Fears and Phobias

All phobias are fears, but not all fears are phobias.  Some fears are very healthy emotions, but phobias are not.  A phobia is defined as an unhealthy, extreme, and irrational fear or aversion toward an object or situation.  Thus, when people face the object of their fears, their behavior is outside of the normal realm of reactions, despite the fact that they may actually understand the irrationality of their reactions.

All fears, with the exception of two are learned.  [Babies are born fearing only loud noises and falling backwards.]  Most fears that we learn are healthy, as we learn to avoid death, injury, or pain.  These fears are made instinctive in our Middle Mind as we grow and learn.  Fear of being burned by fire or hot things in the kitchen is necessary.  Fear of dangerous snakes is wise.  Learning to fear falling from heights is a solid survival strategy.  However, shrieking at a picture of a snake, or sweating profusely while riding an escalator, or avoiding a kitchen completely when the stove is on are illogical overreactions to fears that can impede lifestyles.  A phobic cannot rationally change his or her reaction.  Logic and reason do not reach the Middle Mind where these mis-programmed behaviors reside.

A phobia is always characterized by anxiety.  Phobics recognize that their fears are unreasonable and their reactions are excessive, but they can only try to avoid the object of their fears.  They cannot consciously overcome them.  Depending upon the seriousness of the phobia, the trigger will vary.  The fear of a diamondback rattlesnake is valid. Severe fear generated by a television video of a rattlesnake, however, rises to the level of a phobia.  A still photo of a rattler which causes some type of anxiety is a more severe problem, but a fear generated simply by the mention of a rattlesnake is now reaching the extreme level of a phobia.

To be a phobia, a fear must elicit an irrational behavioral response.  I do not like snakes of any kind.  All snakes get my attention, but once I am comfortably far enough away to evaluate the type of snake I have encountered, I am reasonably calm.  I have no need to scream, strike it, or faint unless it threatens me in some way.  I am a big believer, though, in long handled shovels as my snake weapon of choice, should I need it.

A person who views a snake from a safe distance and yet breaks out into a sweat, even if the snake is not a threat, may be suffering from a phobia.  A racing heart, shrieks of fear, and a furious flight may be next.  At worse, uncontrolled panic attacks and hyperventilation may overwhelm a phobic. 

Phobias need attention when they begin to interfere with normal lifetime activities or relationships.  A fear of flying by a family member can impact the travel plans of the entire clan.  Typically, one who suffers from a phobia understands his fear is unreasonable, and he may be embarrassed by his reactions.  This embarrassment may lead to withdrawal, as even the acknowledgement of the fear becomes an object of avoidance.

Phobias can start in a number of ways.  Remember, phobias are learned behaviors; they are not learned solely in the conscious mind.  Facts may enter the mind, but our emotions are involved in constructing and cementing our fears.  Sometimes a single traumatic (and emotional) event can trigger a phobia.  A severe car accident may create a fear of driving or of even being a passenger in a car.  A series of smaller but troubling events can also generate phobias such as the flight attendant who develops a fear of flying after repeated trips dealing with turbulence.

Stress of any kind can attach to something totally unrelated to the stressor and generate a phobia.  A spouse experiencing stress in a marriage is more susceptible to developing a phobia.  A student under stress may fixate upon something totally unrelated and become irrationally afraid of pencils.  A child being physically disciplined by a parent can have an emotionally charged response to a certain location (closets, rooms) or objects (belts, shoes).  

While some phobias develop through events that happen to us, others develop through events that happen to those around us.  A mother who is afraid of spiders or mice is likely to influence the developing behaviors of her daughter.  Those whom we most respect and trust may serve as examples in our lives to foster the development of phobias.

Most common phobias can fall into several broad categories.  The first category, Insect and Animal Phobias, include the typical suspects (spiders) to the more docile (cows) and to most of the creatures of God’s creation, both great and small.  The second category, Natural or Environmental Phobias, include fears of darkness, heights, and water.

Medical Procedures and Injuries form a third category of phobias.  Here we include the fears of receiving injections, having surgery, or dealing with any other type of medical, usually invasive, procedure.

Situational Phobias make up a relatively common group of fears that include fears of flying, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), and open spaces (agoraphobia).  Other less common situation phobias include fears of elevators, fears of escalators, and even fears of attending school.

