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Everything is in the title but in case it matters here is some context:

I don't fear things (spiders or snakes or blood or needles or whatever) and I don't really understand how/why people are afraid of those things.

My BF on the other hand IS scared by some things.

A typical example is needles: I donate blood and he agrees with me on how important it is, but he never joins me because of his fear of needles (he sometimes comes but doesn't stay with me while they take my blood). He WANTS to, but he can't (I have never pushed or pressured him about it, he genuinely wants to do it, because he thinks it is the right thing to do).

So our problem is: Sometimes we/he can't do things we/he WANT to do because of fear.

I do understand that fear is not something rational and I'm talking about fear of things "you can touch" (like animals, object, not fear of dying or fear of heights or fear of accident/car crash).

What I have tried so far:

  • Being rational about those things: He agrees, but it won't go further (OK the spider won't eat/kill me but I won't touch it anyways (I still need to be around when there is a spider in the house))

  • Work on the origin of fear when possible (worked pretty well but not always applicable; sometimes there is no rational reason behind the fear or I just don't get/know where it comes from)

  • Being pushy and show him afterwards "See it wasn't a big deal": Kind of worked once for a small fear, didn't worked AT ALL for a bigger one - I won't try this again

  • Be an example: Same as number 1. He watches me deal with the thing, says it's OK but it never goes further.

So the main question is:

How can I help him overcome his fear? (When he wants to get over it or at least want to do things even if he is scared. I won't try to help with a fear he's not ready to face.)

Subquestion: How can I have a better understanding of his fears wich may allow me to help him?

Edit 11/01/2018 :

To those saying that these fears are minor and we can live with it : Yes, I agree, we can and we do. But there is plenty of them, some that he wants to get rid of and some that really annoys me. Main goal is to help him with those he wants to face and maybe later when he'll be over them he may want to face those that annoy me or I can gently convice him it would be good to work on them. I/We need advices because it will improve some/a lot of stuff in our life if we manage to deal with some fears, but if not we won't break up over it.

I'll take a couple of hour to process every answer and I'll follow the advices about exposure, and taking small step (and not mothering him too much) and I really appreciate the time you took to help me. Thank you all :) I'll accept an answer soon (a lot of good answers !) and I'll try to come back in a few days/weeks to give a feedback on the situation !

Again thank you all !

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    I think that there could be good answers for this, but I did want to point out in a comment that it is believed that arachnaphobia and needle phobia are deep rooted in our genetic code. Needle phobia, in particular, is believed to have had evolutionary advantages for surviving stab wounds. Also, don't let your SO read this, but needle phobia is also considered to be the only phobia that can actually kill you (the physiological response of a massive drop in blood pressure can kill). – Cort Ammon Jan 10 '18 at 15:46
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    I see people are voting to close this as "off topic", but nobody has explained why. Can someone explain what is off-topic here, and how OP might be able to improve their post? – Em C Jan 10 '18 at 17:32
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    @Anne Learning how to cope and help someone who has an anxiety disorder (or a phobia, which a fear of needles is... but whatever) isn't any different than any other issue that you need to cope with people for or any other attribute. You need professional help to seek treatment for these things, but not for dealing with people. That's the whole point. – corsiKa Jan 10 '18 at 21:28
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    "I don't fear things ..." - Is there nothing you fear? If there are no physical entities that you fear, what about more abstract concepts? Failure, abandonment, pain, death, etc? – marcelm Jan 10 '18 at 22:17
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    "the spider won't eat/kill me" Depends on where you live. We have at least two potentially fatal spiders in the Southern USA. And then there's Australia. – reirab Jan 11 '18 at 5:05

15 Answers 15

3

You can provide moral support when he wants to overcome a fear, and you can help him find ways to do it very gradually (which is more or less what professionals do to treat a phobia, and getting professional treatment would also be an option).

The idea would be to find something close enough to the fear that it's at least slightly disturbing, and expose him to that until it isn't disturbing any more. Then find the next least disturbing thing, if it isn't too bad, and try getting used to that.

So, if a spider in the room is too much, what about a spider locked in a cage. What about a picture of a spider? What about a story about a spider? What about the word "spider" on a piece of paper taped to the refrigerator?

So a way it might go would be that "spider" on a piece of paper is not even slightly disturbing, but a story with spiders is a little. So he reads about spiders until it's just boring, and then feels OK with spider pictures that don't show too much detail. Etc.

You might find that sometimes there isn't a gradual enough path for this to work - for example going from watching other people have blood drawn to having your own blood drawn seems like a pretty big leap, without obvious intermediate steps. Without professional help, I would probably be very conservative about what I took on.

This will probably work better than the "being pushy" option and trying to take it all on at once.

The being an example or working on the origin of the fear probably won't work very well - he knows it's irrational already, but knowing doesn't make the fear go away.

