There are many phobias associated with water bodies and Thalassophobia is one of them. It refers to an intense and often unwarranted fear of the ocean. The word Thalassophobia comes from Greek thalassa meaning ‘sea or ocean’ and phobos meaning fear or dread.
Thalassophobia is often related to fear of salty water, fear of large waves, fear of distance from the land as well as fear of the vast emptiness. Some Thalassophobes might not be afraid of the sea per se; they are simply afraid of encountering sea creatures. Oceans are vast and relatively unexplored and people already suffering from anxiety disorders fear it due to its “mysteries”. Sometimes, terms like Aquaphobia and Hydrophobia are often used to describe Thalassophobia. Aquaphobia is actually the fear of all kinds of water bodies or of flooding from rains, and sometimes may even be triggered by the water in a bathtub. Hydrophobia on the other hand, develops in the advanced stage of Rabies and might make a person so afraid of water that he refuses to drink any liquid. Some cases of water phobias may even be related to the fear of swallowing.
Causes of Thalassophobia
Often, we read news reports of Great white sharks, electric eels or other dangerous sea predators attacking swimmers in the ocean. We have also seen documentaries of large squids being washed up on the shore or hauled out by fishermen. All these sightings and reports can instill the fear of the ocean.
Popular books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea have explored mythical and monstrous sea creatures (namely the Kraken which is a prehistoric cephalopod). Likewise, Moby Dick and films like Jaws depict huge whales and sharks that are not only deadly but evolved enough to think intelligently and target humans.
Similarly, real cases of ships including the Titanic drowning in the vast ocean have been made terrifyingly realistic by their movie versions. People who are very afraid of violent death or particularly of drowning are likelier to develop Thalassophobia aggravated by these movies and books.
A negative or traumatic event (experienced directly or indirectly), can also trigger a deep fear of Oceans. Sometimes, parents or caregivers unknowingly give inputs that might trigger Thalassophobia in children.
Other relatively uncommon causes of fear of the sea are linked to genetic disorders, or diseases involving the thyroid gland as well as hormonal imbalances or adrenal insufficiencies.
Symptoms of Fear of the Ocean phobia
Some cases of Thalassophobia are so severe that the symptoms might interfere with the sufferer’s day to day life. In other cases, they might manifest only when the phobic is brought to the shoreline. Some might be unable to watch pictures or images about the ocean let alone movies involving them.
Typically, the fear of the ocean phobia presents a variety of physical and emotional symptoms like:
- Shaking or trembling at the sight of the ocean
- Feeling terrified so much so that constant movie stills of death and dying play through the phobic’s mind.
- Feeling detached with reality, feeling numb or being unable to express oneself clearly.
- Weeping, running away etc.
- Gastrointestinal distress, nausea.
Naturally, these could be debilitating symptoms especially when they interfere with one’s social activities involving beaches or when the phobic has to encounter the sea frequently.
Several types of therapies have shown positive results in overcoming the fear of the ocean.
Hypnotherapy– This therapy involves deep relaxation under the guidance of a trained practitioner. It helps the therapist find out the root cause of one’s ocean phobia. A series of hypnosis sessions help “debug the response to the fear” eventually minimizing the anxiety caused each time one sees the ocean.
NLP or Neuro-linguistic programming therapy– Another effective therapy is NLP therapy that helps one understand how the mind creates reality. This helps the phobic literally “reprogram his mind” to create a different response than he normally does upon confronting the object of his fears, in this case, the Ocean. Several NLP sessions might be needed to minimize and eliminate ocean phobia, depending upon its severity.
Other effective means of overcoming intense fear of oceans is through the use of energy psychology or “needle-less Acupuncture”. One must also understand that the oceans are generally safe and the instances of death related to them are far less compared to deaths caused by road accidents or natural factors. Understanding this can help one rationalize their fear. Gradually exposing oneself to the ocean can also, overtime, help one completely overcome Thalassophobia.