This, is a moth. I, have mottephobia. Which is the fear of moths. I’ve had it since I was a child. My mom once paid me 10$ to stand outside on my front porch with moths for 5 minutes. I didn’t make it, and while I was outside, I latched onto the sweater my mom was wearing the whole time.
I had a question for myself, why am I scared of something that cannot hurt me? A phobia is defined as “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.” Which I for sure have. I even looked up if there was any rational reason to be afraid of moths. They are in fact completely harmless, and the only time they can even slightly be dangerous is if they are ingested. I came to the conclusion that my fear is much more biological than I would think. I’ve noticed my fear of moths connects to their fur, and their patterns. The more fuzzy or patterned they are, the more dizzy I feel, the more nauseous I feel, etc. So I found that this is an evolutionary trait that has been in humans for a long time.
The patterns on the moth’s back, to humans, are a sign of poison or something dangerous to ingest. It’s all about the patterns. People can see these and their subconscious makes sure after years of evolution, they don’t go near them, for if they are ingested, most would kill the human. The patterns tell the human brain that they should be avoided because of poison or disease. Think about it, evolutionary traits are passed down. The humans who ate these colorful animals would die, while the others who refused survived, thus passing on the trait of fear towards these animals, and their patterns.
But as fascinating as that is, I’m curious about why people are so terrified of things that can’t hurt you? Why do I become a shaking, crying mess when I even hear the word moth. That certainly has no evolutionary worth. According to Mayo Clinic, “Specific phobias are an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of objects or situations that pose little real danger but provoke anxiety and avoidance.” This fascinated me, especially since phobias have no sense of real danger. Mayo clinic has 4 ways to help treat phobias if they are particularly debilitating. One: Exposure Therapy. Exposure therapy is essentially a slow switch in the mind making the patient lose their anxiety towards their phobia. For me, that would be exactly what my mom did. She made me go outside and just sit with moths, trying to help me feel more use to being around them. It is the most popular and the most recommended treatment for phobias.The second psychological therapy you could use is cognitive behavioral therapy. This strategy is much less trying to cure the phobia but instead learning to cope with the fear. This therapy goes much deeper in that it tries to keep your emotions in check instead of letting them run rampant and control you, and making sure you keep a better awareness with your body.
Medication is also a option, but it is rare. Medication is mostly used for people with overwhelming anxiety and phobias that occur in daily life, such as Dendrophobia, the fear of trees, or Papyrophobia, the fear of paper. These phobias usually come along with other serious mental conditions. People who do have more severe phobias will take either beta blockers or sedatives. Beta blockers change the chemical components of your brain, slowing the components of adrenaline, like fast heart rate or shaking. Beta blockers are similar to sedatives except sedatives are much stronger and could easily become addictive to patients.
But again, I am still left with why do I have a fear of moths, when there is no rationality of it. There is no real danger, yet my panic is sent into overdrive.
According to Katherina K Hauner from Scientific American, genetics contribute to someone’s phobia by about 25-65 percent of the time. Other times it is environmental, or something heard or seen from childhood that was traumatic.
Everyone has a fear, whether it is rational or not. Andrew Wing, my father, for example is deathly afraid of elevators. He says, “I just don’t trust them.” This is at least some what reasonable, but then ask Phet Laboutsa, who says his fear when young was grapefruit. He elaborates, “I was six and cried when I saw one.” He says his fear was rooted in the fact he was very allergic to them, but growing up has since lost his fear.
These oddities maybe can be explained if you go into depth of the study of the brain- neuroscience. Esther Inglis Arkel has studied the odd behavior of phobics. “There is a strictly biological component to phobias.” She says, “When worrisome stimuli get into the brain, there are two ways they can go; to the amygdala and to the sensory cortex. The sensory cortex is a calm, rational part of the brain. It casts around the rest of the brain for more information and looks at general knowledge”. “The amygdala, on the other hand, is the part of the brain that gets an unpleasant stimulus and screams, “What are you doing? Run, stupid!” When people say that phobias aren’t rational, they’re right. The amygdala is not there to be rational. It’s there to get results. And it does, often in the form of a panic attack.” But yet again, studying the human mind always leads to more questions than answers. Why does some triggers go to the sensory cortex and some to the amygdala? Scientists are just as confused as you are. Many say that the three causes are genetics, trauma, or all around stress and anxiety. Or it could even be a combination of all three.
Fear is such an open subject, and the human mind is a puzzle many have yet to even begin to understand. It is not perfect of course, and maybe phobias is one of those imperfections, but in the end, we deal with the cards we are dealt with, and whether you are scared of clowns or months, your fear isn’t imaginary.