What is a phobia?

According to medicalnewstoday a phobia can be described as “an irrational fear, a kind of anxiety disorder in which the sufferer has a relentless dread of a situation, living creature, place or thing”

Many people who suffer from a phobia will often go to great lengths to avoid getting confronted with their fears. They will often perceive something as much more dangerous in their minds than it actually is in real life. In some cases people who are directly confronted with their phobia may suffer from huge amounts of stress and panic attacks. Depending on the individual, the distress and panic may even lead to interference with their normal everyday functions.


The concept of having a phobia is extremely complex and it is often hard to tell whether a person has developed a phobia of something or ‘just a simple fear’ of for instance, spiders. One of the main differences between a phobia and a fear is that the sufferer will start to organize their everyday life to avoid coming in contact with said phobia.

In some cases phobias don’t always have a highly negative impact on a persons life. If the phobia involves something the sufferer rarely sees (think about things like snakes, bats etc) their everyday life is less likely to be affected. However, some more complex forms of phobia, for example agoraphobia (fear of public spaces), may be impossible to avoid and will greatly affect the sufferers life.

Unfortunately there seem to be many misunderstandings concerning the topic of phobias. The term phobia is a complex one and often needs clarification when used in everyday life. It’s important to note that there are many different forms of phobia, but first we want to tell something about the term phobia.

Homer's_Phobia_(Promo_Picture)The term phobia can be used for different contexts and can refer to different conditions. So called Non-psychological phobias, like photophobia, are often used in a wrong context. Photophobia is a condition were one’s eyes are particularly sensitive to light. However, this does not mean that a person who suffers from photophobia is afraid of light, they are just more sensitive for light and this often has a biological cause. So even though the term phobia can be used to address a certain disease, it does not always mean ‘being afraid’.

Secondly, some words that use the term phobia do not always refer to a certain kind of fear. For instance, the words homophobia and xenophobia are used in a context of prejudice or discrimination. It does not always mean that homophobic people are actually afraid of homosexuals, but the term rather refers to discrimination and prejudice.

Having said that, we can roughly state three different categories of phobia.

1. Specific / Simple Phobias

These are relatively common phobias and involve the fear of specific living creatures, situations, places, activities or objects. Some examples are a fear of bats (chiroptophobia), snakes (opidiophobia), flying (aviophobia) and dentists (dentophobia).

2. Social Phobias

People who suffer from a social phobia (often referred to as social anxiety disorder) find it difficult to be physically present at social events or in situations were social interaction is important. Going to weddings, parties or exhibitions may result in feelings of anxiety and a fear of being embarrassed or humiliated in public.

3. Agoraphobia

This last category can be seen as an extreme case phobia. People who suffer from Agoraphobia are frightened to find themselves in situations where there is no escape. They have a fear of being somewhere where there is absolutely no help from other people. Examples may include the fear of traveling in a bus or train, going to large shopping malls or cinema’s. People who suffer from a severe case of Agoraphobia may even find it unbearable to leave the comfort of their own house.