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Getting Over the Fear of Flying

A Blow by Blow Talk with Michelle

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I've been pouring over your site for over a week and it definitely appeals to me for some reason. I am one of those people who feels they "failed" at therapy, despite true commitment, both financial and emotional I want you to know that I tried to locate your last name and gave up after less than 10 minutes. Otherwise, I would have addressed you with appropriate formality. But "Steven" it is.

I realize you must be very busy and what I'm doing is asking for free advice from a professional (I'm sensitive to this because I am a lawyer). There are many areas where I think your approach could really help me. I see something really wonderful in your approach.

There are two areas that I'm not sure about. I have flying anxiety and driving anxiety and it didn't manifest until after I was 30 (I'm now 40). I have not yet exhausted your website, but I haven't stumbled onto anything that seemed geared towards those irriational fears. Sometimes when I drive, I put myself in harms way b/c I cannot maneuver turns or bridges without reducing my speed to something absurdly and dangerously slow. I've actually come to complete stop on the expressway, but that is the exception. And I drive more than 20K miles a year b/c of my job, so you can imagine how difficult it is for me.

I'm in the market for a new therapist and would like to try your approach. I have two requests: 1) can you point me to anywhere on your website that deals with driving/flying anxiety, or whatever you deem to be appropriately similar (I did read about the woman who hated the sound of car engines); and, 2) can you recommend a professional in the area of Southfield, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who utilizes your techniques?

Thank you for your time. Truly.

Warm Regards,


And I wrote back . . .

Dear Michelle,

Thank you so much for writing. And for asking me your questions. Peoples' questions are very much what directs my work.

As for Emergence appealing to you, I'd guess it is because we do not blame yet still face problems head on. This, in fact, is probably the greatest difference between Emergence and other therapies. How? Most therapies, even loving ones, blame. How? By making pain bad and people who suffer broken. This is why they see the goal, and proof of healing, as getting rid of the pain. And it is good to relieve people's pain. However, focusing on this pain only blames our often difficult lives on the pain we feel. And on us, when we can't get rid of it.

With Emergence, on the other hand, we see the goal of the therapy as discovering the beauty in the very things which have been causing the pain. This focus blames nothing on the pain, or on peoples' inability to get rid of it. Rather, it makes pain the very road map to the best things in life. Not merely as a tradeoff painlessness, nor as mere life lessons, but rather, as a loving guide to where we need love the most.

Now imagine. Instead of having a goal of merely not suffering on planes and in cars, imagine that you can come to love being in them so much you chose to fly frequently and take long road trips <smile>. And love the turns the most! Imagine?

As for some specifics, before I offer some, please know, I'll do my best to point you in a useful direction. I would even be willing to dialogue about your two phobias, if you'd be willing to allow me to post what we say, anonymously, of course. You never know how many people our dialogue with each other might help. And the thought that your suffering might help others like you can only add to the possible good in all this.

The good news is, you have already told me what may be the most important detail; that it is in turns that you panic. This fact may help us to focus our efforts right where we need to.

As for some places we might start, the following questions would be a good beginning. Please write your answers only at a time in which you are alone and quiet, and free from distractions. Late night or early morning would be best.

Also, if you can answer these questions on a day wherein you felt panic, it may help us to get closer to the truth we need.

Whatever the case, Michelle, here are my questions.

[1] Can you picture a time when you flew and enjoyed it?

Please know, merely being mentally aware that such a time occurred is not enough.

The idea is to visually divide your inner life into what you "can" and "cannot" picture. Thus, discerning what you can actually visualize on the screen of your mind is the key, in Emergence, and in all healing, really. And this is true even of the kinds of healing which get you to do this by accident, like doctor visits when the doctor asks you questions, or when you have coffee with supportive friends with whom you pciture your life.

Aha's can happen anywhere you can suddenly picture. So you never know when healing may happen. Emergence merely ups the odds, by focusing on the aha.

[2] Same question for driving; can you picture a time when you drove and enjoyed it? A time you felt no anxiety, not even about turns?  Just ease and fun. Can you picture a time? More than one time? Try as best you can.

[3] If you can picture either flying or driving or both, can you picture a time right before you drove or flew, for instance, a waiting for take off or waiting in the airport? Or a time you were packing the car, or cleaning the snow off the windshield?

[4] Now some seemingly unrelated questions. Can you picture yourself learning to ride a bike? Can you picture yourself learning to make turns?

[5] Can you picture yourself learning to drive a car? Can you picture yourself learning to make turns? "K" turns. Can you picture learning to drive around sharp curves?

[6] Do you panic when flying when your plane makes a turn? Do you feel like you may fall out?

[7] Do you panic in cars the same way when you are a passinger and not driving? Does this make any difference at all?

[8] When you do panic, how old do you feel? I ask this as, although you did not see symptoms until you were thirty, you still may have been injured much earlier. Thus, life may simply have not triggered this earlier wound until you reached thirty.

Discerning your experiential age during your panic attacks will help us to locate at least something which represents the wounding scene.

OK. I've asked you for a lot. Now just do your best and if you want to, send me whatever you've written. We'll then see where this takes us.

