Xenophobia is derived from the Greek word ‘Xenos’ meaning “foreigner or stranger” and Phobos which means ‘morbid fear’.
Xenophobia is the irrational sensation of fear experienced about a person or a group of persons as well as situations that are perceived as strange or foreign. It is the fear of anything that is beyond one’s comfort zone.
The fear of unknown comes in many guises. A person may not be afraid of swimming pools, but might experience great fear when he sees a dark lake. The fact that s/he cannot see the bottom of the lake triggers a fear of the unknown. Such thoughts can overwhelm the person to an extent that one’s daily life and activities are hindered by it.
Xenophobia or the fear of foreigners can sometimes become collective leading to racism or the rejection of “strangers”. However, the intense and irrational fear of foreigners can also be based on a fearful experience with a stranger. Today, xenophobic or racial violence is not uncommon and is making headlines at an alarming rate on accounts of mass immigration and globalization.
Causes of the fear of the unknown phobia
Number of different attitudes and triggers can lead to the fear of the unknown. Worldwide people are becoming increasingly concerned about economic factors, results of elections, jobs, retirement planning, and health issues and so on. Fear of the unknown phobia also goes hand in hand with the fear of loss, fear of death etc. An agoraphobic (someone who fears the outdoors) might also have Xenophobia.
- A past experience, death of a near or dear one, divorce, change of lifestyle can all lead one to fear the unknown. As mentioned above, Xenophobia or the phobia towards strangers can also be triggered by having a negative experience with a stranger. In times of economic recession, the society starts to look for scapegoats to blame. This can lead to collective Xenophobia where the entire society blames a foreign community for their poor economic situation.
- The fear of unknown is also evolutionary in that; man has always felt insecure about something which he is unaware of. Most people do not like change. In case of Xenophobia, the individual is unable to fight his insecurity. S/he simply cannot cope with being unable to experience stability and security.
- A child who has been always instructed by parents to resist or fight change or an unusual circumstance is also likely to turn fearful towards the unknown.
Symptoms of Xenophobia
Most cases of fearing unknown objects, foreigners, situations etc are normal. We all tend to worry about coping with a change in lifestyle, dealing with a new job etc. We accept them to be facts of life. However, for a phobic, the day-to-day life can become very stressful owing to persistent fear. His personal and professional activities can be greatly hampered owing to this fear.
Like most other specific and social phobias, the fear of the unknown is also characterized by many physical and emotional symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate or palpitations.
- Dry mouth, shallow breathing.
- Full blown panic at the thought of the unknown or strange.
- Feeling anxious, trying to run away or avoid the situation that requires a change or facing strangers or the unknown.
- Crying, shaking, trembling, throwing up, fainting etc are some more symptoms of a xenophobic individual.
Overcoming the fear of the unknown phobia
People suffering from Xenophobia are often unable to live happy and stress free lives. Their anxiety is constant as a result of which they may be unable to take pleasure in daily activities or form healthy relationships.
- Drugs and medications can help overcome depressive thoughts and lessen panic attacks, to an extent. However, most of them are addictive and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Meditation and changing one’s thoughts and imagination are more beneficial remedies and they are also long lasting.
- Self help techniques as well as NLP or neurolingustic programming can also help resurrect one’s confidence and deal with one’s Xenophobia.
- Religions and politics should also focus on changing the environment to challenge the collective anti-immigrant sentiments.
- Experts also advise focusing one’s mind on the goals rather than letting negative experiences sidetrack it.
- It is very important to remove negative associations with all that is strange and unknown to restore mental and physical peace.