Phobias are a very common disorder in the United States these days. The definition for phobia is “an abnormal or morbid fear or aversion” (”Oxford” 655). To be considered a phobia, a fear must cause great distress or interfere with a person s life in a major way. The word phobia is Greek, therefore, any word that proceeds it should be Greek too. To coin a new phobia name, it is proper and only accepted to follow this rule. The rule has been broken many times in the past, especially by the medical profession. The medical profession is steeped in Latin and many times when forming a name for phobia, they use Latin.
There are three kinds of phobias: simple phobia, social phobia, and panic attacks. Simple phobias, also called specific phobias, are fears of a specific thing, such as spiders or being in a closed place. Most simple phobias develop during childhood and eventually disappear. Specific phobia is a marked fear of a specific object or situation. It is a category for any phobias other than agoraphobia and social phobia. The categories of specific phobias are 1. situational phobias such as: fear of elevators, airplanes, enclosed places, public transportation, tunnels, or bridges; 2. fear of the natural environment such as: storms, water, or heights; 3. animal phobias such as: fear of dogs, snakes, insects, or mice; 4. blood-injection-injury phobia such as: fear of seeing blood or an injury, or of receiving an injection. (Wood 520).
Social phobias are fears of being in situations where your activities can be watched and judged by others. People with social phobias try to avoid social functions at all costs and find excuses not to go to parties or out on dates. This avoidance is the difference between having a social phobia and simply just being shy.
Panic attacks are the third kind of phobia. They can change the quality of a person s life. Someone with a phobia this bad may be shopping at the supermarket and suddenly experience dizziness and a feeling of being out of control. At that moment, the person experiences a fear of dying, with no safe place to go. When this happens more than once, the person might think they are going crazy. Someone with panic attacks soon won t leave the house because of fear of a panic attack happening outside the house. Soon, depression sets in.
What causes phobias? Researchers do not agree on any one definite cause of a phobia. Simple phobias, however, are often the result of a bad childhood experience. A tendency towards phobias, especially panic attacks, may run in families. Genes appear to play a role in all cases of phobias. A person has three times the risk of developing a phobia if a close relative suffers from one. (Wood 516). From the phsycodynamic perspective, people develop phobias primarily as a defense against the anxiety they feel when sexual or aggressive impulses threaten to break into consciousness. If the anxiety can be displaced onto a feared object and if that object can be avoided, then there is less chance that the disturbing impulse will break through.
Phobias may be acquired through observational learning, as well. For example, children who hear their parents talking about frightening experience with the dentist, with bugs or thunder storms may develop similar fears themselves. Frightening experiences set the stage for phobias, yet not all phobias recall the experience producing the phobia. For example, if a person was humiliated by performing in front of others, they may develop a social phobia.
Social phobia is the third largest medical problem in the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, (NIMH), social phobia is “a disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self -consciousness in social situations.” Social phobia is defined “as people intensely afraid of any social or performance situation in which they might embarrass or humiliate themselves in front of others – where they might shake, blush, sweat, or in some other way appear clumsy, foolish, or incompetent” (Wood 504). People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being scrutinized by others, or of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. People with a social phobia start to avoid social situations because anxiety levels become so high that they often don t want to leave their home. This illness causes people to avoid making contact with other individuals, having close relationships, and hurt opportunities to advance in their careers. There are many physical symptoms which accompany social phobia. They include: blushing, profuse sweating, trembling and other symptoms of anxiety, including difficulty talking and nausea or other stomach discomforts. As people with social phobia worry about experiencing the symptoms, the greater the chance they will experience the symptoms.
Social phobia often runs in families and may be accompanied by depression or alcoholism. The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence and rarely develops after age 25. Social phobia occurs in women twice as often as in men although a higher portion of men seek help for this particular disorder, according to the NIMH.
Researchers say social phobia may be caused by a small structure in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is a central site in the brain that controls fear responses. Animal studies are adding to the evidence that suggests social phobia can be inherited. The NIMH recently identified the site of a gene in mice that affects learned fearfulness. Scientists believe that the sensitivity due to social phobia may be physiologically, there might be a biochemical basis for the disorder. The World of Psychology book states that “the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a important role in anxiety attacks.” A process called observational learning or social modeling is when a person with social phobia acquires their fear from observing the behavior and consequences of others. Lowered self- esteem, depression, and even suicide attempt are all consequences of a social phobia.
One of the most common phobias is claustrophobia, which is defined as “an abnormal fear of confined places” (”Oxford” 268). An estimated five million Americans, two thirds of them women, suffer from this anxiety disorder. Claustrophobia is often characterized as “feeling trapped” (Smith 1). A claustrophobe feels uncontrollable panic at the thought of taking an elevator, flying in an airplane, riding an amusement park ride, or sitting in a crowded theater. They feel an unreasoning fear that far exceeds the real risks. Often, they develop symptoms to match like: shortness of breath, constriction of the chest, palpitations, trembling, nausea, and feeling of probable doom. People with claustrophobia, try to avoid any place where they could become trapped. Only a small percentage of claustrophobic s seek treatment (Smith 1).
