When does a fear become a phobia?
The American Psychological Association (2013) defines phobias as “extreme and irrational fears towards a certain stimulus that is grossly out of proportion to the actual threat at hand”. Simply put, when a fear worsens to the point where it starts to hinder our personal, professional, and social functioning. Classified as an anxiety-related disorder, phobias are among the most prevalent psychiatric illnesses in the world, along with depression and other anxiety disorders.
Some phobias are more common than others (you can read about it in our other article, 7 Common Phobias We All Have). They usually arise during early childhood and result from traumatic experiences in the past or are rooted in our evolutionary need to survive (which would explain where phobias of high places, dangerous animals, and natural disasters come from).
But there are actually quite a few phobias that have us scratching our heads as to why they even exist at all. With that said, here are 7 rare but very real phobias you might not know about:
Starting off our list is a phobia so rare, psychologists are still arguing about whether or not it should even be considered a proper phobia at all, since so few people are known to have it. Allodoxophobia is defined as the fear of other people’s opinions. It’s also linked with a fear of debate, discussions, and confrontations, as well as extreme anxiety and discomfort at discourse and controversy. People who suffer from this phobia do not want to know or hear about the opinions of others, which can be a problem at school/work and in everyday conversations. It’s especially prevalent in women and young adults from the ages of 18-34 years old (Olesen, 2019).
A specific phobia that often co-occurs with other anxiety disorders, decidiophobia is the fear of making decisions and it’s extremely rare! Those who suffer from decidiophobia feel panicked and afraid whenever they are asked to choose something because they don’t trust themselves enough to make the right decision. As a result, they have a habit of relying on rituals or superstitions to decide, like flipping a coin, consulting their astrology, and asking for signs from the Universe about what to do.
A modern-day affliction, nomophobia refers to the fear of being without one’s phone. It’s usually characterized by anxiety about not having your phone charged, misplacing it, forgetting it, breaking it, or not being able to check it throughout the day. While 66% of the global population shows signs of nomophobia, few are actually serious enough to be considered a clinical case in need of therapy (JB, Preeti, Praveen, & Jinto, 2013). As you might expect, it is especially common among adolescents aged 13-18 years old and was only brought to light last 2013. Before that, it was simply characterized as signs of smartphone dependency and social media addiction.
Are you creeped out by the sight of your own reflection? There’s a phobia for that – it’s called catoptrophobia or eisoptrophobia (the fear of mirrors). Researchers believe that this particular phobia may be rooted in religious beliefs or superstitions, as mirrors often serve as portals for ghosts, spirits, and apparitions to appear in many urban legends. It’s also commonly associated with witchcraft and satanic rituals. Thus, those who suffer from catoptrophobia avoid mirrors and anything with a reflective surface at all costs.
Next is chorophobia, which is the fear of dancing. It is closely associated with social anxiety, fear of embarrassment, and low self-esteem. Those who have chorophobia avoid dancing and areas where dancing usually takes places (like ballrooms, clubs, stages, studios, theatres, and so on). They don’t even like being around people who are dancing or watching them dance on TV. Ironically enough though, most psychiatrists and therapists recommend chorophobia be treated with private dance lessons to lessen the anxiety and make the person more comfortable with the feared stimulus – dancing.
Mysophobia (commonly known as “germophobia”) is one of the most common phobias in the world, so maybe it’s not such a surprise that its exact opposite falls on the other end of the spectrum. Another one of the rarest kinds of phobias out there, ablutophobia refers to the fear of cleaning, washing, or bathing oneself. It normally begins in early childhood, but while many of us disliked taking baths when we were still little, there are actually the rare few who never grew out of this fear. Because everyone needs to shower and clean themselves regularly, people who have ablutophobia suffer from poor hygiene, body odour, skin irritation, fungal infections, and a weakened immune system.
Finally, ancraophobia (or sometimes known as anemophobia) is the very rare and extreme fear of wind. It can refer to a wide variety of air-related fears like the fear of drafts, swallowing air, and even being blown away by strong gusts of wind. People who have ancraophobia try to stay away from doors and open windows as much as possible, and they feel anxious around windmills, hand dryers, air conditioners, and overhead air vents. A possible explanation for this phobia is that those who suffer from it have learned to associate wind with tornadoes, hurricanes, and other weather-related disasters (Pawlak, Gazda, & Rybakowski, 2009).
Were you surprised by most of the phobias listed here?
These are just a few uncommon and unusual phobias being studied further by psychologists and researchers today. Other examples include: somniphobia (fear of falling asleep); logophobia (fear of reading); arithmophobia (fear of numbers); hylophobia (fear of trees); ombrophobia (fear of rain); geliophobia (fear of laughter); plutophobia (fear of money); and phobophobia (fear of having a phobia).
With that said, if you are suffering from a specific phobia of any kind, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental healthcare professional today to help ease your fears and better manage your phobias.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition). Washington, DC; APA Publication.
- National Institute of Mental Health (November 2017). Prevalence of Specific Phobias. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobias.shtml/
- Olesen, J. (2019). Fear of Opinions Phobia – Allodoxaphobia. Retrieved February 2020 from https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-opinions-phobia-allodoxaphobia/
- JB, B., Preeti, M., Praveen, C. T., & Jinto, P. (2013). Nomophobia-do we really need to worry about. Reviews of Progress, 1(1), 1-5.
- Pawlak, J., Gazda, J., & Rybakowski, J. (2009). Wind phobia (ancraophobia)–as an example of simple phobia. The case report. Psychiatria polska, 43 (5), 581-592.