Phobias: A Fear for All Reasons

More than 12% of the population will experience a phobia at some point in their life, making this disorder the most common mental illness in the United States.


You respond to a routine check the welfare call. A family member has not been able to contact an invalid relative. There is no answer at the front door. As you go through the gate to investigate, you see an animal 50 yards away, slinking towards you. Your heart races, you remove your OC, and have your hand on your firearm. You tell yourself; stay calm, there is nothing to be afraid of, you are in control. But suddenly, panic seizes you in a death grip; it squeezes the breath out of you; your heart races; you sweat profusely; you feel faint. What is this wild, man-eating beast? A tiger, a pitbull, a lioness? No, it is Lassie, a sweet border collie with her tail wagging. Why were you so afraid? You could be one of many people who suffer from Cynophobia, a phobia that usually begins in childhood, resulting from a traumatic encounter involving a dog.

You make a routine traffic stop for expired tabs. As you approach the car you see a woman driver, with two small children in the back seat. The woman is hyperventilating, trembling, clutching her chest, and is unable to speak. The children are crying. You immediately call for FD and paramedic assistance. You try to calm her by touching her and symptoms worsen. You are certain she is having a heart attack. In this case you are wrong. The woman has a fear of law enforcement, a phobia called Policophobia.

Understanding Phobias

Phobias are the most common psychological disorder among women and the second most common disorder among men over 25. The American Psychiatric Association reports that each year 7.8% of American adults suffer from a phobia. More than 12 percent of the population will experience a phobia at some point in their life, making this disorder the most common mental illness in the United States.

Psychiatrically, phobias are classified as forms of anxiety disorders. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Quite simply, a phobia is a persistent, excessive, or unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation that is generally considered harmless. Accompanying this fear is a strong desire to avoid whatever is feared. Additionally, these irrationally exaggerated fears effect an individual’s daily life functioning. A person can literally develop a phobia of anything: elevators, clocks, mushrooms, flying, wasps, writing, etc.

For law enforcement officers, fear can save your life. Recognizing real danger allows you to respond appropriately. Phobia is a fear gone awry. Giving a public presentation makes most people anxious. Ideally this anxiety provokes an individual to prepare conscientiously. However, if the anxiety intensifies and begins to consume your life (you worry for weeks, you feel ill just thinking about the presentation) you may have a phobia called Glossophobia. Frequently, when an individual with a phobia confronts a feared situation or object he/she experiences a panic attack. This initiates a vicious self-defeating circle, as the individual is not only afraid of the object or situation, they are terrified of another panic experience.

The Three Main Types of Phobia

Social phobia is a complex and frequently disabling disorder. Social phobia is characterized by an overwhelming fear of being criticized, scrutinized, or humiliated in social situations. Social phobia disrupts normal life by interfering with career, familial, and social relationships. Individuals with social phobia are afraid to enter into conversations for fear of saying something embarrassing. They may avoid eating or drinking in public, using public restrooms, or signing a check in the presence of another. Social phobias generally develop after puberty and without treatment can last the individual’s life. The disorder often runs in families and is frequently associated with depression or alcoholism.

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