Common Myths and Facts About Phobias

Nervous passenger sitting on airplane
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Common myths about phobias develop because whenever seemingly rational people develop entirely irrational habits, someone may question their sanity. At the opposite extreme, friends and loved ones may downplay and brush off your diagnosable psychological disorder as simply nerves. Here's the information you need to separate fact from fiction.

You Are "Crazy" If You Have a Phobia

"Crazy" is a loaded term sometimes carelessly thrown about by the general public to describe people who have a wide variety of mental health challenges. The word conjures up images of long-term, incurable psychological disorders as well as insane asylums and potentially dangerous behavior.

Actually, all types of phobia are highly treatable with the guidance of a clinician and there are a variety of successful approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy techniques. Treatment of specific phobia can be as short as one to three sessions.

Phobias Are Just Overrated Fears

How often are people with phobias told to simply "deal with it" or "get over it"? Those who never suffered from a phobia may find it difficult to comprehend the depths of terror that a phobia can cause.

The difference between a fear and a phobia is the latter is life-limiting and affects your:

  •     Personal relationships
  •     Ability to perform your job or go to school
  •     Ability to do essential daily tasks, including taking a shower or going to the grocery store

Simply confronting an ordinary fear may be helpful, but confronting a phobia successfully usually requires the help of a mental health professional.

Phobias Are Deeply Rooted Personality Traits

Those who believe this myth erroneously think you can't overcome phobias and "That's just the way she is," may be a common reaction to your fear from friends and family.

Although some phobias are more difficult to treat than others, there is little evidence to support this personality traits theory. The success rate of both short- and long-term phobia treatment is very high.

Phobias Are Genetic

There may be some truth to this long-standing myth, although research is far from conclusive. According to researchers Villafuerte and Burmeister in their presentation named "Untangling Genetic Networks of Panic, Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety," first-degree relatives of those with phobias are more likely to develop a phobia. This was especially true in twins.

Children Automatically Develop Parental Phobias

Although there is some evidence children are more likely to develop phobias if their parents have them, having one or both parents diagnosed with a phobia is just one of many risk factors. You can also develop a phobia from watching a stranger have a bad experience, such as falling down a flight of stairs, or from seeing something unfortunate happen to someone in a movie.

As some believe both nature and nurture play a role in phobia development, it is not surprising that much depends on other adults' influence in the child's life, the child's individual personality and how parents present their phobia in the home.

Myths about phobias and other mental health disorders are rampant, and information gathered from family or friends may be inaccurate. If you have a fear affecting your life, consider seeking professional guidance. With proper treatment, you can successfully overcome most phobias.

Was this page helpful?