Many of us fear a few things in life: loss of a loved one or a job, or even one’s death . But there are also people in the world who develop severe fears about places, things, certain animals or even imaginary situations. Cleithrophobia, also known as Cleisiophobia, is one such extreme fear which is the deep fear of being trapped in an enclosed or small space. The word Cleithrophobia is a combination of two Greek words namely kleisto meaning closed and phobos meaning deep fear or aversion. People with this phobia have an irrational fear of being trapped even though they know logically that such a situation is highly improbable. In this guide, we will study the fear of being trapped in detail.
Causes of having fear of being trapped
Nearly 19 million Americans are known to experience some kind of specific phobia and Cleisiophobia is one of them. Most phobias come out of the blue; they start off due to a traumatic event in childhood. Doctors also believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemicals and biological, psychological and environmental factors can all trigger a phobia.
- Not every phobic has lived through a traumatic event such as the death of a parent. However, most cases of Cleisiophobia do stem from a negative experience of being trapped in a closed space. The phobic may have experienced this trauma in childhood when a friend or older sibling has locked him up in the closet or basement for hours.
- Earthquakes can cause people to get trapped underground and beneath the fallen debris. Reading about it or watching videos/news etc about such events can instill deep fear about dark, closed spaces.
- In general, a tight space such as underground, or a closed area of confinement can instill the fear of the unknown. A person afraid of spiders, ghosts or supernatural elements might link being trapped with these other fears. In such a case, the phobia can stem from another deep rooted psychological issue.
- Genetic underpinnings are also to blame. People with a parent or sibling having a genetic predisposition to anxiety or phobia can have the disorder passed on to them.
- Phobia is often a learned response. A child might see the worry and anxiety displayed by a caregiver, older sibling or even a parent or grandparent and may pick it up unknowingly.
- Reading books – fictional or non fictional – about related events like the case of Chile miners being trapped underground for over 60 days or recently the story about a team of boys and their football coach trapped in a treacherous cave can also instill a deep rooted fear of being trapped in similar manner.
- The response one has to the fear can lead to embarrassment (fainting, crying, shaking, shivering, screaming, soiling oneself etc). This leads to a vicious cycle in that; the phobic is so afraid of embarrassing himself again that he goes to great lengths to avoid a situation where he may get trapped. This includes avoiding elevators, closed spaces, mines, quarries, caves and so on.
- Persistent, untreated stress and other underlying disorders, anxiety and depression are some other causes of phobia. Over-thinking negative thoughts and emotions can make one more fearful and could, over a period, lead to development of phobia.
Symptoms of Cleithrophobia
Typical symptoms of Cleithrophobia include being troubled by the following:
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- Fear of places or situations where getting help or escaping seem difficult including crowded areas, elevators, bridges, caves, quarries, mines etc.
- Irrational fear of earthquakes.
- Experiencing shortness of breath, racing heart or heart palpitations, often for no apparent reason. Simply the thought of being trapped or unable to escape upon confronting certain situations can cause tightness of chest. This could even be mistaken for a heart attack.
- Persistent fear or anxiety pertaining to certain areas, avoiding earthquake prone zones, refusing to travel to such places, or avoiding situations involving closed or tight places.
- The fear could even interfere with one’s job, relationship or day to day life.
Physical and psychological/emotional symptoms
- The feeling of dizziness, fainting, vertigo, or lightheadedness.
- A feeling of choking or tightness in chest or around throat
- Heart palpitations, a racing heart and tightness in chest
- Hot and/or cold flashes
- Nausea, vomiting, gastric disturbances, loss of appetite
- Sweaty palms
- Tingling sensations in the body
- Fear of embarrassing oneself due to utter lack of control
- A constant movie like reel plays in the mind where the phobic literally has an out of body experience as thoughts of being trapped or dying under the debris play over and over in his mind.
- Having more than one illness can make it harder to diagnose and treat the phobia. This can also complicate the situation further if the phobic starts abusing substances.
A full blown panic attack is no fun to experience-it can be very intense and the phobic may cry, scream, shiver, faint. This can further stress the phobic out and even lead to feelings of lack of control. The situation can sometimes spiral out of control becoming a vicious cycle of fear of loss of control to panic attack to fear of loss of control and so on.
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Treatment for Cleithrophobia
The good thing about most phobias is that they are treatable provided one takes the correct approach. Often an integrated treatment plan helps. Following are some steps that a phobic and his family members can take to get better and eliminate panic attacks:
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- Keep a daily journal. Write down thoughts that arise when confronted with certain situations.
- Visualize a positive scenario. This technique can help desensitize the mind to the situation or object of fear. Positive visualization helps tone down the response of fear and anxiety.
- One can also try treatments like cognitive behavior therapy, neurolinguistic programming, exposure therapy etc.
- At home, family members can help keep a positive environment and let the phobic talk about his feelings and emotions without being ridiculed or laughed at. A talk therapist or psychologist can also help the phobic speak his mind should he feel uncomfortable speaking to family or friends.
- For severe anxiety, medications may be used, but they should be used as last resort as most medicines have some side effects.
- Relaxation techniques, yoga, guided meditation, deep breathing, stretching, physical exercise etc can also be used alongside conventional therapies.
Talk to your doctor about the therapy/treatment most suited for your situation.