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A Method to the Madness: 7 Causes of Phobia Development

MS. Nida Ghani

3 min read

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Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that are defined as an extreme fear of something specific. That something may be a person or particular type of people, a thing, a situation, or a place. When faced with the object of their fears, phobic individuals experience near paralyzing versions of general fear symptoms like dry mouth, elevated heart rate, dizziness, sweating or even panic attacks. Like most anxiety disorders, people with phobias are aware that their fears are irrational and unfounded, but are powerless to stop their reactions when placed in a fear-inducing situation. Phobias range from mildly annoying to life-crippling.  Also, new phobias are rarely acquired after age 30; a phobia is usually continued on from when it develops between early childhood to early adulthood if left untreated. Some commonly believed causes of phobia-development include:

1- Past Trauma:

 A certain negative or repeated chain of negative incidents can cause a person to develop a phobia. While certain life-threatening incidents or near-death experiences that the individual has personally experienced when young, such as falling off a horse, nearly drowning, or repeated turbulence while flying, may manifest as intense fears of such objects, observing others experience a traumatic event, like a car accident, can also elicit a fearful response, and hence, avoidance of similar situations in the future. Repeatedly avoiding these activities or objects causes the fear to develop into a phobia that only solidifies further.

2- Trigger-less Phobia:

Unlike a past trauma, either experienced or observed, some individuals may develop an irrational fear of an object, individual, or situation, despite having had no prior unpleasant experiences involved. Such individuals often refrain from reaching out to others as they themselves believe their fear to be stupid and unfounded.

3- Neural Flashbacks:

When faced with a particular fearful, deadly, or traumatic incident, the medial prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala, aka the ‘fear centers’ of the brain store these memories, only to later recall or replay them when faced with a similar situation. This forces the body to reenact its reaction to the past event, which is often excessive to the current, milder situation, such as screaming when hit while playing dodging cars due to a past car accident.

4- Evolutionary Residue: 

Some fears are hardwired into our systems as a holdover from man’s primitive, hunter-gatherer days, when external threats and dangers were a major part of the outside environment. In phobic individuals, these fears are simply felt to a greater degree compared to non-phobic individuals. Examples include fear of wide, empty spaces, strangers, wild animals and other possible threats.

5- Panic Attacks: 

Those susceptible to panic attacks or diagnosed with a panic disorder often fear embarrassment at the hands of a panic attack in public places. This not only leads to them fearing a panic attack, but also the places where an attack is most likely to strike, such as elevators, malls, crowded buses, etc., or where it previously occurred; resulting in absolute avoidance of such places.

6- Follow Mommy and Daddy: 

Some parents unknowingly pass down their phobias to their children, particularly those between 4-8 years, by reacting towards them in their presence. In such cases, a phobia is more of a learned behaviour as the child becomes highly aware of their parent’s trauma or fear and gradually learns to recognize it as an object of fear as well.

7- Being Stressed:

In some cases, long-term stress and the pent-up feelings of anxiety and depression once released as an emotional outburst due to a particular trigger, such as a friend joking about workaholics or a project rejection after one pulls consecutive all-nighters at work, can lead to a fear of any such future instances, which later progresses into a phobia if not treated.

As most people would have you believe, phobias are not an abnormality, and nor are they something to be ashamed of. With the right consultation and therapy, a formerly restrictive phobia can easily be cured. If you or a loved one experience any life quality-affecting phobias, consult with a specialist. You can also book an appointment with a top Psychiatrist or Psychologist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your mental health .


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Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

MS. Nida Ghani - Author Ms. Nida Ghani is among the Best Psychologists in Lahore. Ms. Nida Ghani is a Psychologist practicing in Lahore. Over the last 3 years, she has been helping her patients deal with various mental and psychological conditions.
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