Agraphobia is often confused with Agoraphobia which is the fear of open or crowded spaces. Agraphobia, on the other hand, is the fear of being sexually abused. This excessive and persistent fear typically affects young children but may well continue into adulthood. It is a complex phobia that may be linked to several other anxiety disorders and sometimes also depression.
The word Agraphobia is derived from the Greek word agra which means something that is caught or trapped and phobos meaning fear or aversion. There are very few articles and nearly no professional psychological literature on this particular phobia, so we wanted to shed some light on the topic to help anyone out there who are struggling with this fear.
Causes of Agraphobia
This particular fear is more prevalent in children than in adults. As adults, most individuals can avoid possible abusive relationships, or at least have a better chance at it than children, so the actual conscious phobia of abuse may be less prevalent.
In most Agraphobes, traumatic sexual abuse during childhood may have been the trigger. A child may have suffered at the hands of an adult and perhaps even a parent, leading to lifelong trauma.
A phobia can also be a learned response. Most parents today warn kids about ‘good touch and bad touch’. These things are even taught in schools. Many adults believe that any close contact with a child by non-parental adults other than teachers could be ‘abusive’ behavior. A caregiver may express this fear over and over in front of a child. The child then develops a lifelong fear of sexual abuse. Overly anxious parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, and aunts can unknowingly instill a deep rooted anxiety in a sensitive child’s mind.
Sometimes, genes or heredity may also be responsible for Agraphobia or Contreltophobia. Some people simply have greater proclivity towards anxiety.
Often, when a phobic first experiences a panic attack at the thought of sexual abuse, they end up having an ‘unreasonable’ response towards it. The symptoms of panic attacks can be very embarrassing to the phobic. As a result of this single episode, the individual starts to fear recurrence of such incidents. This leads to intense anxiety about being in a similar situation again.
Stress in life can be a factor in causing phobias. This could be job related stress, stress in relationships and so on. A little bit of stress is conducive to growth and progress but untreated, long-term stress can often manifest itself as a phobia.
Movies and media are also responsible for Agraphobia or Contreltophobia as there are many stories depicting sexual abuse of children. This could also be a contributing factor in triggering the phobia of sexual abuse.
Symptoms of Contreltophobia
The impact of any phobia on an individual’s life depends on how easy it is to avoid the object or situation one fears. As stated before, for most adults with such a fear, it is easier to avoid relationships that could potentially lead to abuse. In some cases, the phobic might go to great lengths to avoid relationships in general or particularly romantic relationships. Children with this phobia would try to avoid meeting certain adults. This could include teachers, bus drivers, janitors or cleaners, sports coaches etc. If the phobia is severe, even thinking about these people could trigger the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Trembling or shaking
- Crying hysterically
- Feeling like fainting
- Hot or cold flashes
- Feeling like choking
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling like running away
- Feeling disconnected
- Fear of embarrassment
- Fear of death or dying
Very severe symptoms could trigger a full-blown panic attack. Experiencing this constantly can cause the phobic to feel frightened or embarrassed all the time. This can lead to anxiety and depression.
An effective strategy a phobic often develops is to avoid the situation completely. Unfortunately, avoidance behaviors often cause the fears to worsen and soon they start having a huge impact on all areas of life.
A child with Agraphobia or Contreltophobia will not form meaningful connections with non-parental adults including teachers. An adult with this phobia may not have the same vulnerabilities as a child but he or she may have difficulty staying in relationships.
Treatment for fear of sexual abuse
For a child with Agraphobia or Contreltophobia, life can become miserable, constantly living with the fear, embarrassment, and anxiety. He or she may feel alone, embarrassed, or frightened all the time. It is important that the child gets to vent out these feelings by speaking to an adult. A therapist or doctor can help.
Adults can try different self-help techniques to manage their panic attacks. Journaling or writing a diary can help. Talking to someone – a friend or a doctor – can also help. Meditation, hypnosis audios, affirmations, positive visualizations, and daily exercise to manage stress are particularly helpful. Individuals with this phobia should seek professional help if they experience nightmares, sleep changes, disinterest in life, feeling of worthlessness or guilt, or have been feeling sad or depressed for a long time.
Cognitive behavior therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT can help phobics identify connections between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It also teaches the phobic to develop practical skills to cope with the anxiety attacks. For example, one could practice deep, mindful breathing when they experience the symptoms of anxiety coming on. An important part of CBT is desensitization through gradual exposure to the situation one fears. A therapist will gradually take the patient through different situations where they feel they are at risk of abuse. Through repeat exposure to experiences of facing the fear, one can get an increased control over it.
This is another possible form of treatment for this phobia. It goes to the root cause of the fear and helps one manage the symptoms through re-programming of the subconscious mind.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe drugs like tranquilizers or anti-depressants to manage anxiety. However, many of these medicines have side effects that could impact one’s day-to-day life, so drug therapy aka pharmacotherapy is often used as a last resort or for short term treatment.