In any case, there is risk/reward trade of to consider for all of this. Maybe not giving blood and staying clear of spiders is just easier and not worth the trouble of losing the fear. The examples given seem to have some adverse consequences, but they are pretty minor.

Another way you could help is to be accepting if he decides he's fine with things as they are. From the examples it seems like his minor fears aren't really adversely affecting your life much at all, and if so then being accepting probably wouldn't be much of a burden to you.

  • There is a lot of good answer I'm accepting this one because it is the closest to what we're trying right now. We made some schedule, talked about strategies and what comes first. I'll be editing the question to give feedback as soon as we get some results. – Yutah Jan 16 '18 at 12:42
  • Please be careful. If the experience is too traumatic it can make the fear worse. Be patient - turning fear into boredom is inherently a slow process. – psr Jan 16 '18 at 18:46
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Framing it as getting them to overcome their fears is counterproductive. In addition to the existing fear there's now an additional pressure to "get over this problem". This creates an new thing to be anxious over.

Let your partner know that it's ok to be afraid. Let them know that not doing the thing is an option on the table. It's important that this isn't just something you are saying, with no emotional weight behind it. They will need to feel that you will be ok with them backing out halfway through a thing.

Overcoming fears isn't something you can do for them. At best you can be a cheerleader. They need to want to do this and will need to figure out how to do it at their own pace. If you pressure them then you're complicating things by adding worries about disappointing you to the mix.

Remember you're not their therapist, you are their partner. If your partner feels that they need external help you can help them by suggesting that they seek the services of a licensed therapist.

  • @KRyan The OP can't force their partner to seek therapy, nor should they. If their partner chooses to seek the help of a therapist, this is a solution that I 100% support. If you want to get pedantic I'd argue that even a therapist can't fix the problem but they have the experience to suggest strategies that are likely to be effective for their patient. I've edited the question to suggest that if their partner feels that they need external help that they should seek the services of a licensed therapist. – sphennings Jan 11 '18 at 15:23
  • That’s a substantial improvement; yes, the OP him-/herself should not be attempting therapy. I would personally append the statement that therapy is often very effective with phobias to the end of your last line there, but that’s just my opinion. Also, great point about pushing/forcing therapy; added a warning against that in my own answer as well. – KRyan Jan 11 '18 at 15:50
  • i want to add ymmvs to answers like this, like, theyre good advice to the median reader but e.g. if you're both unusually chill about directness it can work & a lot of ppl get dissuaded from trying things bc answers like these tell them bad things will happen – amara Jan 12 '18 at 8:45
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    @naiad Since my answer is basically saying "Don't try to fix your partner." I don't think a YMMV is appropriate. – sphennings Jan 12 '18 at 13:46
  • there are lots of different kinds of people! we observe that a [fixing your partner] thing exists which is bad, but that doesnt mean that the sentence "don't try to fix your partner" is good for everyone – amara Jan 12 '18 at 23:10
23

Don't try to reason with phobias. By definition, they're irrational fears or fears to an irrational degree.

Don't try to cure someone else of a phobia without their consent and cooperation. They need to be willing, motivated and engaged.

What you can do instead is to offer help and support. This may include:

  • Accepting that it is a huge challenge for them, even if you don't know why.

  • Offering help: "it's hard, but if you want to stop this getting in the way of doing what you want, it may be possible to overcome it gradually and with time"

  • Finding support from people who have gone through the same thing, a la "I always assumed I was a lost cause because I couldn't even be in the same building as a spider, but after two weeks of grueling gradual exposure I was able to swat one and toss it outside by myself. It's unreal!"

  • Being empathetic of fear and encouraging of progress: "I remember when you didn't even want to sit in the parking lot across the street, and now you're here in the waiting room. That's pretty huge. How does it feel?"


"See it wasn't a big deal": Kind of worked once for a small fear, didn't worked AT ALL for a bigger one - I won't try this again

Good. As a tangent for anyone else stumbling across this, please try your best never to invalidate someone's emotions:

