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Phobias are persistent and excessive fears of a particular object or situation that causes avoidance, and intense physical and psychological distress. Phobias are the most common mental disorder in the United States.
What is chiroptophobia?
Chiroptophobia refers to the fear or aversion of bats. It is a clinical fear where prejudices and misinformation causes people to associate bats with common negative stereotypes.
Image Credit: Google Picasa Web/Suruha
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People afflicted with chiroptophobia experience intense, gripping fear and panic when confronted by bats or the possibility of being in the presence of bats. Such fear transcends normal or rational fear that comes when being alone with an undesirable creature. People suffering from this phobia very often go to extreme lengths to avoid any possibility of entering a situation where they become exposed to bats, but when forced into a situation, like for example when a bat becomes trapped in their house or apartment develop feelings of aversion, distaste, and fear.
They are unable to cope, and hyperventilate, experience heart palpitations, and start trembling. They also feel an immediate danger to their lives and very often scream or cry.
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A combination of genetics, environmental triggers, and learned behaviors influence the development and maintenance of phobias.
A negative past experience is very often the underlying cause of chiroptophobia. For instance, a young child startled by the sudden and noisy appearance of a flock of bats might cause the development of this phobia.
Some bats carry rabies, and people scratched or bitten while trying to capture a trapped or injured bat may encounter the disease and thereby develop an aversion to the animal. Only one in about 1,000 bats carry rabies but there is no way to identify which bats are carriers; the popular impression is that all bats are. Although bats are neither dangerous nor aggressive to humans, their leathery wings, and beady eyes nevertheless put off most people.
The most common cause of chiroptophobia is however popular lore. A bat entering the house forewarned impending death in medieval Europe. Medieval Europe also promoted the image of bats flying in the night with the Devil, and the graphical representation of the Devil in those days featured bats wings. This image struck and has transmitted through the ages. Bats, through no fault of their own have been associated with evil and undesirable characters such as Count Dracula, vampires, and the like.
Another popular piece of folklore that leads to fear and aversion of bats is the myth that a bat entangles in the long hairs of women, and that the only way to get rid of it is to chop off the hair.
Such deep-rooted prejudices have found their way into modern life and society also, with the most popular example being Halloween. Modern day stories and films often transform vampires into bats, and Batman, the famous DC Comics character choose to emulate bats to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.
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Treatment of Chiroptophobia
Chiroptophobia is not life threatening and as such can be left untreated without any permanent harm. The fact that most people living a routine life in the city may never encounter a bat dissuades many chiroptophobes from seeking professional treatment. It is people with an extreme form of chiroptophobia who experience fear and panic and develop symptoms who take up treatment.
The treatment of chiroptophobia is on similar lines as treatment of any other specific phobias. The common forms of treatment include therapy including counseling or graduated exposure, and hypnosis.
- Counseling: Counseling usually entails a one-on-one engagement with a trained counselor. The counselor will try to dispel the negative stereotypes associated with bats and bring about a positive change. For instance, contrary to a widespread association of bats and vampires, only three species of bats feed on blood, and all these three species live only in Latin America.
- Graduated Exposure Therapy: This type of therapy entails systematic desensitization using relaxation skills, and helping the individual use this skill to react to situations, and thereby cope and overcome fear.
- Hypnosis: The self-hypnosis approach holds that the major cause of chiroptophobia is prejudice against bats anchored in the unconscious mind. So the best way to free oneself of the phobia is by re-programing the mind through hypnosis. The conscious part of the brain holds just ten percent of memory, and as such, any attempts to effect change purely on a conscious level remains ineffective. Hypnosis that targets the subconscious mind helps one to overcome the negative impressions set in the mind and accepts positive new conditioning in its place.
Bats are actually harmless and actually benefit humans. They have an echo-locator, a built-in sonar system that detects large objects so that they can steer clear of them. A bat seemingly swooping down on a person’s head is probably chasing insects that were lured by the carbon dioxide emitted in the person’s breath. The average adult bat eats 600 to 1,000 bugs a night and in tropical climates, bats are critical pollinators, and help with the growth of bananas, mangos, balsa wood, figs, peppers, and hemp.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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1. "Bats and Humanity." http://www.earthlife.net/mammals/bat-man.html
2. Borg, Linda. "Creature Chronicles: For victims of Chiroptophobia, a primer on the lives of bats." http://www.projo.com/ne