How Do People Get Phobias? Or Why Do We Get Them?

  • GreatUnknown

    GreatUnknown (150)

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    I've always wondered this because I have a very unhealthy fear of spiders. Just the word alone give me the chills. I can't go searching on why we get phobias in fear of seeing a picture of a spider off to the side explaining why we get them. I don't have many fears because my spider fear overshadows all of them. I can't even stand the thought of them or I'll start to feel like one is crawling on me. Yeah, I know I need help. But how do we develop them? It's unexplainable why I'm scared of spiders. I'm also scared of public speaking because I feel like no one gives a crap about what I'm saying, at least in high school anyways. I want to know if it's hereditary or something that just happens? And what's your biggest fear?
    December 14th, 2010 at 06:39am
  • Jewel Nicole

    Jewel Nicole (100)

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    Good question, I don't know. I would say that it's because of something traumatizing that has happened to someone once, but then some people fear death (like me), so I don't know. XD
    December 14th, 2010 at 07:20am
  • svefn-gengar

    svefn-gengar (240)

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    Phobias on the whole tend to arise due to a certain traumatic experience from the person's past. For example, a person with a phobia of water may have developed said phobia from a past experience involving them nearly drowning. In a way it's like an evolutionary function, that the person then has a great aversion to whatever it was that caused the trauma (the association of the thing itself with a sense of fear or danger).

    Another idea is that it's learnt behaviour (social learning theory); that if a person sees another person reacting badly to a certain thing, they will follow suit. For example, a case of arachnaphobia may have been caused by that person seeing, say, their mother in rigid fear after she has seen a spider in her bed, or something.

    As for death, I wouldn't say that's a phobia as such, more an actual fear. Phobia is a word used to describe irrational fears (so, something that is ordinarily nowhere near as threatening as the person with the phobia believes), while a fear of death would, by most, be seen as fairly rational and understandable.
    December 15th, 2010 at 12:17pm
  • xXhayleyroxXx

    xXhayleyroxXx (100)

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    I have some phobias I can understand how I've gotten - pool drains for example because I got my hair caught in one and almost drowned. Some though -- turbines/fans, mummies and moths are just completely irrational.
    I'd love to know :p
    December 15th, 2010 at 03:09pm
  • battalions

    battalions (450)

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    There's also the idea (I believe courtesy of Freud) that if you have negative feelings that you know are socially unacceptable (e.g. you hate your mother), you displace them onto something it's okay (or at least more acceptable) to hate and fear, like spiders or bugs or dogs or whatever.

    I'm not sure how valid that's considered in the modern psychological community; most of Freud's ideas have long since been dismissed. Personally I think his defense mechanisms are spot-on, though. At any rate, I think most modern therapists focus on behavioral / cognitive therapy to eradicate the fear rather than trying to figure out where it comes from.

    Oh, and there's also the idea that certain fears that modern society deems "irrational" in fact aren't irrational — because spiders are scary and they will kill you and you should be afraid of them. So those who fear them are just people who are in touch with their evolutionary impulses. I rather like that (probably because I'm terrified of spiders).
    December 15th, 2010 at 05:47pm
  • Kurtni

    Kurtni (10125)

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    Alexface.:
    As for death, I wouldn't say that's a phobia as such, more an actual fear. Phobia is a word used to describe irrational fears (so, something that is ordinarily nowhere near as threatening as the person with the phobia believes), while a fear of death would, by most, be seen as fairly rational and understandable.
    Fear of death can still reach the point of being a phobia when it prevents you from living a normal life, such as denying yourself certain experiences for fear of death (refusing to drive a car, go to crowded places, eat certain food, etc.)
    December 15th, 2010 at 07:14pm
  • Kurtni

    Kurtni (10125)

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    Cassandra Mortmain:
    Oh, and there's also the idea that certain fears that modern society deems "irrational" in fact aren't irrational — because spiders are scary and they will kill you and you should be afraid of them. So those who fear them are just people who are in touch with their evolutionary impulses. I rather like that (probably because I'm terrified of spiders).
    Not all spiders though, in fact very few of them. As far as "evolutionary impulses," why do most western societies not eat spiders, as they're a plentiful supply of nutrients? I think that's definitely a socialization issue more so than genetic wiring.