  • Don't tell a proud student that their hard work was useless and that they're dumb for taking so long because "see, I told you it was easy"
  • Don't tell a pet owner grieving the loss of their best friend to "cheer up, it's just a dog"
  • And don't tell someone that coming face to face with your greatest fear is no big deal. If it isn't, what is?
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    Are all phobias irrational? Being afraid of snakes sounds pretty rational to me, considering many of them can kill you in a few seconds. – ypercubeᵀᴹ Jan 11 '18 at 12:37
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    I'm no expert, but I believe the irrational part is the inability to rationally reason about the threat - yes, some spiders/snakes can cause harm. Yes something might be able to sneak up on you in the dark - but for most of us, we can say to ourselves "it's ok, that spider isn't poisonous", "that snake is secure behind that glass", "I'm in my room with the door closed, and all the locks in the house are secure". If you are suffering from a phobia though, you can say the words, but you can't use them to overcome the fear like we can. – Baldrickk Jan 11 '18 at 13:09
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    “The only one who can tackle a phobia is the person themselves.” That is untrue; the person themself must certainly be engaged in the process, but others absolutely can help in significant ways. Phobias respond extremely well to therapy, and a trained psychologist absolutely can assist, can make the difference between getting over a phobia and not. That presumably doesn’t describe the OP, but nevertheless the tenor of this answer seems wrong to me. – KRyan Jan 11 '18 at 15:16
  • @Kryan Poor phrasing on my part. I've fixed it. – that other guy Jan 11 '18 at 17:57
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    @ypercubeᵀᴹ That's the difference between a fear and a phobia. Bolting the other way when you come across a loose snake is fairly rational, and indicates a healthy fear. Being unable to watch nature documentaries on TV because it might feature one, or avoiding a toy store because they have snake plushies on display is not rational, and indicate a phobia. – that other guy Jan 11 '18 at 18:19
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My partner is afraid of heights, and of needles. He can't even watch if someone is getting a needle on TV. He can get vaccinated, though he dislikes it, and he's been lucky enough not to need a lot of IVs or blood samples. His fear of heights extends to not being ok with me looking over a lookout railing or going near the edge of a cliff. This has spoiled a couple of hikes over the decades.

Both of these have improved dramatically in the last 5 years, rather accidentally. We took an amazing trip which included many hikes that went along the edges of cliffs with no guardrails, something we hadn't expected. (These countries have different approaches to guardrails than North America.) There was no choice but to walk along the high paths for some time, and he now is actually much more comfortable with some heights, though he isn't going to seek them out. Also, I got very ill and have been having IV treatments, blood draws, surgeries etc for about 18 months now. For most of these he has had to accompany me and be helpful, such as knowing when to squeeze my hand and when to let go. This level of exposure has also reduced the fear for him.

If your partner genuinely wants to donate blood, then it would be ok for the two of you to try together to work your way up to it. (Don't do this if it's you who wants him to donate blood or to get over the fear.) The first step, which you're doing, is to come with you and see all the aspects of it except the donation part. The second would be to come in with you, but turn away for the needle part. He'll get the sounds and all the other experiences, and can see you there with the needle in your arm not having a problem. After a few more times, he might watch the actual stick (but he doesn't have to, I don't watch my needles go in. I do keep my eyes open though because that makes the needle go in better, I don't know why.) Eventually he might be willing to give it a try. It would help if over the time you were working up to it, the pair of you got to know some of the blood techs, so you could be sure of a compassionate and pleasant first attempt. Trust me, they vary wildly and some are jabby and curt while others work with you to make it go smoothly.

In general, people's fears are their own, and for them to face or live by. I don't want someone "training" me to be willing to park in underground parking or other things that scare me. If your partner's fears are holding you back, working together on his behaviours is fine. And if he expresses a wish to do something, you can offer to help. But curing his fear is not your task; don't take it on.

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    Personal story: As a freshman in college, I went to get a flu shot. I mentioned to the nurse that I had a fear of needles, and she immediately replied "of course, I remember you." This of course was impossible, given that I was a freshman in a foreign state, yet she had responded immediately. She had made up a story for me almost instantaneously! I saw this as a clear sign that I was in very experienced hands, and didn't have to worry. It's funny the things that put us at ease. – Cort Ammon Jan 10 '18 at 21:38
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    Exposure therapy is extremely effective but it needs to be applied in small steps. It's nice to see your example of your partner taking those steps. – Wes Toleman Jan 10 '18 at 23:14
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    @CortAmmon, Your nurse had memory problems and that made you feel at ease. I don't think I can relate. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 11 '18 at 9:19
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    I know that I personally prefer to see what is going on - it helps ground the sensations that I feel. This won't be the same for everyone - as you said, it's different for you, and while my Father agrees with me, my sister agrees with you. It's different for different people, so always check to see what someone is most comfortable with, so you can tailor your approach to them. – Baldrickk Jan 11 '18 at 13:13
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How can I help him overcome his fear?

In short, encourage him to see a psychotherapist. Behavioral as well as systemic/strategic therapy have been repeatedly tested as effective methods for solving phobic problems.

People suffering phobic problems tend to use one or more strategies to ease the strain of their phobic responses, which - unintentionally and unconsciously - often maintain the phobic response.

Among these are avoiding, seeking assistance and preparing.

As a partner of somebody experiencing phobic problems, the "assistance seeking" response may affect you especially:

I can't do X, but when you are with me, I can.

Getting assistance from the other person is of course a sign of support and love, but at the same time sending an (unintended) message of

I am not capable of doing this on my own.

So in the short term, assisting will be experienced as a relief, but after that maintain the problem and makes it even worse by continually decreasing one’s expectations of being capable.

Encouraging your SO to face feared (but harmless) situations is surely helpful; assisting him in doing so might have adverse effects.

