You know what a phobia is - most of us have seen or heard of someone who has a life-altering fear of spiders, heights or enclosed spaces. This is not to be confused with the skin-rippling distaste anyone might feel when faced with a cockroach, or upon finding that a rodent has stowed away in the broom closet.
Phobias aren’t just extreme fear or disgust: they are irrational fear. Adults with phobias realise their fears are irrational, but often facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Health24’s Cybershrink regularly gets letters from people asking for help with phobias and, while many are bona fide irrational terrors that require cognitive behavioural therapy, some are patently not. Such as the fear of skeletons – one hopes this excludes the writer’s own skeleton – or the fear of Parktown prawns which is pretty endemic (so endemic that the LOVE of Parktown prawns might make for an interesting disorder).
There was an example of bad habits gone wrong: a woman wrote to CyberShrink asking for advice regarding her friend’s fruit and vegetable phobia. A more cynical question was posed by the reader who wondered if one could have a ‘beautiful people phobia’, and whether there was a form of treatment for such a condition.
And then there was that old standard get-out clause for all serial daters, ‘fear of commitment phobia’. Yes, you’re right, it’s not a phobia – but it can trigger a flight response of note in some otherwise able-bodied (and minded) people.
Write in to CyberShrink or read phobias for more information.
(Joanne Hart, Health24 July 2008)