What Causes Fear of Heights?

Many people suffering from Acrophobia or fear of heights are anxious to know what caused their phobia in the first place. If you want to know how to conquer a fear of heights, then it makes sense to know how it began.

Unfortunately, there isn’t always a simple answer to this question. But there are a number of factors which can cause fear of heights to appear.

Direct Experience

The most obvious way a fear of heights can develop is if you have a frightening experience relating to heights. If something terrifying happens to you while you are in a high place, you will naturally become fearful of it happening again.

So if you slipped and nearly fell from a high balcony, got trapped in an elevator at the top of a tower block, survived a plane crash or had any other kind of life-threatening experience involving heights, it would be no surprise to discover that you had become afraid of heights as a result.


You don’t have to have the traumatic experience yourself to develop Acrophobia. Seeing someone else fall from a balcony, get trapped in an elevator or survive a plane crash can have the exact same effect of making you painfully aware of the dangers of high places.

Observation can be more subtle than this, though. Imagine a family on a visit to the Niagara Falls. The youngest child in the family watches her parents looking tense and talking to each other in nervous tones for the whole time they are near the edge of the waterfall. Whenever the child gets too close to the edge her parents shout “get back!” in terrified voices, grabbing her by the hand and pulling her away. What does this teach the young child? That being in high places is scary and is something to avoid.

Obviously a bit of safety awareness and keeping an eye on your kids to make sure they don’t decide to nosedive off the edge of the Niagara Falls is probably wise. But there’s a limit to how much fear young minds can observe before it starts to rub off on them.


Sometimes you don’t even have to see scary things happening yourself to develop a phobia. Sometimes just an awareness that this sort of thing goes on in the world is enough.

The media is full of stories of scary things happening – all you have to do is turn on your TV or news feed to see a news story, film or TV program about an attempted plane hijacking, or about hikers getting stranded atop a mountain range or a suspension bridge having to be evacuated for fear of collapsing. This constant barrage of scare stories can be enough to convince anyone that it’s better to avoid high places.

Why Do Some People Develop Fear of Heights While Others Don’t?

So why does having a traumatic experience cause some people to develop Acrophobia while some people recover without any trouble? Why does watching other people acting fearful or seeing news stories affect some people more severely than others?

This is where individual characteristics come into play. Little differences in personality and upbringing can determine how we react to information, meaning that two people can respond very differently to the same events.

Some of the personal factors involved in the development of phobias include:

  • Genetics – your DNA is not currently thought to be directly linked to developing fear of heights, but there are certain genes which put you more at risk of developing anxiety problems in general
  • Personality factors – specific personality traits like being particularly fearful or anxious around new situations, as well as being especially sensitive to the physical side of fear are known to be linked to the onset of phobias
  • Upbringing – the environment you were raised in and your relationship to your parents as a child has a big impact on the odds of you developing anxiety issues like Acrophobia

What if the Cause is Unknown?

For some people, there is no obvious cause for their fear of heights – no traumatic near-death experience to explain the appearance of their fear. This is not a big deal when it comes to treatment – even if you have no clue how your fears developed, they can still be cured just as effectively using simple, evidence-based guidance. You don’t need to understand how antibiotics affect the cells in your body to be able to use them to treat a chest infection, and you don’t need to have a complete grasp of the exact combination of genetics, upbringing and experiences which triggered your fear of heights to be able to cure it using the My Fear of Heights guide.

Share Post:

Scroll to Top