When seeing a psychotherapist, you might have a talk together to evaluate strategies to truly help your SO.

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    Thank you! So much well-intentioned but misinformed advice on this page. – KRyan Jan 11 '18 at 15:18
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Fears are usually based on something tangible or an experience, whearas phobias are often by nature irrational. Fears that seem irrational are perhaps just based on the 'unknown'. When you think about it, it isn't so irrational to fear the unknown. Fear is a survival behaviour and the dark unknown can harbour some stuff that'll kill ya.

Maybe my own experience will help. I had two enduring fears that I thought were phobias - heights, and needles. I realise now that they weren't irrational because I overcame them with without much effort, you could say they passed naturally. First was needles. I avoided blood tests and immunisations for decades. Every year my employer offered me a flu vaccination which I turned down for 10 years. Then I became a parent, and the first year of my daughter's life she and I both caught flu at the same time. Seeing my daughter ill and being so ill myself I was almost unable to care for her was one of the most awful experiences. The next year, I marched in to get a flu shot with no fear whatsoever. I believe that my instinct to protect and care for my daughter overrode the fear I previously had. Rationally, the needle was now something I saw as a protection, not a threat. Consequently, I now also know that rationally, it is nothing to be afraid of. Realising this was the springboard to conquering the fear of heights. I was invited to do one of those treetop activity things and I realised that having faced one fear and won, I could overcome this too. It was just a case of having complete trust in the harness system that protects you up there.

So back to you and your SO - there may be no magic words you can say to make him overcome such fears. In fact, whenever someone said to me "there is nothing to be afraid of" it made me more afraid because they weren't acknowledging my fear, they were dismissing it.

Fear of spiders is fairly common, and while it may not seem so incredibly manly, it isn't really life-altering either. I wasn't fond of them - now I have to be brave for my daughter, so again this is something that I have overcome 'naturally'. If you'd locked me in a room full of spiders 10 years ago I might have freaked out.

My advice is to 'choose your battles'. Ignore the fears that don't really matter, like snakes and spiders. Unless you're going on safari together, this isn't going to affect your life much. Giving blood is a personal thing, you shouldn't have to force him. But if there is something that is really impacting negatively on his (and your) life then perhaps it would help if you talk about the benefits of facing up to the fear, and the consequences of not doing so. This is giving him the tools to 'reason' on it and be rational - the rest is up to him.

  • Thanks to you (and Nat) for you answers :) I'll test the talk about benefits of facing fears and see what happens ! – Yutah Jan 10 '18 at 15:27
  • Nice answer, but I suspect that you were right that your fears were not irrational. Most of the time people realize that they really really need to go through vaccination too, but the process scares them like hell still. – user2851843 Jan 11 '18 at 5:29
  • @user2851843 I agree with you, but don't you agree that it is easier for some people to care less about themselves? I always knew the benefits of vaccination, but I was happy to roll the dice when it only affected me. I couldn't do that to my daughter. – Astralbee Jan 11 '18 at 9:05
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    @Astralbee I do agree that our desire to help someone you care about wins most of the time. But I'm not sure if it really helps to get rid of the fear once and for all. For example, I'm quite arachnophobic, and by this I mean that I'm practically in panic when I see one of those creepy things. Yet, when my wife asks me to remove the spider, I grab the balls and do it, trying not to show how scared I am. So yeah, I managed to ignore the fear this time pretty much like you did, but I'm still afraid of spiders like crazy :). Just to mention that it might not be a permanent solution against fear. – user2851843 Jan 11 '18 at 9:58
3

Personally I don't believe that an external factor (like you in this case) can affect the internal phobias of your partner. Perhaps you could suggest studying techniques aimed at overcoming phobias used in psychotherapy.

If you think that understanding his fears would make him/your relationship better in any way, but you don't experience such phobias yourself, make use of your empathy and imagination. It makes perfect sense to him to be afraid of certain things just like it makes perfect sense to you that it won't harm or kill him. Think of as a combination of strong disgust, fear of consequences and wanting to avoid an unpleasant situation.

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    Your beliefs contradict considerable scientific research into this question. The effectiveness of therapy in treating phobias is well-tested and well-documented. – KRyan Jan 11 '18 at 15:46
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    I did not say that therapy is not effective. I said that the person asking a question does not have tools or knowledge or influence to help. – Nat Jan 23 '18 at 12:58
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If he wants to get over these fears/phobias, ask him what HIS baby-steps would be. Then support him with those baby steps.

For me, I have a phobia of spiders. But it is FAR less strong than it used to be. What helped? Making friends with a friend's pet tarantula. I was fascinated by it enough to hold it without freaking out and hurting it. Once I held it the first time, I was then totally fine with tarantula-sized pet spiders. From there it extended to getting comfortable with the itsy-bitsy ones. I still dislike the fat ones you find in the garden at the end of the summer, the big hairy ones that live under the boards at the base of the house and "surprise" spiders (such as those that are hanging about face height and can get stuck in my hair...) are enough to send me into a "GETITOFFGETITOFF!!" fit (complete with jumping up and down and flapping hands).

