EVERYONE IS afraid of something. As a basic survival mechanism, fear protects people from potential threats and dangers. By contrast, a phobia is an overwhelming, irrational fear of a specific object or situation. The symptoms of a phobia differ from person to person because the degree to which each individual experiences a specific phobia varies. To some, the reaction is mild anxiety along with sweating and an accelerated heart rate. For others, the symptoms are more severe, such as panic attacks and even fainting. Like claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces, and acrophobia, the fear of heights, some phobias are well-known, while other more obscure phobias can at times seem implausible.
Never cross the street: Agyrophobia
The streets are filled with danger, especially from fast driving cars. With crosswalks and traffic lights, however, most people feel safe crossing the street. People with agyrophobia, on the other hand, feel an extreme fear of crossing any form of street, including roads and highways. They believe crossing the street will bring them harm. They fear the possibility of being attacked on the road or getting hit by a car to such a degree that they are unable to cross the street. In extreme cases, agyrophobes feel scared even upon hearing the names of specific streets. Agyrophobia can take hold of sufferers even on a deserted road, a fact which distinguishes it from the fear of cars. As agyrophobes avoid situations where they have to cross streets in any forms, they have difficulty carrying out daily activities.
Compared to other phobias, the root of agyrophobia is relatively easy to determine, with most individuals developing symptoms after they or a loved one has had a traffic accident. Sometimes, the phobia can even be triggered from witnessing an accident involving a stranger, in some cases, even if the accident has only been seen on television.
No clowns for me: Coulrophobia
Clowns wear eccentric costumes, thick makeup and colored wigs to amuse their audience. Most people enjoy watching clowns perform tricks or skits, but some people, called coulrophobes, cannot stand these entertainers. The number of people who suffer from coulrophobia has been increasing and – believe it or not – it is actually a relatively common phobia. Symptoms of coulrophobia are similar to all other phobias: sweating, nausea, a feeling of dread, rapid heartbeat, crying, screaming and feeling anger in the presence of clowns.
In an attempt to explain why so many people are afraid of clowns, Joseph Durwin proposed two theories in a 2004 article for The Berkeley Press, the digital journal of Trinity University. According to the first theory, people become coulrophobes due to a negative experience involving a clown. This theory is not exclusive to coulrophobia as it can also account for the occurrence of numerous other phobias. The second theory states that coulrophobia is a result of the negative portrayal of clowns in the mass media. This second theory is specific to coulrophobia as not many objects of phobias are portrayed by the media as dreadful figures such as ruthless murderers. Pennywise from Stephen King’s horror novel “It” and the character of the Joker from the Batman series are famous examples of evil clowns.
These two theories are not the only ones explaining the development of coulrophobia. According to the Courier-Mail, well-known coulrophobe Johnny Depp once stated, “ I guess I am afraid of them because it’s impossible – thanks to their painted-on smiles – to distinguish if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off.”
Do not want to be washed: Ablutophobia
Many children do not like baths. For some, this may stem from a fear of water, but for others this may be a sign they have ablutophobia, a fear of baths. Ablutophobia is diagnosed if a fear of bathing persists for more than six months. For adults, especially women, ablutophobia manifests in diverse forms, from fear of taking showers to fear of any kind of washing. As a general dislike of bathing is exhibited in many children at certain stages in their development, experts hypothesize that ablutophobia develops out of a childhood habit. In other words, the habit of avoiding baths in childhood can carry over into a phobia in adulthood.
People suffering from ablutophobia face many complications in the modern world because today’s society places an emphasis on hygiene. Those with ablutophobia experience social problems at work and school, especially regarding the establishment of personal relationships. Sufferers of ablutophobia feel isolated and are more likely to acquire social phobias. Some even develop body dysmorphic disorder, in which the sufferers perceive a distorted view of their appearance, attributing the rejection they feel in society to having a flawed appearance.
Fear of long words: Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is indeed a long word. Ironically, this 35-letter-long word signifies a fear of long words. Although many phobias exhibit external symptoms, sufferers of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia most often do not show any physical signs, instead they simply avoid using words with long trains of syllables.
This phobia causes the most serious discomfort for students, as they often confront long words in educational settings, such as in science classes and when reading research papers. Students who suffer from this phobia may appear rebellious to teachers because they often neglect daily reading assignments or pretend to forget their homework in the process of avoiding long words. Thus hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia often leads to classroom-based anxieties and other phobias, such as bibliophobia, the fear of books, and metrophobia, the fear of poems containing unfamiliar words.
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Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman, who suffers from lepidopoterphobia, or the fear of butterflies, once tried to cure her phobia by attending the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Though she failed at what was both her first and last attempt to overcome her phobia, it is only through repeated exposure to the source of a phobia that an individual can be freed from his or her fear. However terrifying and painful it may be, the only way to overcome fear is to face it.