There are several phobias that most everyone is aware of, and that many of us even have. For example, arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, is incredibly common. In fact, 55 percent of women and 18 percent of men in western societies have some degree of arachnophobia. Claustrophobia, or the fear of small, enclosed spaces is another common example.
There are also a lot of bizarre phobias out there that you’ve probably never even heard of! For example, “arachibutyrophobia” is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. “Acousticophobia” is the fear of noise, as another example.
Phobias can be caused by childhood trauma, or can even be genetic in some cases. For example, children who have a family member with an anxiety disorder are much more likely to develop some type of phobia later on. Many people have even developed phobias after suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
But then, you start to develop a looming sense that something isn’t quite right. You’re out in the middle of a large body of water and you’re feeling pretty helpless. And wait, did something just brush by your leg? You don’t even want to think about what it might’ve been.…
Thalassophobia, however, is different from “aquaphobia” which is simply the fear of water itself. People with aquaphobia may avoid taking baths, and may have even experienced a traumatizing near-drowning incident in childhood.
You feel totally vulnerable to the whims of the sea (or whichever body of water you’re in) and anything that might be lurking below the surface. It’s a pretty creepy thought, but sometimes it’s good to recognize that a phobia like this isn’t really rational! In other words, it’s likely that a giant sea monster isn’t actually going to swim up and drag you down into the depths.
There’s even a subreddit called /r/thalassophobia. But fair warning, it’s mostly photos and gifs of ocean life and the deep sea, so if you suffer from severe thalassophobia, probably don’t venture over there!
However, Marc Carlin, a hypnotist who helps people overcome their phobias, believes that thalassophobia might actually serve a biological purpose:
“In context [a fear of the sea] is not irrational. It’s primal,” he says. “We all have this fear of darkness because we can’t see and we rely on our vision to protect us. If you shut your eyes and you can’t see, now you have to rely on sense that you don’t normally rely on.”
Luckily, having a phobia doesn’t mean that you have to suffer with it indefinitely. There are various treatment options, and according to Carlin, those with the most severe phobias may actually be easier to treat, as a true phobic response can be unlearned very quickly.
Carlin says that overcoming thalassophobia can be achieved by figuring out exactly which life experiences triggered the phobia in the first place, and eventually having the patient face it with increasing confidence. The therapist does this until the fear is no longer such a roadblock in the patient’s life.