What are the consequences of an untreated phobia?

Anxiety disorders affect many people regardless of age or social background. Phobias are psychological disorders belonging to the family of anxiety disorders. There is an internationally accepted definition of a phobia as follows: “a persistent and intense fear of an unreasonable or excessive nature, triggered by the presence or anticipation of confrontation with a specific object or situation”. A phobia is an emotion, an excessive or even disproportionate fear of a particular object or feared situation that can generate an acute anxiety attack, namely a panic attack. It is important to distinguish between simple phobias (fear of animals, blood, heights, the dentist) and complex phobias (agoraphobia, social phobia).

A fear that contaminates daily life

Living with a phobia, whether it has been present for several years or a few months, can have many consequences both for the person who lives with its suffering and also for those around him or her who, not understanding the disorder, may have the impression that the person is exaggerating… After a panic attack, the phobic subject may be afraid of being afraid and will refuse to confront the sources of stress. From then on, phobic anticipation gives rise to a socio-professional disability; and school in the context of the anxious school refusal observed in children and adolescents. Indeed, the repercussions are felt in both personal and professional life (work stoppages or even dismissal are realities in the discourse of patients handicapped and hampered by their phobias) marginalising these subjects. This observation can be made regardless of the type of phobia (simple phobia or specific phobia). The fact of having to rely on a relative to accompany them when going out, because they are apprehensive about open spaces (agoraphobics or social phobics) but also for people with a simple phobia (phobia of animals, heights, claustrophobia) constitute a real loss of autonomy or even of freedom

Social isolation, withdrawal

Having a phobia can lead to social isolation, marginalisation and selection from friendships and relationships. It is not uncommon to hear the phobic person feel ashamed of this unreasonable fear. Thus, he or she may hide it from those close to him or her by putting in place strategies to conceal the phobia. As a result, only those deemed trustworthy are taken into confidence, with the effect that they sometimes end up not understanding the ins and outs of this irrational fear, which leads to the feeling of not being understood. From then on, feeling misunderstood or rejected, the phobic subject ends up withdrawing into himself, socialising little, and therefore preferring to stay at home. This tarnishes his feeling of efficiency to face the phobogenic situation and impoverishes his relational circle.

Emergence of pathologies and low self-esteem

The evolution and persistence of a phobia can lead to the appearance of new pathologies. Indeed, the person suffering from a phobia has become accustomed to not exposing themselves to the phobogenic object or environment, which contributes to accentuating the dysfunctional representations that they have of the situations deemed anxiety-provoking. Thus, their entire thought system will be subject to subjective and erroneous cognitions. In order to control their anxiety, people will use strategies to avoid the feared situation so as not to have to submit to an emotion they are trapped in. To compensate for this, some anxious people will become dependent on medication: taking anxiolytics or hypnotics; others will sink into alcoholism or the use of hard drugs. Avoidance behaviour leads to the feeling of accumulating failures and consequently of being unable to succeed in an action, which contributes to a decrease in self-esteem. It is not uncommon to hear an adult or adolescent phobic subject say of himself or herself: “I’m no good; I won’t succeed; I’m incompetent…”. These expressions are to be correlated with the number of attempts made to face the object of their fears. Because he starts out defeatist, the phobic subject will not risk a situation which he thinks will be catastrophic for him, so he will limit his scope of action and the phobia will gain ground; and his autonomy will be diminished, which leaves room for a vicious circle.

The importance of treating your phobia

The subjective representation that the person suffering from a phobia has will condition his or her thought system and the way in which he or she will apprehend and interact with his or her environment. Therefore, it is important to deal with unreasonable fears, whether they are innate or acquired. Moreover, there is no fatality, phobias can be cured. Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of cognitive and behavioural therapies in overcoming phobias. Faced with a behaviour that the patient finds disabling, the aim of the treatment is to identify and understand the factors that maintain the disorder and then learn to develop new skills and abilities to overcome the disorder. Derived from cognitive and behavioural therapies, virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is a therapeutic approach aimed at helping the patient suffering from anxiety disorders to regain autonomy via confrontation with the habituation to conditional stimuli. It is an immersive process in a virtual environment designed according to the disorder to be treated, which leads to the attenuation and then the extinction of anxiety. C2care offers a number of environments that allow exposure to anxiety-provoking situations in a safe and accessible way for the patient.


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