Today my youngest son announced to my friend that he had been sick this morning; she went pale and asked me if he had a bug and what caused the sickness. I told her it was down to eating rather excessive amount of salted peanuts.She suffers from emetophobia which is a fear of vomiting and she was already feeling trepidation at catching a bug from my son (he had put his fingers in her mouth). Not only is she afraid of being sick she finds it extremely difficult to deal with her children’s sickness and experiences real fear. She also has arachnophobia which is much more common, especially amongst women.

In clinical psychology, a phobia is defined as an unreasonable, exaggerated fear of an object or situation, causing anxiety and distress. Typically, phobias are distinguished from genuine fears by their irrationality.There are at least 530 documented phobias.I have known myself of two people who had utterly bizarre phobias; one had coulrophobia which is a fear of clowns, another had koumponophobia which is the phobia of buttons. To those who don’t suffer, it seems almost comical, indeed friends of the koumponophobic filled her bed with buttons, they may as well have filled it with tarantulas, he reaction wouldn’t have been worse. Those afraid of buttons tend to find that the plastic ones terrify them more than metal (such as ones on jeans) and that four-holed buttons induce more fear than just two. While it is not a well-known phobia, it is a fairly common fear, and those suffering from it are plagued daily.

I often wonder where these phobias come from. I am not keen on snakes or spiders but I am not phobic about them and wouldn’t break out in a cold sweat over them. I feel a bit miffed that my youngest daughter has developed a (I think, pretend) phobia about spiders since watching a Harry Potter DVD where the character Ron Weasley displays his arachnophobia.There doesn’t seem to be one particular cause of phobias, but there are several factors that might play a role.According to the mental health charity MIND, ” For some people the phobia can be linked to a particular incident or trauma; for example, a child who experiences a lot of turbulence on a plane might develop a phobia about flying.” This of course makes perfect sense and is presumably the survival instinct at work. If a child is badly bitten by a dog , the fear of dogs can remain life-long. Secondly,”phobias can be learned responses, picked up in early life – you might develop the same specific phobia as a parent or older sibling. It has also been shown that factors in the family environment, such as parents who are very worried or anxious, can have an effect on the way you cope with anxiety in later life.” Parents with phobias are usually acutely aware of the tendency to pass them on to their children and go to great lengths to prevent this happening. Many psychologists believe that the cause of any phobia is a genetic predisposition as well as environmental and social causes. Some evidence shows that phobias can be genetic; identical twins raised separately, and educated in different areas have acquired the same type of phobia. It may also be that “humans are biologically prone to have certain fears of noxious animals or situations, such as rats or poisonous animals.” So some phobias may even be in-built.

Phobias can be treated with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, counselling, systematic desensitisation or psychotherapy but many sufferers adapt by developing avoidance strategies.It is easy to ridicule phobias but that helps no-one. One has to understand that the fear in the phobic, though irrational, is very real.