Cacophobia is an extreme fear of ugliness that’s rooted in anxiety. It’s an irrational fear of becoming ugly or triggers panic when viewing something the individual thinks of as ugly. It’s a phobia that’s subjective as opposed to objective, which means an individual who suffers from cacophobia determines that they’re viewing something they perceive as ugly and scary.
It’s unknown how much of the population suffers from cacophobia, as few people self-report suffering from a fear of ugliness. Sufferers may not even be aware that they have cacophobia because they perceive these thoughts as being normal.
What Is Cacophobia?
Cacophobia is a phobia of ugliness that’s subjective in that the person decides they are looking at or perceiving something to be extremely ugly, and they need to be afraid of it. Someone who suffers from cacophobia will look at an object, animal, another person, or themselves and deem it ugly. They also tend to have anxiety about coming across something that they decide is ugly.
What Makes a Person Suffer From Cacophobia?
The sufferer holds the idea or concept that something is so ugly that they have to fear it lest something bad happen to them. Anxiety is not a rational response as a general rule, and someone with this condition may recognize that fact, or they may not. Some people who suffer from cacophobia are aware that their fear is irrational and extreme but may not have the skills or tools to control their reaction to a trigger.
Why Cacophobia Is a Subjective Fear
The condition is considered subjective due to the fact you can have two individuals with cacophobia viewing the same item or object and have a difference of opinion. That is, one person feels the object they’re looking at is ugly, while the other person thinks there’s nothing wrong with the object and that it looks fine. If the disorder was objective, both people would have the same reaction to the object because there’s no disputing the fact that a majority opinion would agree that the object is ugly.
What Causes Cacophobia?
The mental health profession isn’t sure as to the cause of phobias like cacophobia. There are different inputs and influences that lead to someone perceiving something as ugly, but there’s no one defined set of events that leads to someone becoming cacophobic. The general consensus is that the following factors help influence the development of cacophobia.
An individual’s upbringing can play a role, such as conditioning. A parent or authority figure that makes comments about something or someone being ugly can reinforce this thinking in their child or charge. Over time, the child develops particular behaviors or fears that become ingrained into their way of thinking and create anxiety triggers.
Everyone experiences trauma at some point in their life, but some people have a harder time overcoming the experience. In the case of cacophobia, the trauma can come in the betrayal of a parent calling their child ugly or bullies who won’t stop calling someone ugly. This thinking becomes reinforced and has its roots in a lack of care or protection by a parent or other authority figure.
Anxiety is a heritable trait that runs strongly in some families. The general anxiety disorder can become focused on certain triggers, including the perception of ugliness. In this instance, the fear of ugliness becomes an overlay on the anxiety.
Symptoms of Cacophobia
The symptoms of cacophobia present themselves in the same way as most anxiety disorders. Someone suffering from the disorder tends to exhibit the following physical symptoms:
- Heavy sweating
- Upset stomach
- Shortness of breath or shallow breathing
Some behaviors associated with cacophobia include:
- Tendency to avoid situations or settings where the person thinks or fears that they’ll run into ugliness.
- Engaging in negative commentary about the appearance of other people, animals, objects, etc.
- Low self-esteem.
- Spending time on physical enhancements to appear more beautiful.
- May undergo plastic surgery to fix “defects.”
- Constantly worrying about the perception or possibility that others think they’re ugly.
- Spends a lot of time putting on makeup or “fixing” their appearance.
Some of these symptoms and behaviors are related to narcissism and body dysmorphia, but they are not related. The cacophobic develops these traits in ways that are different from other phobias and personality disorders.
What It’s Like to Live With Cacophobia
Cacophobia is a phobia that’s always active, and an individual who has the condition feels as if they can never let their guard down. That is, the person is always in a state of constant fear of encountering something or someone they feel is ugly. Commuting on public transit is a nightmare for them, as is a simple trip to the grocery store. When they come across a person they deem unattractive, they’ll experience one or more of the physical responses that are listed above.
In general, life as a cacophobic is one of being always “on” in that the vigilance against viewing an extremely ugly person or another trigger. They tend to have low self-esteem yet hold themselves in high regard when it comes to their physical appearance. Yet they are never happy with their appearance and sometimes go to great lengths to improve it. That includes using as much makeup as possible, experimenting with ways to alter their appearance, and engaging in plastic surgery to get the face and body they want.
The cacophobic individual experiences a fight or flight response when they come across someone they deem ugly. This can come in the form of avoiding places that are full of “ugly” things or people, expressing their opinion (usually negative) to someone who they feel is unattractive, or stopping talking to someone entirely if they can’t avoid interacting with them. The cacophobic doesn’t care about the results of their insulting behavior because they feel they have to fight with the person they feel is extremely ugly or somehow get away from them.
Relationships are challenging for the cacophobic as they feel their companion has to possess the highest standards of beauty. Personality comes second to the need to live with someone who doesn’t trigger their fear of ugliness. Children of a cacophobic are highly likely to pick up on the phobia of their parent and exhibit similar behaviors. They’ll do this even if they don’t have a predisposition toward developing the disorder.
Treatment for cacophobia depends on the individual and their need for relief from the disorder. Someone who has a mild case that isn’t affecting their quality of life may not need treatment. In contrast, someone who is unable to maintain their quality of life due to intrusive thinking can benefit from therapy.
There is no standard course of therapy for cacophobia. Instead, treatment may include therapies that are known to work for anxiety disorders. The therapist may combine therapies or use one at a time, depending on the needs of the patient. Some of the therapies include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on changing how the patient reacts to a specific stimulus through conscious thought and actions. The patient is told to verbalize their feelings and physical action when they encounter a trigger, then slow down or stop their reaction and redirect their response to something slightly more positive.
Hypnotherapy puts the patient into a more receptive state of mind and slows down conscious thought. The therapist then introduces suggestions to change the patient’s ways of thinking about ugliness toward a more positive reaction. The suggestions introduced by the therapist depend on where the patient is in terms of unlearning or releasing their fear of ugliness.
Medication can help a cacophobic effectively manage anxiety, but it’s not always a guarantee that medication will work as intended. The patient may need to take different medications to find one that works and provides them with relief. However, relying solely on medication to manage symptoms is not recommended. Medication should be used in conjunction with therapy for the best possible results.
Can Cacophobia Be Prevented?
The causes of cacophobia are unknown, making it almost impossible to prevent. However, someone who experiences the phobia should seek out treatment to help them manage the symptoms. A therapist can help the individual get relief from their symptoms, teach exercises that help reduce the symptoms of panic, and manage their thoughts when they encounter a trigger.
Cacophobia is a deep-seated mental disorder that can make life difficult for someone who perceives a trigger as being very ugly. It falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, but little is known about it as it’s a rare disorder. It creates feelings of discomfort and fear, and there is no logical reason why a sufferer is prone to seeing someone or something as extremely ugly.
Treatment for cacophobia is available, but the individual has to be motivated to engage in therapy and medication to find relief. A sufferer of cacophobia may be able to live life without the reactions and feelings that come with being triggered.