There are some fears that defy categorizing.  Where do we put Cosmo Kramer’s fear of clowns?  I recently read of a woman who used hypnotherapy to overcome fears related to all things “Michael Jackson.”  Apparently as a child she was traumatized upon viewing Jackson’s Thriller video, and the fear had morphed into a fear of his music, his image, and of any reference to him at all.  Another report stated that one woman suffered high levels of anxiety when she observed other people eating.  What a recluse she became before benefitting from hypnosis-based therapy.


Here are the ten most common phobias, starting with the most common:

  • Arachnophobia (spiders)
  • Ophidiophobia (snakes)
  • Acrophobia (heights)
  • Agoraphobia (open spaces or crowded spaces)
  • Cynophobia (dogs)
  • Astrophobia (thunder and lightening)
  • Claustrophobia (small spaces)
  • Mysophobia (germs)
  • Aerophobia (flying)
  • Trypophobia (holes)

Other (interesting) phobias include: 

Apiphobia                or the fear of Bees
Bromidrophobia     or the fear of Body smells
Cariophobia            or the fear of Heart/Heart Diseases
Coprophobia           or the fear of Feces
Dendrophobia        or the fear of Trees
Dentalphobia          or the fear of Dentists/Dentistry
Emetophobia          or the fear of Vomiting
Erythrophobia        or the fear of Blushing/Color Red
Frigophobia            or the fear of Cold/Cold Things
Gerontophobia       or the fear of Elderly People/Growing Old
Hippophobia          or the fear of Horses
Ichthyophobia        or the fear of Fish
Isolophobia             or the fear of Being Alone
Kainophobia           or the fear of New Things
Koniophobia           or the fear of Dust
Ligyrophobia          or the fear of Loud Noises
Lygophobia             or the fear of Darkness
Mechanophobia     or the fear of Mechanical Things
Molysmophobia     or the fear of Being contaminated
Necrophobia           or the fear of Dead Things/Death
Ornithphobia         or the fear of Birds
Social Phobia         or the fear of Negative Evaluations in Social Settings
Technophobia        or the fear of Technology
Zoophobia               or the fear of Animals

A fear of one object or situation is called a specific phobia.  Phobias which branch out, causing the same reaction for different or varied items are known as complex phobias.  A fear of snakes that broadens to a fear of jump ropes or extension cords is an example of a complex phobia.

Although each individual’s phobia battle is unique, hypnotherapy has the answer.  The key to success is the client’s very own mind – that is where the magic happens.  The hypnotherapist plays an integral role in translating the issues to be addressed and goals being sought into language that the client’s Middle Mind will process as the recipe for cooking up new, permanent behaviors in response to the phobias’ triggers.

On a first visit, the hypnotherapist wants to accomplish several things.  First, the therapist wants to get to know the client.  Key information she will need includes how the client communicates and processes information.  As the conversation narrows to the phobia, the hypnotherapist will explore the history of the phobia, using questions such as these:

  • When did the phobia manifest and what were the circumstances?
  • When did the phobia first begin to cause problems?
  • What has been the worst phobic experience?
  • Describe the last phobic experience.
  • Are there others close to you who share similar phobias?
  • Describe the specific details of this particular phobia. (What snakes bother you most? What height begins to cause you to panic?  Does the size of the dog matter?)
  • What benefits do you see from conquering this phobia?

Simply working through the background of your particular phobia may have some therapeutic benefit!

The therapist will next begin to explore the goals you want to achieve and the plan for in-session hypnotherapy.  You will also work out your after-session application plans to practice the skills you are developing.

You will undergo hypnosis in order to investigate the problematic behavior and to supply your Middle Mind with the necessary language to reprogram your behavior.  The goal is to desensitize you to the cause of your phobia.  The objective is to develop a reasoned approach to the object or the situation that triggers your phobic behaviors.  A myriad of technical approaches is available for the hypnotherapist to use, including developing an anxiety hierarchy, using regression therapy, or using neuro-linguistic programming.  The options that hypnotherapy provides and the record of successes with treating phobias should provide any sufferer with the encouragement he or she needs to proceed with treatment!