Do I have a phobia? Answering this question isn’t always as simple as you might think. Even if you show a strong fear of something you may be wondering if that fear needs to reach a certain level before it can be considered a phobia, or you may wonder if what you are experiencing could overlap with another anxiety disorder. And what about things that are genuinely scary, like snakes, or spiders, or high places- does being afraid of them count as a phobia?
As with any anxiety disorder, receiving an official diagnosis from a qualified doctor or mental health professional is the best way to know for sure if you have a phobia. However, answering the three questions below can give you a good idea of whether fear is something that needs addressing in your life.
Is Your Fear Specific?
What causes you to feel afraid? Is it certain specific situations or do you feel a level of anxiety and fear about many different things? Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious: if you are terrified of cats and show no unusual levels of fear around anything else then it’s likely you have a phobia of cats.
If your fear is a little more general than that, but you still think it might be triggered by something specific, try to narrow it down by imagining different situations. If you always feel afraid when going to the doctors, mentally go through a normal visit and pay attention to which aspects cause you to feel afraid. It could be that you are afraid or being touched during a physical examination, or that you fear the sight of blood, or catching an illness, or being injected by a hypodermic needle. Or you could be afraid of doctors in general. Thinking about what you are afraid will happen can also help determine the source of your fear.
Of course, some phobias can overlap, and it is also possible to suffer from a phobia as well as a more general anxiety disorder. But thinking it through in this way can give you a good impression to use as a starting point.
Is Your Fear excessive?
The next question to ask is whether your fear is excessive or disproportionate to the amount of danger the situation poses. Many people fear spiders, and some spiders are indeed dangerous, but is your fear excessive? Does it cause you to dread going anywhere you might find spiders? Do you freeze up at the sight of even small spiders? Do pictures of spiders make you feel faint or nauseous?
Think about how other people react to the situation you fear. Do they show the same level of fear as you? If other people can be in the situation you fear without it affecting them, it is safe to say that your fear is excessive.
Is Your Fear Impacting Your Life?
Even if you have a specific, excessive fear, to be considered a phobia it must still meet one more criteria. Your fear needs to significantly impact your life in some way. Think about your day to day life and try to determine whether your fear causes much disruption or distress. Do you have to avoid certain places you would otherwise visit? Is your fear a source of major embarrassment or shame? Does your fear impact your social life, or your job, or where you can live?
One thing you can ask yourself to understand the impact fear is having is this: if you did not suffer from your fear, how would your life be different? What would you do differently? Where would you go and what would you do that you can’t do now? If you find that there are many things you would like to do but are not currently able then your fear is definitely affecting your life in some way.
Time to Act
So, if you have identified that you have a specific fear that is unreasonable or excessive, and that causes a significant level of distress and inconvenience to your life, then it could be a strong indicator that you are suffering from some form of phobia. The useful thing about this way of viewing phobias is that it gives you control over whether you receive treatment. If you feel your fear is excessive, or that it is impacting your life, then you are perfectly right to decide to get help. It’s your life, after all- the only person who can decide whether it is right to seek help is you.