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A Fear Factor Gene? Perhaps, But Environment Also Plays a Role in Fears and Phobias

by Seymour Segnit

Last month scientists announced the discovery of what is being widely called a "fear factor gene" - a gene that influences whether we feel panic and anxiety. Researchers found that the way laboratory mice feel fear is controlled by the gene stathmin. Mice with low levels of a protein produced by stathmin gene were fearless is situations where normal mice felt fear and anxiety.

All of this re-visits the classic nature versus nurture debate, asking how much of our behavior is determined by our genes and how much is learned from our environment and life experience. Can we really control our fears and phobias or has biology wired certain people to be phobic?

I have a great deal of interest in this debate, because I've spent the last several years helping hundreds of clients overcome chronic fears and phobias. I've personally helped people overcome common fears such as the fear of flying and fear of public speaking, as well as less common phobias such as the fear of bridges.

While I think that it's wonderful news that scientists have made this genetic link, but there's a risk in announcing it this way.

The danger is that it could trigger a sense of helplessness among many people who suffer from phobias; that people will say "I can't help it, it's in my genes," much like an obese person saying that their weight problem is rooted in genetics, when in fact there is a pattern of personal behavior that aggravates the problem.

Science recognizes that our genes play a role in determining who we are, but environment is also considered a key factor, and the interaction between genes and environment is quite complex. By environment, we mean both your physical environment and your life experience.

I strongly believe that a range of environmental factors influence how people deal with fear. One leading factor is mental attitude.

The first thing I teach my clients is to accept responsibility for their fear, to claim ownership of it. You can only beat your phobia if you do that. And the problem with blaming it all on genetics is that you are definitely not accepting responsibility. You accomplish nothing by saying "I can't help it. It's in my genes. Maybe they'll develop a drug I can take."

With phobias, you're dealing with very strong reactions to what are in some cases quite minor stimuli. I teach people to break the negative association they have to the stimulus, and perhaps even associate it with a positive thing.

People can change their lives and often in rapid and dramatic fashion. Your genes aren't your destiny.

About the author:
CTRN, which stands for Change That's Right Now, has helped hundreds of people overcome chronic fears and phobias using the processes of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Time Line TherapyT. The company offers confidential one-on-one coaching, as well as a home study CD kit.

For more information, please visit the CTRN web site at .

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