Please remember, Michelle, you can heal these things. It's just a matter of finding the right pictures. And noticing what you cannot picture.

Don't give up hope.



P. S. I don't give advice as a professional. Definitely not online and certainly not in my office. I only talk to people as one human being to another. This is why I prefer Steven sans last name, as I prefer to connect to people as human beings rather than as patients or as clients, or some other such rot. We are all patients in some way. And clients too. Me included.

Nice to meet you, Michelle <grin>.

P. P. S. You made me smile when you wrote, "I have not yet exhausted your website." In truth, there are currently more than eight thousand book pages posted on the site. And even I can't keep up with what I've written. There's even a brief dialogue about the fear of flying here.

On 8/22, Michelle wrote back and said ...

My first comment is in response to yours: I do have a strong sense of being "broken." I'm not going to give you too much background and certainly don't want to burden you with a small novel to read from someone who is not paying you, but I find myself wanting to give you some idea of why I'm interested in a different approach to whatever my "problems" are (and there are plenty of those!).

I wasn't doing well when I first entered therapy in 2002, but I certainly didn't feel like I was permanently ruined and doomed to unhappiness unless I "fixed" whatever the problems were. I had experienced multiple traumas in rapid succession and, for the first time in my life, felt I needed help from somewhere. After countless sessions of therapy and several thousand dollars, I came to terms with, among other things, that what I believed was a "Walton-like" childhood was nothing of the sort, that my mother wasn't terribly interested in me, and that I was basically raised to take on a man's role by my father. These things are true, but knowing them didn't make me any happier at all. I think these "breakthrough realizations" actually made me more unhappy and definitely angry. That's not what I was going for.

I had the sense that my therapists wanted me to be angry with my parents. I fought this for quite some time (Dad taught me that therapists were all about allowing patients to blame someone else for what was really a personal failure to take responsibility or cope with the consequences of one's own bad decisions - and I'm not sure he was off-the-mark) and also had the sense that they were somehow disappointed and that my progress was "slow" in their estimation. I didn't seem to be angry enough at my parents and seemed to "resist" the "treatment." This approach just was not working or helping and after a few years (with some breaks) I finally asked what I was supposed to do with all these new emotions, which had been added on to the problems, anxiety and pain that I started with, which was not subsiding. In a way, I felt actually worse off. I was told that it would likely take 5 more years of therapy to get me where I wanted to be. The session in which I received that happy news was my last and it was 10 months ago. I continue to feel like some "broken" person, who seems likely to unlikely to be "fixed." Maybe you will find these comments interesting, because they seem to me to validate your opinion of "traditional" therapy. I'm not even bitter about the experience, but I do know that it was an intolerably slow process, without much benefit that I can identify.

I'm extremely distracted at the moment and will try to address your specific question tomorrow evening. I also promise not to give you another enormous self-absorbed history of failed therapy attempts. This is a one-time indulgence designed to: 1) explain my lack of satisfaction with my prior therapy experiences; and, 2) convince you to give me some referrals for practitioners in my area. : ) It was also in response to your statement: "Most therapies, even loving ones, blame. How? By making pain bad and people who suffer broken." My reaction to that was so strong that the words in this email almost typed themselves.

But I promise to do the work you've assigned to me very shortly. Once again, I thank you for taking the time to provide these questions. I do wish I could have worked on them tonight (I had a troublesome driving experience today - two actually), but I have a 10 year old who is a bit jealous at the moment and deserves to have his mother watch Harry Potter with him.



The next day, she wrote and answered my questions. Here are her answers.

Hello Steven.

I want to let you know that I'm not out to impress you with Pulitzer-worthy writing. I don't want to be concerned with choosing the very best adjective or pausing to consider whether my pronoun choice was proper, which might interfere with whatever I'm trying to convey. Writing IS different that talking, but not necessarily wanting.

Except for running spell check, you're getting an unedited response from me. I'll tell you from the get-go that I fear the length of some responses might cause you to lose interest. : ) I might not give you what you're looking for, but I tell you that I sure could have used some questions like this from my other therapists. These are not easy, but they're not painful in any way and made me think about all of if differently.

[1] Can you picture a time when you flew and enjoyed it?

I always enjoyed flying as a child. It was an adventure that I anticipated with enthusiasm. The fact that I was flying was as exciting as reaching the actual destination.

My paternal grandparents lived in Florida and my parents and I would sometimes fly to visit. I took one trip alone. I was probably 15. I have only a vague memory, that of being seated alone and the flight crew being very attentive to me.

I can remember that I was sitting on the left side of the plane, and there were, I think, two rows of three seats (maybe two in one of the rows). I remember there was a stop-over in Atlanta, and the airport staff was scrambling a bit to get me on my transfer flight to Tampa. I remember being in a golf cart that was sort of beeping at pedestrians to get out of the way so that I could make my next flight. I don't recall any colors from either of the flights down. I recall that I spent much time looking out the window and was disappointed when the white clouds obstructed the view of the ground.

