How does the counterphobic phenomena manifest?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The counterphobic phenomena is a psychological defense mechanism in which the individual actively seeks the object or experience he fears. The counterphobic phenomena manifests in individual behaviors, social interactions, group practices and cultural norms.

At the individual level, the counterphobic phenomena may help explain certain developmental patterns. For example, adolescents often engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, dangerous stunts, or physically violent confrontation. One plausible explanation for this risky behavior is the counterphobic phenomena: adolescents are acting out the very experiences they fear as a defense mechanismto reduce their fear and anxiety. Though it seems counterintuitive, acting out the experiences one fears can reduce anxiety by allowing a person to project a self that is not afraid of those things.

Socially, the counterphobic phenomena often plays a role in people' s choice of relationship partner. A person victimized by domestic violence in early childhood may unconsciously seek out a relationship that produces similar patterns of violence and abuse. The child of an alcoholic parent may in adulthood choose partners whose patterns of addiction and dependency mirror those of his parent.

Sociologists have found the counterphobic phenomena useful in explaining certain group and cultural norms. Dangerous, high-risk activities are sometimes entertaining or empowering. Social practices such as watching horror movies, riding roar coasters, and handling venomous snakes may work as counterphobic phenomena; providing a culturally acceptable mechanisms for reducing the human fear of death and uncertainty.