In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Agraphobia.
An irrational fear of sexual abuse is called as Agraphobia.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this type of phobia will suffer from extreme anxiety when in a situation they feel they’ll be sexually abused.
A sufferer of Agraphobia can experience anxiety also when a thought of sexual abuse arises in their mind.
They can also have full-blown panic attacks if the anxiety worsens.
Agraphobia is not wholly irrational. This is because sexual abuse is a very traumatizing event.
It leaves the victim with not only physical harm but also with potential mental ordeal.
Being terrified of getting sexually abused is justified, but the excessive anxiety followed by other physiological symptoms one experiences in Agraphobia are irrational.
The painstaking efforts one takes in Agraphobia are not what normally people do to avoid being sexually abused.
However, a sufferer of this type of phobia will put in all their energy to avoid a situation they think might traumatize them.
These efforts and acts of avoidance an Agraphobia sufferer does affects their social and occupational functioning, as the DSM-V suggests.
For example, one will avoid meeting people or even their own relatives for the fear that someone might sexually assault them.
They will restrict themselves into their houses. Skipping school or office can put their careers at stake.
In Agraphobia, the sufferer will be fearful of going to someone’s house or using rest rooms in one’s home.
They will avoid visiting people alone. In some cases, one might restrain themselves from having intimate/romantic relationships with others.
All these actions can lead to one developing depression in the future.
Agraphobia is the irrational fear of sexual abuse which can cause extreme anxiety to the sufferer.
Symptoms of Agraphobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Agraphobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of sexual abuse suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well.
Such as increased heart rate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around a sexually threatening stimuli, he goes into a flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Because this fear of sexual abuse is about something which is not physically present or seen and is highly subjective, sufferers of Agraphobia experience symptoms in different ways.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggest, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Agraphobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about being sexually abused
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might be sexually abused
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Agraphobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Agraphobia
Like every other specific phobia, Agraphobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Agraphobia than someone who doesn’t.
This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
Genes and neurotransmitters also play a significant role in this genetic predisposition.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Agraphobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of sexual abuse.
Other phobias can also lead to Agraphobia. Genophobia (fear of sex) can either cause Agraphobia or vice versa.
An environmental trigger event that can cause Agraphobia can be a past traumatic experience.
Someone might’ve been sexually abused as a child and later developed this phobia.
Or, they may have seen someone being abused.
Either their parents or any relative may have experienced sexual abuse. Hearing or watching this incident can induce Agraphobia in the sufferer.
As children, parents inform or warn their child of the consequences they can face if something like this happens to them.
This can also cause Agraphobia.
Media reports on sexual abuse also play a significant role in causing Agraphobia.
Therefore, genetics and environmental factors, both play an equal role.
Treatment of Agraphobia
Agraphobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Agraphobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Agraphobia is defined as the irrational fear of sexual abuse. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Agraphobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills.
This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Agraphobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.
Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about sexual abuse.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Agraphobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Agraphobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Spirits of Schizophrenia and Agraphobia (Booklet # 32)
by Win Worley
- Panic & Anxiety Attacks CURED! Real Testimony with Real CURE!
by Blaine Anthony
- Badass Ways to End Anxiety & Stop Panic Attacks! – A counterintuitive approach to recover and regain control of your life.: Die-Hard and Science-Based … recover from Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks
by Geert Verschaeve
- Fighting Through The Fear: My Journey of Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse
by C.David Moody Jr. and Charles Cherry II
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Do I have Agraphobia?
To be diagnosed with Agraphobia, one needs to have excessive anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, panic attacks, increased heart rate and other physiological symptoms.
Q2) How is Agraphobia treated?
Like all other specific phobias, Agraphobia is treated using CBT, DBT and or medicinal drugs.
Q3) What causes Agraphobia?
Either a genetic predisposition or an environmental trigger event can cause one to have Agraphobia.
Examples of other interesting phobias