Fears and phobias begin with perception. Once a stimulus has a powerful first impression on you and it is retained in your mind, you begin to have an awareness of it. Then it is reinforced by further impressions so that you now have a perception. At times, a single but very potent impression produces an outright perception.
A waterfall is an awesome creation. You can be fascinated or frightened by it, depending on how you perceive it. If you see it as a scenic spot, you associate it with fun, adventure, and beauty. If you see it as a dangerous setting, you associate it with accidents, drowning, and tragedy. Yet, in reality, it is nothing but the action of freely falling water on rocks and the river below. It cannot mean harm on anyone because it cannot think and make such plans. It is an innocent flow of nature. Its being dangerous or fun really depends on people’s perception of it.
Perceptions can change. A sea resort can be seen as excellent for swimming, surfing, and diving. Its shores are great for sun bathing. But if an earthquake strikes, killer tidal waves rise up, or a lost shark has attacked a swimmer in that resort, people might begin to see that resort differently.
A schoolteacher can be so liked by students because of his intelligence, gentleness, kindness, looks, and athletic skills. Yet, if he does one slight but serious offense (ex: he was accused of making advances to a student), people might suddenly perceive him as a monster. Though he remains to be intelligent, kind, gentle, handsome, and athletic, the perception will change from a hero to a villain.
This is also true the other way around. Bad impression can suddenly turn to a good one by a change in perception. The same intimidating person who wears scars on his face and tattoos on his arms can become so popular and loved by all if he turns out to be a hero.
Thus, knowing fears and phobias — and all other reactions — depend on perceptions. We can easily work things out for our good by merely changing and re-labeling our perception of things, people, and places.