Deipnophobia or the fear of dining or dinner conversations is one of the unusual but very real phobias that exist to torture people around the dinner table. The word Deipnophobia is derived from Greek ‘deipno’ which can be translated as ‘dinner conversation’ and ‘phobos’ which is ‘aversion’ or ‘deep fear’. Deipnophobia is also believed to be a fear of large meals or banquets.
Deipnophobia is a social phobia which causes the sufferer to feel awkward while eating or dining in public or before strangers. The person fears how s/he might look when eating and fears being criticized. This fear is especially exacerbated when the person dines outside or has to eat with strangers. Needless to say, this is a highly debilitating fear that causes the person to avoid all kinds of social situations.
Causes of Deipnophobia
- The most common cause of a social phobia, including the fear of dining or dinner conversations is a traumatic episode in the past-usually in the childhood. The phobic might have been laughed at or rebuked by an elder for not eating properly or for forgetting etiquettes when dining outdoors. The episode remains deeply etched on her/his mind, causing a deep rooted fear of social events that entail eating before strangers. Every time an opportunity arises, the phobic’s mind recollects that feeling over and over leading to a full blown panic attack.
- Even doctors and scientists are unable to fully explain how a social phobia like Deipnophobia arises. Sometimes, it might arise out of the blue. A combination of genes, brain chemistry, environment and biological and physiological factors can also contribute to this phobia. Inherited predisposition for chronically increased tension can also lead to Deipnophobia.
- Poor upbringing caused by broken families; death or divorce that results in one or both parents moving away can also lead to poor social skills.
- If the child does not know how to behave or eat or talk during a formal event or dinner, it can give rise to the fear of dining or dinner conversation. An upbringing with little love, bullying, child abuse, over protective attitudes can also trigger Deipnophobia.
- A child might also learn to avoid social situations if her/his parents avoid the same.
Symptoms of fear of dining or dinner conversations
“Everyone thinks that once I eat outside in a restaurant, I’ve conquered my Deipnophobia. They do not understand that it is a day in day out struggle. I cannot eat outside or in front of other people.”
The symptoms of Deipnophobia can vary from person to person. Typical symptoms include:
- Freezing up at social events
- Avoidance behavior- the phobic tends to go to great lengths to avoid social events that include dining out.
- Shaking, sweating, trembling, or full blown panic attack.
- Trying too hard to converse- which causes the phobic to end up saying something socially unacceptable, in which case their awkwardness becomes one of his/her many self fulfilling prophecies.
- Studies have shown that people with social phobias like Deipnophobia end up feeling lonely as they do not get dates, let alone get married.
- The phobic might also face problems at his/her work. S/he might avoid social gatherings that entail dinners. This may cause them to pass up on promotions.
- In order to reduce anxiety, the phobic might turn to alcohol or other drugs. This abuse can undermine confidence and lead to even more social problems.
- Depression is also a common side effect of this phobia.
Treatment for Deipnophobia
There are two types of treatment options for a person suffering from fear of dining or dinner conversations:
- Drug therapy– Medicines help reduce anxiety and tension that comes with this phobia. Drugs are, however, not a long term solution as they do not treat the root cause of the phobia. Therefore, drug therapy must always be supplemented with cognitive behavior therapy to increase chances of success.
- Behavior therapy– This therapy has proven results in reducing anxiety symptoms. The therapist takes a look at how the symptoms arose in the first place and what triggers them. Behavior therapy enables the phobic to deal with anxiety provoking thoughts, acquiring social skills, practicing overcoming avoidance and confronting situations that give rise to symptoms. Patients need to expend energy to do so; they need to want to get exposed to the situations that trigger symptoms in order to feel better. This can take a lot of effort on their part.
Some other therapies having proven results for overcoming Deipnophobia include hypnotherapy, and neuro linguistic programming. Patients must work out their thoughts on this matter before taking it up with a professional adviser.