Simple or Specific Phobia. Symptoms. Types.

Simple or Specific Phobia. Symptoms. Types.

Phobia. Definition. Meaning.

The word phobia derives from the Greek “phobos” and is etymologically related to fear or fear. In Greek mythology Phobos or Panic was a character closely linked to fear. He was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and of Ares, the god of war and violence.

In the dictionary, the meaning given to the word phobia is an intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of a situation, a thing or a person. With a figurative character, it can mean dislike or hatred towards someone or something.

Phobos mosaic in the British museum.

Phobia. What is it?

In psychology the word phobia is used to refer to an anxiety disorder , characterized by intense, disproportionate and irrational fear that appears before people, objects or situations. Within the phobic anxiety disorders two large groups are distinguished.

The first is formed by simple or specific phobias , which we will see below. In the second group is social phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder , which will be discussed in another topic.

Agoraphobia is another anxiety disorder that, although it shares traits in common with phobias, is considered a separate picture and deserves to be seen in detail in another section.

Simple or specific phobias. Concept.

What are specific phobias? Specific phobias, also known as simple phobias, are an anxiety disorder, characterized by an exaggerated and irrational fear of a situation, an animal or an object. The fear is not justified by the real danger that exists.

This fear or exaggerated fear is usually accompanied by an intense reaction of the vegetative nervous system and symptoms such as palpitations, chest tightness, shortness of breath, profuse sweating or tremors appear.

Specific phobias are perhaps the most common anxiety disorder in the general population. Fortunately, its severity is less than other disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

As has already been outlined in other sections, anxiety disorders are the second group of disorders in terms of frequency, behind substance-related disorders. Anxiety disorders occur in the population more frequently than mood disorders.

Within anxiety disorders we distinguish:  Agoraphobia ,  OCD , or obsessive compulsive disorder ,  GAD or generalized anxiety disorder ,  panic attacks , social or phobia social anxiety disorder ,  posttraumatic stress , stress disorder acute and the specific phobias that we are going to see next.

Specific phobia. Diagnosis.

Specific phobia. Diagnosis.

The diagnosis of specific phobia is clearly delimited in the DSM (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”) and must meet the following requirements:

  • The situation, animal or object that triggers the anxiety and fear crisis.
  • The recognition by the subject that it is an exaggerated and irrational fear. Despite the fact that the individual recognizes his irrationality and his disproportion, he cannot help but feel it. This criterion in the case of children is not required to validate the diagnosis.
  • This irrational fear leads to situations of avoidance of the phobic object. It is also accepted that the individual supports the phobic situation with high suffering when avoidance is not possible.
  • The phobia involves discomfort and suffering, to a greater or lesser degree, for the sufferer and significantly interferes with their daily activities.
  • In children under 18 years of age, the duration of the phobic disorder should be more than six months.
  • The appearance of the picture is not due to another mental disorder (OCD, separation anxiety, etc.)

Arachnophobia is the phobia of spiders.


Simple or specific phobias are very common among the population. According to different studies, its prevalence varies from 5% to 15% of the population. If we stay with an intermediate value of 10%, we find that simple phobias are the most prevalent anxiety disorder in the world.

Regarding the distribution by sex, the studies attribute 70% to the female sex. This percentage is equal in the case of hematophobia or fear of blood. Studies have also found a high family incidence.

Symptoms of simple phobias.

Symptoms of simple phobias.

Fear or fear is the main symptom that appears in all phobia. Along with fear, any kind of anxiety-related symptom that accompanies the picture may appear.

The anxiety that appears in specific phobias is of two kinds:

Anticipatory anxiety: It occurs when the subject thinks about the phobic situation and recreates in his mind the sensations that he is sure he will experience.

Situational anxiety: In this case the subject is facing the phobic situation in a real way. Given this, his fear is triggered, and next to him, a whole procession of vegetative symptoms appears, caused by the activation of the adrenergic system, with the consequent discharge of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline).

In anticipatory anxiety the symptoms are not as intense as in situational anxiety.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Intense fear or dread.
  • Sweating
  • Pallor.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Palpitations
  • Feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath.
  • Precordial tightness.
  • Coldness in extremities.
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Tingling and paresthesias.
  • Pollakiuria and urgency.

As the subject knows his reaction to the phobic situation, it is quite common for him to develop behaviors and attitudes with which he tries to minimize the chances of being in front of the phobic object.

This kind of behavior is known as avoidance behavior.

Phobias Types.

We have already clarified initially that specific phobias are Anxiety disorders, independent of social phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder) and Agoraphobia, which is an anxiety disorder where the subject feels an irrational fear of being in a situation or place where they are not It could be taken care of in case of an anxiety attack.

Therefore when it comes to talking about the types of phobias, we are referring to specific phobias.

