Fear, like pain, is often a good thing. It’s normal to be afraid of dangerous creatures, such as funnel web spiders. It’s only when fear is out of proportion, and gets in the way of life and living, that it becomes a negative emotion.
Some people are afraid of all insects, and all spiders. Even a spider behind glass, a dead spider, is an object of terror for them. This is called a phobia. I had a huntsman spider (fortunately not a funnel-web) run up and down my legs and thighs recently when taking in the washing, and I remained calm, partly for my young grandson’s sake, who was nearby at the time.
However, having to walk into a room full of people I don’t know is still anxiety provoking for me. What is it about social phobia that is so hard to overcome? For some people it reaches a level that is pathological. Sixty percent of people who stutter avoid speaking and become socially phobic as a result of their fear of having to communicate. This is akin to a mental illness; the stutterer’s life is limited by this fear of communicating verbally.
It is avoidance that is often central to phobias. Cognitive behaviour therapists in this country have many strategies to assist sufferers. These often include gentle, continued exposure to the source of fear over time, whether it be flying, socialising, making speeches, or asking questions in group situations.
A very recent perspective on phobias is to link them all to the underlying fear of death. See this interesting conversation on this topic at http://theconversation.com/fear-of-death-underlies-most-of-our-phobias-57057
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is the preferred approach today for tackling phobias in this country. Medication, combined with talk therapy, for cases of anxiety and clinical depression has superseded the widespread use of psychoanalysis compared to before. Powerful drugs are available for serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar and schizophrenia, almost untreatable by doctors in the past. However, many personality disorders are resistant to today’s CBT approaches. Sufferers might benefit more from a return to an in-depth psychoanalytical type approach.
There are so many things to fear in life. And so many diverse sources of fear for different people. Shyness in childhood may be a symptom of anxiety in young children. It’s quite common between the ages of four and seven. But some of us get stuck at around that age—often through traumatic past events—and are left with residual fear and anxiety that can develop into social phobia later on. This is more likely to happen in adolescence, when hormones are swirling around in the body and mind.