Fear of Flying: The Underlying Causes
One of the four main components of the fear of flying coaching method I developed almost a decade ago — the Balanced Flying Method — takes a look at the ‘underlying’ emotions that are likely to be contributing to each person’s anxiety surrounding flying. The underlying causes vary from one person to the next, as the mind and body carry the emotional weight of past events. The emotional impact of these events is often dissociated from consciousness, which makes the emotions even more powerful when they’re triggered in the present.
For people who have learned to be in control in their lives by “doing” or having a plan for things, being in an airplane tends to be one of the very few places they are forced to stay with the experience of feeling out of control without being able to do something to correct it. Essentially, one is forced to sit in the plane until the flight is over. They can’t stop the flight (or the turbulence, for example), and they can’t simply walk off of the plane either. So, people who tend to be very in control in daily life can actually feel the most out of control and fearful when flying.
Some people have difficulty flying starting early in life (which in these cases is often linked to either exposure from a parent who is afraid to fly, or from images of disaster in TV and movies as a child), but many others actually develop fear of flying later on, sometime after adolescence, and even beyond the 20s and 30s. In these cases, it’s very often either one incident or a series of incidents that triggers emotional memories from things that took place earlier in life.
Believe it or not, the environment a person grew up in can commonly set the stage for fear of flying. This is even true for people who are comfortable flying for years before something triggers the old, unconscious and dissociated event(s). These events tend to recall a time where there was an experience of very little emotional control or trust. For people who had abusive parents, substance abusing parents, or particularly inattentive parents, this can be especially difficult. But this also goes for people who experienced early (or later) losses that haven’t been well mourned, people who experienced significant illness of a someone close, infidelity, parental divorce or their own divorce or significant breakup, as well as other significant life changes and challenges. The fear of flying mechanism is very commonly set off by events like these that people don’t often realize until later.
The emotion from these types of experiences tends to sit in the background as long as the person can construct their environment to be in control of their life and their emotions. But put someone in an environment where they can’t emotionally feel like they are in control of their life (or death), and suddenly all of those old emotions come rushing out from behind that wall.
Another significant factor for fear of flying are those who have difficulty trusting others. This is generally connected to a combination of events in upbringing, such as those stated above, and also things such as being cheated on, or in some other way heavily betrayed by someone close. This becomes especially magnified if the feeling of inability to trust extends to one’s own parents. If the parents were unreliable emotionally, or in terms of providing a safe environment growing up, this commonly exacerbates a fear of flying.
There are other underlying contributors that I’m not acknowledging here, but the above should give a good sense that fear of flying is quite complicated. It isn’t merely enough to identify and know what the issues are, but to actually work to resolve the emotions related to the issues that continuously feed fear of flying. At the same time, it’s necessary to learn how to train your subconscious brain to internalize the normalcy of flying, understand a bit about how flying works in order to dispel myths and creative imagination, and know what to expect, while also learning how to emotionally regulate, ground oneself, and how to manage the differences between thought-related anxiety and physiological anxiety. All of this is part of the Balanced Flying Method.
The Balanced Flying Method is designed to comprehensively meet you where you are. It takes into account your own personal history and what is most needed from where you are now to help you overcome fear of flying. For each person the approach is unique since it is personalized, and the blending of the four components is constantly adjusted throughout our work to be most effective for you.
*Nathan Feiles works with people all over the world and is happy to speak with you one-on-one if you wish to learn more about the Balanced Flying Method.
Feiles, N. (2018). Fear of Flying: The Underlying Causes. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships-balance/2018/04/11/fear-of-flying-the-underlying-causes/