A phobia is an extreme fear or aversion; phobia comes from the Greek word fear, phobos. The term phobia is sometimes considered a synonym for revulsion, aversion or hatred, but it isn’t quite the same thing. You can hate something you fear, but hatred is more closely related to the fight impulse than the flight impulse that is fear.
Phobias do result in a desire to avoid the feared thing.
The Difference between a Fear and Phobia
Phobias are considered an irrational and abnormal fear. It is normal to fear a barking dog, because of the high odds it will bite you. It is normal to fear and feel revulsion at a mess of bodily fluids, because of the disease risk.
Reasonable fears due to the danger something poses are not irrational, and thus are not a mental disorder. For example, fear in response to an armed gunman in the building is not a phobia; however, a total and irrational fear of all guns and running screaming from a room because Grandfather’s rifle is mounted on the wall is a phobia of guns. Fear of heights when you are dangling over a ledge afraid to fall to your death is reasonable. Fear of heights to the point that you panic in an elevator with a clear wall is a phobia.
Relationship Between Phobias and Anxiety Disorders
Clinical psychologists classify phobias as an anxiety disorder, because phobias are persistent, irrational fears. The fear of the unfamiliar that is resolved when you learn it is safe is thus not a phobia. Phobias are considered a mental disorder because they persist even when the person learns that something isn’t safe, especially when the person says they know they shouldn’t be afraid but remain so.
Phobias will generate anxiety, such as living in fear of encountering an object. Not only is someone with a phobia deathly afraid if they see the item, but they live with anxiety of encountering it and plan to avoid it. Therefore, someone with a severe phobia can experience anxiety even with the source of the phobia is absent. And the presence of the phobic item can trigger an anxiety attack.
Relationship Between Phobias and Other Psychiatric Disorders
Phobias sometimes result from traumatic events. For example, having been attacked by a dog can result in a phobia of dogs. The person may have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) regarding that event, experiencing flashbacks to the attack at the sound of a dog barking, in addition to a phobia of all dogs, reacting with intense fear even to the approach of a friendly dog.
The person with a phobia may react with obsessive compulsive behavior, engaging in repetitive preventative behaviors out of the hope of avoiding or mitigating the phobic trigger.
Excessive social phobias are social anxiety disorder. Shyness, however, is not a psychiatric disorder, unless the person cannot initiate social interaction or interact normally after a warm up period. Introversion is not a social anxiety disorder but a personality trait; introverts often have close personal relationships with a small group of friends and family but find large crowds emotionally draining while extroverts find large groups enthralling. Thus an introvert may not seek out large groups but acts normally in smaller ones.
The fear of public speaking is a common phobia. Fear of spiders, dogs and other animals are common. Fear of things in the natural environment are common, especially fear of heights. Situational phobias are common; the fear of confined spaces is called claustrophobia while fear of the dark is called nyctophobia. Agoraphobia is the fear of everything outside a perceived “safe” area.
There are lists of rare and exotic phobias, all building on the Greek terms for what the person is afraid of. Arsonphobia is the fear of phobia, based on the Greek words for fire and fear. Pathophobia is a fear of disease, above and beyond the normal fears of becoming ill or getting sick. Phobias can be incredibly specific, like scelerophibia, a fear of bad men like burglars, while androphobia is a general fear of all men. Rare phobias like fears of clowns may have been triggered by a bad experience in childhood or anxiety built up by someone else's negative characterizations of the thing.