The Frightening Truth about Phobias

By Marianne Curtis

When I was a little girl, I  was not afraid of anything but I can clearly remember when the fear and paranoia that would eventually become a part of my daily life set in.  I was about eight years old when my mother (whom I later realized suffered from a number of psychological disorders) discovered a “religion” based out of New York City. She became obsessed with the end of the world and preparing our family to meet God.

 It was that obsession and her subsequent behavior that led me to be afraid to of everything.  Eventually, she made me believe that anything I touched would either die or break. I remember when I got pregnant with my third child, and my sister was still childless – I actually believed that I had somehow done something to affect my sister. It turned out that she was pregnant too, and we excitedly expected our children together – then her daughter was born with sever disabilities, and my girl was perfect. When I found out my daughter Ashley had a heart murmur, I actually celebrated because my daughter was not perfect, like my other two. My mother even asked me if I had wished this upon my sister!

 This demented thinking, inflicted upon me by my mother haunts me to this day. I still have struggles, and believe it or not, the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that in her current mental state (Alzheimer’s) she can not judge or condemn me any longer. It is only now, that I am learning that it was my fear of her that has led me to be afraid of really living life to the fullest.

 According to our Understanding Psychology textbook anxiety disorders affect 19 million Americans annually. These orders are characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear when confronted with a given situation – real or imaginary. This fear can blossom into full-blown panic attacks and sometimes-medical assistance is needed to help one get over their phobias.  I can honestly say that despite all that I thought I feared I really have no real phobias. But that can not be said for the group of twenty-seven people that participated in my phobia survey.

Taking statistics from the American Psychiatric Journal, the top ten phobias that people experience in order are: spiders, social phobias, flying, fear of lack of escape, small places, heights, vomit, cancer, thunderstorms and death or dead things. I put together a survey listing those fears and invited a number of people to respond. They also were asked to list their fears, if the phobia was not listed.

 Twenty-seven people responded to the survey of which only four were male. The majority of the group was adult but three of the twenty-three women were teenage girls. It is important to note that all the adult women that responded to the survey were mothers of small children. Out of the entire group, there were two fearless females and only one fearless male – all were adult.

 The top four fears that the respondents voiced were closed places, social phobias, heights and spiders.  An equal amount of people said they were afraid of cancer, fear of lack of escape and the fear of death and dead things. A smaller group admitted to be afraid of flying, thunderstorms and two people were afraid of vomit.  One of two women afraid of vomit says the fear is so intense that her husband has had to deal with that aspect while raising their children. She added that she is currently seeking therapy to overcome the fear.

 The respondents were also invited to list their own fears on the survey. A number voiced surprise that the fear of drowning and deep water did not make the list. The fear of snakes, reptiles, rodents and insects were also added to the list. Other fears added to the list were the fear of fire, surgery, pain, violence, abuse, and the supernatural. In addition, the fear of being alone or rejected was also listed as being significant.

 The relevance of the amount of mothers among those polled became prominent when a large number of the women said that they had unnatural fears towards the safety of their children. A majority voiced a very real fear that their children would be abducted. One mother admits that she never leaves her children with anyone else because she doesn’t think anyone can care for their safety like she can. Another mother says that she is not scared of heights, but if she sees someone else lean over a ledge she “freaks out”.  The fear of not being able to rescue the ones they love, in the event of an emergency is another strong fear that was voiced.

 One of the teenagers told me that she was terrified of being cut and having her wrists tied up. Interestingly enough, she has tried to figure out why she had this fear but she has never been able to explain it. The remembrance of an incident with her father when she was two did shed light on her severe fear of deep water though. This lead me to look further into the fears that people voiced.

 I was able to ask a few if they knew why or when these fears originated. One respondent said their fear of violence came from being abused. Another’s fear of surgery came from their mother’s dying on the operating table. Yet another is terrified of rodents because they were accidentally locked in a shed with rats when they were a child. While these answers were forthcoming, the others could not explain their fears. Each respondent says that they have tried to beat their phobias in some way. Some fly, despite a fear of flying. One even went skydiving to try to overcome his fear of heights and flying. And lets not forget the poor lady that is going to therapy so that she can handle when her children spit up or vomits.

 The one thing I found in common with all the people that participated in my survey was that they were embarrassed that they had their fears. In same cases, the fears play a significant role in their lives, and for that reason have in some way has been disabled by that fear. Just the fact that over half of the group suffered from a social phobia is significant in itself. To be affected by fear of groups and social situations where escape is not easy, would make it fairly stressful to function on an every day basis.

 By completing this study, I find it discouraging to live in a society where such significant amounts of people live with phobias of every day things. This means that by in large, we are a paranoid race. The question then becomes, is society to blame, or who? Because even though we live in a fairly violence free region, where life is much simpler then other areas, there still seems to be many other things that people are afraid of – rational or not.


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