Anthropophobia is a specific phobia defined as the fear of people.1 It is often confused with social anxiety disorder or social phobia, as they share some symptoms. Anthropophobia can be treated with different types of therapy, including talk therapy and exposure therapy. In some cases, treatment can also include medication.
What Is Anthropophobia?
People with anthropophobia fear being judged, watched, not meeting others’ standards, and offending others. While it can be normal to be nervous or even reluctant to meet new people, this kind of nervousness differs from anthropophobia, which is severe enough to cause problems in someone’s day-to-day life.
In Western culture, anthropophobia is a specific phobia closely related to social anxiety disorder, fear of being stared at, or an unspecified phobia of people—distinguished by fear and overwhelming anxiety surrounding interpersonal interactions. It is primarily based on what’s known as interpersonal fear disorder in Japan (taijin kyofusho).2
How Common Is Anthropophobia?
Since anthropophobia is not a specific mental health disorder, not much is known about its prevalence. Experts do know that specific phobias, like anthrophobia, are pretty common. During an average year, as many as 9% of people in the U.S. will have at least one specific phobia. Teens, especially 13 to 17 years old, will have the highest rates of specific phobia at 16%. No matter the age group, more females tend to have phobias than men at a rate of two to one.2
What’s the Difference Between Anthropophobia & Social Anxiety?
Anthropophobia is closely connected with social anxiety, but there are differences.2 A person with social anxiety experiences fear and embarrassment about potentially being judged, while anthropophobia presents with a significant, specific fear surrounding offending others and not being worthy of attention. It’s not uncommon for those experiencing anthropophobia to also have depression due to these fears.1,2
Anthropophobia can impact people in ways that are difficult to understand. Symptoms of this disorder can range from mild to serious.
Potential symptoms of anthropophobia include:1,2,3
- Difficulty looking people in the eye
- Difficulty speaking with people
- Fearfulness of being judged or watched by others
- Fearfulness or anxiety about offending others
- Feeling unworthy or inadequate to others
- Significant levels of awareness regarding social interactions
- Potential delusions or exaggerations surrounding an individual’s smell or the appearance of their body
- Negative thoughts or self-talk
Long-Term Impacts of Anthropophobia
Anthropophobia can significantly impact someone’s ability to maintain relationships, go to work, pursue education, participate in hobbies, or even perform general self-care. For those who are fearful or anxious about being judged or offending others, they may begin to experience anticipatory anxiety prior to interpersonal interactions, which may make it difficult for the person to push through and meet social expectations.
People who experience anthropophobia may also become withdrawn, significantly impacting different areas of their lives. For some, this may lead to substance use or misuse to help cope with the difficulties of interpersonal interactions that are needed to maintain a quality of life.3
What Causes the Fear of People?
It is not always clear what causes phobias. Genetic factors with anxiety might play a role; however, cultural expectations can also influence someone’s experience of mental health symptoms.4
Learned or Observed Behavior
In many phobias, influences include a history of learned behavior (i.e., if Joey experiences a car wreck, they may fear driving in the future), learning from observed events (i.e., if Joey’s mother is always nervous around dogs, they may begin to fear dogs themself), or knowledge-based learning (i.e., reading or watching footage of plane hijackings from 9/11 and later having a fear of flying).
Difficult Parent Relationships
Research also notes that people who experience anthropophobia had more difficult relationships with their parents or guardians.5 While the research remains unclear, it indicates that previous negative experiences in parental relationships could potentially influence difficulty in relationships in the future.
How Is Anthropophobia Diagnosed?
To receive a specific diagnosis like anthrophobia, a person must consult with a mental health professional. From there, the expert will conduct a thorough assessment to evaluate the symptoms, their intensity, and duration. If symptoms are present that don’t fit another mental health condition, and are interfering with daily life, a diagnosis will be made.
The Challenge of Diagnosing Fear of People
Anthrophobia is a difficult condition to diagnose for various reasons, including its uncommon nature, its overlap with other conditions, and the idea that someone with anthropophobia would be less likely to seek professional services. Just getting the person to open up about their experience could be complicated.
Another issue is that specific phobias may co-occur with other mental health conditions. Other disorders that may confuse the diagnosis include:
- Substance use disorders
- Personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
How Is Anthropophobia Treated?
