Reading an interesting book right now on mindfulness. “The Mindful Way Through Anxiety”
The book makes an excellent point on how habits are reinforced, and how we are not even aware that we are reinforcing habits.
Say a woman reads somewhere that some children died in summer camp. Then the woman avoids sending her children in summer camp. And then when the woman takes a look at her children sleeping in bed peacefully in the night, she thinks the very reason the children are safe because she protected them by not sending to the summer camp. Once in a blue moon the woman will read that another child died in summer camp and she will totally convince herself that she did the right thing by not sending the children to summer camp and keeping them home. She will totally ignore the news on next page about how children died in a house fire and would never think that keeping children at home is dangerous.
In reality overwhelmingly large number of children have gone and safely returned from summer camp. But the woman thinks it is her habit of being overprotective that kept the children safe. Thus the habit of being overprotective is reinforced.
Then next time the woman does not send children to playground, to park, to their friends. Every time when she sees her children safe, she concludes being overprotective is what saved her children. Statistically all the activities she prohibited her children from doing are very safe. But she ascribes the safety of her children to her protective nature. Her children end up missing good stuff in life.
This is how habits are born. This is how phobias are enforced. When we avoid something and we remain safe, we attribute our safety to the act of avoiding that thing, may it be a lift, a boat, a closed space, a public speaking opportunity, or whatever. The truth is we would have been alright even if we had not avoided the experience and gone through the moments of fear and discomfort.
The new currents in psychology are recognizing this. Just like you can immunize someone by injecting a small amount of disease in their body, you can desensitize yourself to fears and phobias by exposing yourself to it in small steps, not running away from it or taking medications.