By Amanda Tonoli
Arachnophobia, fear of spiders.
Acrophobia, fear of heights.
Agoraphobia, fear of crowds or public spaces.
Phobias, or fears, are the extreme dislike or aversion to something. But if one were to put “phobia” into their search engine, they would find an endless supply of fears, from normal everyday fears like those of water — aquaphobia— or sharks — galeophobia — down to the ones that make you question the sanity of those possessing said fears, like those of butterflies — lepidopterophobia — and bright colors — chromophobia.
According to “Phobias, Where Do They Come From?” written by Gregory Pacana in The Examiner in June 2011, phobias are just one of six recognized anxiety disorders that affect 11 percent of the population each year.
“A person can develop a phobia to literally anything,” Pacana said.
A new phobia making its way into the news is Islamophobia — the extreme dislike of fear of Islam or Muslims.
When I read a news headline about this, my first thought was, “are you kidding me?”
How ridiculous and simple-minded is this? To fear an entire group of people is so superficial and ridiculous to me — but what if some people thought the same thing about my fears?
“Most psychologists believe that phobias are learned early in life. This can occur either through classical conditioning or through observational learning or modeling,” Pacana said. “Classical conditioning is essentially learning through association. If a child has a terrifying experience with bees while swimming in a pool, he may later develop a phobia of water, not necessarily of bees.”
Some of my fears don’t come from a bad experience, but from observation — the repeated sessions of watching Jaws fed into my irrational fear of getting attacked by a shark, even in a lake.
About a year ago, I went to an interview in a house of horror — a man’s home completely covered in horror movie memorabilia — with an open mind and a curiosity as to what his fascination was with other people’s fears.
Richard Lillo, the homeowner and clinical counselor, said something to me as we toured this house of fear that I never quite understood.
“There is something in this house that will offend everyone — just one thing,” Lillo said.
Puzzled, I just brushed off his comment about “offending” people, assuming he meant scaring them. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. Bringing someone’s fears to light is offensive. Exposing their vulnerability in something that weakens them is offensive.
Lillo fed off of the fear of others, not because he was an evil villain in your favorite Halloween flick, but because fear is so raw, so real, you expose a person’s hidden side — the reality is what he likes to see.
Phobias are an extreme fear of something. The importance of having a phobia is not necessarily to confront it directly — because, hell yeah, I’m still deathly afraid of Chucky dolls, and I don’t want to continue to watch those awful movies — or hiding it away in shame. Fear is a primal instinct if there has ever been one, and to beat back its oppressive power, victims must learn to acknowledge and control it.