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An Introduction to Phobias

Phobias are characterized by an unrealistic fear of a particular object or situation. There are three primary types of phobias — specific phobias (formerly known as simple phobias), social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia), and agoraphobia.

A specific phobia is a fear of a particular object or situation — like a person fearing a spider or being in high places. Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is a fear of being painfully embarrassed in a social setting. Agoraphobia, which often accompanies panic disorder, is a fear of being in any situation that might provoke a panic attack, or from which escape might be difficult if one occurred. People who suffer from agoraphobia tend to avoid leaving their home or apartment, for fear of what may happen if they do.

Examples of Specific Phobias

“I’m scared to death of flying, and I never do it anymore. It’s an awful feeling when that airplane door closes and I feel trapped. My heart pounds, and I sweat bullets. If somebody starts talking to me, I get very stiff and preoccupied.”

“When the airplane starts to ascend, it just reinforces that feeling that I can’t get out. I picture myself losing control, freaking out, climbing the walls, but of course I never do. I’m not afraid of crashing or hitting turbulence. It’s just that feeling of being trapped.”

“Whenever I’ve thought about changing jobs, I’ve had to think, ‘Would I be under pressure to fly?’ These days I only go places where I can drive or take a train. My friends always point out that I couldn’t get off a train traveling at high speeds either, so why don’t trains bother me? I just tell them it isn’t a rational fear.”

Examples of Social Anxiety Disorder

“I couldn’t go on dates or to parties. For a while, I couldn’t even go to class. During my sophomore year of college, I had to come home for a semester.”

“My fear would happen in any social situation. I would be anxious before I even left the house, and it would escalate as I got closer to class, a party, or whatever. I would feel sick to my stomach — it almost felt like I had the flu. My heart would pound, my palms would get sweaty, and I would get this feeling of being removed from myself and from everybody else.”

“When I would walk into a room full of people, I’d turn red and it would feel like everybody’s eyes were on me. I was too embarrassed to stand off in a corner by myself, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to anybody. I felt so clumsy, I couldn’t wait to get out.”

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Examples of Agoraphobia

“If I leave my house, something really bad will definitely happen to me. That’s why I stay indoors, where I’ll always be safe and sound.”

“I couldn’t even go to my doctor’s appointment, which was just a 10 minute drive from my house. I knew that if I left, I’d break down on the side of the road in my car, and probably get robbed. Or worse.”

An Introduction to Phobias

John Hauser, M.D.

John Hauser, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist who practiced in a European Union country for over 40 years. He has written occasional articles for various magazines and websites.

APA Reference
Hauser, J. (2020). An Introduction to Phobias. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.