I remember being on a flight down to Tampa when was I younger, 10 or 12. I was with my parents (or at least, my mother) and there were three rows of three seats. Very big plane. My recollection of that flight is fond. Once the seat belt sign was off, I was up talking to anyone who would talk back and looking out the windows whenever possible. This could be totally wrong, but I think it was an evening flight, and when I gazed out the windows, it was to marvel at the organized light coming from the ground. My mother claims I talked my way in to see the captain, but I have no recollection of that and find that my mother's version of family history can be revisionist.

One other clear memory I have of flying is sitting in the window seat, it could have been the same flight as when I was 15, which may have been my last flight until I was 30. I know it was just after takeoff on the trip down. I was intently observing the ground as we ascended, and marveled again at how soon you can discern the curvature of the earth. At almost the same time, I noticed that curvature, and we banked so that I saw a breathtaking view of what must have been Lake Erie. On the horizon was no land, just the water as it met the sky and the color of the water which was pewter. It didn't even look like water. It looked like liquid metal, like mercury. But I recall always describing it to others as being perfectly pewter.

I never mentioned any of this to any other therapist, but only because they never asked the question.

[2] Same question for driving; can you picture a time when you drove and enjoyed it? A time you felt no anxiety, not even about turns? Just ease and fun. Can you picture a time? More than one time? Try as best you can.

I couldn't wait to start driving. I remember taking my driver's test and blowing through yield signs, and I remember the streets at which I made these repeated blunders. I was still given the A-okay from my instructor but never forgot that I felt close to failing when he chastised me for not understanding that "yield" required you to stop accelerating and look both ways. To this day, I think of that each time I see a Yield sign.

I also remember being very proud at my parallel parking skills when tested and recall (I think) being in a yellow car that was mid sized and much easier than the huge car I had used to practice.

Whenever friends wanted to cruise during high school, I was glad to be the driver. The exception was that I was always very afraid on snow and ice. More so than anyone else from what I could tell. I would drive so slow that other drivers would be annoyed with me. And I always had difficultly seeing at night, though it was annoying rather than anxiety-provoking.

My first car was a dove gray 1977 Thunderbird that my parents gave me in 1982 I think. I loved to drive but didn't look for thrills in it since I had to pay for my own gas/maintenance/insurance. Thus, I learned early that slow acceleration and moderate speeds save a ton of gas, avoided tickets and reduced wear-and-tear.

Sometime around the age of 18/19, I bought myself a 1982 white Ford EXP with a manual transmission. In truth, it wasn't an impressive car. But I really did like it, maybe because it was the first car I picked for myself (after the T-bird, which I ran into the ground, my parents bought me a very used blue Ford Festiva at graduation, which weighed about 100 pounds and moved at a snails pace). I took out a loan and bought my own car!

I dated a guy who gave me new red leather seats and mag wheels for the EXP. I remember changing all the tires myself to put those beautiful wheels on and it took hours because the lug nuts had been tightened with an air compressor (I don't think I've thought of that in over 20 years, except one time with a boyfriend). I loved my car and loved driving it.

After a car accident, I had a black and red racing stripe added to the bottom of the car. I always like driving it (except in snow). At the time, I worked for a company that sold Indoline (racing fuel), and I filled my tank up on one occasion and took it out on the expressway alone. When there were no cars in sight, I floored it and kept it floored. Not sure how fast that little 4 cylinder could go, but I was definitely over 100 mph (the speedometer didn't go any higher).

I had absolutely no fear of turns. No fear of bridges. In fact, I didn't even notice if I crossed a bridge, though I crossed several very high overpasses, because I know which expressway I was on at the time. Bridges were a non-event. And curves meant torque which felt thrilling.

I just now remembered the very FIRST time I REALLY drove. I was 15 and had my permit, so I could drive with an adult. Dad and I were driving back from Florida in a big Ford van that he had fixed up, wall and ceiling carpet and a mini sofa-bed (it was the mid 80s!). The carpet was short brown shag. The sofa bed was dark brown. The seats were captain seats and black.

We were somewhere in Kentucky driving back to Michigan without my mother. Just me and Dad. Dad wanted to sleep and gave me the wheel, and told me to just stay on I-75 North. He then promptly fell asleep without a care. I drove over bridges and through high hills in the early morning hours while it was still dark. Dad was snoozing happily in back, giving me complete responsibility and trust. I was thrilled and I don't recall that I drove any less skillfully than I do now.

I remember feeling a satisfying sense of responsibility and that I was as alert and careful as was possible. The important difference is that after the sun started coming up (and I actually remember that it was beautiful and clear), I came out of Kentucky into Ohio and there was the I-75 bridge over the Ohio River. It was a non-event again. I drove happily over the bridge without a care in the world. But I remember doing it. I specifically remember driving the bridge when I was 15, though it was not because I felt fear. I won't tell you how that same bridge makes me feel now, because it's not what you asked. I was very proud. How many 15 years olds got to drive hundreds of miles on the interstate with a sleeping parent?

[3] If you can picture either flying or driving or both, can you picture a time right before you drove or flew, for instance, a waiting for take off or waiting in the airport? Or a time you were packing the car, or cleaning the snow off the windshield?

I'm not sure if you're looking for pictures from "before" or from now. The truth is, I could give you countless examples, but I don't want to waste your time or mine by giving you what you're not looking for. Could you please be more specific? I don't want to give you 800 words that you're not looking for.

