Most people either seem to have a phobia or know someone who has one. Some of what people think of as phobias turn out to be anxieties or fears. It is natural to have a few fears. Having a fear of heights may save your life, it’s your body's way of protecting itself. Adrenalin kicks in when your body feels threatened. It is a primitive fight or flight reaction although, nowadays, it is very rare for our fears to be life-threatening. Most of our fears are in our heads.
So what is a phobia? It is an irrational fear that generally has a visual stimulus that causes a physical reaction. The person who has the phobia just needs to see something or imagine seeing it to get a strong emotion and an involuntary reaction in their body.
Once you have a phobia , the brain is very good at remembering that it has a phobia. Every time you see e.g. the snake, lift or button you will get the same reaction. You can’t forget that you have a phobia. Your brain has made the connection and it remembers each time. The best way I can think of explaining is to take you back to the end of the 19th Century and talk about Pavlov, the Russian scientist and his experiment on dogs’ digestive systems. He presented a steak while ringing a bell and the dog salivated, after a while the sound of the bell alone caused dog dribbling. There is no logical reason for a dog to salivate when it hears a bell, but it has made a connection between the bell ringing and the steak (conditioned reflex). There is no logical reason between the visual stimulus and the physical reaction. The response was originally triggered by something that is no longer present.
Phobias tend to be very personal. Two people can have a phobia about the same thing e.g. frogs one person may have a repulsion of the slimy, shiny skin and another person, the way frogs jump. Some phobias are learnt especially the fear of spiders. It is amazing how good teachers parents are! Children will pick up when a parent reacts to an object with fear and will associate that object with the same fear. Others are acquired through trauma, the body gets a shock and the brain makes a connection with something it sees at the time. There are some unusual phobias around. Normal objects such as feathers, cottonwool and butterflies can cause sudden overwhelming fear for someone with a phobia. The most unusual phobia I have worked with was a phobia about whales!
I would love to hear about any unusual phobias you have or know about.