Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe are afraid of whales. The intense fear of whales is termed as Cetaphobia, a word that has its origins in Latin Cetus meaning large fish and phobos which is the Greek God of fear.
People having an extreme fear of whales cannot bear to think, see or talk about whales. Watching a movie about (or an image of) these large creatures can cause a full blown panic attack in the sufferer. Most Cetaphobes do not suffer the symptoms of their phobia on a day to day basis; only when they suddenly encounter a whale which is usually through media or TV. Other people tend to laugh at this seemingly irrational fear; after all, the chances of the phobic encountering a whale are usually very small. While the phobic also realizes that such fear is irrational and has no grounds, s/he simply cannot control it.
Let us study the causes, symptoms and treatment for the phobia.
Causes of Cetaphobia
As stated before, the fear of whales is usually triggered in one’s childhood on account of having watched films or movies related to whales. An online forum dedicated to various phobias has people contributing their experiences pertaining to their fears and in case of Cetaphobia, most phobics explained that their fear began after having watched the movie Finding Nemo. (Others had similar experiences of panic attacks after watching whales depicted in Free Willy, Fantasia 2000 or Pinocchio). In each case, the whale, an inherently gigantic creature, is portrayed as a creeping up slowly on unsuspecting characters. The large screen in a movie theater can greatly exacerbate this fear in nervous minded individuals or small children.
Killer whales are usually portrayed as vicious and blood thirsty creatures. It is believed that many Japanese fishermen and tribal members of the Inuit developed the fear of these whales while hunting them. (In reality, they need to fear environmental organizations more than the whales, since killing whales is against the Law and could lead to hefty penalties or serious jail time).
Other causes of Cetaphobia include the fear of monsters which most children have. These usually go away as the child grows up; however, many continue to experience the fear well into their adulthood.
A traumatic event related to whales such as a large dying whale washing up on the beach etc could also cause anxious minded people to start fearing whales.
The fear of the ocean or the fear of the sea having huge whales in it can cause the phobic to avoid the beach. Many tend to get recurrent nightmares of being swallowed alive by whales (where no one would ever find their dead body). Such dreams and thoughts can cause intense panic in the individual.
Symptoms of Whales Phobia
Like all other phobias, the fear of whales can cause various symptoms such as:
- Dry mouth, rapid breathing, palpitations etc
- Shaking and trembling
- Feeling like fleeing, covering one’s eyes or running away and hiding when an image of a whale comes up in books or on TV etc
- Crying, screaming, and getting hysterical. Having recurrent nightmares of being swallowed by whales.
As most people are unable to understand the rationale behind such fear, the phobics tend to be laughed at or ridiculed. This causes them to further withdraw within themselves or feel depressed. Often, Catephobia accompanies other phobias such as Agoraphobia, Thanatophobia, fear of water etc.
Treating and overcoming the fear of whales phobia
Gradual desensitization is the best way of overcoming the fear of whales. The phobic should try to gather up courage and view videos or movies about these gigantic creatures. However, this therapy is best done under the guidance of a professional who can help one start small. For example, the phobic might be asked to simply think of whales, progressing on to viewing their pictures and movies gradually, each time overcoming the anxiety experienced though deep breathing, muscle relaxation etc.
Another technique that can help overcome most phobias is Hypnosis/hypnotherapy. This helps get to the root of the phobia and eliminate it completely. Others include NLP or the neurolinguistic programming and Cognitive behavior therapy.
Self education is also a must while trying to overcome the intense fear of whales. Whales are, by nature peaceful and will not intentionally harm humans. They are mammals that nurse their young. They usually live only in the deepest parts of the ocean. Some statistics will also show that human deaths owing to whales are few and rare.
Other techniques to overcome anxiety pertaining to Cetaphobia include meditating, positive visualization therapy etc. Talking about one’s fear in group therapy or with an experienced psychiatrist can also help one overcome the fear of whales’ phobia once and for all.