Subjectivity V Objectivity in Phobias – Is Your Object of Fear Making You Feel Anxious or Are You Creating the Anxiety?


Internal V External Psychology

There are literally hundreds of different phobias, each with a distinct trigger situation or object of fear.

Furthermore, phobias are defined as irrational fears because, in general terms, the phobic triggers are generally considered to be benign in the eyes of most people (whatever that means).

So, for example, Koumpounophobia is the fear of buttons and those who suffer from it experience high levels of anxiety when they are exposed to buttons.

If you don’t have Koumpounophobia then you may find it very difficult to understand how anybody could possibly have a fear of them.

From a psychological perspective, this can be explained by understanding that phobias are subjective rather than objective in nature.

What this means is that the fear that is experienced when encountering buttons, for example, is the result of what goes on inside the mind of the person encountering them.

In other words, their anxiety is caused by the subjective meaning they attribute to buttons.

If buttons directly caused a person to experience anxiety and fear (in other words buttons caused anxiety) then everybody who encountered buttons would feel anxious.

In this case we would say that buttons objectively cause fear.


So, the fundamental question to consider here is whether phobic triggers are the cause of anxiety or if the way an individual subjectively “makes sense” of their object of fear causes their anxiety.

This is what we mean by either “subjective” or “objective” psychology.

If you feel anxious when you are exposed to your own particular phobic trigger, then you either hold the external object responsible for how you feel (the buttons made me feel anxious) or you recognise that you have a belief that buttons are a threat (subjectively) and that overcoming your phobia requires changes to your beliefs rather than changes to what is in the external environment.

This fundamental explanation for fears and phobias holds true across all phobias regardless of what your phobic trigger may be.

Buttons cannot make a person feel anxious (they are benign bits of plastic), however, if you believe that buttons represent a threat (somehow) then it is perfectly logical that you experience anxiety.

The anxiety that is associated with phobias is NOT the actual problem because we are hard-wired to experience anxiety in the presence of a threat.

The real problem is the perception that buttons ARE a threat.


Irrational Versus Experiential Fear

It is important to be clear that NOT ALL fears are irrational, even if the object of fear is classically designated as a phobia.

We are frequently consulted to help people with Aviophobia, the fear of flying.

I have never had a single fear of flying client who was involved in a plane crash before they came to see me.

Indeed, most clients who consult for Aviophobia have flown numerous times before and have developed the phobia over time.

However, if a client consulted for Aviophobia and explained to me that they had been involved in three plane crashes and survived on all three occasions, then I would explain to them that they do NOT have Aviophobia, the irrational fear of flying.

What they have is a realistic fear of flying based on their actual experience!

So, fears based on actual experiences (objective experiences) are NOT irrational and cannot be classified as phobias.

Fears that are the result of the internal meaning that you give to an object or situation of fear (subjective experiences) and may reasonably be called phobias.

Finally, if you want to overcome your phobia, whatever it may be, then the solution lies in changing the meanings you have attributed to the external object or situation.

This can be achieved using CBT, Reality Therapy or our CORE programme all of which focus on changing core beliefs.

If you “blame” the phobic object for the way you feel and then dedicate all your effort to avoiding it, then you are going to struggle to overcome it.

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Applied Psychology Solutions

If you’d like to learn how to overcome your mental health problems but dislike the idea of having “therapy”, then why not learn how to change the way you make sense of your experiences and the World around you with the CORE Programme.

If you believe that your problems are the result of what has happened to you and not because there is something wrong with you, then this is the solution you’ve been looking for.

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