The pictures of jumping spiders with "water drop hats" all over the internet are utterly adorable to me now.

So to summarize: Ask HIM to plan his "baby steps" of gradual exposure, then be the support person. Only push if he asks/wants to be gently pushed onto his next baby step.

3

First, a disclaimer: I am married to a psychologist, and have taken some psychology courses, but I am not myself a psychologist.

Second, some definitions:

  • A fear is only a phobia if it is irrational

    Being at least somewhat afraid of something genuinely dangerous isn’t a phobia; it’s good sense. A phobia is defined as being a fear out of proportion with its actual threat: everyone should be scared of falling if they are on unstable ground at the edge of a cliff, but a phobia of heights might still be scared standing several feet back on firm footing.

  • A fear is only a phobia if it is detrimental to someone’s life

    If your SO would like to donate blood, but the phobia is holding him back, that’s a valid way in which the fear is detrimental to his life. Likewise, someone who is so afraid of heights that they cannot enter tall buildings (even safely inside) may have their life greatly interfered with by the fear (or may not, if they never have any particular need to go into a tall building).

    It’s worth noting that the detrimental requirement means that the fear has to be pretty severe. Being uncomfortable around an edge, being disgusted by, say, irregular clusters of small holes (the purported “tryphophobia”), are things often mistaken for phobias but are not. Overcoming a phobia is a fairly involved process; it’s not really worth doing if you aren’t being harmed by the phobia.

Third, an important statement:

Phobias respond extremely well to treatment

Many, many answers on this page seem to suggest that overcoming a phobia is something that someone can only do for themselves, and the most anyone can do for them is to provide moral support. This is not true. Therapy for overcoming phobias is extremely well-tested and has been demonstrated extremely effective; in fact, it may well be that there is nothing that therapy works better on than phobias.

Moral support is absolutely part of therapy; my wife refers to “unconditional positive regard” as a necessary thing she offers her clients (which is to say that, even if she pushes them or challenges them, she maintains an overall tone of respect no matter what—if for any reason she could no longer do so, that would be a reason for her to recommend the patient to someone else, though to my knowledge it hasn’t happened for her yet). So providing moral support still is good advice.

Also, no therapy works without commitment from the patient. Therapists cannot magically fix anything; they can only help the patient fix things themselves (which is the kernel of truth in the various answers that say he has to fix things himself). A therapist can help greatly, but your SO has to be really committed to fixing it. A successful therapy in this regard will require him to be repeatedly pushed out of his comfort zone, and it can take a fair while to accomplish. It may also have monetary costs attached to it, which should always make someone question how much a thing is worth to them.

But if your SO really feels seriously harmed by his fears, and wants to overcome them, that can be done. My wife successfully helped someone get over a fear of needles, for example (in that case, in a nursing student—the detriment of that particular fear for that particular patient should be particularly obvious!). Someone can absolutely do that for your SO. Look into therapy in your area; while insurance coverage for mental health is often lacking, you may have some, and even if not, it is not terribly uncommon to find affordable options for it (my wife’s clinic works on a “sliding scale” payment scheme that discounts those who cannot pay, for example).

Please note that therapy is very much a personal choice (barring something far more extreme than a simple phobia), and also very much a personal commitment from the patient. You might suggest therapy or point out its effectiveness, but you absolutely should not in any way force or push therapy onto your SO. Maybe he’s ready to make that commitment, maybe he’s not. Maybe he never will be, or simply doesn’t consider the phobia sufficiently detrimental to bother overcoming it. That is absolutely his call, and you should respect it (again, barring something far more serious than described).

On the other hand, of course, therapy is definitely not required to overcome fears. Your SO can go it alone—and may very well succeed alone, if he’s committed. But I would strongly caution against attempting to provide that kind of therapy yourself—even if you were trained to do it. Much of therapy for phobias revolves around gradual exposure to the fear—and generally has to go “one step beyond” what a normal person would be comfortable (to prove that “normal” behavior isn’t that scary/can be handled by doing something even people without the phobia would be uncomfortable with). That means the therapist has to be a little tough on the patient, pushing them outside their comfort zone (in a gradual, controlled way). And a therapist–patient relationship is a very specific one that has a whole lot of special facets to it both to facilitate the therapy and to maintain professionalism and appropriate authority to the therapist. The long and short of it is that your therapist is not your friend—and definitely not your significant other. Attempting to mix the two relationship dynamics is fraught with problems, and can easily damage both the effectiveness of the therapy and your relationship.