[4] Now some seemingly unrelated questions. Can you picture yourself learning to ride a bike? Can you picture yourself learning to make turns?

I have no recollection of learning to ride a bike. So I'm going to close my eyes and think for a while about what I can "picture." Okay, I see my backyard on Maple when I lived next to my grandparents. So I must have been 5 at the most. I think my dad was holding the bike with me on it, running along with me on my left side and we were heading west. I see the horse pasture way ahead so it must be west.

I see myself upright and looking forward and looking to the side again and Dad is gone. I don't see myself falling, but I know I did, because I remember we had to keep at it (at least I think I do). For some reason, I know I fell, but it was a happy day and I don't think it scared me. I can see myself going forward again and yes, I'm turning jerkily from side to side, trying to keep the bike up.

There were several attempts where Dad started off holding me, running with me and then letting me go. There is nothing that I see that is unpleasant. For some reason, I have the sense that we were eventually successful on that first day. I cannot picture myself learning to make turns though. I just see the jerky turns that I made trying to find balance. I do know that I was an avid rider for many years, often riding alone during the summer while my parents were at work. I was left alone in high school and maybe some junior high during summers, and I would take bike trips alone during the day that must have been 20 to 40 miles round trip.

This isn't part of the question, but I would frequently ride without hands on the handles and could maneuver impressive turns sitting straight up, just by moving my hips a certain way and shifting my weight slightly. For whatever it's worth, I haven't had my own bike since 1989, which is odd because I enjoyed it very much. I've actually thought about it in the last few years and a great guy I was dating bought me a bike! It's in my shed, and more than two years later, because I can't figure out how to get the chain on (or so I tell myself), it's not been used. Yet every time I look at it, I wish I could.

The questions you ask are very different than those posed by any other therapist I've seen (there have been four). I find it very interesting that I started without ANY recollection at all for this question and then "poof" something popped in my brain. And it didn't hurt.

[5] Can you picture yourself learning to drive a car? Can you picture yourself learning to make turns? "K" turns? Can you picture learning to drive around sharp curves?

Well I gave you most of the answer already but not all of it. I can picture myself in a car with Dad. Which car, I can't seem to conjure up (good guess is my T-Bird). But I can picture him next to me.

Dad looks very serious and impatient (I can't vouch for the accuracy of that though) and his entire goal is to teach me how to drive in curves properly. This is a real picture and a real memory. He wanted me to learn correctly.

I can picture him looking at my face, my feet and the road. I can picture the curve coming up, and I take it without breaking at all and it's too tight. When I can, I look over at him. Dad says nothing (he may have already given me an instruction at this point and I've messed up).

His expression is ambiguous but something about his posture makes me know I messed up. I picture another turn and I break for it and accelerate after the turn. I can see Dad again and he doesn't look happy or angry. He seems to sigh as he (this is a picture in retrospect and might not be real) explains that you brake gently in the first third of the curve, you wait the second third, and begin to accelerate again through the last third. After that, I had it down and, for the most part, still stick to that training.

This is the rule I use for any curve, however tight or lose, though I bought my first sporty car in ages last month and test curves now and then without any deceleration, expressway excluded. While learning to drive maneuver curves, I have NO picture or memory of turns on the expressway with Dad, which never requires a decrease in speed if you're maintaining the speed limit. I doubt he ever taught me that on the Eway.

[6] Do you panic when flying when your plane makes a turn? Do you feel like you may fall out?

Yes. I always seem to panic when we bank. The more alcohol I consume, the less the panic affects me. If I have enough alcohol or Xanex, then I don't care if we are banking, and I can actually look out the window and appreciate the sense of invigoration that the perspective makes me feel (but I'd really like to fly without these crutches b/c you're not level headed when you arrive at your destination).

I never feel that I will "fall out", even when unmedicated or not under the influence of alcohol. When I'm not medicated or I haven't had 3 or 4 drinks, the banks are absolutely intolerable and alarming.

I was on a flight with my son when he was 8 months old to Florida. Probably my first since I was 15. I had no idea that I had developed a phobia, so didn't medicate at all. When the plane first banked after take off, I felt we were going to invert.

The plane had just two rows with two seats in each row. My son was in my lap, and I was trying to figure out how to nurse privately and switch seats with my mother, so I took the window seat. For the first time ever, I pulled the shade down. I nursed him, but every noise was making me feel panic like I'd never felt before. If the engine geared up, I wondered why. If the engine was pulled back, I was stupidly wondering if something was wrong. Any turbulence, even slight, and I'm gasping involuntarily. I am no coward. I've been though much worse than a plane flight, and I have no control over my reactions.

I began signing to my son, nursing him in my lap. I had on a slightly oversized maroon shirt and he was tucked under it and very cozy. I was keeping the nipple from public sight, but managing to give him plenty of fresh air while he ate. But I feel out of control. I want them to land the plane. I'm fighting to look calm. The seat in front of me is off white and too close. The carpet looks dirty.