    I'm scared of spiders too, but I know it's pure irrationality when I flee from my room at the sight of a granddaddy. Shifty
    December 15th, 2010 at 07:16pm
  • svefn-gengar

    svefn-gengar (240)

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    Kurtni Klaus:
    Fear of death can still reach the point of being a phobia when it prevents you from living a normal life, such as denying yourself certain experiences for fear of death (refusing to drive a car, go to crowded places, eat certain food, etc.)
    Hmm, that's a good point. I hadn't really thought of it in that sense.
    December 15th, 2010 at 08:28pm
  • battalions

    battalions (450)

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    Kurtni Klaus:
    Not all spiders though, in fact very few of them. As far as "evolutionary impulses," why do most western societies not eat spiders, as they're a plentiful supply of nutrients? I think that's definitely a socialization issue more so than genetic wiring.

    I'm scared of spiders too, but I know it's pure irrationality when I flee from my room at the sight of a granddaddy. Shifty
    To be honest I don't know much about the theory, and I would assume it's mostly speculation at this point. But the general idea is that there's some sort of primitive part of our brain that tells us "hey, that thing moves funny! it might be poisonous!" The threat of spiders / snakes / insects that are poisonous would be enough to override the fact that there are many that aren't, so people who stay away from them live longer and produce more offspring and, if, as is theorized, their predisposition of fear is in some way genetic, that would mean those genes should become dominant. Not all spiders etc. are venomous, but presumably your genes don't know the difference.

    That a fear of spiders is pure socialization does seem more likely, but you can argue that reverse is true: we, particularly in the western world where most spiders are not venomous, have been socialized not to see them as a threat to our lives, but those of us who weren't socialized properly still have that fear. I wouldn't put a ton of stock in it, but it's an interesting idea.

    And about the fear vs. phobia thing — to be fair, people use the term "phobia" pretty liberally these days. Certainly there's always someone out there who has a totally debilitating fear of something, but for the vast majority of the population, things like death, public speaking, clowns, and etc. are just fears, irrational though they may be.
    December 15th, 2010 at 11:23pm
  • fat lamb

    fat lamb (105)

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    Humans are born with two natural fears: loud noises and falling. All the other fears we get are caused by the bad experiences we get. They get nailed into our subconscious and since our conscious and subconscious aren't connected, it's very difficult to get ourselves to stop being afraid.
    December 19th, 2010 at 11:48pm
  • die Bienen Knie

    die Bienen Knie (150)

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    Bittersweet Kiss:
    Humans are born with two natural fears: loud noises and falling. All the other fears we get are caused by the bad experiences we get. They get nailed into our subconscious and since our conscious and subconscious aren't connected, it's very difficult to get ourselves to stop being afraid.
    Why falling? I know a few people who've jumped out of planes so it can't be that natural...on your second claim though - I have a phobia of viens, seeing them on my wrists makes me sick to my stomach and if anyone touches them I cry and freak out. Why would I be scared of viens? What kind of experience would lead to that?
    December 22nd, 2010 at 09:46am
  • The Pies Endure

    The Pies Endure (115)

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    Dirty Byrd:
    Why falling? I know a few people who've jumped out of planes so it can't be that natural...on your second claim though - I have a phobia of viens, seeing them on my wrists makes me sick to my stomach and if anyone touches them I cry and freak out. Why would I be scared of viens? What kind of experience would lead to that?
    Fear of falling is definitely a natural fear. People jump out of planes because they enjoy the adrenaline rush, which is a fear reaction.

    Who knows why you would get a fear of veins? Phobias are irrational... maybe you cut yourself badly once as a child?
    December 22nd, 2010 at 01:27pm
  • die Bienen Knie

    die Bienen Knie (150)

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    the mice endure:
    Who knows why you would get a fear of veins? Phobias are irrational... maybe you cut yourself badly once as a child?
    Well I know it's irrational but I can't see any logical reason why it would have showed up (and the person above said that phobias come from an experience).
    December 22nd, 2010 at 11:27pm
  • The Pies Endure

    The Pies Endure (115)

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    Dirty Byrd:
    Well I know it's irrational but I can't see any logical reason why it would have showed up (and the person above said that phobias come from an experience).
    And I just said, maybe you cut yourself badly as a child...or saw somebody cut up badly...
    December 23rd, 2010 at 01:18am
  • Popular.

