Anthropophobia (fear of humans): symptoms, causes and treatment
Phobias are, along with depression and anxiety, part of the most frequent mental disorders.
Although, as a general rule, they tend to be less disabling than other disorders because the stimuli that generate them are not usually found continuously, in some cases the stimulus or dreaded situation is much more widespread and can be a real nightmare, greatly restricting the performance of the person in various vital domains. This is what happens with phobias such as agoraphobia, social phobia or the phobia we are going to talk about in this article: anthropophobia .
- Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"
What is a phobia?
While it may be something more or less known by most of the population, before entering into the subject of anthropophobia it could be useful to specify what it means to have a phobia.
When talking about phobias we are talking about irrational fears towards stimuli and situations that can be more specific or general, and that cause a deep level of anxiety and physiological activation that the subject recognizes as exaggerated for the level of threat posed by the stimulus in question. This panic and anxiety make the subject tend to avoid as far as possible approaching the stimulus or situation in question, which can generate repercussions in their normal functioning.
It is not a vulgar fear but of Authentic panic that can cause physiological or behavioral changes as the escape and continuous avoidance of places where the stimulus or the escape of situations could appear in which the stimulus in question appears. In some cases the subject can remain with the stimulus but at the cost of great suffering and anxiety.
There is a great multitude of phobias, some more limiting than others depending on the stimuli as well as the circumstances in which they appear or that the subject is living (it is not the same to be afraid of flying by plane being a bricklayer than being a pilot, being more relevant the fear for the second). One of the most limiting, especially considering that we live in society and that human contact is fundamental for us, is anthropophobia.
Anthropophobia or fear of people
Anthropophobia is known as fear of people . It is understood as that phobia or fear of contact with other people and their company, sometimes also appearing fear to be judged by them. Fear appears not only to strangers, but may also feel threatening to family and friends despite trusting them.
The subject usually recognizes this fear as strange and irrational, but is not able to control it. Panic can cause difficulties of concentration and the time to follow a coherent and continuous mental discourse. It can also cause problems at the level of speech, interspersed due to anxiety.
They usually avoid contact and company, not because they do not want it (in many cases if they do, which in view of their difficulty generates deep suffering and a sense of loneliness) but because of the anxiety that generates . It is not uncommon for some of these people to become completely isolated, without contact with other people unless they have to live with them. They avoid eye contact and even physical contact, and tend to blush rapidly when faced with any attempt at interaction.
At the physiological level, when exposed to contact with other people, those suffering from anthropophobia usually manifest tachycardia, hyperventilation, sweating, muscle tension, nausea , derealization, choking, headaches, dizziness, tremors and general malaise. These reactions can occur not only in the face of direct exposure but also in anticipation of the idea of having to come into contact with someone.
It is a very limiting phobia, which hinders interaction with most people in almost any situation and that will have repercussions at the social, academic and labor levels . That is why its treatment is essential so that the individual can have a full life and no longer be limited.
Differentiation with social phobia
Anthropophobia can often be confused with other phobias, due to the similarity between the existing symptoms and the type of stimulation that causes them .
The differentiation that costs more to carry out is that between anthropophobia or fear of people and social phobia, often considering the same phobia due to the similarity of its characteristics. But although in both cases there is an avoidance of social contact and the reactions are similar, some subtle differences between both types of phobia can be detected.
The main and most notorious refers to what is feared per se.Social phobia involves the appearance of fear or intense anxiety in one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible examination by other people, generally unknown (not being so usual the fear of people who trust). He is afraid to act in a way that can be judged negatively and be humiliated or rejected in the face of poor execution or in the face of fear or anxiety, which generates panic that leads to persistent avoidance or resistance to social situations.
By cons in anthropophobia the fear is specifically towards people and bonding with them regardless of his judgment and the situation. It is not that they avoid social situations, but that their fear can lead them to avoid any direct contact with another person, even the most significant ones for them.
This does not mean that they do not have any kind of relationship. In fact, it is common for them to appear together and anthropophobia has sometimes been considered as a subtype of social phobia, but it is important to bear in mind that we are not referring exactly to the same thing and that they are not synonymous.
As with other phobias, the causes of anthropophobia are usually not entirely clear. However, in many cases, intense contact panic usually derives from the experience of traumatic or stressful events such as bullying, or in more serious cases, abuse or even sexual abuse in childhood.
These experiences may have conditioned the response of the subject to contact with others, generating panic due to the association between social contact and pain or humiliation suffered throughout life. The lack of social skills can also facilitate the appearance of this phobia , not knowing how to act correctly in front of other people.
Finally, we must bear in mind that it can also appear as a symptom of some disorder instead of as a disorder itself, as it happens with some cases in people with psychotic problems.
The treatment of this and other types of phobias it is carried out through psychotherapy , existing diverse treatments to employ with proven effectiveness.
The best known and most effective technique is exposure. Basically therapy implies that the subject is exposed to the feared stimuli progressively until the level of anxiety, panic and physiological activation decreases. It's important to put attention on this exhibition must be progressive , establishing a hierarchy together with the patient. Temporary escape can be allowed in situations in which anxiety is unbearable for the subject, as long as he returns to the situation.
The most effective exposure is exposure in vivo, in which the patient is actually exposed to the dreaded stimulation. However, it can be used, previously to her, to expose in imagination to feared situations or even to exposure through virtual reality.
It must be taken into account that for a person with anthropophobia the situation of going to therapy can also be aversive for the patient to be in a situation that requires contact with another person (in fact the subject being exposed to their feared stimulus). In this sense it may be necessary to establish a chain of steps in which the subject comes into contact gradually with the therapist through telephone, video call and finally face to face.
Apart from the exhibition, anthropophobia is very useful work from cognitive restructuring to fight the possible beliefs that could have generated or maintained the panic to the idea of relating with another person. Training in social skills (although it would be necessary for the therapy to be already advanced) and in assertiveness to improve their abilities may also be useful. Finally, the use of expressive therapies can be useful for them to express their fears and doubts, as well as techniques to increase self-esteem.
Sometimes, when panic and anxiety are very intense, it can be useful the occasional use of some type of tranquilizer such as benzodiazepines , or some types of antidepressant. As with social phobia, the use of paroxetine seems especially useful.
However, it must be borne in mind that such use of pharmacology would not solve the problem per se, but would only reduce the anxious symptomatology temporarily. Thus, the treatment of anthropophobia and other phobias requires psychological therapy, although it may benefit from the use of pharmacology as something complementary.