Fear of lizards is formally referred to as herpetophobia, which is a fear of reptiles. Someone afraid of lizards may also be afraid of animals such as alligators, snakes, or other reptiles.
This type of fear is known as a specific phobia. Approximately 9.1% of U.S. adults experience specific phobia in a typical year, and about 12.5% of U.S. adults experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives.
This article will discuss symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of a specific phobia of lizards, as well as how to cope.
Definition of “Herpetophobia”
A fear of lizards is a type of specific phobia. A specific phobia is a very strong, irrational fear of something that, in reality, usually carries little to no danger. Adults with a specific phobia know that there is no real danger, but the object, situation, or thoughts about the object create intense anxiety symptoms.
There are different kinds of specific phobia, and fear of lizards would fall under what's considered the animal type. Other types and examples of specific phobia are:
- Natural environment type: Weather, heights
- Blood-injection-injury type: Fear of seeing blood, getting a shot, or watching medical shows of procedures
- Situational type: Airplanes, driving
- Other types: Fear of loud sounds, fear of costumed characters
A phobia is often marked by certain characteristics, including:
- The object nearly always triggers intense anxiety. A lizard would trigger that anxiety almost all of the time.
- Children may display anxiety with tantrums, crying, or clingy behavior.
- The object or situation is actively and consistently avoided for six months or longer. Someone may avoid being outside for long periods of time in case a lizard may be seen.
- The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the danger posed by the object or situation. Most lizards don’t do anything that would endanger a person, so a fear of lizards will be outsized and irrational.
- Significant clinical distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other functioning is observable.
- These symptoms are not caused or explained by another condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other symptoms of anxiety can include:
- A feeling of danger or doom
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of choking
- Nausea or stomach discomfort
- Feeling faint or light-headed
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
- Chills or heat flush
The diagnosis of specific phobia needs to be made by a mental health professional. A diagnosis is made based on whether an individual meets diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The criteria are similar to the characteristics listed as symptoms, particularly that the person knows their fear is unreasonable and outsized.
The exact cause of specific phobias is unknown. It may develop in different ways. Specific phobias may arise out of having a negative experience with the object or situation and then developing a fearful association with that object or situation. Or, it may be due to modeling of phobic behavior, such as from a parent or other close family member who has the same phobia.
Only 10% to 25% of people with a specific phobia get treatment. This may be because if the person can avoid their trigger (such as seeing a lizard), and so they do not experience much stress and anxiety related to it. However, avoiding the trigger may impair their ability to function at work, school, or in social situations.
Treatment can be very helpful and effective in managing specific phobia. Exposure therapy is the first-line treatment for specific phobia. This involves in-vivo (in real life) or imaging approaches to progressively exposing someone to the phobic object or situation. This is repeated until the exposure no longer triggers the fear response.
Your therapist will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan. It will be based on the characteristics of your phobia (is it triggered by seeing a live lizard, photos or videos of lizards, etc.), the form your fear reaction takes (panic attack, anxiety, physical symptoms), and how you respond to therapy.
Specific phobia is more than just a minor fear. Even if you are aware that your fear of lizards is not rational, managing this fear is not easy. It's not something that a person can simply "get over”—that’s not how phobias work.
If you are in therapy, talk with your therapist about things you can do at home and outside the therapy session to help cope with symptoms you may be having or any difficulties that arise between sessions.
Things you can do include:
- Seek out personal support: You might have the urge to isolate yourself when things get hard or when you get discouraged, but finding a trusted friend or family member who can help support you through treatment can be helpful.
- Join a support group: Sometimes other people in a similar situation can provide the understanding and empathy you need. Whether it’s online or in person, a support group for phobias can be helpful.
- Practice self-care: Make sure to get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and get regular exercise. These actions can all help to regulate mood and help you feel better.
Fear of lizards is a specific phobia that involves a disproportionate fear of lizards that the individual knows is misplaced. Lizards may provoke intense anxiety and panic in someone with this specific phobia. The person may avoid any situation in which they might see a lizard—even if avoidance causes distress or impairment with work or social relationships.
There is treatment for fear of lizards. Exposure therapy is very effective for specific phobia. Talk with your healthcare provider about finding a therapist who specializes in treating phobias.
A Word From Verywell
Specific phobias can cause significant impairment and impact all kinds of relationships—personal, social, and work. However, they are treatable and manageable. It's important to tell your healthcare provider about what you're experiencing so they can connect you with resources that can provide treatment.