Treatment for phobias exists to help lower your symptoms and increase your ability to interact with others. These options include different types of therapy as well as some medications that can help lower anxiety and fear levels surrounding interpersonal interactions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a versatile treatment that works well for a variety of mental health conditions. By investigating the person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, the therapist can identify flawed patterns and offer helpful alternatives.
Exposure therapy involves getting the person to face their fears to show that the anxiety is greatly exaggerated. Systematic desensitization is one type of exposure that introduces stressful situations in a slow and progressive way.
Trauma-informed therapy could be an excellent option for anthropophobia or any other phobia, since phobias often spring forth from traumatic life experiences. By addressing the trauma, the phobia symptoms could be reduced.
All good anxiety treatments incorporate relaxation training. Options like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, and guided imagery can put the person’s mind and body in a more comfortable state.
Although support groups are not professional treatments, they can be a way to supplement other services. By gaining support, feedback, and understanding from others, a person can find new strategies and new tools to fight anxiety. Support groups can be found online or by asking your doctor or therapist for a recommendation.
While therapy can be helpful in treating anthropophobia, medications are also prescribed to help manage the anxiety and fear that occur in this disorder. Anti-anxiety medications are prescribed by primary care physicians (commonly family practice or internal medicine doctors), psychiatrists (physicians who have trained specifically in mental health), or nurse practitioners. When these individuals see you for an appointment, they will discuss what the best options may be to help lower your symptoms so you can function at a higher level.
There are no medications that are singularly made for anthropophobia as it is not a clinical disorder. Many doctors or nurse practitioners will prescribe anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, or beta blockers to help manage or reduce symptoms.6 If you choose to pursue medications, you and your doctor will discuss the best option for you.
By targeting the unconscious mind through hypnotherapy, the irrational reactions linked to the phobia could be reduced, which can help lower symptoms.
Can the Fear of People Be Cured?
Any mental health condition can be successfully treated, but there is always the risk of symptoms returning, so a total cure may be impossible. The good news is that professionals know what treatments work well for specific phobias to make better progress quickly.
Self-Help for How to Overcome Fear of People
People with anthropophobia may have a difficult time learning how to overcome their anxiety and fear of being judged, watched, or offending others, especially if it has kept them from improving their general quality of life.
Here are six practical tips to help you overcome anthropophobia:
1. Get Out of the House Regularly
Staying away from people and using avoidance behaviors will only increase your anxiety. To overcome the fear, you have to be around other people. Sure, some people may be scary or dangerous, but so many more can bring joy, love, and connection. Focus on these good features.
2. Monitor Your Stress Levels
A high baseline of stress can worsen phobia symptoms. Track your stress levels to understand your daily triggers and look for times, situations, and people that make your stress higher and lower.
3. Engage in Self-Care
When people engage in holistic self-care, self-esteem and confidence increase and anxiety decreases. Self-care includes healthy habits, basic hygiene, eating and drinking healthy foods and water, not using too many substances or drinking too much alcohol, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise.
4. Acknowledge That the Fear Is Not Necessarily Based in Reality
Anxiety and fear in their most basic forms can thrive off of denying they exist. Denials inhibit our ability to challenge and process fear. It can be helpful to allow feelings to exist, but also remind yourself that these thoughts may not be true (i.e., “My friend is bothered by my smell,” when your friend has never indicated that).
5. Be Open to Experiencing Mental & Physical Discomfort
If you are working with a therapist or on your own, you may receive homework or engage yourself in thought challenging processes to change your perspective in the moment. It may be difficult to manage the anxiety or fear, but allowing yourself to be slightly uncomfortable and challenging your behavior or thoughts reinforces your brain to respond to the situation in the future and employ your coping skills.
6. Keep Practicing
Specific phobias require professional treatment, and the treatment should not stop when the appointment is over. Use the skills learned and practice often to maintain results. Appreciate and celebrate the accomplishments, but don’t stop working. Phobias can sneak back in, so it’s important to stay diligent and keep pushing themselves forward.
Is There a Way to Prevent Anthropophobia?
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent anthropophobia. Despite a person’s best efforts, the condition could still be present. Rather than focusing on prevention, adopting an approach of quick identification and treatment could be a better option for someone with symptoms.
Final Thoughts on Anthropophobia
People experiencing anthropophobia may have difficulty overcoming these feelings and experiences. However, help does exist and you are not alone! There are therapy and medication options used to target your concerns. Plus, reaching out to people you trust can help you to stabilize, reach your goals, and improve your quality of life.