Millions of Americans suffer from various types of phobias, and Pentheraphobia is one of them. It is no secret that mothers-in-law tend to be difficult to get along with. Thousands of jokes have been made about the poor relationships between a man and his wife’s mother, and the trend seems to be equally common between women and their mothers-in-law. However, while an extreme dislike for this specific member of the extended family is not at all uncommon, when that feeling of discomfort is taken to an extreme, a phobia known as Pentheraphobia is born.
Be kind to your mother-in-law, but pay for her board at some good hotel.Josh Billings
What Is Pentheraphobia?
Macmillan Dictionary defines Pentheraphobia as “a strong dislike or fear of one’s mother-in-law.”
By this definition, many people might easily nod and say, “Yes, I have that.” However, Pentheraphobia is considered an exaggerated or irrational fear. The Mayo Clinic differentiates between generalized fear, or short-term anxiety, and phobias thus: “Specific phobias are long lasting, cause intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your ability to function normally at work, at school or in social settings.”
In summary, the severity of the fear, how long it lasts and the irrationality surrounding it, together with physical symptoms, mental symptoms and irrational behavior surrounding the object of fear, are what make Pentheraphobia a phobia.
Causes of Pentheraphobia
As with any phobia, the precise cause of Pentheraphobia for a particular person will differ based on many factors. A person’s genetics and upbringing may factor in, or, in some cases, trauma experienced in childhood or adulthood may be the triggering factor for the onset of Pentheraphobia. Further, some people may experience Pentheraphobia upon first meeting their mother-in-law, while others may develop the phobia after having known their mother-in-law for years.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three top causes of most phobias. These are: negative experiences, genetics and environment and brain function.
1. Negative Experiences
While many people have negative experiences with family members, in-laws or otherwise, when these experiences are especially traumatic, or they recur frequently, a phobia may develop. Panic attacks that occur while in the presence of a specific person may also contribute to the development of a phobia of that person.
2. Genetics and Environment
Genetics play a role in most mental health conditions, and some medical professionals believe that phobias can be passed down in this way.
According to an article from Verywell Mind, “first-degree relatives of someone suffering from a phobia are approximately three times more likely to develop a phobia.”
Another point to consider is that a phobia may be a learned behavior. Children and adults can become phobic because they are nurtured by, or spend a lot of time with someone else with the phobia.
Learned behavior occurs when you observe others having a strong and fearful reaction to an object or a situation, and then develop this response yourself. For example, just as a child learns from his parents to be wary of strangers, she can also learn to fear anything else, like spiders or dogs, simply because her parent already fears this thing and expresses this fear in the presence of the child.
3. Brain Function
Our brains are complicated organs responsible for communicating with nerve cells in all other parts of the body. This communication takes place through natural chemicals known as neuropathways. When a person’s brain chemistry is off balance, with too much or too little of any one chemical, this can have many negative effects.
Typically, we think of mental disorders like depression, anxiety and bipolar as being associated with a chemical imbalance. However, there are innumerable ways in which an imbalance may present itself, and phobias are one of the possibilities.
Risk Factors for Phobias
Alongside general causes, there are specific risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing a phobia. Any of the following may increase your risk:
- First-degree relative with a phobia
- Past trauma, stress, hardship or illness
- Early exposure to drugs or alcohol
- Addiction to drugs or alcohol
- A shy, apprehensive or introverted personality
- Having grown up with overprotective parents
- Other mental health conditions, like anxiety disorder
Symptoms of Pentheraphobia
So, how do you know if you, or someone you care about, is actually suffering from Pentheraphobia?
Maybe you hate being around your mother-in-law because she frequently criticizes your parenting style. Or, perhaps you don’t like her because she first showed a dislike of you. But are you actually afraid of her? Do you feel physically unsettled, sick to your stomach or frightened in her presence? Do you avoid her company at all costs?
For your dislike, anxiety or fear to qualify as a phobia, it must meet certain criteria. Symptoms of Pentheraphobia, as with any phobia, may be physical or mental, or, more often, both. They can also manifest through behavior, or sudden changes in behavior.
Phobias, according to Dictionary.com, are “intense, persistent, irrational” fears, and they are accompanied by “physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, or shortness of breath, and avoidance behavior.”
Possible symptoms of Pentheraphobia:
- Anxiety, panic, terror or dread
- Excessive sweating, hot flashes
- Cold chills or shivering
- Rapid heartbeat, palpitations
- Confusion, disorientation
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Ringing in the ears
- Dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Nausea, vomiting
- Choking sensation
- Inability to speak
- Avoidance of the person
- Refusal to talk to the person
- Canceling events with that person
Having several or many of the symptoms on this list are a pretty good indication of a phobia. If you experience these symptoms while around your mother-in-law, or while thinking about her, then you may very well suffer from Pentheraphobia. However, bear in mind that such a diagnosis must be made by a qualified mental health professional.
