Chromophobia is an intense fear of colors and the person develops a complete aversion to either specific colors or colors in general so much so that their daily living is affected. It becomes hard for them to engage in meaningful activities and hold down occupations as well.
Colors are often considered as the medium to depict moods and add life to things. Wassily Kandinsky, the famous Russian painter and Art theorist very aptly quotes, ‘color is a power that directly influences the soul’.
Colors are a powerful tool and portray our inner atmosphere on a plain medium. The colors we use at any one moment in time shows what we are feeling at that time. Some famous interpretations of colors are as such:
Blue: coolness and serenity
Similarly, there are phobias also that are associated with different colors. Following are a few examples of phobias related to colors: –
- Fear of white color – Leukophobia
- Fear of pink color – Rhodophobia
- Fear of yellow color – Xanthophobia
- Fear of green color – Prasinophobia
- Fear of brown color – Kastanophobia
- Fear of black color – Melanophobia
- Fear of blue color – Cyanophobia
- Fear of orange color – Chrysophobia
In history the great artists have been known to use colors that have truly depicted what was going on their lives at the time a particular painting was being painted.
Chromophobia is also known as chromatophobia or chrematophobia. It is an irrational fear of colors, or aversion to colors. It is usually a conditioned response. Colors can prompt hormonal responses and more than often psychological reactions.
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 colors 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 Chromophobia find colors 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.
They will stay away from any place that has colors, and colors are everywhere. Therefore, they would avoid almost places and end up in isolation.
Causes of Chronophobia
- Genetic Predisposition
Anxiety and related phobias have a significant genetic basis according to Genome Biol. 2003; If a person is suffering from Chromophobia then chances are that there might be an anxiety disorder of one form or another running in the family.
There is a high prevalence rate of the existence in a person to develop phobias, depression and anxieties if someone in the family is already suffering from it.
It could also be that the person is already suffering from a mental or psychological disorder prior to his developing this phobia. There have been cases where the presence of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) brought on severe symptoms of Chromophobia.
- A previous Trauma or Accident
Rational and irrational fear, both develop due to an event or incidence that took place in the past. Either the incident was of such profound proportions or the threat implied to it generated emotions of a magnitude. Thus, the fear flowered!
Childhood is the time of vulnerability and of forming schemas that will stay with the child for all times to come, shaping and casting how he would respond in the future. A person suffering from Chromophobia may have experienced an event where the colors played a threateningly important role or the presence of certain colors implied a state of affairs that the child or person could not have avoided.
- Imitation or Modeling
Fears (general or specific) are very common in all of us. There might be a rarity where people are not really afraid, but in 90% of the cases in the universal population, fear is present. Fear of one thing or another.
Children learn behaviors from their parents, siblings or significant other. They learn positive as well as negative behaviors. That is the reason people tend to carry themselves around in a particular or desirable behavior in front of their kids.
If a parent seems to be afraid then chances are higher that the child/children will replicate the same, without knowing the real cause of the scare.
- Sensory Disintegration Disorder or Synesthesia
Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which information that is meant to stimulate one of the senses stimulates several of the other senses.
31 people with autism were observed in a study. These people had synesthesia, the most common forms of the condition were “grapheme-color,” in which letters are seen as colored, and “sound-color,” in which hearing a sound triggers a visual experience of color.
Another form of synesthesia that was reported was that tastes, touch, or smells triggered a visual experience of color. If such a person sees a yellow wall, he may experience tasting the wall as well. Autistics have hyper-sensitivity of colors. They can go in a melt down by seeing any color that instigates or irritates another sense to override. Red has been found to trigger.
There are cultures that encourage or discourage certain colors, thus developing Chromatophobia in the person with a prior vulnerability.
Symptoms of Chromophobia
Phobias limit daily activities. Panic like symptoms are common in all phobias, including this one as well. The onset of symptoms is very sudden and takes the sufferer by surprise.
They may occur at the mere mention of a word depicting fear, an image of a color that has been associated with fright or anxiousness.
The physical symptoms of Chromophobia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Sensation of Choking
- Tightness in the chest
- Dry mouth
- Feeling faint
The psychological symptoms of Chromophobia include:
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dread
- Fear of dying
The symptoms can vary in severity, depending on the nature of the stimulus.
Treatments of Chromophobia
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Chromophobia is defined as the irrational fear of colors. 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 being exposed to colors. 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 or color. 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 has 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 Chromophobia by making them understand their thoughts, behaviors and emotional state. By having an insight of the patient’s 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 the 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 Chromophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of colors. 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 Chromophobia (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 color card 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 surrounded by colors.
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 exposed to colorful objects that are tangible and can be touched.
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 patient’s 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, 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 Chromophobia. 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 suggests 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 Chromophobia, 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).
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the fear of the color blue called?
The fear of the color blue is called Cyanophobia (from the Greek word kyanos, meaning “dark blue”, and phobos, “fear”)
- What is the fear of the color orange called?
The fear of the color orange is called Chrysophobia.
- What is the color that depicts anxiety?
Gray is the color that depicts anxiety.
- Why do people fear colors?
People are afraid of colors due to a couple of reasons including genetics, traumatic events or learned behavior of their adults or a favorite character.
- Does black depict death?
Colors basically do not depict anything; it is the people who relate such things to them.
Titles to Read
- Chromophobia (Focus on Contemporary Issues)
by David Batchelor
- The Luminous and the Grey
by David Batchelor
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
by Thich Nhat Hanh , Vo-Dihn Mai, et al.
- Mindfulness Cards: Simple Practices for Everyday Life (Daily Mindfulness, Daily Gratitude, Mindful Meditation)
by Rohan Gunatillake | Apr 10, 2018
- Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers
by Dr Faith G Harper