What is a Phobia? What Causes a Phobia And How to Overcome it

A phobia is an intense disproportional fear of a certain object or situation.

For many people, having a phobia can be something which barely affects them…

For others, it’s a constant struggle – and one which has a huge impact on their daily life.

Read on if you want to learn about common phobias, the most important types of phobias and – perhaps most vital of all – how to overcome them:

What is a phobia?

“Phobia” comes from the Greek word Phobos, meaning “fear”. A phobia is a deep, intensely-felt fear of a certain situation, item or thing.

Specifically, a person’s phobia will be a fear of something which may rationally speaking, not be of any danger to them.

As opposed to a more normal feeling of fear, a phobia will cause feelings of such intensity and distress that a person will disrupt their daily life to avoid them – or they will be forced to endure the situation or the presence of the object while feeling intense distress.

This distress may also include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Chest pains
  • Pins and needles

The different types of phobia

There are usually said to be two different types of phobia:

1) Specific phobias

Specific phobias are just what they sound like. They are an intense, irrational fear of a specific item, object, animal, or situation – this is usually called a trigger.

A common example of this type of phobia is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, for which many types of arachnids can be the trigger.

Because a person can usually live their life by avoiding specific items such as this, specific phobias do not normally cause severe impairment in the way an individual can live their life.

2) Complex phobias

The triggers of complex phobias are more difficult to spot. The two most common complex phobias are social phobia and agoraphobia.

Although it is commonly thought of as the fear of open spaces, agoraphobia is actually the fear of a situation from which it is difficult to escape from.

Because the triggers of complex phobias tend to be trickier to diagnose, they can cause severe problems. People who suffer from them try to live their lives by avoiding otherwise common situations, such as being outside of their home or a certain type of social situation.

What causes phobia?

Most phobias begin in early childhood, though some arise during the teenage years or in early adulthood. It is uncommon but possible for a person to develop a phobia after they reach 30 years of age.

In general, a stressful event or experience is the most common cause of phobia. In some cases, a child can also pick up a phobia from a close family member through exposure.

What causes phobia actually differs between the two different types:

The causes of specific phobias

These phobias tend to arise in childhood – usually before the age of 10.

For example, if a young child has an unpleasant or traumatic experience with a bird, over time they may start to develop ornithophobia as a result.

The causes of specific phobias tend to be relatively easy to pinpoint and link to a specific event or series of events.

The causes of complex phobias

When it comes to agoraphobia and social anxiety, there are not yet any firm answers to the cause. That said, most experts believe them to be caused by a combination of:

  • Life experiences or events in a similar way to specific phobias.
  • Brain chemistry or genetic disorders
  • Past life experiences or ancestral traumas

There is also a belief that they may be an atavistic remnant from a time when human life was, in general, much more dangerous to the average person.

They may be related to “malfunctions” of the fight, flight or freeze response in the same way as stress or panic attacks can be.

What is the most common phobia?

The most common phobia is usually said to be agoraphobia. This is because it covers a huge range of scenarios where a person feels that they are unsafe in a situation from which they cannot easily escape.

This could mean they are on a bus, in a car, in a wide-open space, in a confined space, in a tunnel – there is a huge range of possibilities.

In addition, there are a number of very common phobias, specific and complex:

  • Acrophobia – the fear of heights.
  • Aerophobia – the fear of flying.
  • Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders.
  • Aquaphobia – the fear of water.
  • Blood, injury and injection (BII) phobia – the fear of injuries involving blood.
  • Claustrophobia – the fear of being in a confined space.
  • Hypochondria – the fear of becoming ill.
  • Ophidiophobia – the fear of snakes.
  • Zoophobia – the fear of animals

What is social phobia or social anxiety disorder?

Social phobias are fears of various social situations. They are another type of complex phobia and another kind which are extremely common.

Social phobia may relate only to a specific type of social situation. This might mean:

  • Speaking in front of other people
  • Performing certain actions in front of other people (eating, for example) because of an irrational fear of ridicule
  • Socializing at parties or in other group situations
  • Talking to strangers
  • Being singled out in front of others

Often called social anxiety disorder, social phobia can lead someone to actively avoid certain social situations which they might otherwise like to be a part of.

Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler all suffered from which phobia?

A fun fact to take a break is that Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler all suffered from the same phobia:

Ailurophobia – the fear of cats.

How to overcome phobia

Phobias are both diagnosable and treatable in most cases.

Some of the most effective methods include:

  • Spiritual intervention
  • Desensitization (otherwise known as exposure therapy)
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medication

In all cases, if you have any kind of phobia which seriously impacts your daily life, it’s worth talking to a therapist or professional to learn techniques to overcome the phobia.

For mild cases, or phobias with triggers which it causes someone no problems to simply avoid, most people find that this is the best way to handle the situation – avoid it altogether. This may not be the best solution because it is yet another way of investing our energy in something which can be simple to overcome.

For people with more serious conditions, figuring out how to get over a phobia is a more serious matter. It’s one of the reasons why people visit us at the Spirit Vine Center – to explore their feelings and get a new perspective on the cause of their phobia. Ayahuasca has been used traditionally by various peoples in South America for reasons just like this for hundreds of years.

The workshops at Spirit Vine are designed specifically to explore and discover the causes of traumas, phobias, or any kind of blockage, and to learn tools and techniques to connect with your power and overcome these limitations to experiencing a richer life.

Upcoming Retreats

  • Jul  9 — Jul 19
  • Aug  14 — Aug 22
  • Sep  17 — Sep 25
  • Nov  5 — Nov 15
  • Dec  13 — Dec 21

Journey with us

Browse our gallery

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Articles, videos, books, quotes, retreat updates, and more...