The term phasmophobia (fear of ghosts) originates from the Greek words “phasmos” (meaning phantom or supernatural being) and “phobos” (fear or deep dread). It is a common phobia among adults and children alike, which can be treated with talking therapies, medication or a combination of both.
For sufferers of phasmophobia, life can be incredibly difficult. It is a complex condition and determining its root cause in the patient is vital in helping them to overcome their fears. While the condition manifests itself in many ways, it is typically exacerbated by exposure to dark and dimly lit areas which could be considered “scary” or otherwise unnerving. Buildings and streets which have connotations or folk tales regarding ghosts and other supernatural beings attached to them can also cause distress in the patient.
In other cases, the patient may feel that they are being haunted by a specific ghost or being which follows them around. This fear can strike at any place or at any time, causing the patient to become distressed and anxious.
The most common symptom of phasmophobia (fear of ghosts) is a panic attack. Panic attacks occur when a rush of adrenalin caused by the patient’s irrational fear affects the body. In most cases, the body enters into “fight or flight” mode, where the patient is torn between fleeing the situation and not being able to move. Other symptoms of panic attacks include the following:
Many phasmophobes display typical signs of avoidance behavior. For example, if it is a dark and windy night and the patient must be somewhere at a specific time, it can affect their judgment and cause them to stay at home. Some phasmophobia sufferers may struggle to sleep without having the bedroom light on or may avoid entering certain rooms at night-time.
In addition to the emotional stress caused by the condition, sufferers may also be impacted financially. Avoidance behavior causes individuals to pass up job opportunities and promotions due to their fears. It is estimated that patients with phasmophobia and/or other irrational fears may lose tens of thousands of dollars during their lifetime as a result of turning down employment or education options that have a potential to cause them to feel fear.
It is not uncommon for a fear of ghosts to be accompanied by other phobias, such as a fear of the dark, a fear of mirrors, a fear of shadows or a fear of photographs.
Mental health experts agree that anticipatory anxiety, or fearing the unknown, plays a large role in triggering phasmophobia. While no two individual cases are alike, psychologists suspect that frightening experiences in the formative years of the patient are responsible for causing the condition.
Movies, television shows, media reports about ghost sightings, folk tales, superstitious beliefs and religious doctrines are all potential triggers for phasmophobia. For example, a child may have been told a ghost story by an older relative or friend as a joke to “spook” them out. Unwittingly, the child who heard the story could then become anxious and uneasy due to the traumatic nature of the tale, and this trauma could then be carried forward into adulthood.
As part of the brain’s defense mechanism, it secretes a chemical from the amygdala which triggers fear. If a child has been put in a fearful situation because of exposure to a ghost story or horror movie, the brain will recognize the environment in which the child felt fear, causing it to release adrenalin and other chemicals as a result.
In Hollywood movies and television shows, ghosts are generally portrayed as inherently evil and out to kill, maim or cause distress to people. Exposure to these shows causes the mind to develop negative connotations of the unknown.
On a Freudian level, some psychologists hypothesize that phasmophobia is an internalized fear of death or negative things that may happen in the future. The concept of the dead returning to haunt a household or building could potentially stem from the patient’s belief that somebody close to them is about to die or become gravely ill.
Patients who suffer from phasmophobia often avoid seeking treatment, as they may not feel that their irrational fear of ghosts is disabling enough. Parents of younger sufferers are sometimes reluctant to seek treatment as they feel that their child will outgrow their fears with age. However, parents have an important role to play in the treatment of children with a fear of ghosts. They can use positive tales and encouragement that ghosts don’t exist to help alleviate the anxieties of their children.
For adults with a severe phobia of ghosts, understanding and rationalizing their phasmophobia is important in helping them to deal with it. Talking therapies are the best way to get to the root cause, although medication can be helpful in addressing the physical symptoms of anxiety. The following methods of treatment have been proven to be successful in helping patients to overcome or reduce their phobias to more manageable levels:
CBT is designed to equip the patient with new ways to cope with their phobia and to help them to see situations in a different, more mindful light.
Hypnosis helps the patient to regress and identify the root cause of their phasmophobia and is beneficial for helping them address and understand their fears.
While medication treats the physical symptoms of anxiety associated with phobias, it will not help address the root cause. Many psychologists agree that a combination of drugs and talking therapies is the best way to overcome phasmophobia.
Perhaps one of the most important ways to prevent phasmophobia is for parents to exercise control over the information and media their children can access. In the age of virtually limitless connectivity to scary movies, videos and stories, parents should be willing to put parental controls in place to ensure their children cannot access unsuitable material, as well as helping to educate them that supernatural beings do not exist.
Phasmophobia is an irrational fear, and no two cases are identical, which means that situations which trigger some patients might not necessarily cause issues for others. To prevent anxiety and panic associated with existing cases of phasmophobia, the best course of action is for the patient to enter therapy.