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Thalassophobia is a persistent and intense fear of deep bodies of water such as the ocean or sea. What makes this phobia different than aquaphobia — the fear of water in general — is the fact that it centers on vastness, darkness, and depth. People who have this condition are not terrified of getting wet, but rather the might and mystique behind the waves.
While thalassophobia is not recognized as a distinct disorder by the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, it's still relatively common. And the subreddit of the same name is a vivid example of that. Created in June 2013, it unites 969,000 thalassophobes, sharing triggers and discussing symptoms.
So, in an attempt to shed some light on this community, we at Bored Panda decided to put together a list of their most popular posts.
Online groups that get this big often suffer from huge streams of content that flood them with questionable pictures and videos, diminishing the overall experience of browsing them, but this subreddit manages to stay clean. Part of it can be attributed to the clear rules that promote being nice and courteous, and allow no jokes, memes, or cartoons, no reposts, and no gore.
But of course, having an active moderator team that make sure members adhere to these rules helps tremendously as well.
We contacted the moderators of 'Thalassophobia' and they were kind enough to have a little chat with us.
"Our core mod group has 4 active members, which is a small team for a subreddit of our size," they told Bored Panda. "Compared to other subreddits of our size, we don't feel like we police posts or comments as much. The reason we do so little policing can probably be explained by our subreddit's niche context that revolves around a very specific set of inoffensive content. We're just a bunch of people sharing stories, images, and videos of bodies of water that leave us in awe, wonder, and trepidation. Whenever we do police content, it's usually because it's a repost or focuses on a sea creature rather than the vastness of the ocean or the unknown depths of a body of water. We prefer for the ocean/water to play the primary role in content."
The mods said the 'Thalassophobia' community is very passionate and filled with both ocean-fearing and ocean-loving people. "Based on previous polls we've had in the subreddit, it's split roughly 50/50 between those [two groups]."
"Although half of the community loves the ocean, everyone understands that there are people with a phobia of large/deep bodies of water and everyone is respectful of that in their posts and comments. It's a great community to be a moderator in," they explained.
Specific phobias tend to fall into these five categories:
- Animal type;
- Blood-injection type;
- Natural-environment type;
- Situational type;
Thalassophobia is usually considered to belong to the natural-environment type. These fears are experienced more frequently, with some studies also suggesting that water-related phobias are more common among women.
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Thalassophobia shares symptoms with other specific phobias, such as claustrophobia, and includes:
- Sudden onset of anxiety or fear;
- Shaking and trembling;
- Dry mouth;
- Increased heart rate or heart palpitations;
- Difficulty breathing, including hyperventilating;
- Chest pain;
- Fear of losing control.
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The causes of specific phobias, including thalassophobia, are not entirely understood, and often differ from case to case. But according to a common explanation, it's usually a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Research shows that certain genes are associated with certain specific phobias, but as of yet no studies have looked at the genetics behind thalassophobia in particular. However, following the Darwinian theory of evolution, there should still be at least some.
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Think of it like this: our ancestors also came across deep bodies of water, and those who were cautious of the dangers they possessed may have avoided them, living longer to pass down their genes. This theory is supported by research that indicates that specific phobias are moderately heritable.
Although the exact percentage can vary, it has been found, for example, that for animal phobias, heritability is around 45%.
Thalassophobia could also be caused by traumatic events, such as a childhood near-drowning experience, witnessing a shark attack, never learning to swim, or even being told scary stories of the ocean.
By associating a specific situation, such as being in deep water, with a panic response, over time a phobia of that situation can develop.