I feel embarrassed and confused. I sing the same silly song repeatedly, and I think I closed my eyes, which made the sounds of the plane intensely easy for me to perceive. I hear every creak and feel the smallest vibration or change in altitude. I must have increased the singing volume for some reason because my mother looked annoyed, and I see her elbowing me while I'm nursing.

I stop singing, and then I feel so much panic. I'm sure we're going to crash, but I'm keeping quiet. I must have given my son to my mother because I left to escape to the bathroom. Maybe to cry. I remember being in the bathroom and the smell was unpleasant and it was very small and I sitting there looking around at this cramped area trying to figure out what the FUCK is wrong with me (sorry but that is exactly what I remember). All the noises from the plane were intensified in that bathroom. I felt so dizzy and thought I would faint. I'd never had a panic attack, so I didn't know what was happening.

Though I knew I was still in the plane, the disgusting bathroom somehow seemed better than the option of ever leaving it. I lingered in there, bad odors, increased volume of engine sounds, hardest hit area by turbulence. But I'm losing my breath, and don't know what do to. I can't have them land the plane. I'll get arrested for that. I want to be unconscious, but that's not an option, and I can't leave my son with my Mother. So I gather myself and return to my seat.

On this occasion, I was so befuddled that I tucked my sun dress into my underwear and returned past countless passengers this way. I have a very clear picture of returning to my seat and seeing my mother's horrified face, and for what might have been the first time ever, I refused to explain something completely worthy of explanation, motioned her to the window seat, and resumed nursing without caring that passengers knew I was doing it, since I was always careful to avoid exposure.

I continued to sing the same silly song over and over until we landed, thought kept my voice very low. Before that day (and right up to that very flight), I looked forward to flying. To this day, if the bank is anything but very gentle (and I'm not medicated) I have some irrational sense that we will just keep going, invert and crash. I have to drink before I even board, because I don't think I will be able to actually walk onto the plane at all.

[7] Do you panic in cars the same way when you are a passenger and not driving? Does this make any difference at all?

There is definitely a difference. When I am a passenger, I need only crouch down so that I cannot see what the driver is doing or what other drivers are doing (this is ONLY on expressways - no fear/anxiety on secondary roads as driver or passenger). This can be very inconvenient on a long trip. By the time I got from Detroit area to Chicago on a recent trip, I was very sore and crabby. I crouched the entire trip so I could not see. But my driver was understanding (having known me several years) and understood why I was crouched down and he actually preferred it. Otherwise, I'm constantly frightened by semi-trucks or any situation where I'm boxed in by cars, or if I feel we are too close to the car ahead of us (I need way more space than other drivers). There is definitely a difference being a passenger. When I'm driving, I can feel absolutely paralyzed, or somewhat less paralyzed, depending on the specific conditions of the curve or the bridge. As a passenger, it's much more basic fear. I don't have physical manifestations, though as a passenger, I have teared up and another time quietly cried once.

[8] When you do panic, how old do you feel? I ask this as, although you did not see symptoms until you were thirty, you still may have been injured much earlier. Thus, life may simply have not triggered this earlier wound until you reached thirty.

My very first real panic was the plane trip I described, which was in April or May of 1997. I started to hyperventilate but somehow came back before it went too far.

My best answer is that I felt 10 at the time, but I can't explain my answer. All I could do was close my eyes for a few minutes and try to answer, and I felt 10. The real panic attacks came in 2002, after a series of pretty rapid and traumatic events. I went to emergency one time from work, driven by a co-worker, thinking I was dying, in atrophy when I arrived and unable to breathe (very embarrassing to find the remedy is a brown paper bag). But the driving/flying anxiety existed from 1997, increasing dramatically in 2000 for driving (I refused to fly from 97 to '02, when I had to for work).

I have not had a true panic attack since 2002, and I have no clue why and I'm just grateful. How old did I feel in 2002? I feel 16 for some reason when I think about it. It took a while to get that answer, and I don't know if it's right, but it felt right.

How old did I feel when it happened yesterday? I felt 40, and I'm sure that is the wrong answer.

Steven, if this is way too much information for you I will totally understand. An acceptable response would be "I cannot counsel you online and urge you to seek the assistance of a local health care professional." : )

Whatever your response, I thank you for asking the questions. I can't quite explain why either, but I appreciate being asked them.



On Thursday, I wrote back and said ...

Hi Michelle,

I wanted to say a few things even before I've go into what you've written.

One, please do stop worrying that you are writing too much or imposing on me. I am doing this with you entirely in the spirit of one human being helping another, in hopes what we exchange may somehow help others. And you, as well.

Two, while I may be a professional, I do not consider what you and I are exchanging to be professional advice. It is not. Thus, while what we do may indeed help you a lot, it is not meant to substitute for face to face counseling. I say this only to ease your worries that I am interpreting what you've written as requests for free professional advice. I am not.

As for a referral, I wish there was someone whom I knew near you. The people I've trained so far are pretty much limited to my area. So that would not be an option. I'm sorry.

