- Some people have a phobia of Halloween or the ghouls and goblins associated with it.
- People with phobias, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse problems are most likely to suffer from abnormal fears.
- Phobias not only stimulate fear, but can also provoke hatred of the detested object.
A phobia, as you may know, is defined as an abnormal or irrational fear. Phobias can emerge from negative personal experiences, or they can occur without any identifiable cause. But did you know that phobias can be induced by exposure to toxic groups or individuals? By the end of this post, it will be obvious to you how that can happen.
What determines whether a fear qualifies as a phobia? The determining factors are the intensity of one’s reaction to the feared object and one’s capacity for coping with that fear. In short, does exposure to the feared object provoke a panic attack, psychotic break, or other debilitating response? For example, I’m afraid of spiders. If I see a spider, I kill it. That’s not a phobia. But did you hear about the man who burned his house down trying to kill a spider? That sounds like a phobia to me.
Some people have a phobia of Halloween or the ghouls and goblins we associate with it. For them, October 31 is not pretend-scary but really terrifying. People with an extreme fear of Halloween “hate that which they often fear,” as Shakespeare observed. Phobias stimulate not just fear, but can also provoke hatred of the detested object, as shown below.
Fear of Halloween is Samhainophobia. Samhain was a Celtic festival celebrated at the end of October in the pre-Christian era.
Celts believed the seasonal change that brings on longer nights and shorter days creates a pathway between the physical and spiritual worlds. Fairies and dead relatives might cross over into our world during Samhain. Celebrants dressed up as beasts or monsters to ward off spirits. Samhain eventually morphed into All Hallows Eve (Halloween) with the advent of Christianity and became further embellished with trick-or-treating, jack-o-lantern carving, and other familiar rituals.
As you might deduce from the name, “wiccaphobia” refers to the fear of witches and witchcraft. If you have seen the movie Jesus Camp, which documents intense Christian fundamentalist indoctrination of young children, you may recall that the woman leading one of the sessions states that Harry Potter is a warlock and that warlocks are enemies of God. She goes on to tell her young audience that if Harry Potter had lived in Biblical times, he would have been put to death.
While the Jesus Camp lady’s intended purpose was to discourage Christian youth from reading or watching Harry Potter, her toxic approach risks inducing chronic phobias of witches, warlocks, and witchcraft in her young audience.
The above example shows how phobias can be induced by others. There is no shortage of preachers pushing the idea that witches and witchcraft are the handiwork of a very real and malevolent Satan. For example, see John Hagee: Schools Teach “Principles of Witchcraft” and "Pat Robertson claims feminism causes women to practice witchcraft." Exposure to such harangues, especially if one already believes in demonic powers, can induce a phobic response.
People who are profoundly afraid of ghosts suffer from phasmophobia. Most people with this phobia probably believe that ghosts exist, and such a belief would undoubtedly fuel their fear. Children are more prone to believe in and fear “actual” ghosts than adults. But it’s not necessary to be a child or to actually believe in ghosts to suffer from phasmophobia. Many people who would otherwise be immune to this fear might succumb to it if stranded near a graveyard after midnight.
If some churches and ministers can foment fear of witches, imagine what they can do with demons, devils, and the Prince of Darkness himself. Ardent faith, Biblical literalism, and ministerial hysterics can combine to produce an extreme fear of the demonic in receptive believers. What effect do you suppose Hell House has on impressionable young minds? Of course, one could also acquire this phobia from a dogmatic friend or relative, or from books or movies that portray demonic activity. It’s also possible for this or any phobia to arise without any obvious cause.
People with other phobias, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse problems are most likely to suffer from the above abnormal fears. And exposure to toxic influences can elicit or heighten phobias in vulnerable individuals.
“To overcome fear is the beginning of wisdom.”—Bertrand Russell