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Phobias - Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Definition of Phobias

Phobias are characterised by the arousal of anxiety when anticipating or encountering a specific object or situation, leading, when possible, to avoidance of the object or situation in order to ward off further anxiety. One example of a phobic object is arachnophobia (anxiety about spiders), one of a phobic situation is agoraphobia (anxiety in open spaces). The list of phobias is extensive. In the UK, phobias affect 13 in every 1000 men and 22 in every 1000 women (ONS).
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Symptoms of Phobias

People with phobias may experience extreme anxiety and find that phobic avoidance restricts their lives. A person with claustrophobia (anxiety in an enclosed space) may never use a lift, one with aerophobia (anxiety of flying) may never visit far off countries. A phobic character (refusing to be parted from a protective other) habitually avoids anxiety situations, whereas a counter-phobic character seeks out such situations, taking satisfaction from mastering them.

Causes of Phobias

There are different causes which produce the symptom of phobia. The cause is believed to be, in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy, an unconscious conflict, in cognitive behavioural therapy, catastrophic thinking, and in evolutionary psychology, evolutionary adaptation.

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Updated 20 August 2014