Treating the Fear of Your Mother-In-Law
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from Pentheraphobia, professional treatment can go a long way towards lessening symptoms, and, quite possibly, may even result in a complete recovery. Medical News Today reports that “Phobias are highly treatable, and people who have them are nearly always aware of their disorder.”
Treatments for any phobia are varied, and mental health professionals will make recommendations based on individual cases. However, there are a number of treatments that are found to be very helpful for those that suffer from a phobia, such as those diagnosed with Pentheraphobia.
The following are some of the most common treatments for phobias, all of which have shown some promising results:
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One of the most successful treatments for any phobia is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy.) The NHS (National Health Service of the United Kingdom) states that this type of therapy has shown very positive results for many phobia patients.
In this type of therapy, patients learn tools and processes by which to better understand and handle their fear. Learning to control one’s thoughts and feelings surrounding the object of fear can have a major impact on phobia recovery.
2. Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy, also known as desensitization, is another helpful treatment for phobias. This type of therapy may be incorporated into CBT, or it may be approached as a single treatment.
Desensitization is designed to ease a patient gradually into a place where they feel safer around the object of fear. Through this series of graduating steps, the goal is to find the patient is eventually able to successfully be in close proximity to the cause of the phobia without triggering an attack.
According to Medical News Today, patients who undergo exposure therapy “are gradually exposed to the cause of their phobia over a series of escalating steps.” For instance, with a fear of one’s mother-in-law, the very first step a therapist may use is to get the patient to simply think about his mother-in-law, or, perhaps, to have the patient look at a photograph of the person.
While medication is usually not the primary treatment recommended for phobias, it can have a positive influence, especially when paired with another form of treatment. Some of the medications used are:
- Beta blockers
According to WebMD, SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are a particularly helpful form of antidepressant when it comes to treating social phobias. Some commonly prescribed SSRI’s include: Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro and Zoloft.
Another set of antidepressants that may be prescribed for phobias are MAO inhibiters. These drugs work by blocking one or both of the Monoamine Oxidase enzymes, and are often effective in treating depression, anxiety and social phobias. Some commonly prescribed MAO’s include: Emsam, Nardil and Parnate.
Where antidepressants are not helpful, tranquilizers may sometimes be prescribed for a phobia. However, WebMD warns that “these drugs can relieve anxiety but may be habit-forming and cause drowsiness.” For this reason, many doctors and therapists prefer to use other treatments for long-term phobia cases. Some commonly prescribed tranquilizers include Klonopin, Valium and Zanax.
Beta blockers may be useful for some phobia patients. Usually prescribed for cases of high blood pressure, beta blockers, such as Propranolol, are known to be effective in the treatment of several anxiety disorders.
Alternative Phobia Treatments
While the above treatments are the most common, and are shown to be very effective in many cases, there are some alternative treatment options that some people may wish to consider.
Hypnotherapy may be a viable treatment option for some people suffering from phobias. While this treatment is considered questionable by many health professionals, there is research to suggest that it can have successful results.
In an article for The Wellness Institute, clinical hypnotherapist Diane Zimberoff, LMFT, discusses different hypnosis tactics that have been used effectively in the treatment of phobias.
When using hypnotherapy as a treatment for anxiety or phobias, a therapist will often begin with what is called “Direct Suggestions.” Another board certified hypnotist, John Mongiovi, explains that “direct suggestions are straightforward statements that are usually obvious to the hypnotic subject. For example: “You sleep easily” or “You do not smoke.”
In the Zimberoff article referenced previously, these other hypnotherapy tools are also presented as possible phobia treatments: Systematic Desensitization, Mental Rehearsal, Ego Strengthening and Age Regress.
While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of herbal treatments for phobia, there are some natural, plant-based options, as well as other supplements, that seem to help in some cases. Remember, if you choose to try any kind of alternative treatment for a phobia, or any other mental health concern, always consult a doctor or licensed therapist for guidance.
The following supplements may help with generalized anxiety, panic disorders, depression and phobias. However, bear in mind that these are not cures, and they are not usually recommended as a sole treatment.
Supplemental phobia treatments:
- Vitamin B12
- Kava root
- Valerian root
- Carbohydrate Inositol
- Amino Acid L-theanine
A Step at a Time
As you can see, Pentheraphobia is a complex mental health condition, and one that can have a lasting effect on a person’s health, work life, home life and overall sense of wellbeing.
When you are diagnosed with this phobia, or someone you know is diagnosed, you may be tempted to work as quickly as possible through treatments and solutions. However, as with any serious mental health concern, it’s important to remember that there is almost never one quick answer or cure-all solution.
As you educate yourself about Pentheraphobia, remember that there is help available. Making your mental health a high priority should not only make interactions with your mother-in-law easier in the future, but your growth and transformation in this area can also have long-term, positive effects throughout your life.