Fear or disgust?
Phobias may produce either extreme fear or intense disgust. Knowing the difference is important for relief from phobia.
Many people think a phobia means being frightened of something. However, many phobias involve feeling disgusted rather than afraid. Is your phobia related to fear or disgust? What’s the difference between these two emotions?
Fear vs. Disgust
Both of these powerful emotions help keep us safe in life.
When we feel afraid, it’s usually due to a perceived threat to our physical safety. Think about phobias that inspire intense fear. They’re usually things that may cause harm such as deep water, heights, guns, or predators.
For example, if you encountered a lion roaming the street you would likely feel afraid—and for good reason! The lion may attack and kill you. The fear comes from a real threat.
Likewise, feeling disgusted can also protect you. Many of the things that make you feel grossed out are dangerous. For instance, you might feel disgusted when you see a dumpster. This is because the contents of a dumpster could expose you to germs that might make you sick.
Phobias That Scare and Disgust Us
We react differently to fright than we do to feeling grossed out. Both types of phobias may make us want to run or otherwise avoid the trigger, but the way the brain responds is quite different.
When we’re afraid, our senses heighten. If we see a lion, we may get a burst of adrenaline, and we’re able to think of a way to get to safety. We may experience a pounding heartbeat, trembling, and intense feelings of fright.
When we’re disgusted, however, our brains reduce the strength of our senses. This allows us to avoid taking in more of the “contaminating” element, whether it’s a terrible smell or a repulsive sight. Even still, we may experience shakes, sweating, nausea, and upset feelings.
For example, some people are so phobic of slugs and worms that they may vomit at the sight of them. Slugs and worms pose no real danger to us, but they can still be upsetting to look at. Many people have this reaction to insects, too, or certain bodily fluids or body parts, rodents, dirt, or other “gross” things. Some people even feel disgusted at the sight of certain textures or patterns, such as clusters of small holes, like those in a honeycomb.
Facing and Treating Phobias
It’s normal to have a negative reaction to scary or gross things. It only becomes a problem when your reactions become so extreme they stop you from enjoying life. No one wants to encounter a lion or climb into a dumpster, but being unable to sleep at night because you can’t stop thinking about dumpsters or lions is a problem.
If you have a phobia, you’ll need to decide how best to treat it. Some choose to simply avoid their phobia triggers. Others select a combination of therapy and self-help methods to reduce the intensity of their reactions.