    Popular. (100)

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    I don't think it's hereditary.
    Several people in my family have a phobia of spiders but I don't.

    However, I have a phobia of churches. Not the building, but going into a church and having people sing or pray everywhere around me will have me in tears of panic.
    I figured out it's because I personally don't believe in God and I find it irrational and scary that so many people seem to have no doubt he exists.

    So, I think your imagination has a lot to do with that. Like, you're afraid of spiders because you know some of them might kill you or you're afraid of water because you know you might drown.

    Basically, I believe you can't be afraid of something that is completely stranger to you.
    January 19th, 2011 at 04:25am
  • faster.

    faster. (300)

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    I've always assumed that phobias are brought about by things in our childhood that we may or may not remember. Something that frightened us, made us uncomfortable, or reminded us of something that does.

    I couldn't explain to you why I'm afraid of Ace Frehely and drive thrus, but something about them both just makes me uncomfortable, haha.
    January 24th, 2011 at 06:29am
  • One Amahira

    One Amahira (100)

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    In my psychology studies, we have always talked of phobias as a learned or conditioned response. The most common phobia are of things that might have been very dangerous or bad for us at one point in our evolution. Snakes, spiders, heights, water, the dark, strangers, etc.

    Suppose a mother sees her three year old playing in the garden and about to pick up a snake. She screams at her child to get away, runs out, and pulls them back inside suddenly, very upset. This action itself scares the child and makes a big impact/impression on the child then snake becomes associated with the fear response and therefore the child becomes afraid of snakes. Even though the snake never did anything. The child may never even recall the specific event because they were so young. (Conversely, the child could have been bitten by the snake and become afraid; either way it becomes a conditioned response.)

    John Watson demonstrated this quite well. He paired a loud, frightening noise and a white rat in the Little Albert experiment, conditioning the a baby boy to be afraid of rats. Eventually the fear response occurred without the noise, just the rat.

    Back to the snake example. As the child grows they continue to experience fear/anxiety regarding snakes, and experience relief when snakes are avoided or removed. So they are "rewarded" psychologically speaking with decreased anxiety when they avoid the snake. This reinforces the phobic behaviors.

    Of course I've simplified things a little, I think, and plenty of people remember things that triggered their phobias. Also, what has a big impact on one person might not on another. Not every one who is bitten by a dog becomes phobic of dogs, for example.

    You can read a little more about phobias (spider free) here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobias

    As for my biggest fear, I used to have a phobia of kitchen knives. Not sharp things or blades in general (my sword never bothered me), but specifically kitchen knives. However, I've worked through it.
    January 25th, 2011 at 07:25am
  • GreatUnknown

    GreatUnknown (150)

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    ^
    Spider free thanks! I checked it out and this--> they are powerless to override their initial panic reaction, caught my attention because I really cannot control it. My family gets really irritated to because they tell me to get over it but I can't.. It's so bad that it's lead to fears of bugs in general that I haven't have any prior experience or trauma with. I think it was when I was about 8 and I was closing the garage door and I wasn't paying attention and right below the button, their was a huge daddy long leg. I mean it was like that mama or something. But I screamed and ran away and now I have that same reaction now, minus the screaming. But yeah, I've tried getting over it but I just can't. I flip out and I get really paranoid about my surroundings for like an hour. I wanna try to get over it but the thought of it gives me the willys and I just can't think that it would be worth it.
    January 27th, 2011 at 04:57am
  • The Violist

    The Violist (100)

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    fat lamb:
    Humans are born with two natural fears: loud noises and falling. All the other fears we get are caused by the bad experiences we get. They get nailed into our subconscious and since our conscious and subconscious aren't connected, it's very difficult to get ourselves to stop being afraid.
    That is very true. Animals are also afraid of loud noise. Example, dogs and cats hate the vacuum.
    Most people say that they are afraid of heights when they really are scared that they're going to climb up to a ledge and jump off. Could that be what the fear of falling is?

    So to generally define a phobia its a reaction to something that you believe to be scary caused by a tramatic event or because you copied someone else's reaction to something. And you can not control how you react.
    While a fear is something that you can control your reaction of and even overcome it.
    July 29th, 2011 at 05:37am
  • MaryjaneWilliams

    MaryjaneWilliams (100)

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    A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.
    In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.
    August 31st, 2011 at 08:06am