All humans are born with the ability to experience fear. When a threat is perceived, we feel fear, and instincts kick in – do we fight or take flight? Fear, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a normal response to danger. In the case of phobias, the fear triggered is either irrational (in response to something that is in fact not a danger) or excessive (the reaction is far beyond the actual threat level). People of all ages, countries, and backgrounds may develop phobias, generally to animals (spiders or snakes for example), situations (small spaces, heights) or activities (flying, being in/on water). Phobias in some cases are triggered by one or a series of unpleasant events, or may have no clear trigger. Studies are being conducted at present to determine whether phobias have an inborn, primitive genesis that has carried through the centuries. Treatment consists of anti-anxiety medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Symptomology: According to the American Psychiatric Association, phobias cause an emotional and physical response to feared things, activities, and situations. Symptoms include:
– Feelings of panic, dread, horror, or terror
– Recognition that the fear goes beyond normal boundaries and the actual threat of danger
– Reactions that are automatic and uncontrollable, practically taking over the person’s thoughts
– Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, and an overwhelming desire to flee the situation—all the physical reactions associated with extreme fear
– Extreme measures taken to avoid the feared object or situation
Types: There are far too many specific phobias to detail in the confines of this article. For our purposes, we will discuss those that may be relevant to this field of study. Agoraphobia, commonly recognized as a fear of wide, open spaces includes the fear of being alone in places perceived to be dangerous as well. This may include being in tunnels, crowded concerts, or busy city streets. This phobia begins in early adulthood to mid-thirties, and may have a sudden trigger or more gradual development. The person feels paralyzed with fear and unable to function when finding themselves in these areas. They may be unable to predict which situations will trigger this terror until they are in it. Once the panic attack symptoms occur in a particular place a few times, they are likely to recur there, due to the memory of the experience. The brain may then generalize this “memory” to similar places/situations, to the point that they may become unable to leave their home without great effort and physical support of a trusted person. Agoraphobia may be of relevance to the field of paranormal study, as a person confined to their home for long periods of time are subject to social isolation, which can result in hallucinations or delusions, as detailed in the articles on those topics.
Eichophobia, or fear of the home or home surroundings, may cause an individual to believe there is something evil in their home in order to rationalize their fear or excuse their inability to remain inside their home to others.
Phobias related to common claims of paranormal activity: Many phobias have more than one name; I will not be covering all of the terms in this article. Please recall that phobias manifest as outright terror of the object, situation. It is this terror that may lead a person with phobia to report paranormal claims. One of the most common claims investigators encounter are shadows or shadow figures. Sciophobia is the irrational fear of shadows. This may result in a person feeling that shadows which naturally occur from televisions on in adjacent rooms, people moving about or cars going by to be paranormal in nature. Amychophobia is the irrational fear of scratches or being scratched. Those suffering from this phobia, upon discovering a scratch, may fear it is from an unseen force, spirit or demon. Catoptrophobia is the fear of mirrors. Often clients claim to see or photograph spirits in mirrors. In certain time periods, this phobia was so common that mirrors were covered by black cloth to keep the spirits from exiting the mirror. Another frequent claim is sleep paralysis, as well as night terrors. Somniphobia is the fear of sleep. Other articles have detailed the results of sleep deprivation, which may include hallucinations of all five senses. It can result in paranoia, unusual behavior, and altered states of consciousness. These may not only result in the sleep deprived person making claims of activity, but may also cause others to feel that person is possessed. This information does not imply that the potential claims above are not possible. It is intended to assist in the debunking process necessary to paranormal research.
More directly related phobias include Phasmophobia, fear of ghosts; Pneumatiphobia, that of spirits; Daemonophobia, that of demons; Satanophobia, fear of Satan; and Hadephobia, fear of hell. No doubt most of us have seen a large number of people on social media who jump to the conclusion of demons, possession, etc. seemingly at every turn. Individuals with the phobias listed here are quite likely to interpret tapping sounds, scratching sounds from rodents, growling from neighboring dogs, etc. which may not be audible during the active daylight or evening hours, but are audible at night, as demonic activity. My own team has been called in for these claims on numerous occasions, only to easily debunk the claims. This in no way implies that such activity does not exist. It simply states that these phobia are not uncommon and need to be ruled out in considering such claims.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are a group of phobias which may result in relatively similar claims. These include: Hagiophobia, fear of saints or holy things; Hierophobia, fear of priests or sacred things; Staurophobia, fear of crosses or crucifixes; and Uranophobia, fear of Heaven. Persons who display the terror common to phobias in reaction to the people/things listed here may well be thought to be Satanic, demonic, possessed, or generally evil. One could easily picture the scenes from movies involving exorcisms in these cases. Again, this is not to imply that these conditions do not exist, just to consider in routine debunking efforts.
Phobia that may impact team members’ performance on investigation: Seasoned paranormal investigators are familiar with the conditions and creatures that may be encountered on a case. When training new team members, as well as enthusiasts just starting, should be cognizant of the following possibilities in order to deal with them if necessary: Most investigations are performed in the dark, as night is quieter with fewer distractions; photo or video evidence with full spectrum or IR lighting more effective. Nyctophobia, or fear of the dark, may cause an inexperienced investigator to misinterpret things they see, hear or feel in the dark. Arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, is well-known. Spending time in dark basements, attics, outdoors, etc. one is likely to encounter spiders and their webs; Claustrophobia, fear of closed in spaces, may impact an investigation in crawl spaces, coal cellars, etc.; Chiroptophobia, fear of bats, may come into play in barns, covered bridges, outdoors, etc. Prepare your team for these eventualities. If your team is aware of all possibilities, new recruits may err on the side of caution and choose not to participate if they have a phobia detailed above.