People develop different phobias or fears for many different reasons. Sometimes it is childhood trauma, such as having a kitten scratch at the legs of a toddler, that may be the start of a lifelong fear of cats. But, any negative experience that is linked to a panic attack or other negative physical, emotional, or mental response can lead to phobias, including nelophobia.
The fear of glass, which is technically called nelophobia, is an irrational and heightened fear of glass. Like any other phobia, it can be linked to a medical problem that has caused a change in brain functioning, or it could be a physical or environmental situation that sets up extreme anxiety. Many times, these physical reactions can be linked to physical trauma dealing with glass in some way.
A real problem with phobias, even nelophobia, is the negative effect it can have on a person’s quality of life. The individual experiencing the fear of glass may be hyper-vigilant, closely watching and carefully determining where they go and what they do to avoid an incident in which their phobia might be triggered.
The home they choose may have limited windows, which would lead to a house with a lack of natural lighting and contribute to seasonal affective disorder or SAD. These are mental health issues with symptoms of deep depression that are caused by a lack of sunlight or light in general. During the fall and winter seasons, those with SAD can be triggered into a rabbit hole of isolation, depression, and bouts of crying.
Imagine having a fear of glass, which is everywhere, all the time. Nelophobia can be highly debilitating in its extreme form and at least very uncomfortable for those who have mild symptoms.
Risk Factors for Developing Phobias
The fear of glass will typically appear during childhood, typically by the age of 10 years old. But, this is not a steadfast rule because nelophobia can also start in adulthood. Sometimes a child will have relatives who also experience anxiety associated with glass items, broken glass, fallen glass, or stepping on glass.
The symptoms of fear, terror, or anxiety that a parent or relative has can be transferred to impressionable young children. For example, when children grow up in a household where the parents are extremely fearful of thunder and lightning, they may be left with learned behaviors that transfer into ingrained fears. Imagine the child carrying the memories of being forced to turn off all electrical appliances and cluster within interior portions of the home or a basement or cellar anytime a report of bad weather is issued. After this happens often enough, the child may develop a fear of thunderstorms that can cause extreme levels of learned fear throughout adulthood.
What Is Nelophobia?
Nelophobia is an irrational fear of glass. But first, let us examine the word irrational. As defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word irrational means:
- Lacking usual or normal mental clarity or coherence.
- Not endowed with reason or understanding.
- Not governed by or according to reason.
So here we understand that nelophobia involves a state of mind where a person is not thinking rationally, logically, or coherently. Unlike the fear of heights where some danger does exist, and for most people, the body has a natural tendency to go into fight or flight mode when subjected to extreme heights – glass has no inherent danger unless you interact with it in a dangerous manner.
The only rational fear of glass should be that it is a sharp medium that should be handled with care when broken. But, with no outside intervention, with no carelessness or accident, and with no provocation or threat from another person wielding a piece of glass in attack mode – glass cannot and will not harm anyone.
And this is why nelophobia is a mental health condition. The person who experiences a fear of glass has the same or greater levels of anxiety or fear as someone facing an attacker holding a glass shard and looking to do harm. When a person is diagnosed with nelophobia, they experience extremely intrusive thoughts when around glass that can lead to panic attacks, racing hearts, and paralysis of thought.
In the most extreme cases, just the thought of glass can cause a panic attack, which can lead to hospitalization. This is rarely the case, as it is an extreme form of nelophobia that may also be associated with injury to the brain.
What Causes Nelophobia?
As discussed earlier, the risk factors that may lead to nelophobia include childhood trauma, learned behaviors that causes a negative association of glass with pain, genetics, heredity, and the environment may all play a role. When a childhood trauma occurs that involves a tragedy with glass, if it is not handled and treated correctly, the experience can lead to a lifelong fear of glass.
When this is the cause, nelophobes try to stay away from windows, glass display cases, or items made of glass, such as glassware and glass dishes.
The cause of nelophobia is typically due to witnessing or experiencing a violent act or painful accident that involves glass. This could be a car accident, someone falling through a window pane, or someone who threw a glass object at them, which caused significant injuries.
There can be cultural factors in which a person develops a fear of glass well into adulthood. For example, broken glass, mirrors, and glass artifacts or icons may be associated with evil spirits, a demonic presence, or bad luck. This can cause a fear of glass that is tied to mysticism or spiritual influences.
