Galeophobia or the extreme fear of sharks probably conjures up images of the Great White shark as depicted in Jaws, the popular blockbuster movie known for its dramatic music and superb visual effects that exacerbated the fear of sharks in the minds of its viewers. While majority of the viewers tend to forget this fear of sharks; a Galeophobic individual continues to experience it persistently and irrationally.
The word Galeophobia is coined from the Greek word “Galeos” which stands for small sharks or dogfish (in particular, sharks having markings like those of a weasel) and “Phobos” which means deep dread or fear. The term is alternatively used for Ailurophobia (or the fear of cats) since Galeos is derived from galee which stands for polecats or weasel like animals. (Note that the fear of sharks is also called Selachophobia.)
Sufferers of this phobia are extremely afraid of going near oceans, lakes, rivers, on ships and boats or even visiting aquariums or zoos despite the fact that sharks are safely restricted behind sturdy glass windows. In some cases, the fear is so bad that the individual faints at the mere image or word about sharks.
Causes of fear of sharks
As stated before, media is the most likely cause of the fear of sharks. Sharks are portrayed as vicious or dangerous creatures. Movies like Jaws (1975), Dark Tide (2011) and Deep Blue Sea (1999) etc have particularly depicted these creatures in a negative light.
The physical appearance of sharks is often deemed as scary. They have razor sharp teeth and cold emotionless eyes. Their tail fins (which are seen protruding out of the water in movies) are viewed as ‘ominous’. To young children and anxious adults, these can conjure up frightening images of bloodthirsty, violent creatures that are seeking human prey.
A traumatic past event related to sharks (that has either happened directly or indirectly to the sufferer) might also cause Galeophobia. Usually however, it is media news reports of shark sightings, of surfers or swimmers being killed or bitten that triggers the exaggerated fear of sharks.
Symptoms of Galeophobia
Galeophobia sufferers tend to experience intense panic or anxiety attacks at the mere mention of or images of sharks. Following are the symptoms of fear of sharks:
- An elevated heart rate
- Shortness of breath, chest pains
- Sweating profusely or trembling
- Feeling nauseated
- Experiencing deep mental anguish, dizziness or fainting.
Many phobics also scream or close their eyes each time there is an underwater scene in movies. Some individuals tend to show avoidance behavior; they refrain from going on outings remotely connected to sharks. This includes aquariums, theme parks like Sea World, beaches, rivers and zoos etc. Many refuse to swim in oceans or even in public swimming pools despite the fact that these are not remotely connected to sharks.
Treating and overcoming the fear of sharks
Galeophobia can be overcome in a variety of ways. Many theme parks offer “swim with the sharks” programs that can help sufferers face their fear. If this is too extreme, one can start small or gradually. This involves looking at pictures of sharks or watching movies about them until one can progress to visiting places where sharks are available.
Talking to a psychoanalyst or hypnotherapist can also help one get to the root of the fear. Likewise cognitive behavior therapy can help identify why sharks are causing such an intense fear in the phobic’s mind.
Educating oneself about sharks can be extremely helpful in overcoming shark phobia. Doctors and therapists are especially blaming the media for exaggerating shark attack stories. In reality, sharks are not cold blooded killers they are made out to be; only 30 species of sharks in the world are actually dangerous or have been known to attack humans. Thus, your Galeophobia, as its definition says, is unjustified.