The World’s Most Unusual Phobias

Fear of Death (Death Anxiety)

Death is the last big mystery, the great unknown we’ll all have to face one day. It’s a scary thought, but for some people the fear goes deeper than that. The thought of death leaves them paralysed in terror.

Technically known as thanatophobia, death anxiety is capable of utterly destroying people’s lives. Triggered by the overwhelming feelings you get trying to imagine something impossible (your own extinction), it often centres on the fear that nothing lies beyond. There is no afterlife and when you die, you just die. Interestingly, sufferers rarely worry about the method of their death. While many of us fear the pain and unexpectedness of dying, it’s what happens next (or rather, doesn’t) that gets thanatophobics.

Outside of modern Western culture, thanatophobia is highly unusual. In some Buddhist and Hindu teachings, obliteration is even to be desired. For a lucky few, it’s the end of life reward for all their pain and suffering.

Fear of Being Buried Alive (Taphophobia)

You wake up in the pitch dark. You try to stretch out, but something stops you moving. You try to scream for help, but your words are muffled by the walls around you. As you struggle, it slowly dawns on you that your worst fear has come true: you’ve been buried alive.

The above scenario is one that frightens many people, especially those suffering from claustrophobia. However, in this day and age it’s one that’s extremely unlikely to ever play out. Go back just 150 years, though, and taphophobia was far from irrational.

Thanks to their primitive medical knowledge, our forebears had a disconcerting habit of prematurely declaring each other dead. In the 17th century William Tebb reviewed the literature, and discovered at least 160 recorded cases of people being buried or dissected alive. Two hundred years after that, T.M. Montgomery excavated the Fort Randall Cemetery. He reported some two percent of the coffins had scratch marks on the inside of their lids, or other signs of their occupants trying to escape. It’s since been conjectured that the likely total – including those who left behind no traces of their escape attempt – was even higher.

Fear of the Dark

Most of us vaguely remember that time in our childhoods; the time when we couldn’t sleep unless our parents left a light on. Although the majority of us shed this fear as we get older, not everyone does. For some, the dark will always retain its savage mystery.

In most cases, the horror manifests itself as a fear of the unknown. In a darkened room, anything or anyone might be lurking just out of sight. For others, it’s about being cut off from the rational, adult world. As anyone who has spent time in a bad neighbourhood after sunset knows, the dark can bring out all sorts of strange and unusual behaviours.

Oddly, this widely-prevalent phobia doesn’t have a single name. Some call it nyctophobia, but achluophobia, scotophobia and lygophobia are all commonly used. From an evolutionary perspective, it might even be wrong to call it a phobia. A healthy fear of the dark would have kept our ancestors alert to the wolves and lions prowling around the edges of their camp.

Fear of Ghosts (Phasmophobia)

Many cultures across the world believe the dead watch over us, protecting or guiding or simply keeping an eye out from the great beyond. Just as many believe the dead are less friendly and more sinister, wishing us harm or even hurting us. From this belief has grown the fear of ghosts

It’s a fear that’s almost universal. For all we might think we’re rational, intelligent and scientific, very few of us would be able to pass a night in an abandoned morgue without feeling some frisson of fear and foreboding. The difference is most of us would need to be in a scary setting to experience mild phasmophobia. Sufferers struggle just being at home.

For people with phasmophobia, simply going to bed can be a nightmare. The feeling that there’s something haunting the darkness around your bed is similar to what those afraid of the dark feel, but with something more concrete to project that feeling onto.

Fear of Demons (Daemonophobia)

The idea that malevolent supernatural beings stalk the Earth, causing us harm, is as old as humankind itself. An astonishing number of ancient cultures believed demons were as real as

Today, daemonophobia is most-likely to be associated with one of two things: extreme religious beliefs, or an addiction to gruesome pop-culture movies. The mega-success of the Exorcist in the 1970s, followed by a string of sequels and similar films triggered a minor panic about demonic forces in the USA. While not everyone who suffers daemonophobia is an avid moviegoer, it’s a likely bet that William Friedkin is responsible for at least a handful of cases.

Daemonophobia has been known to take a turn for the tragic. Faced with an overwhelming fear that demons have possessed someone they love, sufferers have occasionally resorted to violence. In places like Ghana this has even become institutionalized, with ‘possessed’ children being ritually burnt and harmed to rid them of their demons.

Fear of Witches (Wiccaphobia)

Fear of witches led to one of the saddest episodes in European history, when thousands of innocent women (and some men) were executed en-mass as emissaries of the Devil.

Today, finding someone in the western world who both genuinely believes in and fears witches as wicked beings is something of a rarity. But that’s not to say wiccaphobia doesn’t exist in the rest of the world.

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, fear of witches is terrifyingly real and potentially dangerous. Stories of young women, usually still teenagers, being driven out of their homes and isolated from their families following an accusation are sadly far from uncommon. It’s even given a level of acceptance by local churches that would be unthinkable elsewhere in the world. As its history shows, wiccaphobia can lead us to some very dark places indeed.

Fear of Snakes (Ophidiophobia)

Maybe it’s the way they move. Maybe it’s their disconcertingly blank eyes, or their fabled killing abilities. Maybe it’s related to the story of Genesis and the Fall of man. Whatever the reason, a large minority of us have a deadly fear of snakes. Interestingly, this may be a deeply rational response.

Although far from conclusive, there have been a couple of scientific studies that have linked fear of snakes (and spiders) with our ancestors’ evolution. Since we humans initially came out of Africa, the ability to react quickly to the region’s deadly snakes and spiders could make the difference between life and death. The adrenaline that kicks in whenever an ophidiophobic sees a legless reptile could be the same response that saved one of their extremely-distant ancestors from a particularly nasty death.

Fear of Fear (Phobophobia)

In his  inaugural address to the American people, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. But in the world of anxiety disorders, phobophobia is a very real phenomenon. Although far from many, it’s sufferers have a deep, abiding fear. They’re terrified of fear itself.

Such a unusual phobia usually comes as part and parcel of an anxiety disorder. After a number of panic attacks, people can stop fearing the trigger for their attacks and start fearing the symptoms themselves. Unsurprisingly, this creates a sort of negative feedback loop. John is terrified his anxiety will kick in and everyone will see his hands shaking, so naturally begins to feel anxious, causing his hands to shake. It’s an unpleasant condition, and one that sadly preys most on the depressed and vulnerable in our entire society.

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