s now thinking, like a lot of people when one fear changes, about what this means she can do next.

With her permission to share her words and photograph, this is what she said:

“The whole hike and stay was amazing and I have to say a big thank you for your part in making it so fantastic. The first bridge in these pictures was towards the end of the down hike and when I first saw the bridge I was actually really excited to know the moment was coming. I got your voice in my head, took a couple of deep breaths and set out with my selfie stick on the 450ft bridge, 70ft above the Colorado River. I was a bit wobbly towards the end as it was a bit of an optical illusion that you were walking into a sheer cliff as the path wasn’t visible from the bridge but I got to the far side feeling very emotional that I had been able to walk across it with minimal fear and even stopped to take photos (albeit rather amateur ones).

The second bridge I had to cross to get back out of the Canyon, was slightly shorter and not as high as the first one. I let my husband take photos as I was more apprehensive because of the open mesh walkway but again gathered my thoughts and walked across, I even managed to look down half way along, and actually found this easier than the first one. You were there with me every step of the way and I used both the visualisation techniques and phrases from your recordings to dispel my fears.

The final photo is from a very steep climb within the canyon looking back at the route we had walked the day before. This was also quite challenging for me but absolutely exhilarating that I could do it without completely losing my nerve.

I wouldn’t say I am completely ‘cured’ but the more I do the easier it becomes and who knows what the future holds.”


Not being completely ‘cured’ is not a bad thing in my eyes. I’m there to help people find solutions from resources they already have. Fear is useful to keep us safe, so if she has a tiny bit left that might be useful. If she was totally blasé about heights then that could be dangerous. We need just enough of a feeling to help set us up to be ready for experiences to manage the best we can but not so much that we flip into a stress response. Being relaxed is good, but you also need to be ‘up’ in some situations more than normal to be at your best.

I hope this helps you to understand how you might be working with your brakes on and to appreciate what’s there that’s not helpful can change. Also, how a bit like dominoes falling on each other in a line, when you change one thing, what else might be possible for you and fall into line.

Please get in touch if you’ve got some brakes of your own you’d like taking off, you might wonder where you can get to if you can do that!

blog written by Lynne Wilkins

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