When It Comes to Fear of Flying, Personal History Is Key


People with aerophobia can read all the advice and pointers and tips they want, and whilst still understanding all of it intellectually, their fear might still be stubbornly hard to vanquish. Because all of that will make little difference if without understanding where it comes from.

When we try to put what we’re feeling into words, we can better understand our reactions and find the reasons for the internal conflict we experience, and our brains integrate that information, making our physiological and emotional responses more adaptive and proportionate to the situation we face.

So then, where does the fear of flying come from? There can be various sources – some of which we may have experienced, others simply read or heard about. For example:

  • You may have experienced traumatic experiences directly related to airplanes at some point in your life.
  • You may have heard about such experiences from someone close to you.
  • You may have absorbed it from the media – movies, TV, these days perhaps especially social media.
  • Your traumatic experience may not have involved flying but another means of transport such as a car, train, elevator, and so forth.
  • Or maybe it’s simply that your way of dealing with adversity is through having a sense of control, and therefor a perception of security: “if I have everything under control, I will feel safer.”

In one way or another, these types of experiences teach the brain that the world is a dangerous place, and when faced with situations that we can perceive as “risky”, our body triggers different physiological and emotional changes to cope with those situations – and therefore to feel that we can defend ourselves or be safe, from the perception of threat.

So the way you were taught to manage your emotions when you were little also plays a fundamental role in the development of fear of flying. When we are young, we learn to be in touch with our emotions and to know what to do with them. This learning begins with our primary caregivers (most commonly our parents), so it is important to focus on the way they themselves reacted in the face of fear, and thus the example they provided you.

Maybe the first times you remember experiencing fear, they did not give you the security you needed at that moment, because they did not know how or perhaps they weren’t present. In their absence the mind might decide that it needs control to feel safe and secure, so it would not be surprising that as an adult, there is a tendency to control at times when you experience greater uncertainty and insecurity.

Conversely, it could also happen that if your main caregivers themselves didn’t know how to manage fear, it left you with the feeling that the world is dangerous and you are fundamentally not safe. This can lead to an adult coping style with anxiety in situations that you perceive as unfamiliar or even potentially dangerous.

So we encourage you to reflect on the following questions about fear and your own personal history:

  • Did your primary caregivers express their fears? Did they allow you to express yours?
  • When you expressed your own fears, how did they react?
  • What way did your caregivers have to express their fears? How did your primary caregivers react to your own?
  • Do you perceive any relationship between the way your caregivers dealt with their fears and how you deal with it today?

The bottom line, then, is that the process of overcoming fear of flying starts with self-knowledge. We can’t change a situation without identifying the thoughts and emotions it engenders, and only by focussing on our life experiences can we do so. And that is why our own history – especially when we were young – is so important in vanquishing fear of flying. Think about it and you’ll see how true it is.

by guest blogger Crea Sentido