Bathophobia – The Fear of the Deep

There is something unsettling about looking into darkness, into things that hold a great depth. I’m sure many of us have seen several horror movies with these types of situations or objects: long dark hallways, wells, murky waters made even more eerier by fog or still waters. It’s the unsettling idea of not knowing what is at the end or in some cases bottom that sends chills down our spine. Although this can be a general experience for many of us, there are some who have a more extreme reaction than just simple chills.

Originating from the Greek word “bathios” which means depth and “phobos” which means fear, Bathophobia is the immense fear or aversion of things that are deep or have depth.

As stated before, some obvious examples that come to mind include wells, seas, or lakes but other examples include mountain valleys and tunnels. While these examples don’t present the usual definition of being deep, there is no mistaking the unsettling feeling due to the lack of light present as a result of a room or place being far away from a source of light.

To be seen as having Bathophobia, a feeling of unease is not enough. Similar to any other phobia, the fear of the deep must be intense, rooted in an irritational logic, and effecting one’s daily life. While reporting these experiences, one must also have had these for an extended period of time, typically a minimum of 6 months. Lastly, it is important to note that Bathophobia is not specifically identified as a phobia in the DSM-5 but can be diagnosed as a specific phobia classified under one of the 5 areas (i.e., animal type, natural environment type, blood-injection-injury type, situational type, other type).

What are the symptoms of Bathophobia?

As with most phobias, symptoms typically include reactions related to anxiety due to the classification of phobias as anxiety disorders. Besides the psychological and physical symptoms experienced by those with Bathophobia, certain behaviors may also be present as result of this disorder. Let’s look at each of the three separately.

Psychological Symptoms

Symptoms classified as psychological are usually related to anxiety such as feelings of being overwhelmed or feeling trapped. While perhaps not as well-known, cognitions such as irrational thoughts like believing one will die if put in a situation where there is depth are also a symptom and are essentially what makes the phobia. Again, these are irrational and not logic and are usually tied to believing something will go incredibly wrong if in a situation where there is depth such as dying, from the previous example, or being in some form of danger.   

Physical Symptoms

A second category of symptoms that individuals can experience include physical symptoms. These symptoms, again, are tied to anxiety and the physical reactions one must being distressed. In fact, those with Bathophobia can experience increase heart rate, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath to name a few.  

Behavioral Symptoms

Lastly, other symptoms experienced by individuals are classified as behaviors typically avoidant behaviors. These behaviors are exactly as they sound, they are behaviors that allow them to avoid the upsetting stimuli in order to avoid experiencing distress and the debilitating fear. For those with Bathophobia, avoidant behaviors may look like not going to pools or lakes, staying away from wells, and perhaps even staying clear of areas in a building that have long dark hallways.

In sum, there are a number of symptoms an individual with Bathophobia may experience as a result of being in a situation where an object is perceived as being deep. It should be noted, that although these are all symptoms it is possible to not experience all of them or perhaps experience certain types of symptoms. Similar to a health diagnosis, having a phobia can be a unique experience for each individual and what identifies having a phobia like Bathophobia is the length of time symptoms have occurred and the negative affect it has on one’s daily life and well-being.

What are the causes of Bathophobia?

With many disorders such as phobias, a big question needing to be answered is how one develops or get Bathophobia. Unfortunately, the answer is not simple because although one can develop a phobia these causes just raise the probability for developing phobias like Bathophobia. Additionally, there are multiple ways one can develop a phobia and at times a combination of these causes further increases the likelihood. All that being said, here we will discuss three of the most established causes or factors understood by clinicians to play in fostering the development for Bathophobia: Genetics, Psychology, and Environment.

Genetics

One factor known to be a reason for someone developing or having Bathophobia are their genes or family history. Particularly, the presence of genes related to anxiety can be found in individuals with phobias like Bathophobia and are known to be passed down from other individuals in one’s family. Something to note, in our discussion of genes there is no single gene correlated to anxiety. Instead, if present, there is a group of genes related to anxiety that can lead to the development of a number of anxiety disorders such as phobias.

Psychology

Psychological factors can also cause and increase the chance of developing a phobia. Specifically, traumatic experiences are an obvious reason as to why someone has a phobia like Bathophobia. You may be able to imagine the lasting impact falling into a well could leave or perhaps almost drowning in a lake/pool, but these traumatic experiences can also vary due to individual differences such that there is no single experience that causes the development of Bathophobia. Additionally, having other psychological disorders like GAD or perhaps PTSD can also increase the likelihood for acquiring a phobia such as this one.

Environment

Finally, environmental factors are a third possible cause to having Bathophobia. This factor refers to places or settings people are present in and the ways in which these areas influence the individual. Specifically, our environments include certain people such as a home having a family and those family members impacting us. As you can image, those we are closest to or those we see frequently can have a large impact on who we are and who we become. Thus, the environments we stay in can lead to the development of certain behaviors (e.g., eversion to areas with depth like a pool) and even beliefs.

How to cope and treat Bathophobia?

The experience of dealing with Bathophobia and the wide range of symptoms experienced by individuals, can lead to a decrease in well-being and life satisfaction.  Thus, incorporating a treatment to increase well-being and life satisfaction is as equally as important as identifying the problem. While there are several methods one can use to treat phobias, like Bathophobia, here we will discuss two.

Medications

With phobias falling under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, anti-anxiety medications are a typical form of treatment. These types of medications, as well as others, help to lessen anxious behaviors and symptoms allowing for the individual to move about their lives without much hindrance. Additionally, antidepressants or SSRIs can also be prescribed due to the commonality of developing depression alongside having a phobia.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

An equally as common form of treatment for phobias such as Bathophobia is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT. This type of therapy is done with a licensed clinician and works on identifying and changing negative thought patterns related to the stimuli, in this case areas with depth or that are deep. Not only that, but part of the treatment also provides the individual with resources to lessen the impact or suffering thus providing a better form of coping to exposure.

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.