What causes fear?
There aren’t that many things in this world that are inherently scary. An object only becomes an object of fear when a person decides that they view it as a threat. For example, many people are afraid of heights. Fair enough – one could fall and die if they’re on the thin edge of a tall cliff. However, there are also people who are afraid of things that aren’t life-threatening, like public speaking. Nevertheless, it is still a common fear. But why? Clinical psychologist, Dr Dana Dorfman, says, “Common fears [and] phobias are a by-product of one or more of the following causes: evolution, genetics, learned behaviour, or trauma.”
What are the most common fears?
“Fear of heights (acrophobia), closed spaces (claustrophobia), and fear of illness [nosophobia] represent potential threats to our physical safety,” Dorfman notes. The same goes for things like fear of spiders (arachnophobia) and insects. But not all of the top fears have to do with physical threats. According to Dr Dorfman, many of the most common fears are emotional fears, e.g. fear of public speaking or fear of abandonment, isolation, humiliation, shame and sadness.
The sources of phobias are diverse, and some might surprise you, including these strange phobias you never knew existed.
What’s the difference between phobias and fear?
Phobias are an extreme, persistent, irrational fear of objects or situations, but they differ from fear. In addition to immediate anxiety, people with phobias often actively avoid things related to the subject, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the ‘bible’ of psychiatry. People with this type of anxiety disorder also experience excessive or unreasonable fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger. For example, someone with thalassophobia, or fear of the deep ocean, probably won’t travel by ferry, despite the low risk something might go wrong. It’s a reaction that goes beyond the nervousness or uncomfortable feeling of moderate fear and it can impair their ability to live daily life.