How do phobias work?

Published on August 26th, 2011
How do phobias work?

Ever wondered if a phobia – or an extreme fear – is all just in your mind? Well, it turns out it is … but try telling that to someone with a cockroach on their shoulder …

According to an article called The Science of Phobias, there are two parts to your mind: one that thinks, and one that feels. The thinking part refers to your rational mind, and the part that feels refers to your unconscious, emotional mind. And just as we have two minds, we also have two memory systems: one for the facts and one for the emotions that may or may not go with those facts.

A phobia develops when your brain stores a warped memory from a traumatic experience in the emotional part of your brain. For example, if you are swimming in the sea and you get knocked over by an enormous wave, and in the process you happen to swallow a whole lot of sand, you’ll most likely develop a fear of sand, rather than a fear of waves. To find out how and why this happens, click here.

Some phobias are fairly common – such as a fear of heights, spiders or dogs – but have you ever heard of Blutophobia, the fear of washing or bathing, or Cathisophobia, which is the fear of sitting? Or how about Geliophobia (fear of laughter); Mnemophobia (fear of memories) and Neophobia (fear of anything new). The brain is a funny thing sometimes …

So how does someone get over a phobia? If you can think back to the traumatic experience in a calm and disconnected state, the rational mind has a chance to turn the memory into an ordinary, neutral, non-threatening one, and the phobia will be gone. Phew!

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