Is there a difference between normal fears and phobias? How can phobias be overcome?

We may be afraid of many things in life? But is there a difference between normal fears and phobias? How can phobias be overcome? Let’s find out…

Is there something that scares you? Maybe you are scared of being alone in the dark or of heights. It could be a spider that induces fear in you, or maybe a snake? These are among the most common fears.

What are phobias?

It is normal to have fears. But there is a difference between normal fear and phobias. In the case of phobias, the fear may be excessive. It is normal to feel scared when you see a big dog coming your way and barking and snarling at you. However, a person with a phobia of dogs may feel terrified and be very distressed when he sees any dogs, even one that is friendly. He may avoid any place where he is likely to find dogs. For instance, he may avoid going to a friend’s house just because the friend owns a dog and may therefore end up missing out on social events, or he may avoid streets where there are many street dogs and take longer or more inconvenient routes to get to his destination.

How do phobias develop?

There isn’t one single answer, but researchers have come up with some explanations. Some say that certain fears, such as the fear of snakes or spiders, may be inherited from our ancestors. Our ancestors needed to be careful around these creatures in order to protect themselves, and those who were able to show an appropriate fear response and avoided these situations, were more likely to survive. Over generations, humans may have developed an inborn tendency to fear some things more than others. Some researchers, however, say that these fears are not inborn but rather, leant. Like ‘the burnt child who dreads the fire’, if our previous experiences with an object or a particular situation have been bad, we get scared of that object or situation thereafter if you have been bitten by a dog or know someone who has been bitten by a dog, you may be more likely to start feeling scared of dogs. We also tend to fear things our parents or friends are scared of.

How can one overcome phobias?

The answer lies in this basic idea- the more you avoid something you are scared of, the fewer opportunities you have of learning that it is actually not as scary as you imagine it to be, and hence, your fear will remain strong. However, if you expose yourself to the thing you are scared of, you will get more opportunities to learn that it is actually not as dangerous as you believe it is, and that will help to reduce the fear. For someone with a phobia of dogs, a psychologist may first teach some exercises to help him relax. Then, in a safe environment, he will expose the person to the least feared stimulus, for instance, a picture of a dog, and teach the person to do those relaxation exercises while looking at the same. Slowly, he may expose the person to the sound of a dog barking. Then he may take him to watch a dog in a kennel. After that he may take him to see a friendly unchained dog but from a distance, and as the person learns to relax in these progressively more scary situations, he or she will reach a point where he/she may be comfortable even petting a dog.

Watching others who are unafraid of the situation may help to reduce your own fears. For instance, watching your friends petting dogs and playing with them, may make you feel less scared and more willing to play with the dogs as well.

Picture Credit : Google