Maria’s Fear of Water, Boats and Sailing
Maria came to see me for her fear of water and sailing. Maria’s husband was a boat enthusiast and would sail every weekend – alone. He insisted that Maria would love the open sea but she was terrified of water and sailing. Her fear was so strong that even looking at a boat would trigger all of her symptoms of fear.
Maria had avoided sailing but she felt that she wanted to be with her husband on weekends and to share this experience that he loved so much. A few times she had forced herself by sheer will-power to sail with him. On those occasions she would sit in a corner grabbing some metal structure of the boat tightly while she staring toward the shore. She would be like a statute that wouldn’t budge because if she looked away from the shore, she would get very scared and her fear of water and sailing would completely paralyze her. Needless to say, her husband didn’t enjoy much sailing with her like this.
After listening to Maria fully explain her situation, I told her that avoiding or even controlling her fear reaction actually made her fear worse. I told her that when she avoided sailing she was feeding her phobia. It was as if she was giving the monster of fear a delicious meal with which to grow and stay healthy. I then gave her a specific task to practice for the next few weeks.
She came back and confessed to me that I had gotten her so scared of feeding her fear that she felt a bit angry at herself. She said that she felt guilty about making her fear worse.
“Yes, you are guilty!”, I told her. “This means that you have fed your fear and turned it into a fat phobia of water, sailing and boats. However, since you do have control over this monster, you can now starve him to death. And I will teach you how to do exactly that.”
I gave her an exercise to practice for two weeks to make her feel differently about the fear of water and sailing. She was surprised because my task was quite the opposite of what everyone else had told her to do. However, Maria decided to give it a try.
She came back and said that she had sailed with her husband. And more importantly, she had sat looking towards the open sea! Her husband was delighted to have her company. I gave her one more task and told her that she could contact me in few weeks to let me know how she was doing.
A month later we talked over the phone and I asked her to write me after a few months. About three months later, I received this email from Maria:
As I promised, here I am writing to you three months after I last sought your help. I’m really happy to tell you that I’m fine and free from my fears of water and boats. I have been sailing with my husband every weekend and I feel great. It is wonderful to sail into the open sea. I just love it!
Just one day I had some butterflies in my stomach but I practiced the technique you taught me and in a matters of seconds I was fine.
Once again my most infinite thanks for helping me. I know that I will always remember you.
Greetings and farewell,