Anthropophobia is the ‘extreme, irrational and unwarranted’ fear of people or society. It is a disorder which is often misunderstood with other social phobias. The main difference between the two is that: in Anthropophobia, the individual fears people in most or all situations, rather than, for example, only fearing people during public speaking or when eating before others, as is the case with social phobias. Thus, the difference between social phobia and the extreme fear of people is subtle and hence diagnosis is often difficult.
- In Anthropophobia, the individual might even fear close friends and relatives and perceive them as being threatening as much as a stranger.
- The person with the extreme fear of people understands that his/her fear is illogical. Despite this, they let the phobia affect their daily lives, education or occupation. They arrange these activities so that there is minimal interaction with people.
Causes of fear of people phobia
- An intense negative experience with people in the past might have triggered the phobia of people.
- The mind can sometimes wrongfully learn to fear people.
- People with general tendency of being ‘highly strung’ or overanxious might also develop Anthropophobia.
- Physical problems or adrenal insufficiency can also lead to this condition.
Symptoms of Anthropophobia
Most of us feel a little antisocial from time to time. Certain situations, mood swings etc can all lead us to not ‘feeling like associating with others’. In case of Anthropophobia however, the mere thought of socializing can trigger a plethora of physical or psychological anxiety symptoms. These include:
- Trying to avoid social events at all costs- going to great lengths to do so.
- Feeling panic at the thought of going out or experiencing terror when having to meet people. Symptoms may be present days before the actual encounter with people.
- Increased heart rate, shortness of breath, feeling like being choked, difficulty in swallowing, increased blood pressure, sweating, trembling, crying etc are a few common physical symptoms of such panic attacks.
- Thoughts of death, fear of embarrassing oneself in public are also experienced by the phobic.
It is very important to deal with these symptoms by seeking help. Families and friends should also support the individual as much as possible and encourage him/her to employ self help techniques like deep breathing, meditation etc.
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Treating and overcoming Anthropophobia
Self help techniques:
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- One must understand that this is paranoia that can be overcome.
- Repeating the mantra that “people do not notice what I think they notice” can help.
- Employing CBT and BT (Cognitive behavior and behavior therapies) which include modifying thoughts and behavior. This means: “people are laughing at me because I look stupid” should be changed to “people are not thinking about me at all” and so on. Writing down negative and subsequent positive thoughts can also benefit the phobic.
Professional therapies are also beneficial in helping one overcome Anthropophobia. Hypnotherapy in particular can help one get to the root of the problem, following which one can utilize systematic desensitization that involves exposing the phobic gradually to stronger fear triggers.
Another popular and highly effective therapy to help overcome the fear of people is Morita Therapy from Japan. This is based on Zen Buddhism principles that help correct phobias by first helping the individual accept them. So, instead of pushing the fear aside, one learns to accept being afraid and then find ways to deal with it positively.
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Talk therapy is an important part of coping with the fear of people phobia. Loved ones and friends of people suffering from Anthropophobia can also help by being supportive and offering encouragement as far as possible.