Specific phobias, known until recently as simple phobias, are disproportionate and irrational fears that are caused by very specific situations, such as fear of reptiles, heights or blood among many other situations.

These phobias are less severe and less incapacitating than social phobia and agoraphobia. This may be due to the little impact they produce on the individual. Or perhaps because of the improbability of facing the phobic object. Sometimes they are very strange situations and they happen rarely.

Due to the frequency of this pathology in the world population to a small degree of intensity, we cannot speak of specific phobia in all cases. In order to apply the diagnosis of specific phobia, it is necessary that:

– The subject experiences significant anxiety.

– Or, that the phobia alters their way of life in a substantial way.

Hematophobia or Blood Phobia.

Phobias Classification.

If we follow the DSM IV classification, we can consider that there are five major categories  of specific phobias:

  • Phobias caused by animals : spiders, dogs, reptiles, etc.
  • Phobias caused by nature : heights, storms, etc.
  • Phobias caused by the presence of blood : with immediate vasovagal response at the sight of wounds, injections or blood.
  • There are phobias originated in  very specific situations : elevators, bridges, airplanes, etc.
  • Other  phobias: fear of contracting diseases, fear of choking, etc.

The list of phobias is endless, because the number of them is unlimited. You can develop a phobic disorder in almost any object or situation.

The nomenclature used to name the different specific phobias is usually using a prefix that refers to the Greek root of the phobic object, followed by the Greek term “phobos” or phobia.

The Phobia of animals.

Zoophobia or phobia of animals usually appear early, usually during childhood. Among the zoophobias, the fear of reptiles and amphibians (herpetophobia) stands out. This in turn includes the specific fear of snakes (ophidiophobia).

It tends to occur much more frequently in women than in men. Herpetophobia also includes the fear of salamanders, lizards, frogs and toads. Another very common case is that of arachnophobia or fear of spiders and tarantulas.

Irrational fear of dogs (cynophobia) is also quite common, more so than fear of cats (ailurophobia) or fish (ichthyophobia).

Phobias of nature.

Fear of storms, lightning, lightning, or wind is included in this group. They can be referred to by various names such as astraphobia, astrapophobia or brontophobia. Nyctophobia is fear of the dark.

The fear of heights or acrophobia occurs in the same proportion in men as in women, unlike all the others that are more frequent in women.

Phobia related to blood. 

It is known by the name of hematophobia. It differs from the others in that the anxiety and fear response characteristic of other phobias is replaced here by an intense vasovagal response that leads to a sudden decrease in blood pressure, with dizziness, loss of consciousness, paleness, sweating and tachycardia.

It can be triggered by the vision of some bloody scene, a wound, a surgical act or a simple injection.

Situational phobias. 

This group includes claustrophobia or fear of closed places or elevators, fear of driving (amaxophobia) or fear of flying in airplanes (aerophobia).

They tend to appear later, from the age of twenty, more frequent in women, and have as a common pattern that they are often associated with agoraphobia.

This category of environmental phobias is the group that occurs most frequently in the population.

Other types.

There is a fifth group of phobias called ” other types ” following the DSM nomenclature. These include cases that do not easily fit into the previous groups: fear of dirt and germs (misophobia or bacteriophobia), fear of suffocation, fear of vomiting (emetophobia), fear of costumes, clowns and cuddles (coulrophobia).

Coulrophobia or phobia of clowns.

Most common phobias.

Most common phobias.

The most common phobias belong to the group of zoophobias and are the phobia of reptiles and the phobia of spiders. If we put these two together with the fear of birds and insects they add up to 50% of phobic disorders.

Ophidiophobia or Phobia of snakes.

This zoophobia is the second most frequent in the ranking of phobias. As we have said before, ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. It is included, along with the fear of amphibians, lizards, salamanders, lizards, frogs and toads in the so-called herpetophobia.

It is, like arachnophobia, more common in women. Approximately 10% of the population has an irrational fear of snakes to a greater or lesser degree.

The subject who suffers from ophidiophobia is not only afraid of live snakes, but also reacts with fear to the sight of snakes on television or to toys shaped like reptiles.

Although fear or respect for snakes is quite widespread in the population, this does not always mean a fear of reptiles.

A person may have some fear of reptiles but is able to see one of these animals locked in a glass box at the zoo. However, the patient with a true phobia will feel intense fear, even knowing that the animal is locked up.

Fear of snakes. Causes.

This fear of spiders and snakes has tried to be explained by the ancestral fear of our ancestors of these animals, some of which could be lethal by their bite.

Anthropological studies have shown that in the case of snakes, man and some primates have developed a rapid visual system to detect them.

There is a direct connection between the retina and certain thalamic nuclei, which would emit an alert signal at the slightest visual recognition of “something” that looks like a reptile. From the thalamus, a signal would go out to the brain amygdala that would activate all the physiological alert mechanisms.

