The 7 differences between phobia and normal fear

Everyone has been scared more than once, and that’s okay. It is an emotion that has ensured the survival not only of the human species, but of all animals with brains.

Knowing how to identify a situation that could lead to danger for the individual is something necessary to be able to move away from it and thus avoid its harmful consequences. However, it sometimes happens that the response given to a stimulus perceived as threatening is exaggerated, and this is where we speak of a phobia.

What are the differences between phobia and normal fear? Let’s take a look at a few lines below.

    Phobia and fear: aren’t they the same?

    Before going into more detail on the main differences between the concepts of fear and phobia, it becomes necessary to briefly describe the two terms.

    First, it is understood by the fear of the emotion that manifests itself in a situation that can be threatening for the individual. Normally, in most cases where it does appear, it does so almost naturally, without the need to first know about the threatening situation. Others, on the other hand, learn from experience which situations to fear, as they can jeopardize the integrity of the person.

    Fear, like all the emotions that make up the broad human emotional spectrum, has a very important adaptive function, being its goal. ensure the survival of the individual.

    Phobias, on the other hand, are seen as unadjusted patterns of behavior. They involve a very high degree of fear, too much for the stimulus they are afraid of. The causes of this phobia can be anything and are usually acquired, either by trauma or by proxy learning.

    Many psychologists consider, from the point of view of psychoanalysis, that the origin of phobias occurs during childhood, especially at the phallic stage (2 to 5 years). At this stage, the child develops a strong anxiety about the experience of an unpleasant event.Forcing you to apply a very powerful self-defense mechanism which will eventually be the phobic disorder.

    Differences between phobia and normal fear

    Below, we’ll look at the basic differences between phobia and fear, along with the factors that may be behind them, their psychopathological significance, and associated responses.

    1. Degree of control

    Fear is not an emotion that facilitates rational thinking, but it is still a survival mechanism, allowing you to act quickly and decide what to do to make sure the harmful stimulus is avoided.

    In cases where there is no psychopathology, the emotions are our responsibility, i.e. we can learn to control. Fear is no exception.

    It is possible to have some degree of control over this emotion, being aware that you are dealing with something that may be harmful, but bearing in mind that the more clearly you think, the more effective you will be at it. make. . in front of.

    Instead, phobias, no matter how psychopathological, they involve enormous difficulty in controlling both their emotional intensity and their ability to think coldly of the person.

    Whether facing the dreaded stimulus or just thinking about it, the person completely loses control of their thinking, seeing truly terrifying ideas invade their mind.

    2. Physiological signs

    It is normal for certain physiological signs to show fear, such as tachycardia, sweating or even tremors. however, the signs that show people with a phobia a particular stimulus are very intense.

    The physiological reaction in these cases can become overwhelming, with gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and dry mouth being very common, as well as excessive sweating, chest pain, dizziness, and even headaches.

    It should be noted that the signs that cause the fear are given in the dreaded situation, while in the case of the phobia, just thinking about or talking about the phobic stimulus promotes all of the symptoms described here.

      3. Intensity of the response

      When faced with a real threat, it is normal to prepare for the leak or prevent the potentially harmful factor from going any further.

      For example, if a dog is chasing us down the street, a clearly feared situation, the most logical option and the most proportional to the threat is either to escape or to attack the animal before it does. do for us.

      On the other hand, in the case of phobia, the response to the stimulus is totally disproportionate, Whether you are really dealing with something that could harm the physical and mental integrity of the person or, on the contrary, something harmless.

      The person can scream, cry, completely lose their rationality, attack the people around them … the behaviors practiced by the phobic person can be of all kinds and almost none of them can be considered adaptive.

      4. Interference in daily life

      But everyone is afraid of something usually this emotion does not involve some degree of serious effect on the routine, Since in most cases the dreaded situations are not common.

      For example, everyone is afraid of being eaten by a shark, but really, how likely is it to come across a shark swimming on the beach?

      In case there is a possibility of being in a dangerous situation, most human beings take the necessary precautions to avoid this situation and life goes on with its normal course.

      In the case of a phobia, the fear of being confronted with the dreaded situation is such that the person you can initiate a series of complete changes throughout your routine, Causing their impaired well-being, only to avoid being confronted with the phobic stimulus.

      For example, a person with arachnophobia may avoid crossing a park on their way to work, although this is the shortest route, or enjoy hiking with their friends out of fear of meeting a spider.

      Thus, the person develops a wide repertoire of strategies which give him a certain feeling of security, but to the detriment of his standard of living and of his development as a person.

      5. Individual differences

      Normally everyone is afraid of the same stimuli. To give a few examples, it would be to be in front of a lion, to go to a slum at night, to be in front of people with violent appearances …

      There aren’t a few situations that the vast majority of the human population wouldn’t like to find themselves in. however, in the case of specific phobias there is a greater degree of individual differences. There are phobias for everything: cockroaches, snakes, sex, glass …

      They are in this type of anxiety disorder where you can see more clearly how to stimulate stimuli that are virtually harmless to most, but a small group of the population is afraid of anything that is adaptive or proportionate.

      6. Remember the dreaded situation

      Normally, when a situation or stimulus that generates adaptive fear is memorized, the person is able to remember the memory intact, without distortion or exaggeration, even if it involves some degree of emotionality, such as anxiety.

      In the case of phobia, however, since the person feels a strong physiological and psychological activation, he prefers to avoid evoking the memory. Blocks the part of memory where the dreaded situation is located.

      7. Psychopathology

      Finally, the fundamental difference between normal fear and phobias needs to be clarified.

      Fear, as we have indicated throughout this article, involves a response pattern that would be within the normal range, and has an adaptive function: to ensure the survival of the person in the face of a threat.

      however, phobias are considered to be disorders in the group of anxiety disorders. Phobias often arise in situations which are unrealistic or which in fact involve an insignificant degree of threat and are therefore not adaptive.

      As disorders that involve a series of symptoms at the psychological level that normal fear does not manifest, the main one being distorted thinking about the phobic stimulus, as well as not facing or rationally thinking about the real degree of danger .

      Bibliographical references:

      • Antony, MA and Barlow, DH (1997). Specific phobia. In VE Cavall (Dir.), Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders (Vol. 1, pp. 3-24). Madrid: 21st century.
      • Bados, A. (1998). Specific phobias. In Vallejo, MA (Ed.), Behavior Therapy Manual, (Vol. I, pp. 169-218). Madrid: Dykinson.
      • Capafons Bonet, JI (2001). Effective psychological treatments for specific phobias. Psicothema, 13, 447-452.
      • Marks, IM (1991). Fears, phobias and rituals 1: The mechanisms of anxiety. Barcelona: Martínez Roca.
      • Pelechano, V. (1984). Psychological intervention programs in childhood: fears. Behavior Analysis and Modification, 10, 1-220.

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