Fear of Heights

Fear of height or acrophobia is one of the most common fears.   Gallup™ reports that 36% of people have it.

Take a look at the picture above. Would you be comfortable sitting on that rock with a steep drop below?  If you answer no, then you are like 99.99% of ordinary people.  Taking crazy chances is not a way to disprove a fear. 

Although the fear of height is associated with the fear of death, it has unique quirks. 

These are further discussed in the Read More Link below.

A portion of this fear is associated with the primitive brain or “id.”  It is a self-protection reaction to avoid injury or death.  The trigger of this fear is being near a perceived dangerous drop-off.  The danger does not have to be real.  It only needs to be perceived as real.  IMAX giant screens can impart the same perception with much the same effect.

Most fears develop at a young age (12 and 25 years), but a fear of heights sometimes appears in the over-60 crowd.  This is likely because of a fear of falling. 

The falling fear (basophobia) is the same as acrophobia, but the two are connected. 

a. Invisible Pulling Force and the Fear of Height.

If you have ever felt an invisible force tugging you to step off a cliff, you are experiencing a normal sensation. 

You’re not crazy after all. 

It’s your mind telling you to step back. The French have coined the phrase L’Appel du Vide, or “a call of the void,” to describe this sensation.  Wanting to move towards the fear instead of away from it appears strangely unique to acrophobia.  For example, people with arachnophobia do not feel the urge to touch a spider.

b. Vertigo is Different from the Fear of Height.

This is a symptom that can be confused with the fear of height. However, vertigo is a motion issue, not a height issue.  An inner ear problem causes it.  The inner ear is an intricate gyroscope-type sensor that detects small changes in motion.  None of us could stand upright on two legs without it. 

Falling, on the other hand, involves a change in motion and direction.  There are medical tests to determine if you have an inner ear malfunction.  This is a common problem and is usually correctable. 

There are many medical causes of vertigo.  It also strikes the elderly (people over 70) and women more than men.  It is the number one cause of accidental deaths from falls.  [Lara Fernández, et al. (2015) Vertigo and Dizziness in the Elderly, Front Neurol. 2015; 6: 144]  Hence, if you have a fear of height, it is important to have a medical doctor eliminate vertigo, particularly if you are in a high-risk group. 

c. Prior Trauma.

Did you, or someone you know, fall from a height that resulted in severe injury or death? A fall from a ladder could cause it.   The trauma may be from seeing a stranger fall from a building, watching a car drive over a cliffside, etc.  If you can pinpoint a particular event, it would help reduce the fear of heights.  If the anxiety is so severe that it causes a panic attack, then professional help must be considered. 

d. Nightmare Trauma.

This is a problematic area.  Commonly, nightmares occur after a trauma.  They are a function of a normal brain.  However, a professional should address repeated nightmares that routinely disrupt sleep or cause fear of going to sleep.  It is usually curable.  But it needs to be corrected as soon as possible because lack of sleep causes many other problems. 

e. Vision Problems.

Vision problems may increase a person’s sensitivity to falling dangers.  If things are blurry, your brain will likely over-compensate.  Your fantastic brain will issue warning signals if depth perception is a problem.  Have your eyes checked by a professional.  Simple adjustments can correct these focus and depth anomalies. 

f. Overprotective Parent.

There is the possibility that fear of height or falling is related to an overprotective parent.  Studies show that overprotective parents cause anxiety in children.  Were you barred from climbing trees, playing on swings, looking over the tops of railings in tall buildings, standing at the edge of glass elevators where you could look down, etc.?   Was either of your parents afraid of heights?  There are many books and publications dealing with over-protection.  Dr. Benjamin Spock advises parents to “loosen up, back off, and let the child go.”  He sold 50 million copies of his book in 39 languages. 

g. Manipulation.

The most widely broadcast images of the 9-11 attack were of people falling from the twin towers.  The media claimed no responsibility for damages caused by the worldwide fears of falling spike that resulted from those photos being shown repeatedly.  This spike in anxiety was due to manipulation and not from direct trauma. 

The movies are another source of this fear.  In Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, there were many sleepless nights for thousands of people triggered by accentuated dangers portrayed in this movie. 

h. Personality Type Connection.

The personality types most susceptible to a fear of height would be B, C, and D.  A’s would likely see height as another thing to conquer.

A few famous people with acrophobia include Sheryl Crow, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon, Shailene Woodley, Gustave Eiffel (the designer of the Eiffel tower), and Woody Allen, and many others.