What Are YOU Afraid Of?

No, really - besides the regular stuff. Are you in that 10 to 15 percent of Americans who suffers from a phobia?Some phobias, even if they are not actually in the realm of sanity, are kind of understandable. What kid hasn't suffered from achluophobia, for instance? (Fear of darkness) Or brontophobia? (Thunderstorms, not dinosaurs) Actually, childhood fears aren't considered phobias, since phobics know their fears are illogical, and a kid might not. A few others that seem to make sense are kakorrhaphiophobia (failure/defeat), verminophobia (germs). Even ophthalmophobia (being stared at). In fact, it is generally acceptable to be rabidly afraid of roaches and rats and other crawly things, heights and closed-in spaces. But CHICKENS?It's called alektorophobia, and might actually start making sense if you consider that it's okay for people to run screaming from the building at the sight of a tiny mouse (musophobia), which is probably not going to pin you into a corner and gnash you to death with its teeth. It's especially funny when you realize it's not even the business end of rats and mice that freak people out. It's the TAILS. Because they are naked and look like snakes.Which brings us to ophidiophobia, also known (surprisingly enough) as ... snakephobia. Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles in general. A fear of wild animals is agrizoophobia. A fear of worms is called scoleciphobia (a word almost as frightening as the thing itself), and a fear of being infested with them is called helminthphobia. A fear of ants is called myrmecophobia. Melissophobia is not the fear of women named Melissa, but of ... bees, and is also known as apiphobia. Again, not surprising. Neither is allodoxaphobia, fear of opinions.But then there's ambulophobia, fear of walking and anablephobia, fear of looking up. Other action-oriented fears are ergophobia, the fear of work and ergasiophobia, a surgeon's unfortunate fear of operating. Fear of vomiting is emetophobia. Phonophobia covers voices, noises, speaking aloud and telephones -- and if you're afraid of trembling you have tremophobia. Crossing streets? Dromophobia. The fear of dancing is probably something many people can identify with, and it's called chorophobia. Some people are terrified of things in the environment, like the sun or sunlight (heliophobia), stars (siderophobia), wind (anacraophobia or anemophobia), rain (ombrophobia or pluviophobia), clouds (nephophobia), dark or night (nyctophobia).Bodily function phobias include fears of eating or swallowing (phagophobia), drinking (dipsophobia), constipation (coprastasophobia -- although that could be considered more a LACK of function), coitus (coitophobia), urinating (urophobia), and several others you probably don't REALLY want to know about.And then some are just plain silly: bald people (peladophobia), the Bogeyman (bogeyphobia), Bolsheviks (Bolshephobia), chins (geniophobia), yellow (xanthophobia), dampness (hygrophobia), dinner conversations (delpnophobia), dreams (oneirophobia), certain fabrics (textophobia), being tickled by feathers (pteronophobia), flowers (anthrophobia), flutes (aulophobia), hearing good news (euphobia), gravity (barophobia), hair (chaetophobia or trichopathophobia), infinity (apeirophobia), memories (mnemophobia), hearing a certain name (onomatophobia), the northern lights (auroraphobia), small objects (tapinophobia), paper (papyrophobia), the Pope (papaphobia), string (linonophobia). But possibly the funniest of all these conditions is the fear of long words: hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. The short version is sesquippedaliophobia.Of course, these are only a few.Now, over the last few paragraphs, you may have stopped and gone, "Hmmm," a few times, thinking, "Well I don't like that either." But how can you tell if your fear or discomfort in a particular situation is actually a phobia? Local psychologist James Maish says he has run across the stranger ones only in literature and defines a phobia as a fear of something "that should not produce that reaction." Intensity of the fear doesn't really enter into it, he says. He also doesn't believe that socialized fears -- like fear of mice -- necessarily qualify as phobias. Some of the most common fears he's helped people cope with are of public speaking, flying and elevators. If that's the case, it's a good thing no one ever has to give a speech in a flying elevator.And just how does one deal with these rampant, irrational fears? First, Dr. Maish will have a patient go through some relaxation exercises to calm the physical symptoms, and then have them experience a "weakened form" of whatever is producing fear. Depending on physician and patient, this may be imagining the situation or object, looking at pictures, or participating in some virtual recreation of the situation. These will approximate the actual event more closely until the individual is ready to face his fear head-on. Of course, Dr. Maish says, "The real test comes when you have to do it."He also says it is important to go through these exercises as close to the performance of the actual event as possible, and then to experience these "live performances" at intervals to ensure that the new ability to handle the experience becomes ingrained. For instance, don't do a few exercises six months before a speaking engagement. You may want to BEGIN six months in advance if your fear is deep enough, but the training needs to carry on practically up to the date of reckoning. Afterward, there needs to be follow-up practice if you want to be sure you don't "lose your nerve" later on.According to the literature, Dr. Maish says, phobias can return or even mutate, but adds, "In the 25 years I've been in Augusta, I've never seen one change form or come back." That could mean that returning phobias reside mainly in the realm of the theoretical, or it could mean Dr. Maish is just very, very good.That was fun, but it isn't enough to simply look at an object and say, "People are afraid of this - isn't that strange?" For every fear, there is an ASPECT that actually triggers the feelings of discomfort. Like tails on rats. (You've probably heard someone say, "I'm not afraid of the dark. It's what's IN the dark that has me worried.")Psychologist Lisa Hudson agrees that, in addition, there is generally an underlying fear linked to the object. One aquaphobic individual has all but given up on her attempts to get people to understand that they miss the point entirely with their pleas of, "If you only relax, the water will pick you up and you will float." They do not understand that floating IS the problem, that what this individual is terrified of is floating itself and that fear of drowning is actually secondary. A weightless environment would produce nearly as much anxiety, just without the added hazard of drowning. Therefore, the fear in this case has more to do with the loss of control that comes with being in the water, than the water itself.A similar fear, to which the good doctor herself admitted, is that of swimming in a lake as opposed to a backyard pool. Lake water is frightening, she said, because it is opaque, not clear like pool water. Though she knows logically that nothing bad will happen, her imagination takes over and causes her to fear some monstrous thing from the deep will reach up and grab her. This is probably akin to that fear of the dark many people get just after seeing a horror flick.Again, control appears to be the chief issue here.Here are a few speculations about some of the stranger stuff. Fear of the Bogeyman is probably just a holdover from childhood fears and probably has its counterpart in fear of the dark. Fear of Bolsheviks, though it sounds comical at first, might not sound so funny to someone who was around 80 years ago, especially when you consider our own fear of Communists just a few decades ago.Textophobia, the fear of certain fabrics, sounds strange, but there are other things for which an extreme aversion to touching is quite common. Decaying matter, for instance. Organic waste in general is pretty repellant, though not usually fatal. How that could be transferred to polyester, though, we're not quite sure. The fear of being tickled by feathers is probably a control thing.Anyone with a fear of gravity is out of luck until the laws of physics change, but that phobia might be more likely to come into play around spinning carnival rides that artificially create excess gravity and skew the riders' up-down perception. This also seems to be a control issue. If the phobias you have met here today make no sense ... well, that's the point. That's WHY they're phobias. They can come custom-made, as you can see. It's not all about high buildings and small spaces.So. What ARE you afraid of?

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.