What are we all scared of? Is it snakes, heights or even homework? Every single one of us, whether we admit it or not, is scared of something, but does that mean we all suffer from a phobia? To answer this question we must first look at the definition of a phobia.
It is a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer goes to great lengths to avoid, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed and often being recognized as irrational by the sufferer themselves.
They are more than just simple fears and the impact they can have on a life can be significant. Imagine not being able to walk out of your front door because you fear the people on the outside. You try to overcome it. You push yourself to just take one more tiny step but as you move your leg forward, your body starts to tremble, you start sweating, you find it hard to breath, as if something were choking you; headaches, dizziness, a ringing in your ears. You may even faint. It sounds unpleasant but these are only some of the symptoms of a phobia. In this case; agoraphobia, the fear of people and open spaces.
There are many other types of phobias, some more common than others. For example; claustrophobia; fear of enclosed spaces, arachnophobia; spiders, acrophobia; heights, glossophobia; public speaking and hemophobia; fear of blood. There is a phobia for just about anything and if you were to be crafty and use them as excuses you could also get away with just about anything. Alourophobia; the fear of reading aloud, arithmophobia; numbers, bibliophobia; fear of books, epistemophobia; knowledge and scolionophobia; fear of school, could all be used as excuses if you can produce a valid medical certificate.
Although there are many different phobias you will find that sometimes the word phobia, Greek for fear, is just used as a suffix to create many imaginary phobias that do not medically exist. For example Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – fear of long words which is quite obviously a joke and not an actual phobia.
Phobias vary in severity among individuals. Some people can simply avoid the subject of their fear and suffer relatively mild anxiety over that fear whilst other may go into full-blown panic attacks at a mere picture. They can also develop at different times. Simple phobias usually develop in early childhood, often between the ages of four and eight, usually because of an early childhood experience e.g. if as a young child you were trapped in a confined space, you may develop a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) and if you share the same phobia with another family member, such as a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), you may have learned to fear spiders as a child, rather than the phobia being passed on genetically.
The exact causes of more complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia, are unknown. However, it is thought that genetics, brain chemistry and life experiences may all play a part in the development of these phobias.
Nevertheless, they are all treatable through various ways including; counselling, psychotherapy, group therapy, hypnotherapy, and in severe cases antidepressant medications. For anyone with a phobia there is always hope. You were not born this way so there is no reason to accept it.
Phobias can affect everyone and anyone. Male, female, old and young; everyone. Not even the rich and famous are exempt from their effects. Many notable celebrities have admitted to phobias such as Johnny Depp who has clourophobia; fear or clowns, Madonna with brontophobia; fear of thunder, Orlando Bloom; swinophobia, pigs, and Nicole Kidman; lepidopterophobia; fear of butterflies. It is reported that even Julius Caesar, a great Roman emperor who ruled over thousands, had a phobia and it wasn’t defeat or invasion. It was cats. He suffered from ailurophobia, a fact which is not very well-known and which I am sure he would have liked to remain secret.
In fact, some phobias could remain secret forever. An estimated 10 million people in the UK have phobias but the number could be far greater. Either one of us could form a part of this statistic. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, states that if a phobic stimulus, whether it be an object or a social situation, is absent entirely in an environment – a diagnosis cannot be made. An example of this situation would be an person who has a fear of sharks(Selachophobia) but lives in an area devoid of sharks. Even though the concept of sharks causes them distress and impairment, because they do not encounter sharks in the environment no actual distress or impairment is ever experienced.
Therefore, many of us may have phobias that in our present environment we are not aware of or may never be aware of. You may have, novercaphobia – fear of your stepmother but until you get one, you will never know. We may all have dormant phobias. If they ever awaken just remember to seek help…