Phasmophobia is the fear of ghosts. The word originates from Greek word ‘phasmos’ which means ‘supernatural being/phantom’ and phobos which means ‘deep dread or fear’. Another word sometimes associated with it is Spectrophobia, which originates from ‘specters’ or ‘reflection’. Many people, young and old alike, fear ghosts. This fear is deeply ingrained in us right since childhood fuelled further by TV shows as well as religion and culture.
For people having extreme fear of ghosts, life can become downright miserable. Many refuse to step outside after dark, or sleeping alone or turning out the lights. Halloween is an especially scary time of year.
Causes of Phasmophobia
Anticipatory anxiety, fear of the dead or unknown (or things which go ‘bump in the night’) are mainly responsible for triggering Phasmophobia. This is fuelled further by movies, scary folktales, religious/superstitious beliefs and news or media reports about supposed ‘ghost sightings’.
The amygdala, a part of the brain secretes a chemical that triggers fear. The brain simply does this as part of its defense mechanism. For example, a child might have been spooked out by siblings or friends, as a result of which, they tend to recollect those fearful events each time they are left alone or in the dark.
TV shows, Hollywood movies, culture or religions also steep in our fear of ghosts. Ghosts are portrayed as evil entities that injure, harm or have violent tendencies. Stories of ghosts taking away and murdering children or pets, finishing off one’s life savings or destroying households also trigger Phasmophobia.
Many scientists believe that Phasmophobia is actually the fear of our own death or things to come. The concept of ‘returning dead people’ haunting a household might sometimes be triggered by stress which comes from the belief that someone they are close to is about to die.
Symptoms of Phasmophobia
Phasmophobia can be quite debilitating in that; the affected person suffers from many physical, social and emotional symptoms.
- Heart palpitations, stress and anxiety or panic attacks are common in such cases.
- Children, for example, might start to scream, cry or wet their beds.
- Lying awake at night, hallucinating, jumping at every sound one hears are few of the most common symptoms of fear of ghosts.
- Many sufferers show impaired performance at school or work. Lack of sleep increases their stress and inability to concentrate. They tend to have mood swings, or might appear irritable, angry or start crying over small issues. They also appear needy, depressed, clingy, shy, withdrawn, nervous, and high strung, easily startled or hyper-aroused.
- Poor social life is common as their relationship with peers or family members may be strained.
- The health of such individuals also suffers and their likelihood of getting diabetes, hypertension and heart disease increases. Muscle tension, aches and pains, gastrointestinal distress in the form of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches etc is common. Increased perspiration, skin blotchiness and rashes are other symptoms of Phasmophobia.
- Insomnia, dizziness, fainting, increased urinary frequency may also be observed in patients.
- Many patients express fear of dying, of going crazy or of imminent disaster.
Fear of ghosts is often accompanied by other phobias like fear of mirrors, fear of photographs, fear of shadows and fear of the dark.
Treating and overcoming the fear of ghosts
Often, individuals with Phasmophobia avoid getting treated for their condition, since they do not believe/admit that their fear is disabling enough, at least during daytime. In case of phobic children, parents feel that the child will outgrow the fear of ghosts with age.
Parents must play an important role in treating their child’s fear of ghosts. They can help the child feel brave through make believe, role play or positive tales of heroism and bravery to help the child cope with its fear. For this at-home therapy to become successful, it is vital that parents themselves portray confidence. It is important that they do not show anxiety whilst trying to help the child overcome its anxiety.
Adults with Phasmophobia must try to understand their fear. They can list down situations which trigger the fear and rationalize it by writing down their response as well as ways in which they can change the response each time. It is important to get support from friends and family and assure oneself that the fear of ghosts is absolutely common and that they are not alone in suffering from it.
Talking about one’s fear is also a therapeutic way of dealing with Phasmophobia. Online or offline forums, as well as professional psychotherapists or hypnotherapists can help the individual deal with Phasmophobia.