difference between fear and phobia

Fear vs. Phobia: The Key Differences

Fear is a natural instinct, a core one that has been with us since the beginning of mankind. Phobia, on the other hand, is sort of an anxiety disorder, which can be very serious at times. To find the difference between fear and phobia, we need to have a clear idea about their characteristics first.


Fear vs Phobia: An Overview 

fear vs phobia

Fear, or being afraid of something, is a natural emotion. You’re afraid of fire because you know of the harm it can cause if you go too close. But that doesn’t stop you from using it for cooking because you know if you maintain a distance, fire can be safe.

Phobia is an excessive fear for something or a situation that can be way more than the actual threat it possesses. If you have a phobia of fire, even though you know fire can’t harm you from a distance, you’ll have anxiety and panic attacks. When you have a phobia of something, basic logic doesn’t work on you.


What Is Fear?


Fear, a very natural part of our lives, is basically an emotional response. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because fear keeps you safe in critical situations. One can be afraid of any threat, be it a real one or a perceived one.

Common fears include the fear of heights, water, fire, animals, etc. Many people have fear responses like sweating, shaking, or crying when they have to confront their fear.

It comes from the concept of protecting oneself. Fear is required because it is the only efficient protective mechanism that can react to danger properly. This very attribute is seen in most animals with high intelligence.

Fear, like other feelings, is born in your brain. The human brain has a critical mechanism that can perceive and respond to fear.  This response depends on the scenario and circumstances.

The way people respond in fear is divided into two major categories. One is “Fight, flight, or freeze,” where the person tries to face the fear all by himself. The second one is known as “tend and befriend,” which requires other people to help the person afraid. Both of the response is quite common amongst humans.

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What Is Phobia?


Phobia isn’t technically a natural response; it’s more of an anxiety disorder that is very persistent and can have intense responses. They’re often called irrational fears as well because sometimes the phobic object isn’t dangerous at all.

But a phobic person can respond to the phobia in a very intense way, which, in turn, can be fatal for that person.

Phobias can be so lethal that just thinking about them can give a person anxiety attacks. They are distinctly different from the usual fear and are usually caused by dysfunction in brain circuits. How badly you’re affected by a phobia is known as an impairment. It can be mild, medium, or even high!

In medical studies, there are three general types of phobia, known as specific phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia.

Specific phobias are basically phobia towards specific objects. For example, fearing spiders (arachnophobia) or fearing height (acrophobia) are specific phobias. They are the most common types, and almost everyone in the world has one of them at least.

Social phobias are now called social anxiety disorders, and they’re basically the fear of being in an uncomfortable social situation. It can be in a school where a child is bullied, humiliated, or embarrassed. Or it can also be in your own house where you were scrutinized.

Usually, social phobias generate from embarrassing situations that happened in a place or by a group of people.

Agoraphobia is the most critical of phobias. It completely numbs you down, and the fear of having panic attacks in an embarrassing situation can be lethal. People with agoraphobia can go from not using public transport to not going out of home in fear of facing people.


Key Differences Between Fear & Phobia

  • Fear is a natural phenomenon that helps human beings protect themselves, whereas phobia is an anxiety disorder that comes from excessive fear of something.
  • One can control their fear with logic and rational thoughts, but most people can’t control their excessive fear or phobia.
  • Fear is a rational behavior from a person; phobia is often irrational and can leave a person dysfunctional or in discomfort for a long while.
  • In most cases, fear comes from real and formidable danger, whereas one can be phobic of quite harmless objects and situations at times.
  • Exposure therapy is often required to cure different phobias, but fear, in general, does not require extensive therapy sessions such as psychotherapy or counseling.
  • Fear doesn’t make a person irrational, rather the opposite. But extreme phobia can make a person highly irrational and afraid of everything around him.
  • Sweat, shake, cry- these are common symptoms of fear of flying. But if you’re afraid even to board a plane because you might face your fears- that’s a phobia.



Since phobia itself is a kind of excessive fear, it’s natural that fear and phobia might have overlapping definitions. That being said, if you have any sort of excessive fear about things that aren’t dangerous enough, you should immediately consult a psychiatrist.

Phobias aren’t to be taken lightly, so take adequate action before it takes your world down with fear. We hope our analysis about the difference between fear and phobia was of help to you.


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