Phobophobia (Fear Of Fear)

Phobophobia (fear of fear) is a type of phobia which occurs when an individual is afraid of their own fear response.

Overview:

A phobia is more than just fear, it is an anxiety disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to function and produces extreme distress in an individual when they are faced with a particular stimulus. “Phobophobia”, also known as the fear of fear, is defined as a fear of developing a phobia or exhibiting the signs and symptoms of a phobia. Most individuals suffering from phobophobia are afraid of the symptoms of phobia; it is much less common for individuals suffering from phobophobia to be afraid of developing a phobia. Furthermore, in general, there are two types of phobophobia: phobophobia which develops, in addition, a pre-existing phobia or pre-existing phobias, and phobophobia which develops without a pre-existing phobia.

Phobophobia is believed to derive from, or at least bear some relation to, pre-existing anxiety or anxieties. There is a link between phobophobia and other panic and anxiety disorders, including GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder).

Although all phobias can be very debilitating, due to the nature of this particular phobia, it can create a vicious cycle which may be very difficult to break. Because the phobic individual is afraid of their own fear, and the sensations which it produces, their fear response and anxiety heightens as a result.

Causes:

Phobias are categorized as inherently irrational fears, so they don’t always have a logical origin. While some phobias have a very clear root cause, others are more difficult to place. A phobia may arise from a traumatic event or simply internalized beliefs and behavior, often picked up by caregivers and parents during a child’s early years.

The fear of fear is likely rooted in a pre-existing anxiety disorder. It is most often observed in individuals that are predisposed to anxiety or already have pre-existing anxiety and is probably caused by the frightening symptoms which occur during a panic or anxiety attack. The individual learns to make negative associations with the symptoms of their anxiety, they have a difficult time dissociating their feelings and their physiological response.

Additionally, it should be noted that phobias rarely develop in mid-to-late adulthood. They generally develop during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of phobophobia typically include those that accompany anxiety. They may vary greatly from individual to individual. The symptoms of phobophobia will differ from those of other phobias because the symptoms are the stimulus; the presence of symptoms in the phobic individual will exacerbate the symptoms, and it may be quite difficult for the symptoms to subside on their own. The most common symptoms of phobophobia are as follows:

  • A pervasive sense of dread
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Crying/weeping
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Nausea and gastrointestinal distress; in extreme cases, vomiting may occur
  • Refusal to participate in, confront, or approach anything which the individual finds distressing or anxiety-inducing
  • An unusually extreme and severe response to anxiety-inducing situations (situations which commonly cause mild anxiety in others)
  • Rapid heartbeat; the individual may believe that they are suffering from a heart attack
  • Visible agitation
  • Dizziness and light-headedness which may or may not lead to fainting
  • Lack of coherency; confused speech
  • Short, rapid breathing
  • Feelings of powerlessness and loss of control
  • Fixation on fear, or any stimulus which may produce fear in the phobic individual

Treatment:

Above all, a mental health professional must examine the individual to determine that they are indeed phobophobic, and that the stimulus or cause of the individual’s phobic behavior is not something else. The treatment of phobophobia is similar to the treatment of other phobias; however, due to the particular nature of this phobia, it is important to not only address the phobia itself but the possibility for anxiety disorder. Because phobophobia is common in individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, a mental health professional should consider the possibility that an anxiety disorder is contributing to the patient’s phobophobia.

The most effective of treatment for phobophobia is psychotherapy, which often performs best when paired with medication. Although exposure therapy is generally the particular type of therapy that is used to treat phobias, because of the specific nature of phobophobia, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) may be better options for phobophobic individuals. It is important to note that psychotherapy usually addresses one phobia at a time, so individuals with other, coexisting phobias will work them separately.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy have both been proven to be particularly effective in dealing with anxiety and similar mental health disorders. Both work by helping the individual re-train and condition their brain to break negative and unhealthy thought patterns. They provide individuals with tools in order to cope with potentially anxiety-inducing situations. They help individuals disassociate their bodily sensations from emotions, thoughts and facts.

Medication may be necessary in order for an individual to get the most out of therapy and begin to disassociate their phobia. The medications most helpful to patients with phobias are:

  • Beta blockers: Beta blockers help to block the physiological effects of an adrenaline rush. This is helpful to phobic individuals since the distressing symptoms of a panic attack are the result of an intense adrenaline rush.
  • Sedatives: Sedatives help to calm and induce a sense of tranquillity in an individual. However, sedatives can be highly addictive and should not be administered to individuals with a history of alcohol and drug abuse.

Prevention:

Prevention of phobophobia is not necessarily possible, but taking steps to preventing anxiety may also prevent the development of phobophobia. For parents and caregivers of young children, it is important to take notice of children who seem anxious or nervous and to address any symptoms of an anxiety disorder as soon as possible. Avoid encouraging children to fixate on fears or anxieties, or teaching them phobic behaviors. Help children to accept and properly identify their feelings.

For individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, it is crucial that they learn to differentiate their feelings and emotions from their thoughts, and what is actually going on around them. Correct identification of feelings and the acceptance of those feelings can greatly improve and mitigate anxiety and can help to prevent the development of phobophobia (fear of fear).