The fear of change or changing things is called Metathesiophobia. It is often linked with Tropophobia which is the fear of moving. The origin of the word Metathesiophobia comes from Greek ‘meta’ meaning change and phobos meaning fear.
This specific phobia can reduce one’s will to live; Metathesiophobes often feel that they have no control over their lives owing to constant changes. S/he tends to live in the past and may also be depressed. Their phobia makes them unwilling to move, to progress or to change anything from routine. This can severely impact one’s professional and personal lives.
Causes of Metathesiophobia
The fear of change is evolutionary in humans. Since times immemorial, man has liked routine. Our internal predispositions (heredity and genetics) teach us to resist change mainly to ‘always feel in control’. But the normal fear of change becomes a full blown phobia when it is irrational, persistent and very intense.
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Personal emotional distress caused by many life changes can trigger such a fear of change. A child who has experienced moving multiple times in short periods of time or the death of a family member or loved one might also have experienced changes in financial situations or lifestyle owing to these changes. This can lead him/her to resist change of any type even in adulthood.
Fear of being unable to adapt, fear of meeting new people or fear of environmental changes can also deter one’s adaptability. Insecurity and guilt are other common emotions behind Metathesiophobia.
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Symptoms of the fear of change phobia
Benjamin Franklin once said “When you are finished changing, you are finished”.
As stated before, the fear of change is a natural survival instinct ingrained in humans. It does not make us mentally sick; it only makes us more humans. However, in case extreme Metathesiophobia, life can become very difficult. It can negatively impact one’s professional and/or personal lives. Like many other phobias, Metathesiophobia is also accompanied by psychological and physical symptoms:
- Thought of change or adapting to new environment may lead to a full blow panic or anxiety attack. The phobic may experience a few or all of the following symptoms: (1) heart palpitations, (2) rapid or shallow breathing, (3) shaking/trembling, (4) sweating, (5) nausea or gastrointestinal distress, (6) inability to form words, (7) dry mouth, (9) thoughts of death, choking, and extreme dread.
- Avoidance of change is another symptom of Metathesiophobia. The person suffering rejects everything new. He creates his ‘comfort zone’ and is unwilling to come out of it. He prevents introducing anything new to achieve this goal.
- For avoiding change, s/he may go to great lengths, break ties, tell lies or make excuses. This can affect his/her social, personal and professional life.
- Often the phobic is aware that his/her fear of change is irrational. However he/she is unable to overcome it.
Consciously re-learning new behavior to overcome the association that “change is bad” is effective, though difficult.
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- The root of Metathesiophobia is deeply embedded in one’s psyche. To trace the roots, one can undergo hypnotherapy sessions. These can help the individual face the source of his anxiety and relearn or erase negative thoughts associated with it.
- Once the roots of the anxiety are traced, one can also use gradual exposure to changes: this can slowly help one break away from the association between change (stimulus) and the reaction to it (response). Gradual desensitization of this sort is very effective in making the individual feel more in control when faced with a change.
- Neuro linguistic programming and behavior therapies can also help overcome Metathesiophobia.
- Group therapy, talk therapy, writing down negative and positive thoughts etc are some other techniques that can be used for rationalizing one’s fear.
If you suffer from the fear of change or Metathesiophobia, note that it is neither a mental illness nor a sign of weakness. Many people suffer from this phobia but the key is to accept change as part of life and, if need be, seek out therapy to guide one through difficulties faced during the time of change.