A phobia is an anxiety disorder in which you feel intense fear of a particular object or situation, but know all the time that there is no real danger.
The dictionary definition of the word “Phobia” is “Fear” but, a better word could be “Avoidance”, as most phobia sufferers avoid the situations or objects which they fear.
A phobia is an excessive or unreasonable fear of an object, place or situation. Simple phobias are fears of specific things such as insects, infections, flying. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in places where one feels “trapped” or unable to get help, such as in crowds, on a bus, or standing in a queue. A social phobia is a marked fear of social or performance situations.
Phobias are extremely common. Sometimes they start in childhood for no apparent reason; sometimes they emerge after a traumatic event; and sometimes they develop from an attempt to make sense of an unexpected and intense anxiety or panic (e.g. “I feel fearful, therefore I must be afraid of something”).
When the phobic person actually encounters, or even anticipates being in the presence of the feared object or situation, he/she experiences immediate anxiety. The physical symptoms of anxiety may include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, chest or abdominal discomfort, trembling, etc. and the emotional component involves an intense fear – of losing control, embarrassing oneself, or passing out.
Commonly people try to escape, and then to avoid the feared situation wherever possible. This may be fairly easy if the feared object is rarely encountered (e.g. fear of snakes) and avoidance will not therefore restrict the person’s life very much. At other times (e.g. agoraphobia, social phobia) avoiding the feared situation limits their life severely. Escape and avoidance also make the feared object/situation more frightening.
With some phobias the person may have specific thoughts which attribute some threat to the feared situation. This is particularly true for social phobia where there is often a fear of being negatively evaluated by others, and for agoraphobia when there may be a fear of collapsing and dying with no one around to help, or of having a panic attack and making a fool of oneself in front of other people.
With some phobias there may be accompanying frightening thoughts (this plane might crash; I’m trapped; I must get out). However with other phobias it is more difficult to identify any specific thoughts which could be associated with the anxiety (e.g. it is unlikely that a spider phobic is afraid of making a fool of themselves in front of the spider). With these phobias the cause seems to be explained more as a conditioned (learned) anxiety response which has become associated with the feared object.
Some people have phobias of everyday things that most of us never even notice – e.g. birds, buttons, frogs, hedgehogs etc etc.
I recently watched a TV programme about phobias and there was a guy who was terrified of baked beans. He recognised the familiar looking Heinz tin of beans and every time he saw a can of beans he was terrified. He even avoided the aisle in the supermarket that had shelves stacked with bean cans. When they presented him with similar looking tins – that did not contain baked beans – he was still felt terrified yet when they showed him a tin of baked beans in a plain tin he was able to at least hold it.
He had actually developed a brand specific fear and to other foodstuffs that were in similar coloured/looking tins. He also preferred tins that had to be opened with a can opener rather than a ring pull as he felt it was safer.
He felt it was taking over his life cos he couldn’t cook beans for the kids and it stopped him shopping! He was given EFT hypnosis and exposure therapy and was eventually able to open a tin of beans and look at them.
Some of us have phobias so we avoid the situation but others feel that it is taking over their lives cos the object of fear is all around – e.g. like birds! These sort of phobias do need treatment cos they effect the quality of life. I am afraid of heights so I just avoid places that are high up – easy! It does not effect my quality of life and does not stop me doing anything.
Want to see a full list of phobias and their official names, then click here. Some of these are quite bizarre!
Click on the following links for more information about some common phobias.