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A phobia is a mainly irrational fear of something. It is not an illness. It is not a mental disorder. Nor is it a lack of will-power, or 'moral fibre', or determination.
A phobia can make one's life miserable, cause embarrassment, and undermine self confidence and self esteem.
However you do not have to 'learn to live with' a phobia - check here for suggestions and tips on dealing with your phobia in a positive and pro-active manner.
(This way of classifying phobias is pragmatic rather than medically or psychologically accurate. For example agoraphobia and panic attacks are often categorised as 'social phobias'. However both of these conditions are so common and they so seriously restrict personal freedom that I prefer to give them their own category.)
The distinction generally made is to say that a fear is rational and when fear becomes irrational it is a phobia.
In reality the difference is mainly one of degree and the handiest way to distinguish them is by saying that a phobia is different from a fear by being more irrational. Because, having being fuelled by our imagination, every fear will have a degree of irrationality to it
A phobia is an irrational fear - which is why someone who is phobic will often say I know it's silly, but... They are quite well aware that, while there may be some rational basis for their fear, it is largely irrational.
Take the example of a phobia of snakes. If you live in the United Kingdom there is a slight possibility that you may be out in the countryside on a warm summer's day and you may possibly come across one of our increasingly rare adders, and you just might not see it, and it might be so unaware of your very silent approach that it doesn't quietly slip away, and you might possibly be walking about without wearing shoes, and you might possibly step on it and get bitten.
All of this is not very likely, I agree, but it is just possible. And therefore a UK resident has some reason to be fearful of snakes.
Yet, while the likelihood of being bitten by an adder in the UK is very small, someone who is afraid of snakes can be so fearful that they cannot even pass a pet shop just in case there may be snakes on display in the window. They may even have to leave the room if snakes are featured on the television. Or be unable to look at picture of snakes in a magazine.
Most people who are phobic tend to be fixated on discovering why they have the condition. This is great news for the psycho-analytical therapists and doctors since it can take many, many expensive sessions of analysis to get to the bottom of it.
But then what? You still feel phobic - but you know that it's to do with some childhood incident!
But you still feel phobic... Because understanding the causes does little to alleviate the gut-response. It's a bit like getting a thorn in your finger while gardening. You could spend a lot of time figuring out which rose bush causes it, and which branch and at precisely which moment.
But it makes a lot more sense to first get the thorn out of your finger so it stops hurting you - then, if you're really that interested you can analyse how it occurred.