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Phobias: how do you know when the fear is irrational?


Proverbs31:28
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I have one particular phobia which has been an issue for many years. I do not know its source (as far as I know, no incidents involving the subject of my phobia has ever occured) and yet it seems to worsen over the years. Initially, I could not see or be around the object without being overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. Then, I couldn't even handle pictures or seeing it on TV. Now, I cannot say the word- my children, family and close friends know not to say the word; I still can't look at pictures or see one on TV and I most certainly cannot be in the same vicinity or look at one in person.

Recently, however, due to some "inadvertent" exposures (photographs and TV, not in person) I am finding that this particular phobia is taking on a bigger life. I am afraid to turn the TV on now for fear I will see one. I am afraid to open magazines or look at websites. I am supposed to be taking my son to several museums and a zoo next month while my daughter is away at camp and, the fact is, I am growing deeply concerned about it.

The response I have is not simply an emotional/mental one. It is extremely physcial. It starts at the back of my neck and I suddenly feel it on my skin. I feel my skin crawl. I start to choke and gag (and, in some cases, even vomit.) My head begins to tremble, I get dizzy and faint. I have to escape quickly. But, after the exposure, my thoughts are obsessive and focus on how to avoid future exposures. I actually got "trapped" in an aquarium last summer and my friend had to locate an employee who was able to take me out a back exit because I could not go back the way I came once I realized what I had passed! I was hyperventilating and crying hysterically by time my friend found someone to help, so then embarassment topped it off!

Friday, I was watching a slideshow of my kids at camp and out of the blue, there were photographs of these hideous, vile things! Several photos in a row. My body kept lurching forward and I had my face completely covered (in the midst of a group of strangers, no less!) and I literally thought I would die! Just typing about it is bringing back the physcial sensations. :P Then, later that evening, a little girl starting telling me about some in her yard. And, a neighbor told me she saw one dead in the road! And, while watching TV with my kids last week, there was another one!

So, now I am trying to identify whether the increasing fears are truly irrational? (I can accept that the original fear is irrational, but, under the circumstances, is the increasing fear irrational?) I mean, if I have had so many unintended exposures lately, and all of them while taking what I thought were sufficient precautions, then whats to say additional exposures are not just a breath away? I am becoming absolutely terrified that I will be accidentally exposed again so I am beginning to shut off certain outlets- not watching TV, not reading magazines or newspapers, visiting only know/trusted websites, avoiding social situations which involve strangers who, unaware of my phobia, may start talking about this creature!

Since this last round of exposures, I have become completely obsessed. I am NOT willing to engage in any type of exposure therapy at this point so that is not an option. AT ALL. I just need to figure out how to get my life back. Or at least find a way to return this phobia to its rightful place.

Does anyone else deal with this? I am looking for advice or been there/done that insight. I am going to call T this week and schedule another appt, but, honestly, I am afraid to do even that because, when we discuss this topic, she insists on using the word. :eek:

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I am sorry to hear about all these difficulties you have had with this phobia, Proverbs. I know that when I feel fear, even when I can rationalize how unreasonable the feeling is, it is little comfort. I wish you the best when you raise this matter with your T. As always, you face your problems head on! You will show this phobia its rightful place, I am sure.

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If you want to rationalize that the fear is irrational. Try talking to yourself out loud, maybe not in public. Explain to yourself why you are afraid of it and why there's no reason to be afraid of it. Sometimes we need to figure out ourselves to know whats going on. Try doing to yourself what your therapist would try to do to you. Make you talk and keep you talking getting deeper and deeper then, you hit the source of the problem. When I had therapy I was flabbergasted on how easily my therapist could get things out of me I didn't even know.

Once you can drag the true problem out to the surface then you can confront that problem. Now you say its some sort of creature. I won't fish for the name just in case I hit the right one. Now when it comes to me and wild life I'm never afraid. You'd see me jumping on beasts like Steve Irwin. I once tried to grab a very vicious animal not to be played with on the scruff... and it tried to scratch me up to shreds. I was fine though, in the end there was nothing it could do to truly hurt me. I remember another time a friend had a very visious pet, cut me up a few time. His mother was scared to death I'd sue for no good reason and I made it my priority to get that dang pet which drew first blood to be my best friend.

