Phobias: When Fear Overwhelms Us

“I’m terrified! No, petrified. No… There isn’t a word strong enough to describe it. It’s like I have flu, only with my heart pounding, and it HURTS! Nauseas, dizzy. I can’t stop shaking… Is this what a heart attack feels like? At least that would get me out of here, not that I want to be in the hospital. But maybe…ANYwhere but here. SOMEONE HELP!!!” – excerpt from my 8th grade journal

Any guess what I was referring to? I’ll give you a hint. It stinks, can turn blond hair greenish and sounds like “swish, swish”…or, when I’m around, “AGGGHHH!”

Yep—swimming class. I don’t know where my fear came from, but others in my family share it and trust me, it had nothing to do with the stench or hair tint. And although I made a huge personal step by dipping fully below the water and floating for the very first time about six years ago (I call this swimming), the mere thought of chlorinated swimming pools inspires nausea. *Pauses for a ginger-chew.*

Specific phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, involves “marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation,” including, but not limited to, the fear of heights, spiders and flying. Roughly 9 percent of the U.S. population experiences them, 21.9 percent of whom with severe symptoms.

To someone who’s never experienced such fear, they seem ludicrous. But when you have a phobia, it seems like the most logical thing in the world. When people tell me they don’t recall not knowing how to swim, that it’s as natural as breathing in and out, I’m as dumbfounded as they are when I share my need for floaties and, most preferably, dry land.

Some of the more common phobias, according to, include fear of: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), animals (zoophobia), flying, storms, dentists, injections, bridges, tunnels and my personal fave, water (hydrophobia).

Social phobia involves intense social shyness and self-conciousness. Agoraphobia, which affected Sigorney Weaver’s character in the film, “Copycat,” involves fear of open places with no simple means of escape.

Uncommon phobias, which are debilitating to a very few people, include:

  • Ambulophobia: the fear of walking
  • Anablephobia: the fear of looking up
  • Arachibutyrophobia: the fear of peanut butter sticking to your mouth
  • Barophobia: the fear of gravity
  • Cataptrophobia: the fear of mirrors
  • Chionophobia: the fear of snow
  • Chromatophobia: the fear of colors
  • Chronomentrophobia: the fear of time
  • Genuphobia: the fear of knees
  • Geumapobia: the fear of taste
  • Hypnophobia: the fear of sleep
  • Mnemophobia: the fear of memories
  • Peladophobia: the fear of bald people
  • Siderophobia: the fear of stars
  • PhobiaPhobia: the fear of fear itself (Okay, I made that one up. But it’s possible, no?)
I’m certainly no psychological or scientific expert, but I do know this: Facing your fears can have a profoundly empowering effect. Just ask the two-year-olds in my break-through swimming class! 😉 What personal fears have you overcome? What did you learn? Or is yours still on your ‘someday’ list?
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  1. In an old charlie brown television comic cartoon, Charlie Brown goes to “the doctor” (Lucy) and she names all these phobias and she did name some kind of “something phobia” and when CB asked what it was, she said, “The fear of everything!” 😀

    ■Cataptrophobia: the fear of mirrors
    >>I didn’t know this was a real fear – one of my characters was afraid to look in mirrors, at least for a time – because of something she saw on TV -who knew 😀

    • Terrific CB story. 😉 And there must be enough people afraid of mirrors to have gained it a name — would be interesting to learn how many, hey? Regardless, sounds like an intriguing character trait. Please keep me posted on your work!

  2. I have acrophobia and mottephobia (fear of moths/butterflies)! I’ve never faced my fears though, they don’t really impact my day to day life too much. You’re right, it’s amazing how logical it seems! Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with *other* people that they don’t share my fear. XD

    • Ack, somehow that last comment posted under my old username…

    • A friend of mine during high school chewed a hole through a blanket while we watched Aracnophia. Scary stuff!

      I think there’s a benefit to having a phobia, whether you make efforts to overcome them or not. We have more empathy for others, don’t you think? Thanks for stopping by, Annalise!

  3. malloryjonesca

     /  September 10, 2011

    What a cool post – thanks, August! I added Copycat to my Netflix queue. 😉 I’m glad I don’t have a phobia…at least I don’t think I do. But they make for great character “flaws.”

  4. I am terrified of spiders. Absolutely, terrified. They make me freeze. I can’t move, scream, or do much besides stare at the nasty little things. Even thinking about it now gives me chills. Yuck!
    P.S. I haven’t seen Copycat in ages, but I loved it. Harry Connick Jr. was so creepy.

    • I’m sure you’re not alone in that, Liz!

      Regarding CopyCat, I had a friendly meal with Billy McNamara, the actor who played the killer, when I first moved to Los Angeles. I stared at him over our salad bowls, thinking, “Man, he looks familiar…” Then it hit me: I’d *just* seen him stalk Sigourney Weaver on TV. YIPES! Super nice guy in “real life,” is evident in the fact that I’m here to talk about it. (ha) Gotta love Holly-wierd.


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