Philophobia: A Fear of Love
Most people in the world long for someone to share their lives with and shower them with love and affection. However, there are some of us who are intimidated by that kind of emotional commitment, and instead of joy and happiness, love and attachment is a source of great anxiety. This is called philophobia, the irrational and unwarranted fear of falling in love.
The word comes from the Greek “filos,” which means loving or beloved. A person with philophobia will try to avoid forming any kind of bonding or emotional attachment, as well as romantic love. This fear of love can be more than just an emotional hindrance, but it can also have physical symptoms, and cause the person to avoid any meaningful relationships throughout their life.
Philophobia is seen as one of the more unusual phobias to have. However, one of the most famous historical cases of someone who was thought to suffer from philophobia was actually the queen of England in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I. She did have a couple of relationships that came very close to the real commitment of marriage, however, she did not let anyone past that point. “The Virgin Queen” had a long list of eligible men attempting to court her. However, she wanted nothing to do with them. She had even famously said, “I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.” The women of that time were often relegated to secondary, dependent roles, but Queen Elizabeth was not about to let that happen. She was a very strong woman in so many ways, but it seems like love and marriage were something even she was afraid of.
Causes of Philophobia
As with any other phobia, philophobia has several possible causes. A traumatic, negative experience can be the origin of this fear. People have theorized that Queen Elizabeth’s philophobia stems from seeing her mother, Anne Boleyn, executed by her father, King Henry VIII, because of love. It was no problem for him to dispose of his unwanted “problem” wives, and giving up control of her own life and decisions was not for Queen Elizabeth. Additionally, people who have witnessed their parents’ divorce, fighting, or domestic violence at home as a child can cause philophobia in the person as an adult. Even witnessing someone else go through the struggles of love and a relationship and failing can cause anxiety at the thought of love.
Philophobia could also be caused by cultural or religious reasons. Several cultures or religions prohibit relationships between women and men, or same-sex couples, or any romantic connection at all. These beliefs can even so extreme that they may even threaten violence at those who disobey. So, it’s no surprise that the thought of love or marriage can cause great anxiety and panic among those who are subjected to those norms and rules from their family and community.
A fear of rejection or divorce could also prohibit philophobia sufferers from forming relationships. The embarrassment that can come from either of these situations can be enough to prevent someone from forming an attachment and letting themselves love. Additionally, if a person has previously suffered from depression or anxiety, they can be more prone to developing this phobia, because of their lowered self-esteem and negative mindset.
Symptoms of Philophobia
Philophobia can manifest itself in several different ways. Some people avoid opening up and getting close to anyone and forming any kind of relationship whatsoever. Others are able to form relationships, but their anxiety may cause them to become possessive, or attempts at detachment may end up driving the other person away, only perpetuating the cycle of rejection the philophobe feared in the first place. While most people would be able to bounce back into normal life and seek another relationship, a person with philophobia would see themselves as trapped in this cycle, and the psychological situation might keep them separated from other people.
Physical symptoms may include:
- irregular heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- excessive sweating
- chest pains
Extreme avoidance is a hallmark of any phobia so a person suffering from philophobia will find themselves avoiding forming relationships, marriages (even other peoples’), and places that lots of couples are likely to be, such as parks or movie theaters. This affliction may cause someone with philophobia to feel isolated and cut off from other people.
There is always help available for people suffering from phobias, and philophobia is no exception. If a person is suffering from the above symptoms, seeking treatment would be as easy as just talking to someone about it. Anti-depressant drugs such as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) may help in some cases to reduce any severe physical and emotional symptoms that occur with philophobia.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is seen as the most popular and effective treatment for most phobias. CBT’s goal is to recognize the underlying thoughts and images of what can be the major cause for the anxiety – love – and then changes how the person looks at those thoughts and feelings and makes it positive. Exposure therapy or systematic desensitization has also helped those with philophobia, especially helped by virtual reality. A scene is set in front of the person replicating romantic situations, and eventually, the person is able to reduce the anxiety towards love through regular exposure sessions. Hypnotherapy has shown some success by removing negative associations with love, but since the hypnotherapists must be in complete control, it can be hard for the patient. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a controversial method of psychotherapy, which seeks to change emotional behaviors from self-awareness, language, and behavior patterns. NLP can be combined with hypnotherapy but is not conventionally used in treatment.
The emotional struggle faced by Queen Elizabeth I and by anyone suffering from philophobia are very relatable. They endure many conflicting emotions. People with philophobia can still want love, commitment, and attachment, but they still are unable to bring themselves to let go of their emotional control. With so many mental conflicts, it’s no wonder that relationships are hard to form with people suffering from philophobia. It’s important to remember that it’s not their fault, and help them find joy in relationships like the rest of us!
Tavormina R. Why are we afraid to love? Psychiatria Danubina, 2014; 26, Suppl. 1, 178–183.
Elsie is a public health professional working in education and research. She is a lifelong learner, and is especially interested in mental and behavioral health. She loves travelling and spending time with her dog.