On the other hand, the thalamus would send another signal to the cerebral cortex, to ensure that what is seen is really a snake. If the cerebral cortex confirms the information, the alarm response of the brain amygdala is dramatically enhanced.

For psychoanalysts, the snake would have a symbolic meaning: it would be a replacement for the penis. Freud considered nightmares, during sleep, to be the unconscious realization of a repressed desire.

Dream censorship would substitute terror for pleasure. Seen in this way, a woman with ophidiophobia would be with her fear, manifesting a desire or envy of the penis.

Like everything in life, this opinion is questionable, and so Freud himself said: “Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette” (and not a substitute for the penis as the most furious psychoanalysts might claim).

Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias.

Arachnophobia or Phobia of spiders.

It is the phobia that most frequently occurs in the world population. One in 3 people with irrational and disproportionate fears is afraid of spiders. Of every five patients with arachnophobia, four of them are female.

Let’s do some math. By the end of 2017, the number of inhabitants of the planet is likely to be more than 7.5 billion people or more. About one in 25 people has a phobia. This would give us 300 million people with phobias and 100 million people with arachnophobia: 20 million men and 80 million women.

When the person with arachnophobia encounters a spider, they may react by screaming and fleeing, or they may have a startled reaction and remain immobilized. It is frequent that he runs away, closes the door and seeks the help of a friend or relative who kills the small animal.

Although the phobic patient could kill the spider himself, they are unable to do so. They crouch watching the spider get killed and often make sure it is dead.

The fear of encountering spiders can limit their mobility and condition their way of life, as they will avoid all the places where they suspect that they may encounter spiders, such as the fields, gardens. They will avoid excursions or the cleaning of storage rooms or attics.

Fear of storms.

Fear of storms ranks third on the podium of honor for phobias in terms of frequency.

It is a phobia of the nature group that encompasses the fear of storms (astraphobia or astrapaphobia), thunder, lightning and lightning (brontophobia or cerranophobia or tonitrophobia) and the wind.

Astraphobia should not be confused with astrophobia, which is the irrational fear of the sky, space, planets and other celestial bodies.

In general, astraphobia usually develops in childhood as a continuation of the normal childhood fear of natural phenomena such as thunder, lightning or lightning. Children try to hide or crawl under the covers to avoid seeing and hearing the storms.

If any of these experiences is especially traumatic, it can condition the development of this phobia. It can also be influenced by the environment that the child lives.

If a mother suffers from astraphobia, and in the face of storms she hides and takes her child with her, with her behavior she is transmitting to the child a sense of disproportionate danger and can cause him to end up suffering from the same disorder.

Brontophobia or fear of storms.


The fear of confined and confined spaces is called claustrophobia. It usually encompasses two types of attitudes: the irrational fear of closed spaces is the basic feeling of this disorder, but what the individual truly fears is being locked up forever, not being able to leave that place or dying asphyxiated.

It is estimated that about 7% of the world’s population has symptoms of claustrophobia to a greater or lesser degree.

The places that most frequently cause claustrophobia are: elevators, tunnels, small rooms, bathroom without windows, means of transport such as airplanes, trains or buses, closed radiodiagnosis devices such as CT or Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).

This disorder can interfere and greatly limit the life of the patient, as they sometimes have to climb innumerable stairs because they do not enter the elevator or refuse necessary diagnostic tests.

Claustrophobia can appear due to having experienced a traumatic event in childhood, such as being locked in an elevator, although sometimes it is enough to have heard someone against such an experience, it can lead to claustrophobia.

Needle phobia.

Trypanophobia is a disorder that can be included within the group of blood phobias (hematophobias). It consists of the irrational fear of needles, injections or blood draws. It is considered that around 15% of cases of phobia are due to this disorder.

The problem usually develops in childhood and in many cases is conditioned by an erroneous education where the child is threatened with punishments such as taking him to the doctor or giving him injections.

These patients, at the mere sight of a needle, a wound or blood, can have vasovagal syncope and fall struck down to the ground, becoming unconscious, with little time to react to the people around them, who cannot prevent fainting or falling to the ground.

Trypanophobia or phobia of needles.

Acrophobia or Phobia of heights.

Acrophobia is the fear of heights. It occurs very frequently in the population, as it is believed that it can affect 5% of the population. It should not be confused with the feeling of respect or caution in situations where height poses a real risk.

The acrophobic has this much more exaggerated fear and cannot control it. These subjects are unable to look out onto a raised balcony, the edge of a bridge, or approach a cliff. Some authors find similarities between acrophobia and vertigo at heights.

The fundamental distinction is that vertigo is a disorder of the sense of balance, which produces the sensation of spinning of objects in the sufferer.

It will continue in a 2nd part: Other Phobias and Treatment

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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