Finally, I'll be away until Monday or Tuesday, so I may not get time to respond to any reply you may send until next Tuesday or so. Even now, I can say this though. Even from what you have written so far, I can tell several things have emerged in you. I can tell this from the amazement you mentioned as to the questions I've asked and how what I've asked you to do does not hurt. Amazement in and around previously hurtful material always indicates healing of one sort or another. Moreover, it is important to know that these emergences will be permanent. What you have reclaimed so far, you will keep.

Also, you asked me to clarify Question number three. Rather than doing that, though, I'd prefer to ask you a few additional questions, prefaced by a few comments.

Even from the little you're written, I can see many things. For one thing, I am pretty certain you were injured during the plane flight with your son and not before. I think this injury happened in the moment of the first turn, and my evidence is that you, for the first time, pulled the shade down right after that; an action totally the opposite of what you would have done previously. You seem to have so loved the views.

Here, please know, I am basing what I've just said on the idea that over or under reactions to what used to be normal life events always indicate injury. Your pulling the shade down was indeed an over reaction for you. (You could have simply looked away from the window if you wished.)

Your reactions to the plane noises, and your sense of space were also over reactions. As was your feeling the seat in front of you and the space in the bathroom was too close.

It is also possible, and probable, that you incurred several additional injuries during the course of this flight. For instance, I am certain you did incur at least one other injury; in the instant in which you saw your mother's horrified face. To which you, for the first time ever, did not offer her an explanation.

Here, what I base my certainty on is on the idea that vivid recall of a painful event is the number one way to find moments of injury.

By the way, vivid recall of an amazing event happens to be the number one way to know you've had an emergence. No surprise, as this reaction is simply the exact opposite response to what happens after being injured; the "vivid recall of a painful event" response I mentioned above.

A third thought then centers on the fact that you have several times mentioned a fear that you would invert. This oft times indicates a pre-existing, early childhood injury, the type of which many young children get when an adult hangs them upside down too quickly, or swings them around too abruptly. I tend to think, though, that this is not the case for you, as in your prior flights, you exhibited none of this particular symptom. I thus tend to think your fear of inverting originated there.

Now my questions.

[1] You mention, very accurately, I sense, that you felt ten years old. What was life like at ten? For instance, did any changes happen in that year of your life?

[2] Can you picture your father's sigh at any other time in your life, even if directed at someone other than you?

[3] My intuition tells me, your singing on the plane is quite important, in a way I have yet to understand. Can you remember what you sang? Can you picture yourself singing? Can you picture leaving your son with your mother, even for a little while? Did you ordinarily sing to your son? To yourself?

[4] Somehow, the over all sense I get is that what triggers much of this is something you saw, rather than something you felt, smelled, or heard (e.g pulling the shade down, staying in the bath room rather than coming out.) Based on this possibility, what would be the most frightening thing you could have imagined seeing? Can you picture this frightening thing in detail at all? How old do you feel if you can picture this?

OK. I've gotta run now. Please know, Michelle, that you're doing really well. And that you seem to have an above average ability to visualize, which makes finding what you cannot picture a bit easier that most times.

Keep going. You're doing great. You really are.

And if I haven't told you yet, you are one brave woman. You really are.

With warm regards,


Several days later, Michelle answered my questions.

Thank you Steven.

Again, I'm not going to edit, unless it is to add something that I hadn't thought of. I'm not deleting or choosing better words.

[1] You mention, very accurately, I sense, that you felt ten years old. What was life like at ten? For instance, did any changes happen in that year of your life?

I'm struggling with this question. I don't recall that anything significant happened when I was ten. I've been trying for days and I can't recall any images that I associate with being ten. I know where I lived and how it was decorated, but not because I can place myself there at that time. Just because I know the years the house was decorated in certain ways. I think I took a trip to Florida that year. I think my great grandfather may have died that year. He lived next to me. But I don't remember it affecting my life much to be honest. I did okay in school. I started gaining some weight around that time, but don't think I noticed it for another year or so. I really just can't think of any way to answer this. I know I was already feeling off by then though. Already unhappy with my appearance. Feeling anxiety, feeling insecure, feeling alone and a bit burdensome to the family, avoiding conflict with peers, allowing myself to be taken advantage of. That's what I associate with being ten, but I can't see any images that correspond to these feelings. This is other stuff that I've told other therapists about, but that's not your question, is it?

Just as I finished that, I think I remembered at least one clear image of being 10, and I have no idea why I remember it. Be patient because it's a fairly boring story. But it's the only real image that popped up. I was in West Palm Beach, visiting my paternal great-grandparents (grandma's side), and I was staying with my parents at a hotel. I can almost remember the name of the hotel. I remember it was on the Atlantic and also had a pool. It was painted a dark red, almost maroon color. We were on the second floor, overlooking the pool. This may be the last time that I swam without being able to recall what suit I was wearing. I was not at all conscious of my body on that day (or at that age). I found some older couple who were nice enough to talk to me. For some reason, I know my parents want me to occupy myself. I don't know what they are doing, but I do remember there were few children at this hotel and I have no siblings. So I was talking to this couple, and I remember saying "watch me!" I proceeded to do a cartwheel for them. I think it must have been on the pool patio because cartwheels would be hard to do in the sand on the beach. I then ran at full speed into the ocean, splashed around, ran back to the mandatory shower just below the pool patio and returned to the patio, where I promptly performed another cartwheel for them. I repeated this very odd routine many times, maybe more than 10. Looking back, that sweet couple must have thought I was a lunatic. I don't know what possessed me to do that, and I feel uncomfortable remembering it. I can't recall their reaction, but have to assume I perceived their initial reaction to be positive in some way. Otherwise, I would have felt ashamed and stopped immediately. This seems like a useless story to me, but I'll leave that determination to you.

