Phobophobia is an anxiety disorder in which fear calls for fear.
Phobias are characterized by the wide variety of forms they take. If there is an element of reality or even a phenomenon imaginable by the human being, probably at some point someone will have developed a phobia of that.
For example, there is the phobia of cats and spiders, forms of fear that, although irrational in the vast majority of cases, make a certain sense; But there are also the phobia of clowns, the phobia of holes, or the phobia of birds, which is more difficult to understand without feeling them in the flesh.
However, beyond all this variety of forms, there is a type of phobia that seems the purest of all, the most basic. It is about phobophobia, or the phobia of fear itself. In this article we will see what it is like, what symptoms characterize this psychological disorder, and how it is treated in psychotherapy.
What is phobophobia?
As we have advanced in the previous paragraphs, the simplest way to understand what phobophobia is is to consider it the fear phobia, or the phobia of phobic crises. In other words, it is a whiting that bites its tail, a vicious circle that feeds itself at the expense of the anxiety that the person who suffers from it keeps latent due to various circumstances (we will see the latter later).
Those who suffer from phobophobia can live normally for most of the time, but occasionally they will notice that several things happen to them: they will avoid places and contexts in which they think they can give them attacks of fear, and on the other hand they will suffer such attacks of fear extreme … or rather, anxiety.
What kinds of situations are they that will trigger phobic crises? Potentially anyone. This is so because in this case the root of fear is fear itself, a phenomenon that does not emanate from the environment: fear does not “spring” from a dog that barks in a threatening way, not even on the top of a sloping mountain pronounced.
In any case, fear, which triggers anxiety peaks, is something contextual, a process that occurs in the interaction between the individual and a situation that will be subjectively interpreted and valued by the former. Because of this, what can be scary is both everything and nothing.
Because of this, phobophobia is one of the most unpredictable types of phobia, since it is not tied to any specific type of stimulus and easy to objectify, but rather arises from something as subjective as the idea that each one has about what scary depending on the occasion.
What are the symptoms of phobophobia? Quickly said, they are typical of practically any phobia since the main differences between them are the type of situations or stimuli that trigger them. For example, mouse phobia and driving phobia generally manifest very similarly.
Among the characteristic symptoms of phobias are dizziness, nausea, tremors, cold sweats, increased heart rate, catastrophic thoughts about what will happen in the next few seconds or minutes, and intense desire to escape from the place where you are, or hide.
As for the causes of phobophobia, these are partly unknown, although it is known that there are many and each one of them probably contributes little to the development of this type of anxiety disorder.
It is assumed that genetic predispositions explain part of why some people end up developing phobophobia, and also that certain unpleasant experiences are capable of leaving a kind of imprint on our emotional memory, progressively causing the fear of fear to generate a ball of snow down the hill, getting bigger and bigger as new unpleasant experiences add to this set of anxious memories.
How is phobophobia treated in mental health facilities? Psychotherapy has proven to be very effective in dealing with these kinds of anxiety disorders. What we psychotherapists do is to create situations in which the patient learns to weaken the link that keeps two memories linked in emotional memory: the memory of how he reacts to the possibility of being afraid, and the memory of what Bad that happens when having great attacks of fear or anxiety.
In this way, the unconscious part of the mind of patients with phobophobia stops establishing an equivalence relationship between “having the expectation of being afraid” and “suffering an intense anxiety attack”.
At the Psychomaster psychology center, located in Madrid, we have a team of psychologists with extensive experience in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as phobias, and the principles to apply are always to enhance the autonomy of patients by doing that, little by little. little, they will be able to verify for themselves that when exposing themselves to what scares them, nothing happens.
Thus, through experience in therapy, changes for the better are achieved both in their behavior (not avoiding objectively harmless situations) and in their way of interpreting reality.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Griez, EJ & Van den Hout, MA (1983). Treatment of Phobophobia by Exposure to CO2-Induced Anxiety Symptoms. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 171: 506-508.
Mark, IM (1978). Living with fear: understanding and coping with anxiety. USA: McGraw Hill.