Harpaxophobia (fear of being robbed): symptoms, causes and treatment
Harpaxophobia is the persistent fear of thieves . It is a circumstance that, when cataloged as a phobia, implies the possibility that the assault experience provokes an irrational fear. But can this be considered an unjustified fear? Is it a specific phobia or is it rather an experience that accompanies more complex social discomforts?
We will see below how harpaxophobia can be defined and what elements accompany it.
- Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"
Harpaxophobia: fear of thieves
The term "harpaxofobia" is derived from Latin "harpax" which means "thief" or "he who steals"; and also from the Greek word "phobos" which means fear. Thus, Harpaxophobia is the persistent and intense fear of thieves, as well as living an experience of theft.
It would be a fear that is activated by a specific stimulus: the possibility of someone around us can steal something . But, for someone to perform this act, it is necessary that circumstances allow it: in principle it must be in a place where the theft can go unnoticed (a very lonely space, or a space with a large number of people).
On the other hand, many of the robberies, although committed by a single person, may be covered or supported by several other people. If coupled with this, it is a moment in which our attention is dispersed or focused on a specific activity, or else, we find ourselves in an important situation of defenselessness regarding the possible aggressors , the whole circumstance turns in favor that represent a potential risk for our belongings or our physical integrity.
Having said that, we can see that harpaxophobia is not only the fear that a person steals from us, but a whole circumstance that implies the real or perceived possibility of suffering an assault or direct aggression. In this, several elements are mixed, which have to do with our previous experiences, direct or indirect to violence, our imaginary about who may be potential aggressors, our difficulties to develop in certain public spaces, among others.
In this sense, harpaxophobia could be categorized as a specific phobia of situational type , following the criteria of specific phobias manuals. However, harpaxophobia has not been studied or considered as such by experts in psychology and psychopathology. This may be because, far from being a disorder, the persistent and intense fear of an assault is rather an overadaptive response generated in the face of constant exposure to violence, either directly or indirectly.
- Maybe you're interested: "The 11 types of violence (and the different kinds of aggression)"
Main symptoms of specific phobias
The main symptoms of specific phobias are caused by the activation of the autonomic nervous system, which acts in the presence of a stimulus perceived as harmful. This system is responsible for regulating our involuntary motor responses, which prepares us to avoid possible harm, whether by fleeing, hiding, exercising physical resistance, among others.
We generate a series of physiological reactions. For example, the increase in the speed of palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, decreased digestive activity , among other. All this while we process at a high speed the information about the threatening event. The latter is the typical picture of anxiety, and in cases of greater exposure to the stimulus, it can be transformed into a panic attack, which is more frequent in situational-specific phobias.
On the other hand, the level of anxiety experienced depends to a great extent on the stimulus caused by the phobia. That is, it depends on the degree of danger it represents, as well as on the safety signals that the stimulus itself can offer.
In the case of harpaxophobia, the experience of anxiety can increase significantly in contexts where the probability of suffering an assault is higher (going through a dark street alone, carrying a significant amount of money or elements of high economic value). , to cross a neighborhood that is generally conflictive or too touristy, etc.).
To this last, other elements are added, such as the mood of the person (which may cause greater susceptibility), and the perceived chances of fleeing or receiving help if necessary.
Specific phobias are acquired experiences, which means that they are generated by associations constantly reinforced on a stimulus and the dangers associated with this . Three of the most popular explanatory models of such associations are classical conditioning, vicarious learning and the transmission of information.
Likewise, three of the most important elements for the consolidation of a specific phobia are the following (Bados, 2005):
- The severity and frequency of direct negative experiences with the stimulus , which in this case would have been stolen earlier.
- Having had fewer previous safe experiences, related to harmful stimuli. In the case of harpaxophobia, it may be, for example, not having crossed the same place without having been assaulted.
- Related to the above, the third element is no have been exposed to the harmful situation in other conditions after the negative experience .
In this sense, harpaxophobia can develop through direct or indirect exposure to violence. That is, after having been assaulted, or having witnessed one, or knowing someone who has suffered. The latter can easily translate into a constant sense of threat, generating avoidance behaviors towards places that represent a risk, as well as defensive behaviors to prevent assaults, especially in places that have high crime rates.
Thus, it can hardly be defined as a disproportionate response, given that the stimulus that provokes it (a theft) is potentially harmful to physical and emotional integrity, with which, the avoidance behaviors and the anxiety response are rather a set of adaptive and proportional responses to the stimulus .
If such responses are generalized and prevent the person from performing their daily activities regularly, or negatively impact their interpersonal relationships, or provoke a generalized anxiety experience, then it may not be harpaxophobia, but an experience of more complex discomfort. For example, an experience related to social interactions or open spaces, and of which, the fear of thieves only forms a part.
Once this is explored and determined, there are different emotional accompaniment strategies that can be used to reduce prolonged and intense anxiety .
The latter will not necessarily remove the fear of thieves, as this may be counterproductive, but may minimize deeper fears (such as certain social interactions), and at the same time maintain self-care strategies. In these cases, it is advisable to go to psychotherapy to learn how to manage stress levels and recover autonomy.
- Bados, A. (2005). Specific phobias Faculty of Psychology. Department of personality, evaluation and psychological treatments. University of Barcelona. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
- Harpaxophobia. (2017). Common-Phobias.com. Retrieved September 17, 2018. Available at //common-phobias.com/Harpaxo/phobia.htm