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Religion and Phobias

Understanding the Connection

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Updated July 26, 2009

The link between religion and phobias is strong, though not well understood. Although strong religious faith can bring comfort to those who are suffering, certain phobias appear to have a religious component. These phobias often appear or worsen during a crisis of faith, but may occur at any time. They may happen to anyone, regardless of religious background.

Types of Phobias With a Religious Component

  • Doomsday Phobias – Doomsday phobias can be loosely defined as those phobias that involve the end of the world. They tend to fall into two basic categories: technology phobias and fears of the "End Times." Both types of doomsday phobias may be triggered or worsened by religious belief, particularly in those who have begun to question their faith. Astrophobia, or fear of space, may be related to doomsday phobias.

  • Death Phobias – Death-related fears are extremely common among people of all cultures and religious backgrounds. No matter what your faith, contemplating your own death is generally not a pleasant experience. Thanatophobia, or fear of death, is the most common of these phobias, but many people also fear the symbols of death such as tombstones and ghosts. Mythophobia, or fear of legends, may also be related to the fear of death.

  • Numerical Phobias – Different religions assign importance or power to different numbers. Although these beliefs are sometimes dismissed as superstition by modern science, belief in the power of numbers can be extremely strong. Two of the most commonly feared numbers are 13 and 666.

Exploring the Link Between Religion and Phobias

Of course, religion does not cause phobias. Many people draw comfort rather than fear from their religious faith. Additionally, the phobias listed above often occur in those who do not identify themselves as religious. Instead, it seems that personal religious beliefs may be a small component of a larger picture.

The core beliefs of mainstream religions have become a part of our collective unconscious. Yet religious scholars have dedicated entire lifetimes to studying and exploring these beliefs. In a world of sound bites and media-friendly catch phrases, it is easy for religious messages to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Even many who consider themselves devout base their understanding largely on the words spoken by well-meaning religious leaders who are ultimately fallible human beings.

Perhaps the crux of the connection between religion and phobias is that religious belief requires the ultimate act of faith. As science has not yet conclusively proven what happens after death, fear of the unknown may be the ultimate driver behind the religious component of certain phobias.

Treating the Religious Component of Phobias

If you feel that religion may play a role in your phobias, a two-pronged approach often works best. It is important to consult with a trained mental health professional, who will treat your phobia from a scientific perspective. Common treatments include talk therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medications.

Supplemental counseling with your religious leader is also recommended, particularly if you are undergoing a crisis of faith. He or she can help you explore your beliefs and examine your concerns within the context of your faith. While traditional therapy is action-oriented and focused on removing the fear, religious counseling can help you resolve the underlying conflict.

Source:

Glas, Gerrit MD, PhD. “Anxiety, anxiety disorders, religion and spirituality.” Southern Medical Journal. June 1, 2007. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Anxiety,+anxiety+disorders,+religion+and+spirituality.(Special...-a0165821659

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