Thalassophobia is the persistent and intense fear of deep bodies of water such as the sea, oceans, pools, or lakes. Though very closely related, thalassophobia should not be mistaken with aquaphobia which is classified as the fear of water itself. Thalassophobia can include fear of being in deep bodies of water, fear of the vast emptiness of the sea, of sea waves, aquatic creatures, and fear of distance from land.
The causes of thalassophobia are not clear and are a subject of research by medical professionals as they can vary greatly between individuals. Researchers have proposed that the fear of large bodies of water is partly a human evolutionary response, and may also be related to popular culture influences which induce fright and distress. It is also theorized that the underlying psychology of the phobia stems from the symbolic nature of water.
Specifically, the vastness of the sea is often connected to one’s deep unconscious. The severity of thalassophobia and the signs and symptoms associated with it are quite fluid and complex. Those who suffer from thalassophobia go through numerous episodes of emotional and physical anguish caused by a variety of triggers. Treatment may comprise a combination of therapy and anxiolytics, and is most effective when administered to patients during childhood, when thalassophobia is generally at its peak.
Psychological theories surrounding thalassophobia
Thalassophobia is often explained as a primal fear. Considering that humans are land mammals and we rely on our eyesight to collect food, it is evolutionarily coded into our lives that the deep sea opposes that environment. Marc Carlin explains the phobia as, “We all have this fear of darkness because we can’t see and we rely on our vision to protect us. If you shut your eyes and you can’t see, now you have to rely on senses that you don’t normally rely upon.” He goes on to explain that without using the senses that we normally use, it puts us at a deficit, causing a fear of the dark and deepness.
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, studied the archetypes in the collective unconscious. Archetypes are hidden meanings in symbols and messages in society. The collective unconscious are a society’s unconscious thinking that is universal for everyone. Jung mentions in his study that water is a popular archetype in the collective unconscious as a reflection of one’s darkest thoughts and desires.
Harrington argues that in Freudian terms, one’s ego, or one’s true identity is not completely aligned with their complete reality. It is theorized that all of one’s darkest and repressed thoughts and desires are reflected in the water causing a feeling of dread and fear. Harrington hypothesizes that in the same way, how the ocean is perceived, or what we have been able to discover, may not completely align with the uncharted possibilities that the ocean could actually hold, resulting in a fear of what the ocean could hold, such as sea monsters. The reflection and comparison of one’s mind to the ocean can be a signal of the unfamiliarity of one’s own mind and identity, resulting in thalassophobia.