The Three Types of Phobias
Most of us experienced fears in our lives but for some the fears become imprinted on their mind generating an anxiety disorder called phobia. It occurs in response to an original threatening situation often forgotten and in which the sufferer identifies with a similar situation, for instance phobia of dentists might stem from a painful childhood experience at the dental clinic.
Since anxiety is the main characteristic of phobia, sufferers undergo physiological symptoms like increased heart beat, nausea, stomach problem, perspiration, flushing of the face. Phobic persons are aware of their irrational fear, some of them manage to face it but more commonly they avoid places or objects where he would face the “threat”.
Psychiatrists classify 3 major types of phobias which are simple phobias, social phobias and agoraphobia.
Simple phobias include phobia of animals such as spiders, cats, dogs, and birds. Phobia of closed spaces known as claustrophobia, like being in lifts and phobia of heights. It starts in childhood, for instance a child who has been scratched by the sharp claws of a cat, would develop a fear of cats, although he realises later that not all of them are ferocious, he still avoids them and when confronted with a cat, his body language reacts fearfully.
Here a young man tries to conquer his fear of reptiles (source)
Simple phobias resolves themselves by adolescence but a few persist into adult life, why? Psychoanalysts think that it is due to a hidden anxiety which has been repressed into the unconscious. However it then manifests itself through another object, the technical term for it is displacement. This means if the mature person is still afraid of cats, it is not the cats that are the direct source of anxiety but something else. It is possible to develop a simple phobia in adulthood after an accident like car crash, which generates a temporary fear from cars for the survivor. Simple phobia affects more women than men.
In the social phobia, sufferers are frightened to do any function in public places like eating in restaurants, attending board meetings or speaking in public, why? They are preoccupied about blushing or shaking especially when their action is exposed to scrutiny like filling a form or signing a charge slip. Although social phobias begin in adolescence and early twenties, experts reckon that over-protected children who did not fully develop their full independence are very likely to suffer later.
They grow up with a poor self-image which makes it even harder to relate to people. Since they are aware of their fear, sufferers tend to avoid social occasions but this does not stop them from performing their job properly especially if it does not involve interacting with many people. An excellent auditor does not necessarily mean that he cannot be socially phobic for instance. Unlike other phobias, social phobias are equally frequent in both sexes.
Agoraphobia is the fear of open public places like crowded shopping centres, museums, trains and buses. The agoraphobics feel that they are trapped and cannot escape. As a result, the increasing urge to leave for safety is inevitable which is usually home. While reducing the anxiety in the short term, they are reinforcing their association with it, they become housebound, preventing themselves from keeping in touch with the outside world. Consequently they become withdrawn into their own world of fantasies and day dreams. It may sound confusing with the social phobia where the victims do not fear the place but the people in that place and being watched. Agoraphobia starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although it is less common than other phobias, agoraphobia tends to be diagnosed more in women than in men.
Phobias are treatable. Behaviour therapy has proven an effective option. The sufferer is exposed repeatedly to the feared situation until he realises (after a few sessions) that there is no danger. His fear gradually ceases and his response to the feared object becomes more confident. Psychotherapy seems as well helpful in overcoming phobias.
Phobia in Children
Since anxiety is the main characteristic of phobias, it brings into question whether is it hereditary? It may not be in the genetic sense (although it is controversial) but it is easily transmitted on to children which makes school phobia for example worth considering.
Experiencing school for the first time is an adventurous step for the growing toddler. He has to familiarise with a new building where he has to follow disciplinary rules, play and work with other children. Some children settle down quickly, others might take them weeks even months before they accept school, going through episodes of tummy aches, rashes, but by the end of the year they settle down well feeling sorry to leave school for the summer holiday.
If nervousness or tension are part of the school life, how can a child develop a school phobia? The anxious child is unmistakably prone to fear school because he has not been prepared to cope “within his world” on his own. Studies have shown that over protective mothers are unusually anxious, therefore they transmit their anxiety to their children who in turn reflected it through their behaviour at school. Say for instance a boy is about to go on a climbing bar and his mother yells at him warning him that he will have a bad fall and injure himself then he will assume that he might end up in the hospital. Sending such anxious messages, would kill the child's desire for playing then he might think that life at school or away from mum, "his protector" is frightening and bad things might happen to him. Would it not be better if she simply helped him to climb the frame and taught him at the same time to be cautious and adventurous.
Changing school is another source for school phobia. I remember when we moved to another city, my eight year-old daughter was terrorised by the size of the new school which was enormous by her standard. I had to escort her daily to the school so she would get used to it and sometimes I would walk with her to the playground to boost her sense of security. Eventually she adapted but it affected her school work. Even her immune system weakened. She kept having the flu and ear infections repeatedly.
Children are very different in their way of thinking, what might frighten one child does not necessarily have the same impact on the other. Also because of their smallness, they feel vulnerable and defenceless so what seems normal to us might in fact be a threatening danger to them and they cannot explain it. For instance children react differently to Father Christmas.
Enquiring about their day at school and listening compassionately without overreacting would extend that bond of love into the reality of the outside world. Nobody knows a child better than his mother, therefore it is the mother who can spot any unusual behaviour and take it from there, like talking to the teacher or the doctor and planning with them what is suitable to prevent further complications. It is relatively easy to tackle school phobia at the early stage rather to bottle it up and let it develop into agoraphobia in adolescence.
Understanding phobias would develop more of a positive attitude towards it and encourage us to look at it not as a permanent disability but a temporary stumbling block which we can overcome.