A little scratch is the most that pet could do to me. Now by this creature I think I know what your talking about and I'll just say its a pest if I'm right. Now if I'm wrong I still might as well say all it will do is make a mess hiss at your pet run away and call it a day. Even if it scratches or bites you you put on some antibacterial stuff wrap it up and call it a day.

Now you say you saw the thing in a slide show of your daughter at camp. Were people running in terror. Was there picnic tables being toppled over, people heading for shelter, swat coming to the rescue, did they even pay any heed to it? If not its because they don't see it as a threat in any way and neither should you, there's your irrationality.

I hope the fist part of this wasn't the only part that helped or else I would have babbled on about the wrong thing for a pretty dang long time. Have a good one and gl with this phobia.

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Proverbs,

I have been away and may have missed something but I am not aware of reading the name of the object that you fear. It would help if I knew.

The reason is that there are certain things that are universal fears. For example, most people fear spiders, snakes, bugs of various types if not all of them, deep water, engulfment by fire, rodents like mice and rats, and many other types of things. I hate bugs and spiders and mice. These are natural fears and probably have some evolutionary survival purpose that no longer helps us.

You need to understand that your "phobia" may just be part of a general anxiety that you have. I mean, just a low level of anxiety that rises up when things become more stressful. I am not sure that exposure therapy is always the best and can even be kind of cruel. There are those things that we can just avoid if they do not interfere too much with our lives. Instead of not turning on the TV, what about avoiding any nature types of programs?

Also, are you dealing with additional or new stressors lately?

Allan :o

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Hi Proverbs,

I have been away and may have missed something but I am not aware of reading the name of the object that you fear. It would help if I knew.

The reason is that there are certain things that are universal fears. For example, most people fear spiders, snakes, bugs of various types if not all of them, deep water, engulfment by fire, rodents like mice and rats, and many other types of things. I hate bugs and spiders and mice. These are natural fears and probably have some evolutionary survival purpose that no longer helps us.

You need to understand that your "phobia" may just be part of a general anxiety that you have. I mean, just a low level of anxiety that rises up when things become more stressful. I am not sure that exposure therapy is always the best and can even be kind of cruel. There are those things that we can just avoid if they do not interfere too much with our lives. Instead of not turning on the TV, what about avoiding any nature types of programs?

Also, are you dealing with additional or new stressors lately?

Allan :)

Eek, ack and egad! Yes, my fear is (I can't believe I will type this) snakes.

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The fear developed suddenly, about 7 or 8 years ago. I remember the EXACT moment I felt the physical sensation of fear and anxiety for the first time. Even recalling events where I was exposed bring on the physical sensations (not the need to escape, but the rising up in my neck, the lurching forward, the gagging, the lightheaded/faint feeling. )

It has been really hard to watch TV lately because they seem to appear unexpectedly, like on the Disney Channel or other non-nature channels. (I will now watch movies that I have seen before because I know there are none.) My kids went to camp and they brought several different reptiles for the kids to see. There were pictures in the camp slideshow. So, here is my newest obsessive thought: knowing that my children were there, in the same room with them, possibly holding them. Knowing that they are not afraind and yet I am terrified and would have left a trail of tears and dust as I bolted from the area. It bothers me greatly to know that they were exposed- it is another example of how I cannot control things and especially how avoidance is not fool proof. My kids know my fear and they are very accomodating of it, though they don't understand it.

As for "new" or "additional" stressors, I don't think so. I mean, I feel like I always carry a certain level of stress but the rise in this particular issue seems directly related to the increasing exposures. (Which is exactly why I am not willing to engage in exposure therapy- there is no way I could handle feeling like this on purpose!) My T tries to talk about it but I change the subject.

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Proverbs, I am no expert, but my understanding of phobias is that they get going as a way to anchor anxiety, meaning, fearing an object is better than having tons of fear floating around without anything to attach to, so the mind picks something. Again, I'm no expert! Is it possible that 7 or 8 years ago, things were deeply troubling for you, and you needed to land on something to anchor all those feelings of anxiety? What was going on for you back then?

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