Spiders, snakes, Gary Busey, people are naturally afraid of things. Sometimes, though, fear reaches a level of pants-shitting intensity so great that the sufferer cannot leave home without some Pampers. This is what is known as a phobia.
One might wonder why humans, the most powerful and ruthlessly savage species on the planet, can be afraid of completely harmless things. It turns that it's not just an error in programming; phobias are based on evolved mechanisms that used to be helpful.
Things like spiders, snakes, and heights used to be a real problem for our species back in the day. And by problem, we mean they would kill you in the most painful way possible. This lead to the evolution of the phobia, basically as a means to ensure humans stayed the fuck away from things that repeatedly caused gruesome demise.
Take that, you slithering bastard.
Unfortunately, we evolved with phobias, meaning, we were stuck with the damn things long after we needed them. That's why we can stick a missile up an evil dictator's ass from across the world and launch shit into space, but we're still afraid of mice.
The face of (pointless) fear
And, because our brains hang on to things long after they are of any use, people will be stuck with phobias for millions of years to come. Bloody snakes.
The only difference is that in a million years we will be afraid of what we should be afraid of now, ensuring that terrorists will be a constant threat well into the 100 000 century.
If phobias are deeply-engrained mechanisms of things that could have hurt us in the past, then why do people have phobias of things that could never hurt us, Simply put, its because people of get fucked up in their youth.
In a study apparently investigating the best way to create life-long grief, John B. Watson decided to screw around with some baby's mental stability. Affectionately naming the baby Little Albert, Watson ran an experiment in which he slammed metal bars together behind the infant's head each time a rat approached. Not surprisingly, Little Albert developed a phobia of rats, loud noises, and presumably scientists. You may question what kind of a parent would allow their baby to be used in an experiment designed to instill a morbid fear, and to that we have no answer. Given his moral nature, however, it is possible and entirely likely that Watson avoided the whole issue by just stealing a baby out of a crib.
John B. Watson, the reason that ethical approval is now a requirement in science.
John. B. Watson's experiments demonstrated that phobias could be developed by association with unpleasant experiences, such as having rats thrown at you while a man attempts to destroy your eardrums. It is theorized that phobias can be developed by traumatic experiences in early life. So, next time you meet someone with a phobia so puzzling you have to question their mental fortitude, remember that it was probably caused by some unspeakable incident that has been repressed from their memory. Or a scientist who just wanted to fuck up someone's life.
While an extreme fear of anything is probably not overally useful, some phobias may severely hinder the sufferer's chance at having a normal life. These include:
Androphobia - fear of men. A phobia of 50% of the world's population can't be easy to live with. Sufferers of androphobia can be most often be found in the form of Amazons and Secretaries of State. Cat Stevens did say "there are a lot of bad, angry men", but we're not sure that fearing all of them just to be safe is a good idea.
Then again, maybe it is.
Catroptrophobia - fear of one's own reflection. We could see how seeing yourself could be frightening if you're the Elephant Man, however most people aren't hideous enough that the sight of their own face causes intense fear. If you have this problem and are a man, however, this could just be an extension of androphobia.
Chirophobia - fear of hands. We're unsure if this includes one's own hands or just other's, but either way it would be a major detriment to day to day interactions. You can spot a chirophobic as the person wearing mittens all year round and who moans in terror at the concept of a handshake.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - fear of long words. Yes, seriously. This make the list not so much for the phobia itself, but for the sick bastard who decided to coin the term for it. This makes it harder for a sufferer to get help, as he fears trying to describe his condition.
Optophobia- Fear of opening one's eyes. A mildly problematic phobia, especially for those who don't echolocate, optophobes deal with their troubles living by the philosophy "out of sight, out of mind".
Panophobia - Fear of everything. Apparently a phobia that encompasses all others. We assume this was a slight exaggeration made by a fed-up shrink who couldn't fit his patient's fear into any other category. Without doing actual research, it is imaginable that this may be a particularly hard phobia to treat, as everything method of doing so would lead to paralysing fear.
Phobophobia - Fear of phobias. The phobia equivalent to a self-fullfiling prophecy, the phobophobe may curse the fact his phobia is utterly inescapable.
Genophobia- Fear of sex. While most Cracked writers never have to worry about this one, we assume this could be a pretty terrible affliction, especially if you're dating David Duchovny. Of course it does lend itself to life-long excuses for those who can't get laid.
"Hey man, did you score that chick last night?"
"No, man, she was a complete genophobe"
"Another one? Dude, that sucks"
So, phobias can be a life-crippling problem that we probably shouldn't be making fun of. The good news is that there are treatments available to cure phobias. The bad news is most of the treatments are absolutely horrendous. Here are some examples of state-of-the-art phobia cures:
Drugs - the answer to any mental illness, drugs such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines may help reduce fearful reactions. The problem is that they may lead to drug dependence, so its kind of like swallowing the spider to get rid of the fly. Except for replace "spider" with the insurmountable and incessant need for benzodiazepine.
Much better than a phobia
Other sides affects may include physical ailments, personailty changes, depression, and panic attacks, the latter of which was why someone would have to take the damn drug in the first place. Maybe we should look at other options...
Hypnotherapy - Last popular in the mid 1800s, this therapy involves hypnotising the patient and somehow figuring out where the phobia comes from. Assuming the process of hypnotising works, this essentially makes the sufferer recall the traumatic event that they have repressed in order to overcome their fear. You may think that this would just rejuvenate the person's phobia, but then again you wouldn't think of using fucking hypnosis to treat a phobia, either.
Secret # 1: It doesn't work.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy - This method apparently involves thinking deeply about what is making you afraid and trying to be rational about it. Under this line of logic, just telling yourself something like "hey, this is a pickle. There is no friggin' reason to run from it like a school girl, because it can't even bloody move" is enough to help get rid of a phobia. Then again, if you are afraid of pickles, rational thought might not be your strong point.
Flooding (implosion therapy) - Conceptualized by a bunch of sadists, this therapy involves the "slight discomfort" of having your worst fear shoved in your face until you get over it. For example, if a person is afraid of balloons for some reason (globophobia - its a real thing), the "cure" would be to hold the person down and jam as many balloons in their face as possible. The only way we can see this reducing a fearful reaction is by inducing shock. Invented in the 60's, probably by Watson, this therapy works on the priniciple that, hey, extreme fear can't last forever, so you can just trap a person with their phobia until they stop thrashing and wailing and foaming at the mouth.
Apparently it works fairly well, though (or at least relative to popping addictive drugs or being bloody-well hypnotised), so if you have a phobia, it might be worth a shot. So, now its time to turn off your computer, take a deep breath, and go and pop in your copy of Lethal Weapon.
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