This is the condition technically known as claustrophobia. In my experience it is very often linked to fears around travelling in vehicles, whether cars or public transport such as buses, trains, and especially airplanes. People feel especially “trapped” or confined if they’re in a vehicle which is stuck in a traffic jam. Although they’re not actually locked in, they feel they cannot jump out because this would leave their car blocking the road. Likewise in a bus or train, you cannot make it stop except by pulling the emergency alarm, which would cause great embarrassment, and many people fear embarrassment even more than physical danger. In an underground train you cannot get out at all unless the train is at a station, and trains do sometimes stop unexpectedly between stations, sometimes without any announcement of the reasons. And in an aircraft of course you cannot possibly get out until the plane has landed! I’ve never known anyone to get claustrophobia on a ship, I assume this is because you can always go up on deck.
Another situation where claustrophobia becomes a serious problem is when someone is confined by force in a police station, a prison or a psychiatric hospital. Many people who suffer from claustrophobia do worry about being locked up even when it is extremely unlikely this would ever happen. Their mind races ahead of reality, creating fantasy scenarios. For instance when a man sees some yobs behaving badly when he’s out with his wife, he may think “those yobs might insult my wife… then I’d have to confront them… then there’ll be a fight… then the police will come and arrest everyone… I will be locked in a cell… if that happens I will go crazy and kill myself…” Within seconds he is already imagining his wife and children crying at his funeral, even though nothing has actually happened yet.
In my experience claustrophobia often begins with a frightening experience in childhood. For instance, other children may have mischievously shut the person in a cupboard or a phone box. I suspect that other cases may go back to the client’s birth. If labour was prolonged and difficult they might have felt suffocated on the way out.
Although some people have no fear at all even in very constricted spaces, and enjoy exploring underground passages and caves, most of us don’t actually like being in confined spaces. Humans are adapted to live in open spaces. However we can tolerate a confined space for a few hours if for instance we need to get somewhere in an airplane. Problems arise when we actually fear the confined space enough to trigger a fight-or-flight reaction.
I’ve explained the fight-flight reaction in more detail HERE.
Unfortunately, in a confined space this Fight-or-flight reaction is of no help to us. For instance, if we’re in an underground train which has stopped in a tunnel, what we actually need to do is just to wait until the signals change and the train driver is allowed to move off again. There is nothing that we need to do, so we need to calm our brains and bodies rather than preparing them for strenuous activity.
To be effective, hypnosis therapy for claustrophobia should include a range of techniques to address all these components of the phobia. CLICK HERE for more detailed information on what happens in a therapy session.