Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Fear or Phobia?

Fear is normal and helps to keep us safe and healthy.  It helps us to avoid harmful situations and to decide when to get out of situations that could be dangerous. Normally one can control fear with logic and reason so that it doesn't take over our lives and cause us to become irrational.  When the fear response turns into something difficult or impossible to control it becomes a phobia.  People can become afraid of almost anything and this fear can come from a negative experience with the object in question.  As an example, if you were attacked by a dog as a child you may still be fearful of them as an adult.  Fears can also be learned from someone else.  A child may see its mother's fearful reaction to a spider and become fearful of spiders too.  Whatever the object of fear you may become uncomfortable or distressed when you confront that fear.  If, as an example, you are afraid of flying you might become anxious when you get on an aeroplane.  You might have a pre-flight drink or self-medicate in order to calm your nerves but you are able to manage the fear and get on with your life.  You may prefer to travel by car or train but will fly when you have to.  However, if you have a diagnosable phobia of an object or situation your reaction will be more extreme.  Using flying as an example, you may not be able to get on the plane at all.  If you do you may shake, sweat, cry or have other serious physiological responses, perhaps for the whole flight.  If you have a severe phobia you may be unable to get on an aeroplane, visit airports and even planes flying overhead may cause you to become nervous.  The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology says of phobias, "In standard psychiatric work, a reaction requires several factors before it is properly classified as a phobia.  Specifically, the fear must be persistant and intense, there must be a compelling need to flee or avoid the phobic object or situation and the fear must be irrational and not based on sound judgement".

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