Phobias: Understanding Them to Fight Them Better

Difficult to live calmly when you have a phobia, especially if it ends up taking all the place. Deciphering the mechanism of phobia and tips to overcome it.

Spiders, mice, metro, plane … The inventory at the Prevert objects of our phobias is endless. If sometimes these anxieties can lend to smile, they are for those who are victims of real source of suffering , especially when the enochlophobia gradually takes the place, encroaching on the daily and sometimes confining some people at home, overwhelmed to the idea of ​​confronting themselves with what panics them. How to explain the mechanism of phobia? How, especially, try to get rid of it?

An irrational fear that betrays an inner anguish

The phobia is characterized by ” irrational panic fear described as such, which is carried on an object – spiders, mice, etc. – or a situation – subway, plane , public speaking – external to the individual,” defines Antoine Dupuy , clinical psychologist. On the psychological level, the phobia consists, he explains, of “moving an inner anguish by projecting it onto a particular object thus making it possible to get rid of an internal anxiety that would be unbearable”. “In psychoanalytic language can say that phobia is the symptom of a psychological conflict whose foundations go back to early childhood: a feeling of emotional insecurity, a fear of abandonment or a feeling of lack of love , etc. ”

Phobic people are also aware of the irrational dimension of their fear. “I suspect that the plane I’m going to climb in will not necessarily crash on take-off, but I’ve internalized it as the safest way of transportation. “Do not be convinced every time my last hour arrived and be literally ill, ” says Carole, 43. Ditto for Myriam, who can “be quieted at the sight of a spider”. “I know, thank you, that the little beast will not eat fat, but the mere sight of this beast makes me lose all my common sense, I can not think, I’m panicked.”

Avoidance of the object of phobia, an effective strategy in the short term

Faced with phobia, the first reaction, the most frequent and the most obvious, observes Antoine Dupuy, “is to avoid the object of fear.” We will go on foot or by bike to his appointment if it is public transport that cause anxiety, we will prefer the train for the holidays rather than the plane, the staircase to the elevator, or we will ban the cellars or attics, favorite places for mice and spiders. “This strategy is rather effective, at least initially,” notes Antoine Dupuy. “It helps to survive even if it does not solve the problem. “” For two or three years, I really made sure I did not have to go on a plane. I took all my holidays in France and I refused some business trips. I was not proud, but at least I was no longer in panic, “says Carole.

Only here, explains Antoine Dupuy, it may happen that avoidance or recourse to a “contra-phobic object” (lucky charm, person can accompany us in the subway, etc.) is not enough to calm the anxiety, that it is triggered at the mere “thought of the phobic object”. “One enters an anxiety of anticipation, in the fear of being afraid . The panic attacks can for example be set up because the subject is projected in the situation that causes the body and interprets the slightest sign announcing precisely the crisis. “The phobic is then caught in an infernal gear, where avoidance is no longer a solution, since we can no longer ignore the object of his phobia. and fall back on themselves, isolate themselves and cut themselves off from the world. ”

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies to Alleviate Symptoms

Before reaching such extremes, it is better to act and try to deprogram the phobia. “The most common angle of attack lies in a drug treatment, usually a combination of anxiolytics and antidepressants, ” Antoine Dupuy describes. “It is better that these medications be prescribed by a psychiatrist , who knows their effects and who can offer a real follow-up,” says the psychologist. Above all, he says, the drug solution “may certainly be appropriate in the short term and can interrupt the vicious circle of anxiety but it is not enough to understand the causes of this symptom.”

The cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are for their often very effective “to prevent disorder sets in and take the whole place,” says Antoine Dupuy. “In general, it’s about exposing the person little by little to the object of his phobia.” The exercises are done first by imagination , then concretely in the form of a scenario of usually destabilizing and difficult tasks. The idea is to isolate, then treat the dysfunctional thoughts that cause anxiety.


Arthur, 36, has been successful thanks to a cognitive-behavioral therapy to overcome his uncontrollable fear of the highway. “I could not take an interchange anymore and I had to make all my trips on national, not very practical when it comes for example to make a Paris – Lyon! It took me a dozen of sessions to stop it. ” Lisa, meanwhile, tried EMDR to cure her “emetophobia” , namely the fear of vomiting. After four sessions, she can now “manage the gastros of children without being overwhelmed by anxiety”. Marion finally found comfort in hypnosis: “It may sound silly but I had developed a phobia pigeons.If for others it can make you laugh, for me it was a nightmare, especially as I live in Paris.Hypnosis me a lot pacified “.

Analytical work, to find the meaning of phobia

Caution, warns Antoine Dupuy, with CBT unlike analytical work , we “do not intervene on the causes but on the symptom.” And if the results are often spectacular at first, the risk is great that the phobia moves elsewhere, the inner anxiety still exists. “I thought I had overcome my fear of speaking in public with a coach who was using CBT,” says Charlotte, 37. “It worked for a few months, and then suddenly I had panic attacks as soon as I was in an important work meeting, I felt that maybe I needed to understand what was happening to me and started psychotherapyon the long term. Today I’m starting to get better, in depth. ”

“The analytic work makes it possible to find the meaning of the phobia, to understand the internal conflict responsible for this neurosis “, explains Antoine Dupuy. Far from preaching only for this parish, he suggests ” coupling the different approaches , combining both a work based on CBT and an approach of analytical orientation, sometimes even a drug when the symptoms are too violent”.

We can overcome these phobias, “provided to engage permanently,” concludes the psychologist. But, he adds, “healing is a notion that is used little in psychoanalysis because the psychic functioning or the psychic organization of a person, in this case phobic neurosis also has a ‘benefit’ for the nobody, “as paradoxical as it may appear.” By “profit”, Antoine Dupuy hears the fact that the phobic person wins particular attention from others, sometimes an aid or a company when it decides, by example, to take public transport or the airplane.In general, the phobia being a “displacement” of anguish, it presents especially the interest in making the latter external to oneself. In other words, it may happen that a person has built around this phobia and derives a balance certainly precarious, but real. “That’s why we do not always recover completely, but we can, with the help of therapies,to improve one’s quality of life and to learn about one’s weaknesses to live with.  For more info visit

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