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Health > Mental Health >Types Of Phobias



Agoraphobia, or the fear of open spaces, is really several fears rolled into one. Primarily it signifies a fear of open spaces, but also contains fears of meeting people, travelling, crowds, shopping, large spaces and of traffic. It is by far the most common of phobias - about 60 per cent of phobias possess this cluster of fears.

Oddly enough, agoraphobia is often linked with claustrophobia, which we deal with here as a separate phobia for clarity. The reaction depends on the personality of the sufferer.

It usually starts in the form of a quite unexpected form of panic. A variety of sensations may be experienced, from a pounding heart to fainting, and the agoraphobic will gradually find his life increasingly restricted and may eventually become totally housebound. Agoraphobia literally means fear of the market place, from the Greek, and usually sufferers associate their fear with the place where it first happened.

It is of course an extremely limiting and distressing state. The distress may well be compounded by the fact that the sufferer will be compounded by the fact that the sufferer will find treatment difficult because it generally entails visiting a clinic - a process which involves leaving the house and travelling through crowds which may terrify him.


Claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces - a dislike of being hemmed in or feeling trapped. Most people will admit to a slight feeling of claustrophobia in crowded lifts or undergrounds: some, however, react with panic or worse, preferring to go up many flights of stairs rather than take the life, or being reduced to tears at the prospect of entering a small, windowless room.

The claustrophobic’s fear of being trapped usually started after just such an experience. Something like being stuck in a crowded train in a dark tunnel can be traumatic, or being punished as a child by being locked up in a dark cupboard can trigger the phobia.

It is a characteristic of claustrophobia that it tends to embrace situations that are unconnected with the event that brought it on. For example, claustrophobia that started in a life might spread to include being unable to use public transport, enter small room or even wear clothes that are tight fitting. This potentially all embracing aspect of the phobia restricts the sufferer’s life dramatically, just as it does in agoraphobia, with which it has many parallels.


Most children go through periods of not wanting to go to school because of a specific cause - a test for which they have not studied, being bullied, a strong dislike for a particular teacher - but it should be emphasized that this is not a phobia. School phobia is intense and long lasting and embraces all situations connected with school. It often produced physical symptoms such as headache, upset stomach, nausea and vomiting. These problems, incidentally, are real: they are not troubles made up in an attempt to get out of going to school. The fact that the symptoms and pains may disappear as soon as the child is told that he does not have to go to school does not mean that he is malingering. In addition, you should not mistake what may be a mild depression, which is commonly due to viral infections in children, as a fear of going to school.

School phobias occur in nearly two percent of all children. It is thought to develop from a child’s anxiety at being separated from the mother. At the same time, his mother becomes anxious about whether her child will be all right at school mother and child, each with their own anxieties, become dependent on one another for reassurance, and more anxiety is induced each time separation occurs.


Social phobias, being afraid due to the presence of other people or the need to interact with them, is similar to agoraphobia, in that both phobias contain elements of fear of the market place. It is a phobia which effects more men than women, and is often a combination of a severe lack of confidence, anxiety, and the feeling that the sufferer is socially inadequate.

Symptoms can include being unable to relate to other people on a personal level, a fear of gatherings of people, being unable to talk in public, a conviction that able to talk in public, a conviction that one is socially incompetent, an inability to look people in the eye and so on. It is difficult to draw the line between normal social anxiety and an anxiety that amounts to a phobia.

The sad part of such fears is that they become linked first to activities that are carried out in the presence of other people, such as eating in restaurants, social conversations and drinking at parties, or travelling on public transport. These anxieties gradually begin to transfer to the activity itself, so that eating, drinking, talking and travelling themselves begin to produce anxiety in other circumstances.

As you might expect, such fears often develop during adolescence, when the individual may become painfully aware of doing or saying the right thing amongst friends, and sometimes acquires an exaggerated belief that people are watching him and criticizing his every move. A fear of sex can be produced because of this: in reality it is not sex itself that is feared, but what the partner will think of the sufferer’s imagined ineptitude.

Because they find it difficult to talk and mix with people, social phobics often become housebound. But they are different from agoraphobics in that they find it easy to go out of the house on their own, and difficult to do so when they are with other people.


Spiders, snakes, insects, dogs, cats, horses, birds - even feathers - can all cause phobias. Many people are frightened of a particular animal: a phobia develops when the fear turns into an obsession about trying to avoid them. For example, cat phobic try to check that their friends don’t have a cat around when they visit, but they visit, but they are bound to come across them in the street or the garden, and they sometimes get nervous about going out at all. People with a bird phobia - exploited so successfully by continually on the lookout and may scream and cover their heads if a bird flies up at them suddenly.

Most animal phobic simply try to keep out of the way of the object of their fears and live with their phobias as best they can; but the disadvantage of this sort of fear is that you encounter them unexpectedly, at any place and at any time.


Fears of ghosts, the dark, being lost, being attacked, being hurt, and so on are commonplace in young children, but they cannot be regarded as phobias because they usually fade with out difficulty as the child gets older. Only school phobia and some animal phobias usually remain beyond the age of five. The fears that remain beyond the age of six may need a little help, but simply ‘talking out’ the problem with the child may suffice. It is never helpful to laugh at a childhood fear - a gentle explanation, perhaps repeated several times, of why the anxiety is unnecessary will succeed far better.


Most other phobias - ranging from heights, thunder, darkness, running water or infection to phobias about being touched (haphephobia), making love (erotophobia), and so on - are comparatively rare and less is known about them.

The fear of flying (aero phobia) is rather more commonplace, probably because many more people nowadays take overseas holidays by plane, and flying brings together the situations of closed spaces, height, motion, the physically unnerving aspects of turbulence and the feeling of not being able to do anything about one’s plight if something does go radically wrong.

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