Phobia or Fear: What Turns A Fear Into A Phobia?

Phobia or fear? Do you know the difference? There are all kinds of fears, such as clowns, flying, crowds, and even spinach. But what turns a fear into a phobia? And what can you do about it? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a phobia as: “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.” Synonyms are: fear, irrational fear, obsessive fear, dreadhorrorterror, revulsion.

If you have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when you encounter the source of your fear. The fear can be of a certain place, situation, or object. Unlike general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually connected to something specific.

The impact ranges from annoying to severely disabling. People often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re helpless to do anything about it. Such fears can ruin their work and personal relationships.

An estimated 19 million Americans have a phobia that causes difficulty in some area of their lives.

So, how does this affect us? Let’s take a look.



Phobia: Three Kinds

Hundreds of different phobias have been identified, including phobophobia or fear of phobias. But when talking about phobias, which are a kind of anxiety disorder, experts divide them into three categories:

  • agoraphobia, an intense anxiety in public places where an escape might be difficult
  • Social phobia, a fear and avoidance of social situations
  • specific phobia, an irrational fear of specific objects or situations


Fear of Public Places

The agora was a market and meeting place in ancient Greece. Someone with agoraphobia is afraid of being trapped in a public place or a place like a bridge or a line at the bank. The actual fear is of not being able to escape if anxiety gets too high. Agoraphobia affects twice as many women as men. If left untreated in extreme cases, it can lead to someone becoming homebound.


Social Phobia: Beyond Being Shy

Someone with a social phobia is not just shy. That person feels extreme anxiety and fear about how he or she will perform in a social situation. Will her actions seem appropriate to others? Can people tell he’s anxious? Will the words be there when it’s time to talk? Because untreated social phobia often leads to avoiding social contact, it can have a major negative impact on a person’s relationships and professional life.


Claustrophobia: Getting Out

Claustrophobia, an abnormal fear of being in enclosed spaces, is a common specific phobia. A person with claustrophobia can’t ride in elevators or go through tunnels without extreme anxiety. Afraid of suffocating or being trapped, the person will avoid tight spaces and often engages in “safety seeking behavior,” such as opening windows or sitting near an exit. That makes the situation tolerable, but it doesn’t relieve the fear.


Phobia: Zoophobia:

The most common type is fear of animals. Zoophobia is actually a generic term that includes a group of phobias involving specific animals. Such phobias often develop in childhood and sometimes go away as the child ages. But they can also continue into adulthood.


Fear of Thunder

The Greek word bronte means thunder and brontophobia means fear of thunder. Even though people with brontophobia may realize thunder won’t hurt them, they refuse to go outside during a thunderstorm. They may even hide indoors by crouching behind a couch or waiting out the storm in a closet. Astraphobia is the abnormal fear of  thunder and lightning.


Fear of Heights

Acrophobia is an excessive fear of heights and results in severe anxiety. Sometimes the fear is so great a person can’t move.


Afraid to Fly

This phobia develops after a person had a traumatic experience involving an airplane, such as going through extreme turbulence or witnessing a panic attack. Hypnotherapy identifies and treats this phobia.


Blood Phobias

There are people who are phobic to blood (hemophobia) and are afraid to get an injection (trypanophobia).  These phobias can lead fainting.



Emetophobia is an unnatural fear of vomiting that typically starts early in life from some traumatic episode. For example, someone witnessed a schoolmate vomiting in public. The anxiety is triggered by thoughts of vomiting or thinking of a hospital, where vomiting is common. As with aerophobia, hypnotherapy is used in part of the treatment.


Fear of Cancer

Every bodily discomfort becomes a sign that they have a malignant growth somewhere inside. A headache, for instance, is a sign for them that they have a brain tumor. Cognitive therapy will help someone regain control of their life.


New to Old Phobias

Someone who fears anything new has a neophobia. And someone who is afraid of growing old or afraid of old people has a gerontophobia. Somewhere in between, you might find someone with phartophobia, which is an unreasonable fear of passing gas in a public place. Someone with odontiatophobia will go out of his way to avoid going to a dentist.


Life Altering Effects

Phobias cause people to change how they live in order to avoid the object of their fear. But their life is also affected by their attempts to conceal the phobia from others. They have problems with friends and family, fail in school, and lose jobs while struggling to cope.


Phobias and Alcohol

Alcoholics can be up to 10 times more likely to suffer from a phobia. And phobic individuals can be twice as likely to be addicted to alcohol as those who have never been phobic.



Although phobias can be influenced by culture and triggered by life events, they often run in families. Immediate family members of relatives with phobias are three times more likely to have a phobia compared to those without a family history.


Treating Phobias

Desensitization is a process of gradually exposing someone to circumstances that resemble what he fears. Over time, the fear lessens as the person builds confidence. This is often accompanied by talk therapy to help change how he or she thinks and develop new patterns of response. The good news is treatment helps 90% of people who follow through.



Watch this informative video on phobia:


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