Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks)

Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks) typically causes individuals to develop an irrational fear of sharks and may invoke anxiety at any time, even if sharks are not nearby.

What is Galeophobia?

Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks) is a psychological condition which causes people to suffer from an intense and irrational fear of sharks. Although sharks can be dangerous to humans, people with Galeophobia have a fear which far exceeds the potential risk of harm.

If someone does not live close to shark-infested waters but still has an extreme fear of the aquatic animals, for example, they may be said to have Galeophobia. When people have this type of phobia, they do not simply become scared if they are close to a shark. Instead, their fears may make them preoccupied with sharks.

As well as avoiding bodies of water which may contain sharks, people with Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks) are likely to avoid other places as well. An individual who has a phobia of sharks may refuse to enter an aquarium, for example, as they may fear seeing or being in the same building as a shark.

Although sharks may not pose a real threat to the individual, their fear is intense and prolonged. Their condition may be so severe that they are unable to view imagery of sharks, talk about them or even think about sharks, without having an intense reaction.

What are the symptoms of Galeophobia?

When people have a phobia of a specific object or animal, such as a shark, they can display increased anxiety if they are in close proximity to their feared stimulus. In addition to this, people with Galeophobia may become uncomfortable or anxious if their phobia is triggered in other ways, such as people talking about sharks.

If a phobic person encounters a trigger, their fear may escalate rapidly. As well as attempting to flee the situation, the person may exhibit seemingly strange behaviors, such as pacing or moving rapidly. This is usually in response to the uncomfortable physical sensations which are induced by anxiety.

When a person suffers an acute bout of anxiety, it is often referred to as a panic attack. People with phobias can suffer from panic attacks regularly, particularly if they have numerous triggers. When experiencing a panic attack, individuals may experience a range of psychological and physical symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of despair
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Desire to escape
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of fear and terror

Although panic attacks are highly unpleasant, they sometimes occur because the individual’s subconscious mind is trying to protect them. While the rational mind may know that a picture of a shark does not pose a real threat, the person’s subconscious mind is unable to make this rationalization. As a result, their fear response is provoked and a panic attack ensues. Due to the severity of the symptoms which occur during a panic attack, the person will typically try to evade the perceived threat and avoid it in the future. The subconscious is effectively over-protecting the person, even though no genuine threat is present.

What causes Galeophobia?

Phobias can occur for a number of reasons and may have complex origins. In some instances, a phobia of sharks may develop because an individual has had a negative experience around sharks but there are various other reasons why someone might suffer from Galeophobia. Many therapists believe Galeophobia can be caused by the following issues:

  • Learned behavior
  • Previous negative experience
  • Media portrayals of sharks

Fears can be learned and may be passed on from one person to another. This is particularly true if a child spends a lot of time with someone who has a specific fear. If a caregiver has a negative reaction when sharks are mentioned, for example, the child may pick up on this and may begin to behave in the same way. Even if the child has not encountered a shark or is aware of their potential danger, they could go on to develop Galeophobia.

Not many people actually encounter sharks, particularly in their natural habitat. Although sharks can be extremely dangerous to humans, the number of people at risk of a shark attack is actually very low. This number is reduced further if you actively avoid activities which could put you at risk of a shark attack, such as swimming or surfing in shark-infested waters.

Despite this, people may have had negative experiences involving sharks. Many holiday resorts offer the chance to dive among sharks, albeit in an allegedly safe cage which should prevent injury from occurring. If someone partakes in this type of activity and has a negative experience, they may develop Galeophobia.

Similarly, if people witness a shark attack or even hear about it from the media, it can trigger a phobia. While the specific event may not have had a direct physical impact on the patient, the psychological impact of the event can be enough to cause Galeophobia.

Even fictitious accounts of sharks tend to elicit negative reactions from people. Famous films and books have featured sharks negatively and these portrayals tend to be believed by a wide audience. Due to this, people tend to fear sharks, even if they are not in any real danger. As a result, people can develop Galeophobia without ever spending any time in close proximity to a shark.

Can Galeophobia be treated?

Although phobias are very distressing, Galeophobia, like most specific phobias, can be treated with various forms of therapy. While exposure therapy is often used to treat specific phobias, it is not an appropriate form of treatment for Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks). The limited habitat of sharks, as well as their danger to humans, ensures that this form of therapy is restricted to other types of phobias.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy, however, are often used to treat this type of phobia and can be extremely successful. By altering how the individual perceives sharks and enabling them to modify their fear response, the patient’s behavior can be changed and they can live a life free from the fear of sharks.

Preventing Galeophobia (Fear Of Sharks)

Although previous negative experiences with sharks can cause Galeophobia, the condition is often acquired through learned behavior or negative media portrayals. Due to this, Galeophobia may be prevented in some instances. If a parent has an intense fear of sharks, for example, they should take steps to ensure that their child is not aware of their dislike. By not exposing the child to the parent’s fear response, it lessens their chance of developing Galeophobia.

Alternatively, individuals should be made aware that media portrayals may make sharks appear more of a risk than they actually are. While this knowledge will not help someone who has already developed an irrational fear, it may help to prevent an individual from developing Galeophobia.