A phobia may
have established such a firm hold on your life that it seems impossible
to unlock, or even understand. However, regardless of the specific
stimulus that produced the fear—whether it be dogs, thunderstorms,
cancer, the naked body, fire, death, or being touched by another
person—the majority of phobias are generated from one of the
following five causes:
PRODUCT OF SEVERE STRESS
can be repressed for such a long time or to such a degree that is
surfaces in another form, that of irrational fear. You may be experiencing
a great amount of stress in relation to a specific thing, place,
or situation, but that stress may materialize as a phobia about
some other thing, place, or situation. For example, Brent developed
a fear of crossing a particular bridge in town. As a junior attorney
in a large law firm, Brent experienced a great degree of “invisible”
pressure at work, and often felt victimized in personal confrontations
with the firm’s senior partners. The office of the law firm
was located across the dreaded bridge. By developing an abnormal
fear of the bridge, Brent avoided acknowledging the real cause of
severe stress, his job.
transferred stress from one area of life to another, which resulted
in what could be called “displaced” phobias. Often in
this type of stress-based fear the person selects something that
can be easily avoided as the object of the phobia, rather than fearing
a true stimulus that is difficult or impossible to avoid. Thus a
nine-year-old girl may fear bicycling which can be avoided, when
the true object of her fear is her grandfather, who cannot be avoided.
PRODUCT OF A SERIES OF EXPERIENCES OCCURRING OVER A PERIOD
OF YEARS, WHICH HAVE BUILT UP INTO AN EXCESSIVE ANXIETY
fears related to your own performance or to being in certain social
situations can cause you to build up a fear of phobic proportions.
You may think of this cause as an accumulation of distressing events
that perpetuate and increase a state of dread.
worst fear involved playing sports. When he was eight years old
and tried to skate, he immediately fell, skinning his face. When
he was ten, an older boy taunted him throughout a neighborhood baseball
game. When he was a freshman in high school, the track coach told
him he needed to build up his muscles. He was instructed to run
laps while the other members of the team were competing with one
another in a trial meet. By the time Carl was a sophomore, he was
terrified of failure, dreaded physical education of any sort, and
became nauseated when he had to perform in from of others.
type of personal history, which includes a series of negative experiences
that reinforce each other, can culminate in a phobia that may transfer
or radiate to other areas of life.
PRODUCT OF A FEAR OF FEAR
have nothing to fear but fear itself” is more than a piece
of rhetoric. If you have a fear of panic, of fear itself, it is
a very real phobia. Your fear can be associated with anything and
everything because you believe that as you go over a certain threshold
of stress in the presence of a certain stimulus, you will panic.
By anticipating panic, you raise your stress level and the fear
of fear turns into a destructive cycle. You avoid so many situations
in your effort not to be afraid that your life becomes very limited.
You may be afraid to go downtown, afraid to talk to certain people,
afraid to have a job, afraid of traveling afraid of parenting. Nothing
is exempt from your fear, and your activities become increasingly
restricted as the fear radiates into all facets of your life.
TRANSMISSION TO YOU BY ANOTHER PERSON
cause of phobias is probably the easiest to understand, because
it is imposed on you by an outside force. For example, if you continually
see your father react with horror to thunderstorms, you are likely
to react the same way. In this case, you have “caught”
the fear from someone who serves as a role model for you.
with whom you are in close contact—a friend, neighbor, or
even a stranger—can transmit a fear.
RESULT OF A SEVERE PAST TRAUMA
painful emotional experience from the past can produce an unreasonable
fear of that same situation, object, person, or place that originally
caused the fear. The trauma can be either conscious or subconscious;
that is, you may be aware of the original cause of the fear, or
you may have successfully buried the trauma and have no conscious
recollection of it. In many cases, the trauma that caused the phobia
a sales representative for an electronics firm, suffered from claustrophobia,
a common but abnormal fear of enclosed or narrow places. For thirty
years he had been afraid of being inside of elevators, trains, airplanes,
and cars or of having to climb enclosed staircases. He was unable
to take a show unless someone else was present in the same room.
Through therapy, he was able to recall an incident from his childhood
when a babysitter punished him by locking him in his bedroom closet.
In the dark, he imagined that he shared the closet with evil monsters
who were whispering, planning their vicious attack on him. As an
adult, Paul carried that original fear whenever he was spatially
confined in any way.
past traumas, however, do not emerge from childhood. You may have
a past trauma that has developed as a result of your divorce seven
years ago, the birth of your first child last year, tour mother’s
death a decade ago, or your move to a different city last Christmas.
The common characteristic for all traumas is the same. It is an
event, incident, or period of time that cannot be consciously recalled
without provoking alarm, extreme anxiety, or panic.