What is anthropophobia? While anthropophobia isn’t a formal diagnosis per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed (DSM-5), it is recognized as a real phobia that causes an extreme, often debilitating fear of people.
Anthropophobia, also sometimes spelled anthrophobia, is an interpersonal fear disorder that’s closely related to some other phobias, specifically with “taijin kyofusho” (the Japanese concept of having an intense fear of interpersonal relationships) — note that taijin kyofusho actually is recognized in the DSM-5 as a true clinical disorder.
Though it can be natural and common to occasionally feel nervous around other people, especially when meeting someone for the first time, people with anthropophobia experience extreme fears that manifest in many ways. This extreme fear is sparked by a social situation or social interaction, and at times can even induce a panic attack. It can cause people to fear being judged, watched, or threatened by others.
While anthropophobia can also be a part of social anxiety disorder, the two conditions aren’t the same. Check out this list of phobias to understand all the different types. Keep reading to learn more about anthropophobia, including how it differs from social phobia, effective treatment options (such as online therapy offered here at Talkspace), and more.
Anthropophobia vs. Social Phobia
To truly understand what is anthropophobia, you should know what makes it different from the closely related yet distinct condition known as social phobia. Although it’s common for people with anthropophobia to experience anxiety in social situations, the condition differs from social phobia in several ways.
Social phobia, also referred to as social anxiety, causes people to fear social behaviors and interactions. For example, they may go to great lengths to avoid talking on the phone, eating in public, or going to a party. On the other hand, anthropophobia is a fear of people, not of behaviors or settings.
People with social anxiety may be comfortable in small groups or around people they know well. This isn’t the case for someone with anthropophobia, which can cause feelings of severe, almost paralyzing anxiety anytime they’re in the presence of someone else. Anthropophobia can significantly interfere with everyday activities.
This phobia also has the potential to change existing relationships. People with anthropophobia might no longer feel safe or comfortable around the people they’ve been close to. It can cause them to see everyone around them as a threat, and yes, this can include even beloved friends or family members.
What Are the Symptoms of Anthropophobia?
Anthropophobia causes symptoms of anxiety when they’re around others. Someone might experience anticipatory anxiety when they know they’ll soon need to be around other people.
Since this phobia isn’t classified as an individual clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5, there aren’t any true, specific clinical conditions. However, it does fall under the classification of “phobia not otherwise specified,” and can be identified by those symptoms.
Potential common anthropophobia symptoms can include:
- Intense fear or anxiety (in this case, of other people or one person)
- Significant difficulties with social interactions
- Fear of being seen by others
- Fear or anxiety about causing offense
- Negatively comparing self to others
- Perceiving other people as a threat
- Experiencing emotional and physical distress prior to social events
Note these symptoms must not be attributed to another condition, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or delusional disorder.
When someone with anthropophobia is around others, it can trigger their fight or flight response. This can cause them to experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as:
- Elevated heart rate
- Pale or flushed skin
- Panic attacks
What Causes Anthropophobia?
There isn’t always a clear cause for anthropophobia. However, there are several potential factors that likely contribute.
- Personal trauma: The condition has been strongly linked to personal trauma. Someone might develop a fear of people phobia after a single traumatic event, such as being harmed by a trusted person, or after a series of traumatic experiences.
- Learned behavior: Phobias like anthropophobia are often learned. If someone’s been repeatedly mistreated by people around them, they may learn to see everyone as a threat. In some cases, anthropophobia might also develop after witnessing others experience extreme abuse.
- Adrenal glands: Some research suggests that social phobias might result from hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. There is some thought that anthropophobia might also be caused by malfunctioning adrenal glands, causing people to feel intense fear in normal situations.
- Behavioral inhibition gene: Past studies on people with anthropophobia suggest there may be a genetic component at play. Research shows that 10 – 15% of people living with anthropophobia had very early signs.
“Most phobias are rooted in trauma. Anthropophobia is no different. Knowing that there are treatment options for trauma and phobias is a great first step that hopefully inspires a small bit of hope. You’re not alone, and finding a trauma-informed therapist can help.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
The symptoms of anthropophobia often become more intense over time. Someone might initially experience mild anxiety around others, but if they don’t receive treatment, their fear of people may become increasingly more intense until they try to avoid others entirely.
There are several ways to treat anthropophobia and reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms. In many cases, two or more treatment options are used simultaneously.
Treatment is essential, as much research has pointed to the impact untreated anthropophobia can have on other mental health conditions. In fact, it might even lead to schizophrenia or depression if it’s not dealt with. Potential anthropophobia treatments include:
- Trauma-informed therapy: As noted, anthropophobia can be brought on by some sort of trauma. Trauma-informed therapy looks at the connection between traumatic events and symptoms. Therapists focus on helping people begin to feel emotionally and physically safe.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps people become more aware of irrational or negative thinking patterns. It gives them the tools to change thinking patterns and manage symptoms more effectively. CBT is widely known for its efficacy in treating social anxiety and can likely be a solid technique for those living with anthropophobia, too.
- Exposure therapy: Sometimes called systematic desensitization, exposure therapy gradually exposes people to phobia triggers in a safe, controlled environment. While being in the same room as their therapist requires someone with anthropophobia to be exposed to the source of their fear naturally, they’re slowly introduced to stronger triggers over time.
- Virtual reality therapy: Virtual reality allows people with anthropophobia to experience simulated phobic situations. Although they may still experience physical anxiety symptoms during these simulations, this can be a safe way for people to work through their fears.
- Medication: People with anthropophobia may be prescribed medication during treatment to reduce feelings of anxiety. Medication can be a way to keep symptoms under control while they begin working toward healing through therapy.
“Having intense fear of any variety is an excellent reason to consider therapy. When we avoid our fears vs. facing them (in a therapeutic way), we inadvertently confirm them and cause ourselves greater misery.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
Is anthropophobia curable?
The very nature of anthropophobia can be an obstacle to effective treatment. When someone is fearful or distrustful of others, they may not be willing to seek treatment from a professional. Symptoms tend to worsen with time, making it harder to get the care they need.
Thankfully, those who do receive treatment are likely to have a positive outcome, especially if the process is started early on. Although there are challenges to overcome, the success rate of treatment for phobias like anthropophobia is very high. People with anthropophobia can learn to overcome their fears and lead a rewarding life.
Social connections are a vital source of support and can give those living with any type of phobia meaning and purpose. Again, the nature of this specific phobia can make connecting with others challenging, but when people deprive themselves of those essential connections, it can have a dramatic impact on their physical and mental health. While it can be challenging to live with a fear of people, those who find the strength to seek treatment can learn to overcome their fears.