The best known treatment for claustrophobia is Cognitive/Behavioral therapy. It states that even though you may not be able to unlearn fear, you can learn new responses to it. For example, with an airplane – shy claustrophobe, the treatment may begin with a few trips to the airport. Next, therapist and patient will sit in an airplane on the ground, and finally, they will fly. The claustrophobe armed with strategies to control panic if it hits (Smith 2). If their symptoms are very severe, antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft are used to provide relief. By using the Cognitive/Behavioral therapy in conjunction with medicine, results can be maximized.
Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Many people suffer from this phobia and cringe even at the thought of a spider. I watched the movie Arachnophobia to understand more about the phobia. From watching the movie, I came to the conclusion that I have a slight fear of spiders. I knew that I didn t like spiders in the first place but as I watched the movie, my fear grew. A few times I actually had to either fast forward a part or cover my eyes until the spiders were gone. There were many spiders during the course of the movie. They ranged from babies to full fledge five pound spiders. The big spiders are what really got to me. I can t even look at one without cringing. When I see spiders, I scream and yell until someone will come kill it for me. When I try to remember what makes me so afraid of spiders, I think of the time when my best friend had a sleep-over. We all stayed up late and slept in the same room in sleeping bags. When I woke up in the morning, there was a big spider staring at me on the top of my pillow. Ever since then, I have been afraid of spiders.
The reactions phobics have can be analyzed into three components: subjective, autonomic, and motor.
The subjective aspect of a phobic response is experienced by the person as an alarming feeling of intense fear, tension or full panic, and is expressed in a variety of ways (Rachman 1). For example, some patients feel like they are dying, suffocating, or even like they are going to faint or collapse.
The autonomic reaction will include one or more of the following physiological changes: rapid respiration, sweating, trembling, palpitations, muscular tension and/or weakness, “butterflies in the stomach,” involuntary excretion, breathlessness, nausea, or dryness of the mouth (Rachman 1).
Back in the 60 s, the most effective way to treat phobias was systematic desensitization. This procedure was the most widely used of all the methods of behavior therapy and is closely connected with experimental psychology. Desensitization was developed by Professor Wolpe. He arrived at this method, which may be described as a gradual deconditioning of anxiety responses, by experimentally inducing neurotic disturbances (Dozier 40). Wolpe carried out a series of experiments on the artificial induction of neurotic disturbances in cats and came to the conclusion that the most satisfactory way of treating these neurotic animals was by a gradual deconditioning process along the lines of inhibiting the unadaptive reaction by superimposing upon it an antagonistic response (Dozier 40). To make it easier to understand, the patient is told to imagine the object they are scared of. Once they have a mental picture they are relaxed and told to stop imaging the scene. Then the process is repeated and repeated.
New treatments are in the workings. New research using high-tech imaging techniques has begun to illuminate exactly how fear alters the brain and to suggest startling new avenues for diagnosing and treating disorders and phobias (Smith 1). Doctors use PET scans and MRIs to see the fear reaction in the brain. According to author Nancy Smith, “There is a characteristic difference in the way phobics respond to certain conditions. Probably because of a genetic predisposition, these patients are more fearful and their fear more indelible. Since these fears seem to follow different pathways through the circuitry of the brain, they may be operating through different brain chemicals. It s entirely possible that eventually we will be able to treat phobias with drugs specifically designed for each disorder” (Smith 2). Pharmaceutical companies are also working to develop such drugs.
Children are less likely to develop fears when they are in the company of a trusted and reassuring adult than when they are alone. Also, children are less likely to develop fears when they are with unafraid children than when they are with frightened children. It was found that the fear (or lack of fear) displayed by the child s mother was an important determinant of her child s fears (Rachman 37).
According to Rachman, author of Phobias – Their Nature and Control, there are ten basic theories of phobias and they are: 1. Phobias are learned responses; 2. Stimuli develop phobic qualities when they are associated temporally and spatially with a fear producing state of affairs; 3. Neutral stimuli which are of relevance in the fear producing situation and/or make an impact on the person in the situation are more likely to develop phobic qualities than weak or irrelevant stimuli; 4. Repetition of the association between the fear situation and the new phobic stimuli will strengthen the phobia; 5. Associations between high-intensity fear situations and neutral stimuli are more likely to produce phobic reactions; 6. Generalization from the original phobic stimulus to stimuli of a similar nature will occur; 7. Noxious experiences which occur under conditions of excessive confinement are more likely to produce phobic reactions; 8. Neutral stimuli which are associated with a noxious experience, may develop motivating properties. This acquired drive is termed the fear drive; 9. Responses (such as avoidance) which reduce the fear drive are reinforced; 10. Phobic reactions can be acquired vicariously (Rachman 31). These theories are used to identify how people obtain phobias and other situations that may occur with phobias.
In conclusion, phobias are a big part of many people s lives these days and a growing medical condition. People do not realize how badly phobias can affect their lives so they don t receive medical attention. There are no cures for phobias but there are treatments which will help the phobic get over their fear. I personally believe that if people care enough about their lives, they will treat their phobias. Phobias can totally alter your life so if you have any of the symptoms I have listed above, please go and get treatment.