Anthropophobia: Fear of People

Anthropophobia is the fear of people. It is not a formal clinical diagnosis. Many experts view the condition as a specific phobia. People with anthropophobia feel intense fear or anxiety at the thought of being around other people. Unlike other social anxiety disorders, anthropophobia is fear of people themselves, not of social situations.

What’s the difference between anthropophobia and social phobia?

fear of people - man alone at table - Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

social phobia refers to a fear of social situations, such as going to a party, or making a presentation at work. Anthropophobia, on the other hand, refers to a fear of other people themselves, and not of social situations that typically involve people. In other words, while anthropophobia can be seen as a form of social phobia, not all social phobias are anthropophobia.

What causes this?

It’s not always clear what causes a phobia. It can depend on the person and past experiences. Sometimes there’s no clear cause at all. Possible factors include:

  • negative events or experiences with a certain thing or person
  • genetics
  • environment
  • learned behaviors
  • changes in brain functioning

What are the symptoms?

Because anthropophobia isn’t a clinical condition, there are no specific clinical symptoms. However, it can be considered under the DSM-5 classification of “specific phobia not otherwise specified.” Criteria for this disorder include:

  1. Major anxiety or fear about a certain situation or thing (in this case, a person or people).
  2. The situation nearly always causes anxiety or fear.
  3. The situation or thing is avoided when possible.
  4. The fearful reaction is disproportionately more than the actual danger the situation warrants.
  5. The anxiety lasts six months or more.
  6. The anxiety causes noteworthy distress or hinders daily functioning in some way.
  7. These symptoms aren’t caused by another disorder or medical condition.

Looking at these criteria, the last one is particularly important. Anthropophobia might be part of other clinical diagnoses. These can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, or a delusional disorder.

Consider these examples:

  • A person meets someone new and is convinced this person wants to hurt them. This causes fear. In this case, a diagnosis of delusional disorder would likely be considered rather than anthropophobia.
  • A person avoids or fears a person who looks like someone who abused them. They might be experiencing symptoms of PTSD, and not anthropophobia.
  • A person avoids going to parties or social events due to fear of being ridiculed. They’d likely be evaluated for social anxiety disorder instead of anthropophobia.
  • A person stays home all the time because they’re afraid they’ll have a panic attack in a public place, and therefore be embarrassed. They might receive a diagnosis of agoraphobia, since their fear isn’t specific to people in general.
  • Someone has a persistent and long-lasting pattern of extreme sensitivity to rejection. They therefore prefer social isolation. They might receive a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, and not anthropophobia. This is because they’re not fearful, per se, of people.

Can I cure anthropophobia by myself?

It’s difficult to treat this disorder on your own. While self-help might seem the easiest option — especially for people who try to avoid other people — a professional can provide the right treatment through therapy sessions and medication.

Anthropophobia is a complex condition that doesn’t typically go away on its own through self-treatment, and even with therapy sessions and medication the process can take time.

You may find the symptoms lessen in intensity over time, but will may never be fully cured without professional care from a doctor or mental health practitioner who specializes in this kind of treatment.

How is anthropophobia treated?

There is no one specific treatment for anthropophobia. Some treatments for specific phobias may help:

  • Exposure therapy is often the first treatment for specific phobias. Up to 90% of people who consistently practice exposure therapy have a decrease in symptoms. Exposure therapy involves gradually introducing the specific fear into your life. You may imagine interacting with others. Later, you may practice being around small groups of people.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves talking with a therapist about symptoms. You learn to identify irrational thoughts and replace them with rational ones. CBT may not be as helpful as exposure therapy for people with severe phobia symptoms.
  • Hypnotherapy involves guided relaxation and focused concentration. A provider guides you to a state of such intense concentration that you temporarily are unaware of your surroundings. Hypnotherapy often increases the success of phobia treatment.
  • Medications may be useful for anxiety disorders or some specific phobias. For example, you might take diazepam (Valium®) or alprazolam (Xanax®) before certain events to avoid panic attacks (intense, sudden anxiety that causes physical symptoms). Medication is not right for everyone, so speak with your healthcare provider before starting a new medicine.

How can I overcome anthropophobia symptoms?

People with anthropophobia can also learn relaxation techniques. Practicing these techniques can help you lower anxiety, especially when exposed to what you are afraid of. You may:

  • Aerobically exercise, such as doing 20 jumping jacks when you feel anxious.
  • Meditate or use guided imagery techniques to manage stress.
  • Practice breathing techniques.

How can I reduce my risk of anthropophobia?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent anthropophobia. If you struggle with anxious thoughts or behaviors, healthy habits may help reduce how severe your symptoms are. You may:

  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water and limiting alcohol and caffeine.
  • Eat a nutritious diet of whole grains, lean protein, healthy fat, fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise consistently.
  • Sleep at least seven to eight hours nightly.
  • Talk to trusted loved ones regularly to decrease your risk of social isolation.

Are there long-term effects of anthropophobia?

With proper treatment, most people find that symptoms of anthropophobia improve. Without treatment, anthropophobia can increase your risk of:

  • Mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Social withdrawal or isolation.
  • Substance misuse, including alcohol or drugs.

Anthropophobia is the fear of people. It is not the same as social anxiety disorder. Instead of fearing social situations, people with anthropophobia specifically fear people. Anthropophobia may cause physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating or nausea. If a fear of people interferes with your daily life, speak with a healthcare provider. Treatment may include therapy, medication or practicing relaxation techniques at home.

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