In this blog we will deliberate the symptoms, causes and treatment for Anthropophobia.
The fear of people is known as Anthropophobia. People suffering from this condition are fearful of other people. They feel extremely anxious around people and can also experience full-blown panic attacks if the situation worsens.
Anthropophobia is a specific phobia, which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. However, it is sometimes misinterpreted as social anxiety disorder or social phobia.
In social phobia, the sufferers are afraid or anxious when in a social setting. For example, an individual might be afraid of public speaking or eating in public. These people are fearful of getting humiliated or laughed at by the people. However, in Anthropophobia, individuals are fearful of the people. They will find interacting with others as extremely stressful, because the presence of people threats them or their personal sense of security.
A better example to explain the difference between Anthropophobia and social phobia is, a child with social anxiety will find sitting in the front seat of their classroom as extremely daunting and stressful. Whereas, a child with Anthropophobia will feel anxious even if he’s sitting at the back seat of his class. As long as he’s surrounded by people, his anxiety won’t go away.
Social phobia is a separate type of phobia in the DSM-V and Anthropophobia can be categorized under the category of specific phobias.
Sufferers of Anthropophobia feel extreme anxiety even when they’re around their relatives. Because the fear stimuli in this phobia are people, one will find them to be a source of their stress, regardless of the situation they are in (as in social phobia).
According to the DSM-V, the anxiety caused by this fear stimulus must affect ones social and occupational functioning. For example, one with a fear of people will not visit his family or maintain any social contact with them, to the extent that they will be left alone. Because of this irrational fear, they avoid their own loved ones and isolate themselves from the outside world.
Also, because individuals suffering from Anthropophobia find people to be the reason for their anxiety, they also avoid going to their jobs or interact with peers for educational purposes or, even at the grocery store. Thus, they keep themselves in isolation and can end up having depression.
The only way Anthropophobia sufferers communicate with people outside their home is via phone. They are comfortable in texting or emailing others to have a chat. But when it comes to interacting with them via call or face-to-face, they can get panic attacks and suffer extreme levels of anxiety.
Anthropophobia is known as the fear of people. It derives from a Greek word ‘anthro’, meaning people and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. It is also spelled as Anthrophobia. It is not an explicit mental disorder in the DSM-V but it is referred to as a type of specific phobia.
Similar to all other specific phobias, Anthropophobia’s main symptom is extreme anxiety. Sufferers experience high levels of anxiety when around people. This anxiety can also lead to full-blown panic attacks.
An individual with Anthropophobia will make tireless efforts to avoid their source of fear, people. They will avoid situations which they fear will need them to interact with people or be surrounded by them. Though they end up living a caged life, they’re still unable to fight their fear and overcome it without professional help.
This act of repeated avoidance by the individual, in the long run can result in the sufferer developing OCD. Additionally, sufferers are not necessarily afraid of everyone. Many people with Anthropophobia are fearful of a specific person. The latter depends on the cause of their phobia.
As the DSM-V suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months to be diagnosed with Anthropophobia. Other than anxiety, one also experiences a number of other physiological symptoms. The severity of these symptoms depends upon the intensity of ones’ fear, depending on how they perceive a certain situation or person to, based on their personal experiences (or the cause of the phobia).
The symptoms that one endures in Anthropophobia are:
- Extreme anxiety when around people/a person
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about people/ person
- Avoiding people
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heartrate
- Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate
- Feeling dizzy
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus).
- Butterflies in the stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety) to be diagnosed with Anthropophobia. Additionally, this fear of people can also be a part of other mental disorders such as PTSD, delusional disorder or social anxiety disorder.
Like every other specific phobia, Anthropophobia 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 Anthropophobia than someone who doesn’t. This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
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 Anthropophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of people.
A person suffering from autism spectrum, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are also at a higher risk of developing Anthropophobia, if not treated properly.
This type of phobia is more common amongst children who are between the ages of 13-18 years. Any incident they might’ve gone through or heard about can lead to the formation of Anthropophobia.
The trigger event that one requires to experience Anthropophobia can be a past-traumatic event. For example, someone might have experienced sexual or physical abuse by a person in their childhood. Since then, they either developed a fear for that particular individual or they generalized this fear to all.
Someone can also develop this fear of people if they have seen any of their loved ones being afraid of or harmed by a person. Additionally, the news on TV usually have stories or incidents of how people are fighting and killing other people, this can be another cause for Anthropophobia.
Anthropophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Anthropophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or NLP 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. Anthropophobia is defined as the irrational fear of people. 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 interacting with people. 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:
- A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
- B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
- C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
- 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.
- Neuro-Linguistic programming (NLP)
It is a psychological approach that includes ways of trying to reach a personal goal. It links language, thoughts and patterns of behavior learned through experience.
The key elements of NLP are action, modeling and effective communication. It suggests that everyone have different ways of how they see the world. By understanding a number of perspectives of others, patients who use NLP see the world through a combination of their personal views and that of others.
NLP therapists treat patients with Anthrophobia by making them understand their thoughts, behaviors and emotional state. By having an insight of the patients own ‘personal’ view of reality, they assist them in forming new, positive thoughts.
NLP helps the patient in improving his state of thoughts about other people by understanding their cognitive-behavioral patterns. Like CBT, this form of therapy is also very effective.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects he patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks. People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear. In the case of Anthrophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of people/ a person. They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Anthropophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of people for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is around people, for example in a classroom. During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a real situation in which he is surrounded by people.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of fear causing stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of people, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• 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 to 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, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Anthropophobia. 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. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Valium 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.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Lexapro 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.
Whether the cause of Anthropophobia, 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
- NLP: The Essential Guide to Neuro-Linguistic Programming
by Susan Sanders, Tom Dotz, et al.
- Get the Life You Want: The Secrets to Quick and Lasting Life Change with Neuro-Linguistic Programming
by Richard Bandler, Mark Morgann, et al.
- Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders, 2e (Treatment Plans and Interventions for Evidence-Based Psychotherapy)
by Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, et al.
- Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast
by Barry McDonagh and BMD Publishing
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Anthropophobia?
Anthropophobia is caused either by a genetic predisposition or an environmental factor that leads to one fear people. Such as a past-traumatic event can cause a person to have Anthropophobia, or the family history can also play a significant role.
Q2) What are the symptoms of Anthrophobia?
Symptoms of Anthrophobia include extreme anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, breathlessness etc.
Q3) Are medicines the only way one can treat Anthropophobia?
No. Medicines are one of the many possible, effective ways of treating this specific phobia. Therapies like CBT, NLP or exposure therapy are used with patients to help them overcome their fear. However, one can also be prescribed with medicines in order to maximize their progress and reduce the physical symptoms of the phobia.
Q4) What is the DSM-V criteria for Anthrophobia?
Anthrophobia is not identified as a specific mental disorder in the DSM-V. However, it is categorized under specific phobias. According to the DSM-V criteria for all specific phobias, one must have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months and this anxiety should affect their social and occupational functioning.