What is anthropophobia?

Anthropophobia, sometimes also spelled anthrophobia, is defined as the fear of people. “Anthro” means people and “phobia” means fear. Although not an explicit clinical disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it may be considered a specific phobia.

Aspects of this phobia can be seen in a variety of other clinically recognized disorders. It’s been associated with taijin kyofusho in particular, which is in the DSM-5. Taijin kyofusho is a culture-specific concept of distress that’s been observed in Japan and Korea. It has to do with the fear of interpersonal relations, especially offending others.

Relationship to social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

Although anthropophobia can be part of social anxiety disorder, the two aren’t the same. Social anxiety disorder involves intense anxiety when in a social situation. This could apply to being at a party or on a date, or even interacting with a cashier or worker at a store.

A person with social anxiety feels uncontrollable fear that they’ll be judged or rejected by other people. They’ll often end up avoiding social situations altogether, when they can.

However, in theory, anthropophobia could include symptoms unrelated to social interaction.

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.

The challenge of diagnosis

Someone may have self-professed anthropophobia. But if it’s part of a different condition, a medical professional would have to be the one to make that distinction and diagnosis. To do this, they’d use the criteria in the DSM-5 through:

  • talking with the individual
  • observing behaviors
  • if necessary, conducting a medical exam
  • if necessary, verifying reports from other professionals or individuals

There’s no home test for a phobia. While there may be online tests or surveys, these shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. They’re not a substitute for evaluation and diagnosis by a trained professional.

Treatment options

There’s no treatment that’s specific to anthropophobia. However, there are treatments for phobias and anxiety disorders. The particular treatment can vary depending on the specific phobia, the individual, and the severity of the phobia. Common types of treatment include different kinds of therapy, relaxation training, and medication.

Therapy can be useful for phobias, especially when used with other treatments. In addition to traditional talk therapy, commonly used therapies for phobias and anxiety disorders are exposure therapy and cognitive therapy.

Exposure therapy repeatedly, sometimes gradually, exposes an individual to a feared object or situation. This is done until the fear reaction no longer occurs. It can be done through imaginal exposure (imagining it) or in vivo exposure (real life).

Cognitive therapy involves identifying anxious or fearful thoughts and then replacing them with more rational thoughts. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, it’s usually not helpful for individuals with specific phobias. This is because they typically realize their fears are unwarranted.

Relaxation training can be helpful for individuals with anxiety, especially for those with specific phobias. This may include:

  • guided imagery
  • breathing exercises
  • hypnosis
  • exercise

This treatment can help with both physical and emotional reactions to phobias. It can also help the individual develop coping skills to change or redirect the stress reaction.

Medication might be an option for individuals living with anxiety or a specific phobia. For instance, if someone is afraid of flying or public speaking, anti-anxiety medications or a beta-blocker might be helpful.

Medication might not be appropriate — or safe — for everyone. Talking with your doctor is especially important when it comes to seeking treatment for your phobia.

Tips for management

Living with anthropophobia or a condition that includes this phobia can be challenging. But there are things you can do to ease symptoms.

You don’t have to deal with your phobia alone. Talk with your doctor or a counselor. They can help with treatment and provide support. A trusted friend or family member can also be helpful, although they’re not a substitute for professional help.

A healthy lifestyle can help you feel better overall. This may even help ease some symptoms of anxiety associated with phobias.

Dehydration can affect mood, so drink lots of water and watch your alcohol intake. While alcohol might initially have a calming effect, it can disrupt sleep, leaving you unrested.

Caffeine can contribute to a jittery, anxious feeling. Some people might find it helpful to limit consumption.

Other things that may help include:

  • getting enough sleep
  • exercising regularly, even if it’s just a daily walk
  • avoiding social isolation