Scary forest swamp

Phobias are irrational fears of particular things: situations (like being in public, or public speaking), animals (snakes, spiders, dogs), people (tall men, clowns, priests) or places (heights, open spaces, farms). While there are certain phobias that are far more common than others, and some that are very rare or unheard of, the range of phobias reported in therapy is almost endless. Sometimes, phobias are so persistent they interfere with the ability to function. Phobias of driving, or of being in open spaces, talking on the phone, or being around other people can severely disrupt a person’s life – and that of their family and close friends.

Irrationality in Phobia

True phobia is recognized by the phobic person as being irrational, yet unable to overcome the fear. This indicates the person has not split from reality, as in schizophrenia. The key word in the definition is “irrational.” Being afraid of a large snarling canine running towards you in a park or on the street is rational. Exercising caution before going near a dog is wise. If you have been attacked by dogs, a period of recovery where your fear of dogs is increased and intensified is normal; a very long period might indicate Post Traumatic Stress more than a true phobia. However, a fear of dogs is phobic if, for example, a person will never go near any dog, even a household pet on a leash calmly sleeping, or becomes terrified at even the sound of dogs barking in the distance. Phobias also persist – they don’t get better with time, unless treated. Phobias seem to have no apparent cause, but therapy often reveals one, and can then begin offering solutions. Phobias usually have a root in childhood, and may hide deeper fears having nothing directly to do with the consciously feared thing or situations.

Common Phobias

Agoraphobia is diagnosed when a person fears that he or she will have a panic attack in public and thus avoids public spaces. Sometimes, this fear arises even though the person has never had a panic attack. Other common phobias include fears of storms, blood, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), insects, germs, and loud noises. Phobias seem to have a familial inheritance pattern, whether genetic or learned, and often are apparent in childhood, diminishing and sometimes disappearing in adulthood, but often resurfacing later in life again.

Social phobia or social anxiety is diagnosed when there is "A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing. (In children, there must be evidence of the capacity for age-appropriate social relationships with familiar people and the anxiety must occur in peer settings, not just in interactions with adults.)

What Does Having a Reaction to a Phobia Feel Like?

Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a panic attack.

Note: In children, the anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or shrinking from social situations with unfamiliar people. Thus, the feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress, which interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.

Phobias Rooted in Inadequacy - Case Example

Zack, 29, seeks help for his fear of going out in public, and of enclosed spaces. He already takes a medication for anxiety but “it’s not helping.” The therapist works with Zack to uncover the beginnings of this fear, and soon Zack is able to discover great anger at his parents and great fear of his own inadequacy. Working on these emotions, while gradually exposing Zack to open and closed spaces (with help from his closest friend, who accompanies him), therapy reduces Zack anxiety and frees him to function.

  • Acrophobia

    While most people experience some level of fear associated with extreme heights, acrophobia is an excessive fear of heights that can be debilitating for some and distressing to others. Acrophobia can develop from a traumatic experience, it may be learned from an early childhood parent or caregiver, or it could just be a natural survival instinct.  Read More

  • Claustrophobia

    Claustrophobia is the intense fear of small, enclosed spaces, coupled with the fear of being trapped in these spaces. The cause of claustrophobia is unclear, and the settings in which a person may experience claustrophobia are varied, but the symptom of panic is universal.  Read More

  • Mysophobia

    Mysophobia is the obsessive fear of germs or contamination that disrupts a person's normal activity. Our culture has grown increasingly fearful of germs, as evidenced by the surge in availability of hand sanitizers and other antibacterial products, but mysophobia is indicated only when a person fixates on sanitation or uses antibacterial products obsessively.  Read More

  • Aerophobia

    A person who experiences aerophobia, the fear of flying, may experience severe panic on an airplane or avoid air travel altogether. The fear of flying may also be associated with acrophobia, claustrophobia, and generalized anxiety.  Read More

  • Ophidophobia

    Ophidophobia is one of the most common phobias, with about a third of people experiencing the phobia to some degree. Some people with a snake phobia also have a more generalized phobia of reptiles known as herpetophobia.  Read More

  • Trypanophobia

    Trypanophobia, commonly known as needle phobia, is the extreme fear of needles. People with trypanophobia may go to great lengths to avoid procedures such as injections or blood draws, and symptoms can include a drop in blood pressure, panic, fear of doctors, and the fear of blood.  Read More

  • Cynophobia

    Cynophobia is the extreme fear of dogs that often results from a traumatic experience with an ill-behaved dog. Cynophobia is one of the most common animal phobias.  Read More


Last updated: 07-03-2015

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