  • TL;DR: He has to want to. It has to be worth it. You as a SO shouldn't do it. +1 – Mazura Jan 12 '18 at 4:10
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    @Mazura Well, yes, those things, but also that he doesn’t have to do it alone. He has to want it and it has to be worth it to him and his SO can only provide support, but I really want to emphasize that effective treatment for this does exist. – KRyan Jan 12 '18 at 4:16
1

It sounds like this is an aversion to putting oneself in harm's way. Most people have strong inhibitions about, say, doing something that would risk them losing their arm, especially without a good reason. It makes sense that some people have stronger, further-reaching inhibitions than others as this means that in dangerous situations someone will survive (sometimes the risk-takers; sometimes the risk-averse).

What's important to understand is that this kind of fear is a heuristic response. Quick and simple. Pain = bad. Poison = bad. Seeing blood = bad. Fear is not interested in analysis and chances. So how does one fight this?

1. Remove all ammunition from the logical mind

The logical mind usually can't help much, but it can introduce doubts and questions at the last minute and you don't want those. So identify any potential concerns and find simple satisfactory counter-arguments ahead of time. A needle hurts less than accidentally walking into something. If you're worried about feeling woozy, it's no worse than feeling exhausted after a workout. Etc.

2. Find multiple reasons to do it

Ideally, things that are quite important to you. It could include "I want to share this experience with my SO", "I want to prove to myself that I can overcome my fears", or "I'm sick of not being able to act on my beliefs". You could talk to people who were saved by a blood transfusion, or visualise the satisfaction of having done it. Ask yourself why you want to do it, and make sure you go further than just "I believe in it". It is a good sign if you build up enough resolve that you're determined to attempt it.

3. Attempt it while focusing on simple, positive things

Offset the simple reasons for your fear with other simple things. "This is interesting", "This is satisfying", "I'm doing what I believe in", "I'm proud of myself", "There's nothing to worry about", "I want to do this", "This is exciting". Redirect fear-related thoughts to positive thoughts.

I guess I wrote this as a guide for the person with the fears, but it should help you understand how to help someone struggling to overcome fears. One of the most useful things you can do is being a reminder of the positives (it's easy to forget them when the fears are taking over).

1

In order to overcome fear, any fear, you need courage.

Courage only allows us to overcome fear, it doesn't remove the fear, or decrease the chance of something bad happening to you, it just allows you to deal with it and get on with what you have to do.

You have courage when it comes to needles, your SO does not. There is the same chance that something bad could happen to you when you go to give blood as would happen to them if they were to give blood.

This means there is something your brain does to give yourself courage to overcome the fear that your SO does not have, and this is what you are looking to build. It sounds like you are able to have an open and frank discussion about it, and you will need that honesty so you can work through it together.

In my experience, courage comes from the following generalized sources:

1. The belief that nothing can go wrong,

When you go to give blood, you may believe that because the people taking the blood have been trained, other people give blood with no ill effects, and nothing went wrong the last time you gave blood, you have the courage to go and do it again.

Something could go wrong, but you don't believe it. Unfortunately your SO does.

It sounds like you are trying (and failing) to instill this kind of courage in your SO, but there are other options.

2. The belief there is no chance of success,

If you knew there was no chance of success, and that you are going to die if you did or did not do something, why not do it anyway?

While having nothing left to lose can be a great source of courage, it still doesn't mean you will win, but you will be able to do things that otherwise would terrify you.

I don't think this applies to your situation, as you have pointed out that you will remain with your SO regardless, so they can't lose everything, but it is still a source of courage worth mentioning.

Maybe you can point out to them that it will hurt, it will make them woozy, there will be blood and they will throw up and faint, and one day they will die regardless. Wouldn't they rather die doing something worthwhile rather than dying one day by tripping up a curb or something stupid. A worthwhile death sounds courageous to me.

3. The reward of doing it outweighs the cost,

You go to give blood because "it is the right thing to do".

You gain a sense of self worth and accomplishment by doing it that you wouldn't have if you hadn't, and that is obviously enough to give you the courage to do it. For your SO it is not.

Maybe try increasing the reward to outweigh the cost to them. For example, offer to take them out to dinner if they go through with giving blood, or just come home for dinner if they do not.

This can be seen as trying to be manipulative, because it is being manipulative, but isn't manipulating the fears of your SO what you are trying to do?

4. Something else is scarier than the thing you need to do.

I believe this is why teenagers appear to fear less than older people. It is not that they are actually more courageous, they are actually more afraid of other things.

The fear of failure, the fear of not fitting in, the fear of not being taken seriously, the fear there is no place for them in this big world they have suddenly discovered.

These fears drive teenagers to do what others would see as stupid things. Poison themselves with copious amounts of alcoholic drink, jump from high places into swimming pools, revise for three weeks straight at the expense of eating, sleeping or washing so that they don't fail an exam.

It is possible you could use this to help your SO gain courage, by finding something else they would fear more, and offer them a choice. They can come with you and do something amazing for one hour by donating blood that will save someones life one day, or you will have to go tandem bungee jumping (replace with something that would require courage from BOTH of you, as appropriate).

