Rare and Unusual Types of Phobias

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Anxious woman sitting on park bench looking nervous

You’ve probably heard of—and may even have—common phobias like acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), or arachnophobia (fear of spiders). But the recognized phobias list is long, including some rare fears and phobias of specific animals, situations, people, objects, environments or activities.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines phobias as types of anxiety disorders. A phobia is more than a dislike for something. It is an irrational, extreme and uncontrollable fear that causes emotional and physical symptoms. In truth, the trigger of the phobia presents little or no danger, and most people with phobias are aware of this. However, their reactions are so overwhelming that they feel they have no control over their fear and often feel powerless to conquer it.

Major Types of Phobias

The APA classifies phobias into three major types:

  • Specific phobias: Also called simple phobias, these types of phobias center on a persistent and intense fear of a specific item, activity or situation that typically does not present real danger. People with specific phobias can sometimes easily avoid the trigger for their fear, such as someone with ophidiophobia who can stay away from snakes. However, simple phobias related to common experiences—such as fear of flying, fear of heights, or fear of confined spaces—can result in extreme disruptions to normal routines and prevent someone from living a full, enjoyable life.
  • Social anxiety disorder (formerly called social phobia): People with social anxiety disorder have an extreme fear of social situations, particularly those that involve new or unfamiliar people. Social phobias are different from shyness; someone who is shy may still be comfortable in a social setting but simply isn’t as talkative. People with social anxiety disorder have an intense fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or judged by other people, to the point that they may avoid social events altogether.
  • Agoraphobia: Sometimes oversimplified as fear of crowds, agoraphobia is specifically a fear of being in situations where it may be difficult or embarrassing to escape, such as riding the subway, sitting on an open beach, or being outside in public alone. Because many everyday situations involve being in public or around crowds of people, agoraphobia can be debilitating or even crippling in extreme cases. People with agoraphobia may refuse to go anywhere alone or even become unable to leave the house for any reason.

Uncommon Types of Phobias

While these phobias are less frequent and lesser known, their symptoms are similar to those of more common phobias: chest tightness, shortness of breath, feeling light-headed or dizzy, nausea, sweating, and trembling when faced with the source of the phobia.

Some fears on the rare phobias list include:

Treating Phobias

Doctors generally recommend treating any phobia when it interferes with your ability to function normally, whether at work, in school, or in personal relationships. The most effective phobia treatments are forms of psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, shows you how to identify unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors, then change your perception of them. With a therapist, you will build the skills and tools you need to confront these negative thoughts. Therapists usually combine CBT with exposure therapy.
  • Exposure therapy. Sometimes called desensitization therapy, this type of talk therapy gradually and repeatedly exposes you to the source of your fear. With the guidance of a therapist, you will use controlled situations to develop strategies for reducing your anxiety in the presence of your phobia trigger. The goal is to master your fear instead of it mastering you.

Regardless of how common or rare a phobia is, all phobias are real, clinical conditions that should be taken seriously. A person with any type of phobia doesn’t simply need to “grow up” or “get over it.” Acknowledging your phobia is real—and that it’s having a real impact on your daily life—is the first step toward finding effective treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 28
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