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Philophobia is the fear of love––in any form. It could be the fear of being in love, receiving love, loving others, or a combination.
A phobia is an extreme fear of something. Most of the time, phobias are distinct, like spiders or heights, but someone can have a phobia of specific situations as well, including being in love.
Roughly 5-10% of the population has some kind of phobia, and depending on the severity, it can have a major impact on your life (Samra, 2021).
What is philophobia?
Philo is the Greek word for love and affection. When combined with the word phobia, the term refers to an intense fear of love.
It might sound silly, but philophobia makes a lot of sense if you consider how strong the emotion of love is. Research shows that our brain experiences love and addiction in similar ways. Brain scans show some level of neurological overlap between the two, demonstrating just how strong love can be (Fisher, 2016). Love has also been shown to have a concrete effect on decreasing pain perception (Nilakantan, 2014).
Indeed, the heartbreak that love can lead to might be just as strong an emotion at times, fueling crimes of passion at their most extreme. Love can also cause a lot of anxious feelings as it requires being vulnerable. There can also be anxiety and fear around love from past relationships and heartbreak.
Philophobia signs and symptoms
How philophobia manifests is different for everyone. Philophobia isn’t a diagnosable condition according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Using the criteria for a specific phobia, you might have philophobia if (Garcia, 2017; SAMHSA, 2016):
- You actively avoid situations due to love-related fear
- The thought of love or romantic relationships provokes fear
- You have physical symptoms of anxiety when thinking about love or relationships, such as shortness of breath or a rapid heart rate
- You recognize that your fear may be irrational
- Your fear of relationships or love impairs work and social relationships
- Your fear and avoidance is long-lasting and consistent
Autophobia (the fear of being alone): causes, symptoms, treatment
What causes philophobia?
We can’t ever really put our fingers on what love is philosophically, but we can identify the chemicals and neural pathways involved. Humans are social creatures biologically, and our propensity for love likely originates from an evolutionary need to be around other people (Damasio, 2013).
If you fear love, the region in your brain called the amygdala is to thank for that. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, helping regulate your body’s response to stress (AbuHasan, 2020). And let’s face it, being in love can be stressful at times.
Specific phobias, including philophobia, can be learned or innate. This means it could be caused by negative past experiences in relationships, or be intrinsic and not due to any specific experience. The tendency to develop a specific phobia can sometimes run in families, too.
There is a wide range of options for treating philophobia, depending on how much it impacts your life.
Psychotherapy is an option for repetitive thoughts and persistent negative beliefs. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, involves working with a therapist to change patterns of thinking and behavior (Chand, 2021). Engaging in CBT can be especially helpful in improving social relationships––including romantic ones.
For phobias that severely impact your quality of life, there are other therapeutic approaches available. These use a variety of methods to desensitize you to a fear-provoking stimulus. Throughout the process, a therapist offers and teaches techniques that promote relaxation and calm. As you build up a tolerance to the stimulus in a safe environment, eventually, your fear response won’t be as strong (Samra, 2021).
Nyctophobia: what is the fear of darkness and how do you treat it?
Though philophobia isn’t currently a diagnosable mental health condition, that doesn’t mean that it can’t heavily affect your life.
If you have intense anxiety when it comes to relationships or love, talk to a mental health professional to explore options that can help quell your fear.
- AbuHasan, Q., Reddy, V., & Siddiqui, W. Neuroanatomy, Amygdala. (Updated 2020, August 10). StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537102/
- Chand, S. P., Kuckel, D. P., & Huecker, M. R. Cognitive Behavior Therapy. (Updated 2021, April 19). StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/
- Damasio, A., & Carvalho, G. B. (2013). The nature of feelings: evolutionary and neurobiological origins. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 14(2), 143–152. doi: 10.1038/nrn3403. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23329161/
- Fisher, H. E., Xu, X., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2016). Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 687. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00687. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27242601/
- Garcia, R. (2017). Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learning & Memory, 24(9), 462–471. doi: 10.1101/lm.044115.116. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580526/
- Nilakantan, A., Younger, J., Aron, A., & Mackey, S. (2014). Preoccupation in an early-romantic relationship predicts experimental pain relief. Pain Medicine, 15(6), 947–953. doi: 10.1111/pme.12422. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24716721/
- Samra, C. K., & Abdijadid, S. Specific Phobia. (Updated 2021, May 15). StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499923/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 3.11, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Specific Phobia Comparison. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.