I learned that when it comes to phobias, people need to stop treating me like I have a phobia! I have a few phobias and, while at first I was always subject to the fear, in recent years I’ve been inspired to face them. However, it seems that people in general are a hindrance, if not enabler, to phobias.
Types of People
- Those who think your phobia is funny and are thus insensitive.
- Those who try to force you to face your fears. It’s a dick move and it’s dangerous.
- Those who enable your phobia by being too supportive.
For example, I had a phobia of bridges. I was trying to get over it by ignoring it, so to speak. I didn’t want to bring it up, talk about it, or acknowledge the phobia in any way. I was going to just allow the bridge to happen. However, my husband was diligent in talking about it, warning me about it, rerouting, asking if I’m okay, reminding me about it, etc.
When I said I’d be fine, he asked “Are you sure? You’re afraid of bridges.”
“I know I am and I’ll be fine.”
“We can just find another route.”
“No, really, it’s fine.”
“Let’s just go somewhere else.”
“No, I want to go. I’m fine.”
He’d reluctantly agree, but then he’d perpetuate it the whole way, “She’s afraid of bridges.” and talk about why I was afraid of bridges. He’d ask if I was okay and tell me not to look because we’re at the highest point. I know he was trying to be helpful, but he was practically shoving the phobia in my face.
He did the same thing with clowns. Although, everyone thinks it’s funny to point out the most terrifying clown they can find and ask me about how creepy it is. First of all, stop being a dick. It’s not funny. Okay, so sometimes we joke about our phobias… but there’s a fine line.
Ultimately, I had to explain that I’m trying to deal with my phobias, but in order to do this, I need people to stop treating me like I have a phobia, but still respect that I do have a phobia. So how do you treat someone like they don’t have a phobia, but still respect that they have one?
Here are my Does and Don’ts of Phobias:
- Privacy – Stop telling everyone about it! It’s no one’s business. Don’t explain the details of why I have the phobia. You think you’re being helpful, but really you’re disrespecting my privacy. If I want to talk about it, I will. If I don’t want to talk about it, it’s not your place to do it for me. At least ask my permission first.
- Courtesy – Give me one courtesy warning of a possible encounter (IE we will be crossing a bridge or there will be clowns at the party). That’s it! Don’t give me terrifying details of how high up the bridge is or how many clowns there will be or what they’ll look like. Don’t keep reminding me, I promise I won’t forget.
- Independence – Don’t avoid my phobias for me. It’s okay to ask if I want to detour the bridge, or forgo the circus, but that’s it. Don’t decide for me. Don’t try to change my mind or continuously remind me that we can leave/stop (it undermines my confidence). Don’t remind me that I have a phobia, because trust me, I didn’t forget!
- Respect – Don’t go out of your way to expose me to my fears or force me to face them (like showing up in a clown mask or pressuring me to go to the circus). That’s very rude and unkind. It’s not your place and you’re asking to get punched. In fact, your actions will only serve to strengthen the phobia.
- Support – Let me be fine and be ready for when I need you. Hold my hand and stay near by. Do this with me. Let me shy away when I need to, but avoid the urge to protect me. Just be there and let me do what I need to do. Knowing that you’re ready to protect me as soon as I need it, is the best encouragement for me to be brave. I’ll let you know when I need something. Also, you’ll know if I need you if I’m curled up in a ball, crying, screaming hysterically, or running away flailing my arms.