“The thought of driving scares the hell out of me,” says Rebecca. “Not only am I afraid to drive, but so are my two sisters.”
Her sister, Zorada, says, “I’m terrified of driving. I’d rather walk than get behind the wheel of a car.”
Their younger sister, Waleska, also fears getting on the road. “Driving is a big obstacle course. Pedestrians, cars honking — everything makes me nervous. Being afraid to drive is in my family,” she says.
Rebecca worries that she’s becoming a burden on her husband. “Thomas is sick and tired of chauffeuring me around,” she says.
Thomas yearns for his wife to be more independent. “The thing that bothers me is that she has to depend on me for pretty much everything — doctors appointments, grocery shopping, taking the kids places. I just want to grab her and say, ‘Forget about it. Get behind the wheel and do it!’ That’s it. I can’t handle it anymore.”
Rebecca becomes physically ill at the thought of driving. “I get in the driver’s side and I just freeze. My hands start sweating. I feel my heart beating. It’s a little nerve wracking,” she confesses. “I’m hoping Dr. Phil can help me get over my fear. My New Year’s resolution is to conquer the fear of driving, and to stop depending on others to drive me places.”
Dr. Phil announces that Zorada was so afraid of driving that she wasn’t able to join her sisters on the show. He observes that Rebecca, 27, and Waleska, 21, are well past driving age and both have permits. “Diagnose yourself,” he says to Rebecca. “What are you saying to yourself at this point?”
“‘I can’t do this,'” she replies.
Addressing Waleska, he says, “What do you say to yourself?”
“My worst fear is hurting someone, let alone hurting myself,” she says.
Dr. Phil points out that neither sister has been in a car accident. “You didn’t, like, wind up in somebody’s living room, jumping the curb,” he jokes. “Do you think the legacy that you’ve gotten from your mother about this has contributed to it?”
“I think so,” Rebecca says.
“What has she told you all your life?”
Rebecca responds, “She said, ‘Depend on a man, and he’ll do everything for you.'”
“Even specifically about driving, right?”
“Yes. She told me to leave the driving to my husband, Thomas. ‘Stay home and take care of the kids. That’s what a woman does.'”
“The most powerful role model in any child’s life is their same sex parent,” Dr. Phil explains. “If your mother has been writing on the slate of who you are with these kinds of messages, ‘This is not for women. This is for men. They’ll do the driving. They’ll take care of things,’ is she wrong? Logically, do you believe she’s wrong?”
“No,” Rebecca says.
“So, you do think women should stay home and not drive?” Dr. Phil asks.
“No. I have the kids so I should stay home, but I want to go out on my own and not depend on my husband,” Rebecca clarifies.
Dr. Phil wonders how Rebecca would respond if an emergency arose and she had no car. “What would you do if your husband was gone, one of the children fell and hurt themselves, and you had to take them to the emergency room?” he probes.
“Then, I would just call an ambulance.”
“And if they just needed medicine?”
Dr. Phil says that both women have been affected by their parental legacy. “I truly believe that you have been programmed to say, ‘This is scary. I can’t handle this. I can’t do it.’ It may have started because you got scared by your mom about this. You got indoctrinated … but then it starts turning into a habit. By the time you start questioning some of those things, now you’ve gotten into the habit of not doing it. You’ve gotten into the habit of relying on others. And that’s a nice payoff, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Rebecca tells him.
Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil advisory board, has been working with both women to help them overcome their fear of driving. “We’ve been doing some desensitization, which is, basically, finding ways to lower anxiety and also create more positive self-concepts and abilities,” Dr. Lawlis explains. “We’ve used imagery, in terms of imagining driving without fear, and we’ve used a lot of automatic positive responses, in terms of saying to yourself, ‘I can do this. I can do this well.’ That will help program the mind to approach these things without fear.”
Both women tell Dr. Phil that they have made progress using Dr. Lawlis’ techniques.
“At the end of the show, do you think with the skills that you’ve learned you might be able to get into a car, not freeze up and take me for a ride?” Dr. Phil asks the sisters.
“Definitely!” Rebecca says.
Waleska is not so confident. Hesitantly, she says yes.
“I’m going to want a little more conviction on that answer before we do it,” Dr. Phil teases her.
At the end of the show, Rebecca and Waleska join Dr. Phil on the studio lot. Turning to Waleska, he says, “Since you’re the biggest chicken in this by your own description, do you think you can get in and drive?”
“I’m just scared of crashing the car,” she says nervously. But she tells Dr. Phil that she wants to give it a shot. They get in the car and buckle up.
“First thing I want you to do is use some of your skills. Right now, I want you to relax. Take a good deep breath,” Dr. Phil encourages her. “Visualize this going really well. We’re in California. It’s a beautiful day. The sun’s shining. It’s time to choose to succeed. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” she says with a determined grin. She starts the car and they drive off down the lot. “I’m a little scared, but it seems to be going well.”
After she successfully parks the car, she swaps seats with Rebecca. “Just calm your body. We’re not in a hurry at all. You’ve got a good-looking guy you’re taking for a ride in your car,” Dr. Phil jokes.
They drive off, and Rebecca tells him that she feels a little tense. “Honey, if you’re watching, I’m doing it!” she shouts to her husband, Thomas, in the studio.
“Are you calm?” Dr. Phil asks.
“Yes, very calm. I have a lot of faith I’m going to get over my fear.”
Dr. Phil brings Rebecca and Waleska back on stage. To the audience, he says, “If you guys have ever dealt with a debilitating fear, you know how hard that is. It’s like, ‘Let’s go play with spiders.'” Turning to Waleska, he says, “How do you feel?”
“What was the hardest thing?” he asks.
She thinks for a minute. “Pushing that gas. I was afraid to push the gas.”
“Did you realize when we were halfway through that you were feeling calm inside?”
“Yes. I was relaxed.”
Addressing Rebecca, he says, “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking, I didn’t hurt you!”
Dr. Phil hugs her. “God bless you for that! We are hugely proud of both of you,” he says, as the audience erupts in applause.