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Fear, Phobia, and Trauma: What’s the Difference?

Fear, Phobia, and Trauma: What’s the Difference?

Many people probably know and have already experienced the three—fear, phobia, and trauma. Some people use the words interchangeably, but there are certain differences between the terms.

Fear, phobia, and trauma are inevitable parts of human-being. Understanding their differences will enable you to comprehend your situation and find the appropriate care or relief, especially if you are dealing with one of the three.

Here’s how they differ:


Fear is an emotion that triggers a reaction. It results from the perception that someone or something is dangerous, painful, or a threat.

For example, you fear the rain when it comes. It makes sense to start to fear the rain. In fact, this will prompt you to make the necessary preparations for when unfavorable events occur.

Your fear lasts until the rain is over.


Phobias are extremely strong fears. Even when it is obvious that you are not in danger, it causes intense anxiety.

It’s called irrational fears; the reaction is so intense it affects your ability to function or carry out daily tasks.

When someone has a phobia, they frequently plan to avoid the things they view as dangerous. The threat that is only imagined outweighs the danger of the actual threats. This can hinder their ability to carry out daily tasks and sometimes trigger panic attacks.

For instance, if you have a phobia of spiders, even the thought of one makes you tremble and sweat.

Although phobias may appear to develop suddenly, they are always the result of some traumatic or upsetting event in the past.

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While phobias are extreme forms of fear, trauma is a long-term emotional response to an extremely disturbing experience caused initially by fear.

Trauma is a very personal experience. Trauma overwhelms a person’s capacity for coping, which results in feelings of helplessness, and limits their capacity to feel the full spectrum of emotions and experiences.

You were physically attacked, for instance, and that experience still affects you today. It made you aware of how dangerous the world is. That trauma is connected to physical abuse.

Final Thoughts

Fear is a natural emotional reaction when you believe there is a danger from something. Extreme fear leads to phobia, which may be linked to a traumatic experience. Lastly, trauma is a response to a deeply distressing event often caused initially by fear and phobia.

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