What Is Philophobia, and How Can You Manage Fear of Falling in Love?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on November 2, 2017Written by Julie Ryan Evans on November 2, 2017

Overview

Love can be one of the most beautiful and amazing parts of life, but it can also be frightening. While some apprehensiveness is normal, some find the thought of falling in love terrifying.

Philophobia is the fear of love or of becoming emotionally connected with another person. It shares many of the same traits as other specific phobias, particularly those that are social in nature. And it can significantly impact your life if not treated.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about philophobia, what causes it, and how you can overcome it.

Symptoms of philophobia

Philophobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of falling in love, beyond just a typical apprehensiveness about it. The phobia is so intense that it interferes with your life.

Symptoms can vary from person to person. They can include both emotional and physical reactions when even thinking about falling in love:

  • feelings of intense fear or panic
  • avoidance
  • sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty functioning
  • nausea

You may be aware that the fear is irrational but still feel unable to control it.

Philophobia isn’t social anxiety disorder, although people with philophobia may also have social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder causes extreme fear in social situations, but it’s different from philophobia because it encompasses a number of social contexts.

Philophobia shares some similarities with disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED), an attachment disorder in children under 18. DSED makes it difficult for people with the disorder to form deep, meaningful connections to others. It’s typically the result of childhood trauma or neglect.

Risk factors for philophobia

Philophobia is also more common in people with past trauma or hurt, said Scott Dehorty (LCSW-C and executive director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health Group): “The fear is that the pain will repeat and the risk is not worth that chance. If someone was deeply hurt or abandoned as a child, they may be averse to becoming close to someone who may do the same. The fear reaction is to avoid relations, thus avoiding the pain. The more one avoids the source of their fear, the more the fear increases.”

Specific phobias may also be related to genetics and environment. According to the Mayo Clinic, in some cases specific phobias may develop because of changes in brain functioning.

Diagnosis

Because philophobia isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, your doctor is unlikely to give you an official diagnosis of philophobia.

Nevertheless, seek psychological help if your fear becomes overwhelming. A doctor or therapist will evaluate your symptoms as well as your medical, psychiatric, and social history.

If untreated, philophobia may increase your risk for complications, including:

  • social isolation
  • depression and anxiety disorders
  • abuse of drugs and alcohol
  • suicide

Treatment

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the phobia. Options include therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these treatments.

Therapy

Therapy — in particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — can help people with philophobia cope with their fear. CBT involves identifying and changing negative thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the source of the phobia.

It’s important to examine the source of the fear and to explore the hurt. “There may be many avenues for growth within the experience which are simply being categorized as ‘hurt’ due to avoidance,” said Dehorty: “Once the source is explored, some reality-testing of possible future relationships can be done.”

What-if scenarios can also be helpful. Ask questions such as:

  • What if a relationship doesn’t work out?
  • What happens next?
  • Am I still okay?

“We often make these issues much larger in our imagination, and playing the scenario out can be helpful,” Dehorty said. “Then, setting some small goals, like responding with a ‘Hello’ if someone says ‘Hi’ to you, or meeting a friend or colleague for coffee. These can slowly build and will start to ease the fears.”

Medication

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety medications if there are other diagnosable mental health issues. Medications are generally used in combination with therapy.

Lifestyle changes

Your doctor may also recommend remedies such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness strategies.

Tips for supporting someone with philophobia

If someone you know has a phobia such as philophobia, there are things you can do to help:

  • Recognize that it’s a serious fear, even if you have trouble understanding it.
  • Educate yourself about phobias.
  • Don’t pressure them to do things they’re not ready to do.
  • Encourage them to seek help if it seems appropriate, and help them find that help.
  • Ask them how you can help support them.

Outlook

Phobias such as philophobia can feel overwhelming at times and can severely impact your life, but they are treatable. “They do not have to be prisons by which we confine ourselves,” Dehorty said. “It may be uncomfortable to walk out of them, but it can be done.”

Seeking help as soon as possible is key to overcoming your phobia and contributes to living a full and happy life.

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