Even if they do pick the "scarier" option, at least they will be demonstrating courage at something and this may rub off on to the other things they are afraid of. Again, this can be seen as manipulative, but hopefully they will be willing to pick the "nicer" option for your benefit, if not their own.

  • I have some really good options for point 4, but I'm not sure he'll agree tough ^^. Rewards may help to face things once or twice, when it's more strong disgust/aversion than fear but I'm not sure it will help on the long run, wich is what we want to achieve. I'll keep this in mind, I never tought his fear might be a lack of courage, this approche helps me see clearer. Thanks ! – Yutah Jan 11 '18 at 15:17
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I have a few fears that are "inconvenient", and they line up with the ones you mentioned. For the most part, I can and do face them, I may be miserable as a result of the stress and anxiety they cause me, but I can do it if I must. With one notable exception. Needles, specifically blood draws. Not sure what your SO's reaction is like, but here is mine, it may help you to frame the phobia, and possibly temper your expectations.

If I have to get a blood test, a simple one vial pull, I will pass out cold. Happens every single time, and has since I was quite young. My blood pressure goes super low, and I pass out. Not dizzy, not anxious or uncomfortable, completely unconscious. I then get to wake up being totally disoriented having no idea where I am or why I am there, feeling nauseous, and shaky for the next few hours.

It is so bad that my Dr has to give me an injection a half hour before a blood draw to try and keep me conscious (he hasn't found the right dose yet, I still go out cold). I also have to hang around the office for an extra half hour, in case I pass out in the parking lot.

There is no defeating this one. I can get over the showing up, I can handle the 'poke', I never watch the draw, I focus on something other than the draw, but I have to accept that I will pass out, and a simple test that will take you less than 5 minutes, will be a four hour very unpleasant ordeal for me. I literally have to take a half day off work to get a simple cholesterol test. For whatever reason, it is a physiological response that I can't control. I do not understand it, but there it is.

Note, I hate needles, but injections don't have this impact on me, but draws do. The irony that I need a needle to handle getting a needle is not lost on me. The bitter irony is the extra needle has yet to help. Also, exposure to needles does not help. I have a diabetic pet and I handle more needles in a day than I care to think about.

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Your edit provides background which I can use to offer some very generalized advice. The specific advice you've been given in the other answers is great. However, my own experiences suggests that there's value in being able to approach these things "in your own way." For that, it can be helpful to have an over-generalized viewpoint within which you can tailor your approach to the two of you (especially tailor it to him).

Think about what the fear response means. It means that you've received some sort of stimulus which your mind recognizes as a sign that something really really dangerous and unpredictable is nearby. It drives you to be "elsewhere," which is pretty much anywhere but the current situation. I think anyone who has had fears can agree that this is an effective model of what the fear response is, even if it's a bit overgeneralized.

We don't have fear responses for nothing. We have some reason why our minds have chosen to have this rather uncontrollable urge nestled into our psyche. Sometimes its genetic, sometimes it's learned. Sometimes it's foolish, and other times it's a lifesaver. If we want to get over the fear, we have to basically convince our own minds that it's okay to let go of this fear response. Unfortunately, our minds are rarely logical, and often don't even respond to cajoling. If we want to get over fears, we have to do it on the mind's terms.

One approach is mentioned by trichetriche in a comment: if you give a a toddler candy and dance while they receive a shot at the doctor's office, they will be too distracted to notice the shot. And if they do notice, rewards afterwards can help. However, these are one-off solutions. If you're looking at doing this to solve multiple fears, you'll find that you don't really build up any momentum by this approach. The hard phobias will remain hard, demanding incredible distractions and massive rewards.

Fortunately, your edit provides the key words I was hoping to see:

But there is plenty of them, some that he wants to get rid of and some that really annoys me.

This wording tells me he has a positive desire -- a desire to seek the ability to get rid of the fears. This can be contrasted with the negative fears themselves -- a desire to flee a situation. We can work with positive desires differently than we work with negative ones.

For example, I'd like to suggest a different positive desire to him. In addition to having the desire to get rid of the phobias, I'd recommend a desire to face them. There is a subtle but useful difference: a desire to get rid of them only succeeds when you vanquish a phobia. A desire to face them succeeds every single time you face one. This desire can coexist with the desire to vanquish the fears, and indeed the two desires feed off each other. But framing a desire that succeeds every time it faces a fear is a useful thing.

