Origins Of Flight Anxiety
Origins Of Flight Anxiety
Anxiety - flight or otherwise - is about our psychological makeup. Initially,
we see things in terms of good and bad, because that is the way things
are for the infant. We are supposed to outgrow that; some of us never do.
How Do We Outgrow It?
For the infant, things are either are good or bad. Good experiences are
experienced by the developing good-self core. Bad experiences are so
entirely different that they are experienced by a different core, a core
which has nothing but bad experiences. (In time that core self filled with
bad experiences becomes connected to abandonment, to rejection, to
being endangered. A core self so ill-treated must be ill-treated because
it, itself, is bad. Or so the child comes to think.)
There is no modulation. When things are terrible, the infant screams
bloody murder! When things are delightful, the infant is all smiles. The
pre-frontal cortex that will, in time, modulate bad experience does not
even start to develop until eight months.
Since pleasure happens with mom (being held, smiled at, played with,
nursed) it should be no surprise that the budding good-self core that
experiences pleasure is connected to mom.
For the infant, when things are bad, it is total hell. The bad experiences
are tied to the other budding core self, the bad-self. The bad-self is - also
not surprisingly - connected to the person who seemingly makes us feel
bad: bad (rejecting, punishing, hurt-causing) mom.
This are either wonderful or terrible. There are two states:
a. in the bad world: being the bad kid, connected to ones bad mom or
abandoned by ones bad mom (feeling bad, terrified, alone, panic)
b. in the good world: being the good kid, connected to good mom.
(feeling good, feeling oneness with mom)
The infant is in either one or the other; when things are good, bad does
not exist. When things are bad, good does not exist.
That’s the way things stay until the infant develops some independent
ability to calm itself. This ability comes through bridging the bad and the
good. When bad things happen, the good mom magically appears to
say, ‘I know it hurts, (or it scares you) but it’s is going to be O.K.’
Bad feelings - instead of staying isolated - get connected via the empathic,
calm and calming mom. If mom is like that consistently, we build inside a
virtual good-mom. This virtual good-mom can comfort us when our physical
mom is not present.
In addition to the two states cited above, there is a new possibility. The two
opposites become bridged, and combine. We suddenly realize our good
mother is also our bad mother. The glowing angelic mother we love is also
the Wicked With of The West we hate. Sometimes she is wonderful,, and
sometimes she is terrible. We are no longer dealing two mothers (good
and bad) but one who is good, bad, and everything in between.
Exit The Garden Of Eden
This is a very sobering realization. This realization prevents the child from
feeling 100% good, but it also prevents the child from feeling 100% bad
Some of us live life mostly within the new realization, with a yearning
for the old ‘Garden of Eden’ experience in which things were total, and
experience was of ‘oneness’.
Some of us reject the new realization; we are not emotionally ready to
move solidly enough into the new realization.
Rather than merely yearn for the earlier way; we are hooked on the
old way; we must have our fix of totalness. This results in serious
problems of many kinds.
Some of us are in the middle. We live primarily in the new ‘bell curve’
But sometimes, when we get overloaded, or have a flashback that tosses
us back into the some awful feeling connected to a trauma in the past, we
go back into that bad state in which we feel bad or threatened and see
things as bad or threatening.
We may not be able to go directly from the bad world back to the ‘bell
curve’ world. From the bad world, we may only hope to return to the
totally good world. If we are feeling we are bad, we have to see others
as bad to make ourselves good. If we are feeling afraid, we have to be
assured of total safety to feel safe again.
Some of us get stuck just briefly. Once we get unstuck, we can return to
the ‘bell curve’ world.
But some of us never got out of the old good-bad world. To feel safe and
secure, we need total; we need to know we are totally safe. We need to
know there is no way the plane can crash. We need to know there is no
way we will have a panic attack.
That cannot be known. So then what? Settle for illusion? Just believe?
If that works for you, fine. What if it doesn’t? How does one deal with the
fact that there is one chance in millions that the plane will crash when
one needs total safety?
Enter Tom Wolf and ‘The Right Stuff’
In his book on astronauts and test pilots, Tom Wolfe showed us people
willing to risk death in order to experience adventure, and perhaps gain
status, respect, and fame.
We, I think, all have some ability to do things that have some risk in them,
if we want to do the thing badly enough. But being crowded in an alumi-
num tube and served peanuts or plastic food is not - itself - much of a
rewarding experience. No, it is only something we do to get someplace
else which, hopefully, will be rewarding.
How can we endure the risk to get the reward? Unless we can B.S. our-
selves into believing it is totally safe, we have to get past the need for
totalness in our psychology; we need to get past splitting.
How? Well, how does the young child get past it? Through internalizing
of the good mom. So that is what we turn to in SOAR. We take the various
experiences of being on the plane, and we connect each and every one
of them to the kinds of feelings we once got when things were good with
mom. We may, though, connect flying with a more recent source of good
feelings, such as a romantic moment or holding a newborn child our-
selves and own feelings of being a good mom.
We look at the rational side of the question first. Is it safe enough
- rationally - to fly. That - for most of us - is a ‘no brainer’. We know it
is safe enough. Sure we wish it were even safer, but it is reasonably
safe. Now, what about the feelings? We have to just manage them.
When my son was five, I had to take him to the doctor for a shot. He didn’t
want to go. It was a ‘no brainer’ that he had to go, at least according to
my mind. But what about his feelings? They needed to be managed.
How? Would I demand he just endure his feelings, or pretend to be
brave? No. I would do the management; I told him as soon as we finished
with the doctor, we would go directly to the toy store (just blocks away,
as he knew), and he could pick out anything under a certain sum that
he wanted; then we would get ice cream.
For a five year-old, two good things balances out one bad one. As he
experienced the discomfort at the doctor’s office, he pictured the
sequence; he pictured the reward; that balanced things; that helped
him manage his feelings, just as knowing you are about to land
What we need to do to make it possible for you to fly with feelings
balanced, is to make EVERY moment of flight like the moment you
know you are about to land.