I have written before about fear, which is one of the strongest emotions humans experience. Fear can be a useful emotion that prevents us from doing things that may hurt us or place us in danger. However, excessive fear can have a detrimental effect on our lives by producing an incapacitating anxiety or even panic which can significantly interfere with everyday life and cause health problems. There are specific fears called “phobias” that involve an irrational fear of a specific object or situation. These phobias may be caused by a bad experience, which normally occurs during childhood, or they may have genetic origins. Those who experience these fears recognize their nature and tend to avoid the object or situation that triggers the phobia. The lifetime worldwide prevalence of these phobias is very variable affecting anywhere from 1.5% to 15% of the population. Phobias tend to affect women more than men, and they tend to begin in childhood and decline thereafter with peaks during midlife and old age.
Human phobias run the gamut from the slight to the severe and from the common to the truly rare, and they can affect people ranging from average persons to celebrities. In this post we will take a look at some specific fears that people have.
The most common phobias involve animals, and they are in general called zoophobias. I once knew a kid who would scream and run away from large dogs. He had a type of cynophobia, which is the fear of dogs (the fear of cats is ailurophobia). The actress Kristen Stewart has a fear of horses (equinophobia), which she had to overcome to film a movie that involved a lot of horseback riding. There are people who are afraid of alligators (aligatoraphobia). This is a specific case of herpetophobia or fear of lizards and snakes. The country singer and songwriter Johnny Cash was afraid of snakes (ophidiophobia). But the object of the fear doesn’t have to be a large scary creature. I knew of a person that was so terrified of frogs that she would faint in their presence. This person had ranidaphobia, which is a specific case of the broader batrachophobia, or fear of amphibians. The feared animal can in fact be something much smaller such as an insect (entomophobia). The singer Justin Timberlake is afraid of spiders (arachnophobia) and the actress Nicole Kidman is afraid of butterflies (lepidopterophobia).
Other common fears are phobias such as fear of heights (acrophobia). A related phobia is fear of flying (aviophobia). I knew a person who could only board a plane under heavy sedation, as that was the only way this person could tolerate flying. The great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov who wrote about flying to the stars had both acrophobia and aviophobia, and he would only travel by vehicle, train, or ship. There are people who are afraid of thunder and lightning (astraphobia), of tight or crowded spaces (claustrophobia), of blood (hemophobia) and even of water (aquaphobia). People with aquaphobia can drink water but they are afraid of larger amounts of water as in oceans, lakes, pools, and even bathtubs. Aquaphobia should not be confused with hydrophobia which is a symptom of the late stages of the disease, rabies. A common and sad phobia is the fear of being alone (autophobia), which can lead people into bad relationships just to avoid being single. Another common phobia is the fear of driving which is known by several names (amaxophobia, ochophobia, motorphobia, or hamaxophobia). This phobia is often combined with other phobias such as dystychiphobia (fear of accidents), hodophobia (fear of travel), or capiophobia (fear of getting arrested).
There are other phobias that are less common, but still affect a significant number of people. I once knew of a war veteran who could not stand celebrations involving fireworks. He suffered from ekrixiphobia, the fear of explosions. People who are afraid of getting cancer have carcinophobia. This is a specific case of the more general nosophobia, which is the fear of developing a disease. People who are pathologically afraid of germs have (mysophobia). The fear of suffering an amputation and of being around amputees is called (apotemnophobia). And as you would expect, the area of sexuality is rife with its own array of phobias that fall under the general fear of sex (genophobia) denomination.
Finally, there are rare phobias some of which may seem truly bizarre.
The fear of belly buttons is omphalophobia.
The fear of objects inside one’s house is oikophobia.
The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth is arachibutyrophobia.
The fear of the color yellow is xanthophobia.
The fear of mothers-in-law is pentheraphobia.
The fear of being afraid is phobophobia.
The fear of money is chrometophobia or chrematophobia.
The fear of happiness is cherophobia.
Perhaps the most ironic of all phobias is, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, which is the fear of long words!
Some people, such as the film director Woody Allen, have so many phobias, that they are said to have panophobia, which is the fear of everything.
Some of the above phobias may seem risible, and in fact very specific phobias have been often the subject of ridicule. The British program The Sketch Show parodied phobias in its Phobia Workshop sketch shown in the video below.
We may be tempted to dismiss some of these rarer phobias as the absurd quirks of eccentric people with too much time on their hands, but if these phobias are severe enough and the stimulus that triggers them is hard to avoid, they can be a source of shame and anxiety that disrupts the life of the individuals afflicted with them and isolates them from society.
Phobias can be treated in several ways. One of them is graded exposure to the trigger of the phobia (exposure therapy) in a controlled environment which nowadays may also involve the use of virtual reality technology. Another treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on changing the thoughts and beliefs people have about their phobias. In the more extreme cases, medications such as antidepressants and anxiolytics may be necessary.
The photograph is property of the author and can only be used with permission.