(I wrote this paragraph after answering Q. #3) You don't ask me why I felt 10 on the plane. Is that something you're interested in? I feel very childlike on the plane. I want to flee. I want to hide. I'm 30, a lawyer with outstanding credentials, an adult who has endured very much and overcome what many others could not, with an infant whom I'm responsible for, and I just want my mother to help me. She doesn't help me though. She's confused. She insists that I love to fly. Her memory is right. I loved to fly before. She can't help because she's at a loss maybe. No one helped. There wasn't anyone to help. There wasn't any way to help me, but no one even tried. I just needed comfort, escape, oblivion. It was one of the most intensely confusing experiences of my life. So I was also thinking like a child. I wanted help from anyone. I just started crying while writing this. I cried over something you wrote the other day, if you're interested. It's when you said you thought I might have been injured when my mother looked horrified. It's the only other time I've cried while corresponding with you.

[2] Can you picture your father's sigh at any other time in your life, even if directed at someone other than you?

I can picture 1000 instances of my father sighing, at me, frequently at my mother (in my presence), at the television, at relatives. He is not a man to conceal his annoyance or displeasure around his family. He also sighs in response to non-family, so that the offending person does not notice. But I notice, or my mother notices. He wants us to understand that he's not pleased about something, even if he does not wish the of source his displeasure to know. I won't pretend that I'm comfortable with this behavior from my dad, but I don't vilify him because of it. I think his intentions are founded in something good. Again, this relates to things I've discussed with other therapists and I'm not going to indulge myself in a little tirade about Dad, because I don't think that's what you're after. I don't think your question was posed to illicit general answers. If you could narrow the question, I might be able to give you what you're looking for. : )

[3] My intuition tells me, your singing on the plane is quite important, in a way I have yet to understand. Can you remember what you sang? Can you picture yourself singing? Can you picture leaving your son with your mother, even for a little while? Did you ordinarily sing to your son? To yourself?

I can picture myself singing very clearly. I was singing the song from Blue's Clues, a show on Nickelodeon. It was Alex's favorite show (and yes, an 8 month old can have a favorite show!). "We are gonna play Blue's Clues. We are gonna play Blue Clues. We are gonna play Blue's Clues, because we're really smart!" It's actually the only part of the song that I recall singing, but maybe only because I forgot the rest of the words. I know exactly why I THOUGHT I was singing. I was feeling crazy in my head. I didn't want to obsess about the sounds the plane was making. I couldn't drink anything to dull the terror (nursing at the time) and just sort of meditated (I have no experience meditating actually, but this IS what I was going for) and tried to focus on the words of the song and drown out the rest of the nightmare, so that I wouldn't scream out for them to land the plane or maybe burst into hysteria. I was using the song to keep control. I couldn't think of anything else to do. I feel the panic right now that I felt then. I was in the isle seat, because I wasn't going to even TRY and deal with the window seat again and didn't care if it meant nursing "in public." In the window seat I could see out of the person's window in front of me, even if I pulled my own shade. I could see the shift in horizon in my peripheral vision. It was bad enough that I was able to sense the banks because of gravity. I didn't need them visually confirmed. It was actually worse to feel AND see the turns, and I know it makes no sense because the turn is exactly the same, whether you see it or not. I wanted to remove myself from that reality in any way possible and the singing helped. My mother seemed embarrassed, but maybe my memory is not accurate or kind. I don't recall her being helpful or comforting, but she also has some flying issues. Nothing like mine, but I'm sure my behavior was not at all convenient for her under the circumstances. I'm not sure it's important, but the trip down and back somehow morphed and I think what I told you a few days ago was a combination. Funny, because when I wrote it, I thought it was chronological. I'm quite certain now that it was NOT.

[4] Somehow, the over all sense I get is that what triggers much of this is something you saw, rather than something you felt, smelled, or heard (e.g pulling the shade down, staying in the bath room rather than coming out.) Based on this possibility, what would be the most frightening thing you could have imagined seeing? Can you picture this frightening thing in detail at all? How old do you feel if you can picture this?

This one is easy, but I don't think it will help you because it didn't happen. I don't think it's what you're looking for. The most frightening thing I see when I'm on the plane is after we've crashed in the ocean and I'm too injured to get to Alex (my son). I manage to get him on a piece of floating debris, but I cannot get back to him. I can only watch him blistering in the sun and no one is coming to rescue him and he is wailing. He's afraid and in pain. I'm going die before he does and no one will help him when I'm gone, and he will either die of exposure and dehydration, or tumble off the debris, drown, and be eaten by fish.

