Nearly everything that exists has a phobia attached to it. They range from ones that make sense rationally such as tigriphobia (fear of tigers) to ones you may find odd. Take vestiphobia (fear of clothing) for example. Don’t get me wrong. If I have a choice between pants on or pants off I usually go with the latter, but I’d never go as far as to say pants scare me.
What this shows is how strangely the human psyche operates. Why this tends to be the case is largely unknown. Although, there are theories such as it is a result of evolution. At first, some would say it makes sense such as with tigriphobia. If our ancestors were attacked by sabertooth tigers it would be understandable why a generational fear of them would develop. Now, I do get that being afraid of something and having a phobia of it are two different things.
Most people would not want to meet a tiger face-to-face. Whereas someone with a phobia of it, even doing so much as looking at it in a zoo may trigger a fight or flight response. While some phobias can be instinctual others are instilled in some way. Sonophobia (fear of loud noises) could have several causes. These could be genetic which again would make sense given our ancestral history.
Then again, it can also be from experience. Say, someone grew up with parents constantly arguing or they were in the military and saw combat. Sometimes, phobias can be instilled socially. If someone is susceptible to certain influences, they can cause them to experience paranoia of those around them to the point of developing anthropophobia (irrational fear of people or society). Not the keyword there, irrational.
Even though I think this should be apparent by now, I should mention I am no psychologist. I’ve watched a few videos on the subject and skimmed through an article or two, but in no way would I describe myself as a professional on the matter. I am simply describing my observations as a lamen. With that said, I do wonder often why people have the fears they do. I am no exception to this.
In my case, it’s bugs. Logically, I understand that the majority of them pose no threat to me whatsoever, and yet, I can’t stand being around them because I find them creepy. We all have fears like this, but some border on arguable delusion. The concept of Hell or even a deity or deities that would punish people for stepping out of line has been with humanity for a good chunk of our history. This is despite there being no physical evidence for either thing.
Still, people all over the world have believed some variation of this and continue to even to this day. The phobia that relates to this is one of the most common, Thanatophobia (fear of death). It’s so strong that nearly every society in human history has invented a form of afterlife and corresponding beings that inhabit them. I am not religious. As far as I can tell, when we perish our consciousness will cease to function.
Does the idea of that scare me? Sometimes, but I also recognize there’s still much we have yet to discover. I think it’s the possibility, no matter how minute, of there being something after death that gives me comfort. This is until I give this topic too much thought and this brings me to Apeirophobia (fear of immortality or eternity). I’ve already touched some on this in a past article so I will try to keep it brief.
The main difference is in this case, you would potentially be receiving some form of stimulation. Again, though, it would last forever. Even if it’s something you find good that would still be torture in the long run. Imagine if you could eat your favorite food with no physical health consequences. How many times would it take before you got sick of it, a hundred, a thousand?
It would happen eventually. Which is worse, Thanatophobia or Apeirophobia? It all comes down to preference. For me, it depends on the type of afterlife. Personally, a form of memory wipe selective reincarnation would be ideal. However, I recognize this as wishful thinking.
Another way phobias could occur is from certain media. For this, I can think of no better examples than 1975’s movie, Jaws, and 1986’s novel, IT. Although both were before my time, I am intimately familiar with them.
With Jaws, we watched so much when I was little that I got sick of it for a while. I revisited it within the last year and I realized just how much I underappreciated it. When I’m watching older movies I try to keep in mind the atmosphere of when they took place. One of the taglines for Jaws is “Don’t go in the water”. The phobia for that would be aquaphobia.
Then there’s the other fear associated with it, of sharks. This is known as galeophobia. Would it be a stretch to say Jaws caused people to have these phobias? Kind of. Firstly, it’s not hard to imagine they would already be preexisting. Think about what drowning would be like.
You’re underwater with your lungs on the verge of collapse and you can’t go back up for air. Imagine the panic that scenario would set in. That actually happened to my fourth-grade history teacher. It wasn’t sharks that caused it, though. It was a bloom of jellyfish.
As an aside, in addition to Bloom, the other words to describe a group of jellyfish are a fluther, a smack, or a swarm. Being observed from afar, they can be quite pretty so I think in general bloom is more fitting. However, in my teacher’s case, I imagine swarm is more appropriate. If I recall correctly, he was vacationing in Australia, and while swimming, a swarm of them gathered above him. The fact I’m able to relay this to you should make it obvious that he survived, but there’s no way I would have been able to hold my breath for that long.
If it were me, I would not have fared as well. More than likely, it would have left a bad impression on me. That’s another thing. Something that could be considered traumatic happening to someone doesn’t necessarily guarantee a phobia being developed. Why is this the case in some instances and not others?
Does it have to do with how impressionable someone is? Maybe it has to do with someone’s understanding of an event. Not to get too dark, but some people may not recognize something as traumatic until much later. To close things off, I will once again be talking about IT and the phobia associated with it (no pun intended), coulrophobia (fear of clowns). Was the story the cause of this?
Well, much like with sharks and Jaws, while I think IT was a contributing factor, the phobia predated it, albeit it wasn’t as prevalent. IT would not have done as well if there was not a preexisting apprehension of clowns. This and things such as those scary attack videos years ago have contributed significantly to their modern infamy. Seeing why they have this reputation is not difficult, with their pale white skin and painted-on smiles. Then to top it off, they are intended for little kids.
Would you want to be having a birthday party, then suddenly have what I described looming over you? I wouldn’t. By the way, if any clowns read this, I’m sorry. Please, don’t…Clown on me! Anyway, for IT, the entity wasn’t only a clown. Pennywise could become anything or anyone so the fear was of what IT truly was.
Is something similar going on with the apprehension of clowns? Statistically, most clowns are harmless, and yet, the phobia of them still persists. Perhaps, it has to do with how uncanny they can come across and that brings me to Automatonophobia (fear of the uncanny). One of the most famous examples of this is the “Have You Seen This Man In Your Dreams?” picture that has circulated online. From what I hear, it was created by blending the facial features of young and old people to create an off-putting effect.
Some have theorized that the reason we are afraid of uncanny characters is because our earlier ancestors had to deal with predators who looked human but were not. I think that’s a good thought to end on and who knows? In the infinite vastness of the universe, something such as that may be out there.