Thalassophobia is an unrelenting, extreme, and consuming fear of anything related to the sea or ocean. In addition to being a mouthful, Thalassophobia originated from the Greek words “thalassa” and “phobos”. “Thalassa” means sea or ocean and “phobos” means fear. This phobia is somewhat unique and multifaceted in that individuals can fear the sea and other large bodies of water for a multitude of reasons. Some people are fearful of the composition of the sea, such as the waves and salty water, the distance from the shoreline, or the vastness, depth, and emptiness of the sea. Additionally, great bodies of water stretch out in all directions, as far as the eye can see, thus not allowing one to identify a specific beginning or end point. Individuals with this phobia are uncomfortable that there are no clear cut boundaries, or when they cannot see the bottom of the ocean floor when peering beneath the ocean’s murky surface.
Thalassophobia can include those who are not necessarily fearful of the ocean itself, but those who are scared of sea dwelling creatures, including sharks, electric eels, whales, giant squid, and jellyfish. People are fearful of encountering sea predators and of being attacked by them. Many books and movies from pop culture have perpetuated this fear by depicting frightening tales of imaginary and grotesque sea monsters, or of intelligent predators, such as in the books, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Moby Dick, or in the movie, Jaws.
An intense fear of sea travel, such as vacationing on a cruise ship or commuting via ferry boat, can also occur with Thalassophobia. These people will not engage in water sports or recreational activities, such as sailing, canoeing, jet-skiing, surfing, or kayaking.
Now, some degree of caution when interacting with the sea is pragmatic, as large bodies of water can pose a real, dangerous threat to human welfare. If a weak swimmer ventures too far into the sea, if a person gets caught in a rip tide, or if an individual encounters a ravenous shark, they all run the very real risk of drowning, perishing, or incurring significant bodily injury. Despite this, most individuals are able to simply use caution and go on to enjoy all that the sea has to offer. Contrarily, people with Thalassophobia experience a fear so debilitating that they avoid the sea completely, as any type of interaction can cause discomfort, stress, anxiety, and dread.
Thalassophobia is a common fear with varying degrees of intensities that can serve to negatively impact a person’s functioning. Individuals debilitated by this fear miss out on any enjoyment that the sea has to offer, including swimming, fishing, boating, and riding waves. They are blind to the majestic beauty and cannot hear the serene sounds of waves lapping at the shore. They will not be able to live, work, or play in areas near the sea, will never be able to visit new islands, and will never be able to watch fireworks or a colorful sunset on a beautiful shoreline. They will never experience what it is like to vacation on a cruise ship, to snorkel with a loved one, or to swim with the dolphins.
Thankfully, Thalassophobia is a treatable condition that can be overcome. Professional counseling can assist individuals to understand the origins of their fear, to identify triggers, and to understand their emotional and physical reactions as they occur. Traditional therapeutic approaches will educate on coping skills and anxiety management techniques to utilize when encountering, discussing, or thinking about the sea. Ultimately, treatment can help those with Thalassophobia manage their fears so that they can avoid missing the proverbial boat, and enjoy all that the sea has to offer.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.