While fear is a natural response to danger, phobias are often in response to something that is unlikely to cause real harm. Studies by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have shown that approximately 10% of people have specific phobias, 7.1% develop social phobias, and 0.9% experience agoraphobia. In the U.S, phobias are considered to be the most common mental disorder and it is also said that more women are affected than men. Many of us have heard of common phobias like the fear of heights (acrophobia) or the fear of spiders (arachnophobia), but there are many strange, less talked about phobias. One of these is Symbolophobia, which this is further talked about in this article!
Symbolophobia is the irrational fear of symbols or symbolism. It originated from the Latin word symbolum which means creed or mark and phobia is a Greek word meaning fear. Symbolophobia is a specific phobia (which develops as the fear of a particular object). People with this fear have a belief that symbols indicate that something bad may happen. They believe that whenever they see such symbols, they will be the one who will suffer the consequences. Far back as the biblical times, people feared as symbols were there to signify the events that are to come such as blood on the doors of Jewish people indicated that they were Christians and those without had their first born sons killed by the angel of death.
Sometimes people having symbolophobia are unaware of the fact that they are using symbols in their everyday life and so they may not show symptoms of anxiety. Only if one comprehends that they are dealing with symbols, they may manifest with palpitations, tremors, chest tightness and discomfort and other symptoms of panic or anxiety.
Phobias should never be taken very lightly. It can to some extent limit a person’s daily routine and become the root cause for someone to experience anxiety that can lead all the way to depression. People that suffer are most likely to purposely avoid coming into contact with what it is that triggers them to experience fear or anxiety. In many cases, an individual develops a phobia from symbolism and becomes fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it would make them feel very uncomfortable.
It is also said that a person need not be in a situation exposed to symbolism to experience Symbolophobia. The brain is capable of creating a reaction to fearsome situations even when the subject in that situation is not present. One might suffer from the phobia differently as everyone is different. This is also the reason why symptoms vary strongly on the severity in which an individual is experiencing these fears. Normally, Specific phobias and fears such as Symbolophobia fall under the category of anxiety disorders which means that a person can experience any if not all of the physical and/or psychological symptoms.
Talking about physical symptoms, people with fear of symbolism often experience panic attacks. These panic attacks can be extremely frightening and distressing for the person and most of the time these happen suddenly, without any prior signs or warnings. Sweating, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, rapid heartbeat , pain or tightness in the chest, nausea, headaches and dizziness, numbness or pins and needles, confusion or rise in blood pressure are some common symptoms. In some very severe cases, a person develops psychological symptoms such as fear of losing control, fear of fainting, fear of dying, fear of harm or illness, guilt, shame, self-blame, withdrawing from others, feeling of hopelessness, feeling disconnected, confusion, difficulty concentrating, Anger, irritability, mood swings, anxiety and fear.
Although there are no specific causes to symbolophobia, the consensus between most mental health professionals reveals that both genetics and environmental factors play very significant roles in the development of any kind of mental disorder. Let us say, if someone exhibits a family history of mental illness, especially relating to anxiety disorders or specific phobias, then the person has a higher chance of developing symbolophobia.
Just as there are no definite causes, there are also no treatments that are specifically designed for this condition. Many individuals suffering from symbolophobia don’t always feel the need to get treated for the same as they can just avoid the object which makes them feel panicky and disturbing. This gives them a feeling of control. Nevertheless, there are still many different forms of treatments that can help to significantly improve many of the symptoms of symbolophobia. These include exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and some psychiatric medications.
Therapies and treatments which help the person to vent out his/her thoughts, such as counseling, is considered to be effective for treating fear of symbols or symbolophobia. Having a one on one talking therapy session with a highly trained and proficient professional about one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior can prove to be physically non-intrusive treatment. There are many types of talking therapies which all aim to help the person recognize unhelpful patterns in the way he/she thinks or acts and find ways to change such thoughts or actions. It helps in resolving complicated feelings or finding ways to live with them. Counseling even helps a person make sense of things and understand them better. What one wants is just a safe place and time to talk to someone who won’t judge! Talking therapies are in most cases the same as counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, psychological therapy or talking treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic treatment that can help people learn how to identify and change disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on their behavior and emotions. This therapy mainly aims to identify if such thoughts are an accurate depiction of reality and if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them. It mainly focuses on changing the automatic negative thoughts that can contribute to and worsen emotional difficulties, depression, and anxiety. Through CBT, these thoughts are identified, challenged, and replaced with more objective and realistic thoughts.
For treating symbolophobia, CBT can be helpful as it helps to identify if the fear and anxiety experienced from symbolism is an accurate depiction of reality. And if not, the therapy works on ways to change that.
Therapies prove to be a definitive way to overcome fears. Yet another way to treat this condition could be with the help of medication. In general medication is not recommended for overcoming phobias or different fears. However, some types of medication are prescribed as short term relief to the side effects of phobias, including anxiety or depression.
All in all, the best way to overcome any difficulty or to be prepared if any might arise in future, is to take good care of oneself. Self-help is the most important help one can get. Knowing how to help yourself is vital not just to be able to control fear of symbolism, but also other phobias and anxieties before they get more severe.
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