Fear, along with death, is one of the great equalizers of human existence. Everyone is afraid of something, just as everybody is eventually going to die, which puts everyone on a level footing. However, the same can’t be said for someone who has to endure a phobia, fear is less of an equalizer and more of an inhibitor, taking away a person’s ability to function. For some people, their phobia is perfectly reasonable and may appear to be little more than a magnified manifestation of a natural fear. Examples of this can include a phobia that is directed towards snakes, or other similarly dangerous natural occurrences and creatures. However, some people can suffer from a phobia that is utterly ridiculous, by most standards.
One of the more unusual fears out there is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, which is the fear of long words. There is a certain degree of irony involved in having an unusually long word represent the fear of long words. As with any other phobia, the trigger causes an unnaturally strong fear response in the person. In most cases, people with this problem will actively go out of their way to avoid reading anything that might contain a long word, even if what defines a “long word” can be subjective from patient to patient. Patients with this problem tend to avoid having to read any sort of legal or medical document or anything that might contain legal or medical terms, due to the popular perception that says those types of documents contain an unusually large concentration of long Latin terms. They also tend to show a degree of discomfort upon hearing long words.
Another unusual phobia is emetophobia, the fear of vomiting. Even more unusual is nephophobia, which is the fear of clouds. There are other conditions out there that are actual phobias and are not made-up, such as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, the fear of the number 666. There are times when it becomes difficult to discern a legitimate and recognized phobia from something that is merely a product of pop culture and a little knowledge of Latin. Although, some experts believe that since people can and will be afraid of anything and everything, even “pop culture” phobias now might be recognized as legitimate psychological fears in the future. While they may not be considered as serious problems now, even the most unusual and obscure phobia still requires some level of treatment.
Counter-conditioning is a popular method for helping someone deal with phobias, even if it is not always as fast a process as some people would like. This process involves gradually training a person to develop a relaxation response to the trigger of the irrational fear, as opposed to, or at the same time, as a fear response. In the latter case, the irrational and unreasonable fear is balanced out by a sense of calm and harmony, which eventually reduces the crippling effects of a phobia.
Another approach that is similar to this is known as systematic desensitization. However, while counter-conditioning focuses on helping a person develop a response that counters the fear response, systematic desensitization techniques involve the slow, gradual removal of the fear response itself. Theoretically, the end result should be someone who reacts to a potential trigger in the same way a normal person does, with no exaggerated reactions or active desire to avoid encountering it.