Phobias are characterized by the wide variety of forms they take. If there is an element of reality or even a phenomenon imaginable for human beings, probably at some point someone will have come to develop a phobia of it.
For example, there is the phobia of cats and spiders, forms of fear which, although still irrational in the vast majority of cases, have some meaning; but there is also the phobia of clowns, the phobia of holes, or the phobia of birds, which are more difficult to understand without feeling them in your own flesh.
However, beyond all this variety of forms, there is one type of phobia that seems the purest of all, the most central. It’s the phobophobia or the phobia of one’s own fear. In this article we will see how it is, what symptoms characterize this psychological disorder and how it is treated in psychotherapy.
What is phobophobia?
As we have argued in the previous paragraphs, the easiest way to understand what phobophobia is is to think of it as the phobia of fear, or the phobia of phobic seizures. In other words, it’s a fish biting its tail, a vicious circle that feeds at the expense of the anxiety that the person who suffers from it keeps latent by various circumstances (we will see these later).
Those who suffer from phobophobia can live normally most of the time, but they will sometimes notice that several things happen to them: they will avoid places and contexts where they think they can give them fear attacks, and on the other hand they will suffer from it. . these attacks, extreme fear … or rather anxiety.
What types of situations will trigger phobic attacks? Potentially any. Indeed, in this case, the root of the fear is the fear itself, a phenomenon which does not emanate from the environment: the fear does not “spring” from a dog barking threateningly, not even at the top of a “steep mountain”.
In any case, fear, which triggers the peaks of anxiety, is a contextual thing, a process that occurs in the interaction between the individual and a situation that will be subjectively interpreted and valued by the former. For this reason, what can be scary is everything and nothing at the same time.
Because of that, phobophobia is one of the most unpredictable types of phobia, Since it is not related to any kind of concrete stimulus that is easy to objectify, but stems from something as subjective as the idea that everyone has of what is scary depending on the occasion.
What are the symptoms of phobophobia? Quickly, they are typical of virtually all phobias because the main differences between them are the type of situations or stimuli that trigger them. For example, the phobia of mice and the phobia of driving are generally very similar.
Among the characteristic symptoms of phobias are dizziness, nausea, tremors, cold sweats, high heart rate, Catastrophic thoughts about what will happen in the next few seconds or minutes, and an intense urge to run away from where you are or to hide.
As for the causes of phobophobia, they are partly unknown, although it is known that they are numerous and that each of them probably contributes little to the development of this type of anxiety disorder.
It is assumed that genetic predispositions explain part why some people end up developing phobophobia, and also that some unpleasant experiences are able to leave some kind of imprint in our emotional memory, gradually causing the fear of fear to gradually generate a snowball down the mountain, each time greater at the same time as new unpleasant experiences are added to this set of anxious memories.
How is phobophobia treated in mental health centers? Psychotherapy has been shown to be very effective in treating this type of anxiety disorder. What we psychotherapists do is create situations in which the patient learns to weaken the bond that maintains two memories related to emotional memory: the memory of how we react to the possibility of being afraid, and the memory of the evil which occurs during great attacks of fear or anxiety.
In this way, the unconscious part of the mind of phobophobic patients ceases to establish an equivalence relationship between “expecting to be afraid” and “suffering from an intense anxiety attack”.
At the Psicomaster Psychology Center, located in Madrid, we have a team of psychologists with extensive experience in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as phobias, and the principles to be applied are always to strengthen the autonomy of patients by doing, little by little small, they are able to see for themselves that when exposed to what scares them, nothing happens.
like that through experience in therapy, changes for the better are achieved both in their way of behaving (not avoiding objectively harmless situations) and in their way of interpreting reality.
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (ed. 5a). Washington, DC: author.
- Griez, EJ and Van den Hout, MA (1983). Treatment of phobophobia by exposure to CO2-induced anxiety symptoms. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 171: 506 – 508.
- Mark, IM (1978). Living with Fear: Understanding and Coping with Anxiety United States: McGraw Hill.