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Exploring the Causes of Acrophobia

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 9/23/2010

There are several causes of acrophobia, but the most common ones involve a built up belief that heights will definitely cause harm. In this article, we discuss some of the most common causes of this type of fear.

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    Introduction

    Fear of Heights Most of us are uncomfortable when we are in high places. However, for some people, heights are simply terrifying. They are so frightened that they almost turn into statues, unable to move. The fear causes them to stop functioning like a normal and rational human being. This type of condition is called acrophobia, or the fear of heights. The causes of acrophobia are many, and we will discuss the most common ones in this article.

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    Traumatic Experience

    Like most types of phobias, acrophobia is usually caused by a traumatic experience. This type of experience would have involved heights or at the very least was related to the idea of heights. If a person constantly attributes falling from a considerable height to insufferable pain, it becomes ingrained in their minds, causing a conditioning that any type of height can cause them harm or will put them in extreme danger. This is most common among people who started the conditioning very early on in life, which makes it a lot harder to get rid of, but not impossible.

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    Unintentional Learning

    A person may not have a traumatic experience involving heights, but they may have built up a belief that heights will most definitely put them in harm's way. This could either be a result of the way they were brought up or the things that they see in their environment. The idea that placing one's self at any kind of height will lead to falling, pain and even death may germinate in an acrophobic's mind, causing them to develop a counter-productive reaction to all kinds of heights no matter how safe they technically are.

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    Anxiety with One Type of Height Leading to Generalization

    Unintentional learning regarding one type of elevated position such as on flight of stairs, a ladder, a mountain top or a balcony, can lead to a generalization that all types of heights can cause pain, suffering and even death. The anxiety of one type of height can be so intense that it can drive someone to develop a fear of all heights.

    Acrophobics may not be as fearful of other elevated positions as they are with the particular height that caused them trauma or a learned fear, but the anxiety brought on by them can still prevent them from functioning as a normal person in some situations.

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    Difficulty in Maintaining Balance

    This is a biological issue where a person can't seem to maintain their balance, leaving them vulnerable to the fear of going off balance when they are at a height. The problem could be associated with vision issues or hearing issues. The eye and the inner ear are both essential in maintaining balance, so if there is a problem with either one of them, or both, the person may find it difficult to maintain balance. Therefore they develop a belief that being in a high place will most certainly put them in danger or will cause them to fall. This is not as common as the other types of causes of acrophobia, but it still affects a lot of people.

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    References

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/phobias.html

    http://www.way2hope.org/Illnesses/acrophobia-fear-heights.htm

    http://www.allaboutskyscrapers.com/acrophobia.htm

    http://www.psychologistanywhereanytime.com/phobias_psychologist_and_psychologists/psychologist_acrophobia.htm

    Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; GNU Free Documentation License / Supplied by Pascal Reusch


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