As a society, we are aware of fear from a very early age. Whether it is exposure to something which we are afraid of, or a situation which overwhelms us, we can recount a time when we were frightened or scared. When it comes to phobias, however, our understanding of them, their symptoms, their debilitating affect, is lacking. Sure, we might be able to name a few, but can we truly separate fact from fiction?
Phobias, defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. This irrational fear can disrupt your daily lifestyle and affect your mental wellbeing as well. The symptoms of a phobia can occur when a person is exposed to the subject of their fear for a brief or prolonged time. Its symptoms can range from breathlessness, dizziness, to nausea. In many cases, these symptoms can lead to heightened anxiety.
What is important to recognise is that not every fear of something is automatically a phobia. This narrative leads to a lot of confusion and ultimately diminishes the lived reality of those who suffer from a phobia. This in turn feeds into some damaging myths which make it hard for phobia sufferers to seek out support in a society which perpetuates taboos in this area. Here are five of those myths, debunked.
Myth: People who have a phobia are crazy
Many people are too ignorant about various mental health problems, hence the usage of the word “crazy” or “insane” (which is ableist language worth avoiding). People with different phobias are not crazy. Whatever your fear, it is treatable with the right help and support from trained professionals and a positive negative of friends and family.
Myth: A phobia is just fear, magnified
People with phobias are often told that their fear isn’t real and to “get over it”. The big difference between fear and phobia is that phobias of a certain object or situation are more likely to affect a person’s relationships, their ability to perform normal activities, and their daily life. Fear of something can be easily confronted, but confronting a phobia is difficult and taxing, and comes with a host of challenging physical and mental sympotoms.
Myths: Phobias are just personality traits
There are some who believe this myth, and they therefore think that you can't overcome phobias and can be heard saying "that's just the way they are." This may be a common reaction to your fear from friends and family. Although some phobias are more difficult to treat than others, there is little evidence to support this personality traits theory. The success rate of both short and long term phobia treatment is very high, therefore dispelling the idea that they are part of one’s personality.
Myth: Phobias are genetic
There is no concrete evidence to back up this myth. It is true that where one parent has a diagnosed phobia, there is the potential for this to contribute to their child developing a fear or phobia. However, the research into this area simply isn’t conclusive. For the most part, a phobia can be developed through a traumatic experience, particularly at childhood, such as being bitten by a dog.
Myth: Phobias can’t be overcome.
Simply not true. Yes, phobias can affect individuals for a long time, and they certainly won’t simply go away on their own. But for those who do seek treatment and support, the outlook is positive. There are many treatment options available for overcoming phobias, and the most suitable option may differ for each person. Two of the most popular, and successful, are exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
There is evidence to support the role of exposure therapy in helping people to overcome their phobias. Additionally, multiple treatment sessions may help in managing long term effects for phobias. These treatment options can allow people who have specific phobias to resume some of their usual activities, free from extreme anxiety and panic.
In fact, oVRcome are continuing to develop a programme which supports individuals who have phobias, from a fear of heights to needles and even spiders. Utilising virtual reality and exposure therapy, the approach demonstrates how technology can support health professionals achieve positive outcomes for us all. You can read more about it in an earlier blog post - How does exposure therapy work?
Do you want to know more about phobias and how they can start? Or maybe you’d like to take a test to see if those things you fear are actually a phobia? Why not check out this page on our website to watch a video from clinical psychologist Kathryn Harvey about phobias. You’ll also find our free phobia assessment tests there too.