For example, some cultures will cover mirrors in the home after someone has died. Some believe that souls can return or be carried away through glass mirrors, and other cultures believe that if the mirrors are not turned towards the wall of the home, the physical body cannot be hidden from the soul. The association between a person’s reflection and portals of death has been around since medieval times.
The causes of nelophobia are different for each person who suffers from the fear of glass. But, typically, it starts with childhood trauma or learned behavior that is not addressed properly. As the fear or anxiety around glass persists throughout the years, the fear can become heightened, and the symptoms can become severe.
Symptoms of Nelophobia
Anxiety is the number one symptom of someone who experiences the fear of glass. The following symptoms, which are primary to panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety or stress, are determined to be secondary symptoms of nelophobia:
- feeling wound up, on edge, or unable to calm down
- becoming extremely irritable and easy to anger
- the onset of pain such as headaches or stomachache
- difficulty sleeping or unable to stay asleep
- trouble concentrating or focusing on the task at hand
With these symptoms, a person may be at work, and a coworker drops a glass vase that shatters across the floor. The sound of the glass shattering may cause immediate tension and irritability in anyone in the office. But, these feelings would quickly pass as everyone discovers no harm or true damage has been done.
But, a person with a fear of glass may hold on to the sound of the shattering glass and the fear that glass is everywhere on the floor (which can cause injury). These thoughts may cause a racing heart and elevated blood pressure, leading to a panic attack. These physical symptoms just described may signal to the brain that there is danger present. And, when the brain doesn’t turn off the fight or flight response or the person continues a pattern of obsessive thinking about the shattered glass – it can lead to a host of secondary symptoms such as a lack of focus, irritability, and a headache.
The primary symptoms of fear of glass can appear at different levels and include the following physical symptoms
- increased heart rate
- difficulty breathing
- increased breathing rate
- abnormal sweating
- muscle tension
These primary symptoms of a person with an irrational fear of glass can happen when they are in a store with lots of glass displays, in a building with a glass facade or many large glass windows, or in a kitchen with lots of exposed glassware, glass tables, etc.
There is no specific cause of nelophobia, and there is no specific treatment path for the mental health challenge. Typically, the primary symptoms are treated as General Anxiety Disorder or GAD. The first line of treatment should be mental health counseling. But, if the disease causes life dysfunctions, then psychiatric treatment along with medications may be the best course of action.
Some mental health professionals may use exposure therapy specifically developed for phobias. This is a form of therapy in which the patient is increasingly exposed to the object of their fears. At first, the therapist may stand with the patient at large glass windows looking out onto a landscape. As the patient becomes more comfortable, the exposure is increased to visiting a shop with many mirrors or handling a piece of sharp glass until the person is desensitized to their fears and rational thinking returns.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, is another often-used form of treatment for nelophobia. This arm of psychotherapy is designed to recognize negative thinking patterns and replace them with positive alternatives. Once a person can recognize their belief that all glass is fragile and will easily break is not true, that most glass is very sturdy and dependable for the purposes for which it is used – it retrains the brain to associate glass with being a material that will only break when subjected to extreme forces.
The irrational fear of glass may also be treated with anti-anxiety medications. A patient who must go to a workplace with many glass windows can find relief with these medications that will minimize the symptoms of a racing heart and increased blood pressure. And there are many medications that can limit the intrusive or obsessive thoughts and emotions that accompany nelophobia.
Finally, unlearning past behaviors can be very advantageous to people who have a fear of glass. Careful examination of childhood experiences can be challenged, and the ties between glass and danger can be unlearned. Instead of avoiding situations where glass can cause anxiety, the person learns that glass is inherently safe and innocuous (unable to do harm).
When to Seek Help for Nelophobia
Phobias, including the fear of glass, can become debilitating for some people. A person should seek help when their daily life is filled with thinking of ways to avoid coming into contact with glass. Their homes may be dark because all the glass windows are covered with heavy drapes. The kitchen may be full of paper plates and cups, while any beverages are those that come in plastic bottles.
It is this type of avoidance behavior in which the quality of life is diminished that indicates a person should seek help from a professional medical provider.