General Question

janbb's avatar

Can a phobia be learned? And can it be quickly unlearned?

Asked by janbb (57156points) April 11th, 2015

Ever since the recent posts on here about trylophobia – fear of patterns of holes – I’ve been a little freaked out by them. When I’ve felt some anxiety, a picture of a honeycomb thingy has come into my mind. This isn’t debilitating but I am somewhat bothered by this. Would like to deal with it apart from therapy. Any helpful thoughts?

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9 Answers

Berserker's avatar

If I’m not mistaken, a phobia is an unfounded or illogical fear, but I’m guessing trauma, big or small, may “create” a phobia.

I’m not sure how close “being freaked out by something” and a “phobia” have to be before it can be labeled a legit phobia though. Ain’t no expert up in this she-dog.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I’m no expert; just someone with a phobia of latex balloons. It sounds as if the trylophobia is more anxiety than a true phobia in your case. Do you sweat, hyperventilate, and almost pass out upon seeing a pattern of holes?

JLeslie's avatar

I think they definitely can be learned. Exposure therapy seems to be the trend for treating phobias, I’m not sure I would agree with that for every type of phobia though.

Can you focus on a new picture in your mind in these stressful situations? Control where your thoughts go. You don’t have to be perfect at it, just when your mind drifts to the negative pictures in your mind replace it with something else. Maybe eventually you will stop thinking about the negative imagery.

That’s what I would try at first, but I’m not a psychologist or well read on the topic.

janbb's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Nothing that severe. Just intrusive images. I suspect I’m just very suggestible to visual images and a little anxious at the moment; it will pass.

@JLeslie Good suggestion! I am trying to do that and it helps.

longgone's avatar

May I pretend you are a dog for the sake of this thread?

If you were a dog, I would advise your owners to try some classical conditioning. I’d ask them, firstly, to find out what your triggers are. Are there any patterns which don’t yet trigger your anxiety? If there are not, could you possibly create some yourself? Finding your trigger and a way to stay below your threshold, away from the trigger, is the first step.

Once they’ve found your trigger, I’d advise your owners to expose you to said trigger but, as mentioned, below threshold. You should not be experiencing any kind of anxiety. If you are feeling anxious at this point, you are actually worsening your fear. You’d be priming your brain to expect bad feelings upon encountering the trigger, which would make it more attentive to anything which may precede the trigger. You don’t want your fear of holes to stop you from looking at google images in general, for example. Don’t be a hero. Start slowly.

You could turn your training into a ritual. Expose yourself to your low-dose-trigger and immediately reward yourself with, for example, a piece of chocolate. Do this a few times a day. A high-value treat will only stay high-value if it is something special…so don’t go eating all your Easter chocolate right before training yourself!

In time, your brain will good feelings when it encounters the low-dose-trigger. Now is the time to make things harder. Look at a slightly more extreme picture, follow up with chocolate. Repeat as needed, until you feel perfectly fine at the thought of moving up another level.

I think you’d make a lovely dog.

janbb's avatar

woof! woof!

Berserker's avatar

whoa dude

LostInParadise's avatar

Phobias can be learned, but we are wired for fearing some things rather than others. Some degree of caution around snakes, spiders and rats is advisable, so it is not so strange that people have phobias regarding them. Maybe subconsciously holes are interpreted as a structural defect or, in something living, as a sign of disease. If civilization lasts long enough maybe people will eventually have phobias about cars, which are much more likely to cause injury than snakes or spiders.

janbb's avatar

@LostInParadise Yes, I think you’re right. I think it possibly arises from imagining cancer cells. Anyway, it seems to be lessening so I doubt it’s a fullblown phobia, just more of a “that’s scarily gross” imagining.

I like @longgone‘s idea of the chocolate though. If only I weren’t trying to diet!

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