I pictured this one on the plane, Steven. I can't recall if it was before or after the panic. The panic started quickly and very unexpectedly, so my guess is that it was after the panic started. The image is still very vivid. It's almost like a dream, it's so vivid. I can't remember anything that I saw that frightened me, other than the change in the horizon as the plane made corrections or banked. I've tried a hundred times to figure out what triggered me. I don't see it.

I don't feel like I gave you much that is helpful. But I did my best. I've been around 40 years and sometimes it feels like I can only remember about 6 months of those 40 years. A day here, a moment there. While I was in conventional therapy, I realized I had forgotten most of my childhood. No apparent trama to explain it and they didn't seem to think it was all that odd, so maybe we're all in the same boat as far as remembering. But I did do my best and hope I gave you something that might be enlightening. I have to get to my boy, who is complaining about having to wash his hair by himself. Hope your time away from work was for pleasure and that you made the most of it.



And I wrote back . . .

Hi Michelle,

Not sure how much time I'll have this morning, but I'll do my best to offer you a few of my initial thoughts, beginning with this idea. The therapeutic agent in Emergence Therapy is teaching people to picture parts of human nature. The parts they have lost the ability to picture. Thus, the therapy, in no way, seeks to fix brokenness, let alone broken people. Nor does it judge what happens to people. It only seeks to heal peoples' abilities to picture things which occur in life.

Why focus only on peoples' abilities to picture life? Because it is what we picture which causes our injuries. Even if this something is merely something we imagine.

What I'm saying is, traditional therapies, and most people in fact, assume something has to actually happen to cause a person harm. You, yourself, mention, and infer, this idea several times in what you wrote. Unfortunately, this assumption is simply not true and in fact, often causes people to waste many years in therapy, searching for the "real cause" of their injury. For instance, in your case, Michelle, you seem to believe that the cause of your panic must be something which actually happened. In truth, it is something that actually happened. It just does not need to be something that happened in the literal reality outside of your head.

So am I saying we can get injured by things we imagine happen? Yes, I am saying this. And I literally have hundreds of examples in which this was the case. For instance, a man once asked me for help him because he wanted to design a new logo for his company but couldn't even allow himself to even try. In the wounding scene, he was six and in first grade and had been startled by the thought that he would never draw a flower as well as the little girl sitting at his table. In first grade. At age six. He did not attempt to draw anything again until he and I healed this injury at his age forty two, after which, he came to love drawing.

In another case, a man worked all his life managing data processing departments for a Fortune Five Hundred company. Yet his lack of confidence kept him from being promoted beyond a certain level. In his wounding scene, he had been startled by the realization that he didn't know how to make "the hat on the five." Like the first man, this happened to him in first grade. He never felt confident around numbers again until we healed this injury at age fifty, after which he went on to become an independent financial planner. How confident can you get!

How is it possible we can be injured by what happens in our imaginations? Because startling pictures are what injure us. And because our sense of reality derives entirely from what we picture on the screen of our minds. For example, consider how audiences react to magicians. Magicians base most of what they do on illusion. Yet were you to medically measure the audiences' reactions to what they see these magicians do, you would find, their physical and psychological reactions vary little from what you would expect to see in them were they to really be seeing these things happen.

Medical hallucinations from psychotropic drugs is another example. Thus, legal or otherwise, you'd find a whole other category of injuries deriving from materially nonexistent, psychological causes were you to examine the lives of people who have suffered drug induced hallucinations.

My point is, although you repeatedly question how relevant much of what you write is, in truth, it is all relevant, even when it's not the direct cause of this injury.

Michelle, just you are doing a great job.

As for how this applies to what you've written, at this point, I have two thoughts.

First, we should focus some more effort on the two times you cried while answering my questions; your feelings that no one was there who could help, and your reaction to your mother's horrified face. It cannot be coincidental you cried while writing these things.

Second and more significant, I seem to have been onto something when I remarked that I intuitively felt drawn to focus on your singing on the plane. Thus, in question three, you write, "I feel the panic right now that I felt then." Without a doubt, this is the single most important thing you've written so far. Why? Because if we can, in a controlled way, cause you to relive the wounding experience, then we almost certainly can help you to heal this injury. I'll explain this more at another time. Right now, I'd like to ask you to do a bit more writing. And please stop worrying that you're writting too much. You're doing great.

Here are my questions. Please know the lawyer in you will object as to the relevance of this. Just try anyway and let's see where this goes.

[1] Try writing again, in very great detail, the experiences on the plane in which you felt no one came to help you. Include every single instance you can think of, from the beginning of the filght to the end no matter how seemingly insignificant. And trust your mind. It will give us what we need, given you do not censure what it is trying to tell us. You've done well at this so far, so just keep going.

[2] Do the same about what you can picture about you singing to escape the terror. When you are done, try to picture yourself not singing during these same scenes.

[3] Do the same about what you can picture of your mother's horrified face. When you are done, try to picture yourself not feeling whatever you felt during this scene.

Do your best, Michelle.



P. S. You ask why I do not ask you why you felt ten years old. In Emergence, we do not ask "why" questions. Only "what did it look like" questions. Why? All "why" questions ask for logic. Thus asking "why" questions is one of the surest ways to focus people away from the real causes of injury; the startling things you no longer can see.

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