When you were a kid, did you ever get that weird feeling that there was a shark in the swimming pool?
You’re not alone. Fear of the ocean and the creatures that live within its depths is very common. After all, the ocean is one of the least-explored features of our world, and there’s no telling what lives in those pitch-black depths.
For some people, the anxiety is so great that it manifests into a phobia, that is, thalassophobia, or an intense and persistent fear of the sea.
Definitions and Causes
Thalassophobia comes in multiple forms – sufferers can fear being in or near large bodies of water. Lakes and deep rivers are included in this form, rather than just the ocean. Others are specifically anxious about the vast emptiness of the sea, much like others are nervous about space. And others are more concerned about the distance from land.
It should be noted that thalassophobia is categorically different from aquaphobia, the fear of water. Those who suffer from aquaphobia are afraid of water itself, while those who suffer from thalassophobia are more afraid of the vastness, darkness, and depth of bodies of water.
Sufferers have noted feeling afraid even when they’re still standing on the sand. Some people imagine all of the creatures that could be swimming around their feet: hermit crabs, jellyfish, eels or other animals that could sting or bite them.
The cause of the phobia differs from person to person. For some, it’s generational. After all, if one of your parents is afraid of the ocean, then they’ll teach you to be afraid as well. Others have experienced trauma related to the sea in their childhoods. And it’s left them with a lifelong fear of the sea. But there are some people who have no idea why they’re afraid; it just happens.
As with most other phobias, there is a range of treatments for thalassophobia. They include cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. Additionally, there are more intensive treatments meant to target the subconscious that has been seen to be effective such as hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming therapy.
There are non-diagnostic thalassophobia tests available online. And though these aren’t substitutes for consulting with a mental health professional, they are a decent gauge for determining whether or not your anxiety about the ocean goes beyond some simple nervousness. There is even a subreddit dedicated to this condition, r/thalassophobia, where sufferers can discuss the condition and ways of coping with it.
Thalassophobia In The Media
Unlike some other common phobias, thalassophobia is often brought up in the horror community. The ocean is a terrifying, primal force that most people are familiar with, even if they live in a place that is landlocked. Thus, there are absolutely loads of books, movies, art, and other media that concern themselves with the terror of the ocean.
Thalassophobia as a condition has also arisen. Most famously, it is a major plot point in Peter Weir’s 1998 film, The Truman Show. In order to keep Truman under control and stop him from discovering the wall around his artificial home, the studio executives instill him with an intense fear of the ocean by making him think that his father died in a boating accident. Scenes from the film that involve Truman navigating a tumultuous sea despite his fear are now iconic.
Horror Movies Based on Thalassophobia
Horror movies involving the ocean are not difficult to find. From The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954 to The Meg in 2018, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a year in which an ocean-based horror movie didn’t come out. Here’s a short list of films that use the ocean as a backdrop:
- Open Water (2003)
- Below (2002)
- Lake Placid (1999)
- Dagon (2002)
- Jaws (1975)
- The Shallows (2016)
- Ghost Ship (2002)
- 47 Meters Down (2017)
- Piranha 3D (2010)
- Satan’s Triangle (1975)
- Deep Blue Sea (1999)
There is also a helpful list on Ranker.com, compiling films that could possibly trigger someone with thalassophobia, if you’re looking to avoid them. Many of these films prey on the deepest fears of those who fear the sea; sharks, alligators, being stranded in the ocean, or being pulled under by the various currents. This does not exclude these films from also featuring the supernatural, however; there are more than a few films that feature ghost ships, aquatic humanoids, ocean-dwelling aliens, or forgotten sea gods.