Defining Specific Phobia
Specific phobia is defined as an extremely repulsive fear of a specific object/event/person that is actually out of proportion to the actual threat posed by that specific object of fear. People with such behavior are often aware of their condition and are consequently distressed about their phobia.
Like other anxiety behavioral disorders, specific phobia is borne in the central nervous system and may be due to some unpleasant encounter with the specific object at some point during his/her life. For instance, people with a phobia of lizards may actually be obsessed with lizards and may excuse themselves from events in which there is a possibility of encountering a lizard. It tends to create “demons in the head” about the specific objects. While it happens to be one of the most common and “non-fatal” forms of anxiety disorders, it can catapult into major disorders like PTSD and stress shocks if not treated properly.
Some of the most common types of this disorder include:
- Animal Type: These include fears of animals such as dogs, cats, spiders, bugs, mice, rats, birds, fish, and snakes.
- Blood-Injection-Injury Type: These include fears of seeing blood, watching medical procedures like operation, and being in a situation that involves blood and injury in general
- Situational Type: involves fear of being in a situation: caught in an elevator, caught in the dark, public speaking etc.
Signs and Symptoms
- Excessive and persistent fear of a specific object or situation
- Panting heartbeat, heavy breathing and feeling dizzy on encounter
- Distress due to particular anxiety and fear
- Avoidance of situations and objects
- Getting aggressive and restless on the news of encountering that which is feared
Causes and Risk Factors:
Like most anxiety related behavioral disorders, specific phobia can be attributed to multiple reasons at both the psychological and scientific levels. The presence or anticipation of a specific object tends to turn on the “escape or combat” mechanism of the human brain, leading to anxiety and phobia. Some of the major causes include:
- Traumatic encounters during childhood
- An upbringing wherein the object was used to scare the child to correct the child’s behavioral traits. For example, if a particular object (a broom) was used to scare the child in order for the child to fall asleep, the child may develop an everlasting phobia of brooms, even during adulthood
- Observational learning experiences: people tend to pick up a fear of objects and situations by looking at others.
- Informational learning: People may develop a fear for something because there is enough evidence to project that object as a threat (For example, a hoarding stating “snakes are poisonous” may etch an irreversible phobia of snakes in a person’s mind)
- Cultural beliefs
People suffering from specific phobia tend to be exposed to a number of risks like:
- Excessive aggression
- Nervousness in anticipation of encounter
- Behavioral and personality disorders like PTSD and anxiety shocks
- Mental shocks
Specific phobia is hard to treat because the origin of fear is mostly unknown. It is not a persistent condition, therefore medication is of very less help. The best way to treat is by way of cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is utilized to make a person realize that the scale of his or her phobia is out of proportion as compared to the actual extent of danger being posed by the object. The person is made to face his/her fears repeatedly, with exposure therapy or increased receptiveness to the specific object/event. Both treatments can be found at rehabilitation facilities. Teams of professionals can work with patients to help them realize that specific phobia can be consuming and potentially life-altering if left untreated.