I'd recommend developing the ability to get close to a phobia without feeling like he is directly fighting the phobia. You're not trying to crush the phobia outright. You're trying to develop a desire to get in there and grin wickedly at that phobia, saying "c'mon, hit me with your best shot." This can take time. He shouldn't go right up to the spider enclosure at the zoo and hold himself rigidly there until the fear wins and he runs away. Maybe just hang out in the room with the spider enclosure, looking for the fear, feeling what it is actually doing, and embracing what it does as a source of energy. Step away from the spiders not when the fear force him away, but when the desire to face the fears starts to say, "I don't think I'm gaining ground anymore... let's face this fight another day." If his awareness drifts from the fear response itself and starts focusing on the object of the fear, it's probably a good time to meander away, having already learned lessons through this awareness. If the fear response starts to feel blunted, and lacks nuance, give it a rest. He has time to face it later.

Your part in this job? Give him the confidence that you are there to help him face his fears. Give him the confidence that you're not going to force him to vanquish the fears, but at the same time, he can rely on you to stand strong with him while he's facing them. It's a balance, and it will take time. Make sure you remember to enjoy the journey along the way, rather than focusing on an end objective like overcoming fears.

Over time, he can learn to respond to his own fear response, and make a decision whether he wants to grin at it and dance a Tango with that fear, or whether that fear is a just and right response and it's time to get the heck out. Then he has control over this fear, and can use it for good (rather than simply obliterating the fear, in which case you can't use it for anything).

And eventually, he'll find that many of those fears give up the ghost. The little fears may be conquered this way. But more importantly, the way he conquers them gives him the strength to start facing the big fears, the ones that he might be facing the rest of his life.

Its a very generalized approach, intentionally providing more questions than answers. Use the other approaches to fill it in. Use your combined history to fill it in, customized to you guys. But the big takeaway is that facing your demons does not mean you overcome and vanquish them. It means you can stare them right in the face, with a cat-about-to-eat-canary grin that makes your demons rethink whether its a good idea to strike out against or not!

Face your Demons

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With needles he trick is simple - don't watch. Unless you have a butcher only needles you look at hurt. In three days time I'll be in hospital with a cannula for three days. If it's an intern that does it I'll teach them how first (you go in fast).

The first psychological treatment for phobias is systemic desensitisation. Any other treatments attempt to do this cheaper and aren't as good and aren't as nice. Terms such as implosion/explosion gives you an idea.

You approach fears to the limit of your ability to. Then you get comfortable at that level of exposure. When that happens you approach a bit closer.

Your friend is doing this. He can go with you. Get him to sit in the room and look at a poster on hand washing on the wall while it happens. Or the fire evacuation procedure poster.

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TL;DR: keep his mind busy.

I am speaking from my personal experience, so don't take my word for the only solution, but rather try it yourself and see if it works for you.

A while ago, I decided, out of the blue, to learn sleight of hands. I learnt that my family had some history with magic tricks (hypnosis, pickpocketing, streets bamboozlement ...), so I figured out

Why not keep this tradition going ?

Being the clever, broke student I was, I decided to learn sleight of hand, especially tricks where you can bet money, and pickpocketing.

One of the first things you learn is how to draw attention away. I believe this is called deception ? (Sorry, I'm not a native speaker). The word I learned was misdirection, so let's go with that.

Anyway, the very principle behind it was that your brain is able to focus on one thing at a time. When you ask him to process something, he is actually busy trying to process it, and can't process other things.

A very good video about that is Apollo Robins' TEDx talk, the art of misdirection. He has great examples, use cases and explains it very well.

While he was performing on scene, he made several tricks that I didn't even notice, to the point I actually had to watch the video 4 times to get them all.

But how does it apply to your situation ?

Well, after seeing that, I wondered myslef

If the brain is only able to process one thing at a time, could you exploit this behavior for other things than magic tricks ?

Apparently, yes, you can.

Here are some examples of what I did with those informations :

  • Helped a suicidal friend to change her mind. This got her out of asylium.
  • The same way, helped 2 other friends suffering from depression.
  • Used it to get numbers when flirting.
  • Used it to draw attention away from a friend who's been injured (broken leg), easing the pain.
  • Used it while my SO had a spider in her hair (just enough to withdraw it)

So, if you try this, let's say with the spider, the best way to do that is simply to talk to him, misdirect him, while you put a spider on him. He won't notice it, and have a living nightmare on him.

The next step will be to make him notice it, while misdirecting him. For that, simply show him his own arm, while still talking to him. He will notice it after a while, freak out, and realize that it's not so much of a fear now that he faced it !

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    How is this different from the third approach listed in the question (push him to face the fear and then say "see, it wasn't a big deal")? The OP said they will not try that again. Also, how do you know when SO will be receptive to such an approach? I don't even have a spider phobia but I would definitely not be happy with someone tricking me into putting one on me... – Em C Jan 10 '18 at 17:43
  • This is different because one doesn't face it directly. You can see this for instance with toddlers getting their vaccines. You can tell them to face it as much as you want, they will fear the needle. But give them a candy and dance, and they will laugh and forget about it. But I agree that it could anger one in my example, but you can't fight your fear without confronting it at one point. You need to get out of your comfort bubble. – Maryannah Jan 10 '18 at 18:46

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