Prosopophobia: The Fear of Faces

A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear reaction. If you have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when you encounter the source of your fear. The fear can be of a certain place, situation, or object. Unlike general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually connected to something specific.

The impact of a phobia can range from annoying to severely disabling. People with phobias often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re unable to do anything about it. Such fears can interfere with work, school, and personal relationships. Genetic and environmental factors can cause phobias. Children who have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are at risk of developing a phobia. Distressing events, such as nearly drowning, can bring on a phobia. Exposure to confined spaces, extreme heights, and animal or insect bites can all be sources of phobias.

People with ongoing medical conditions or health concerns often have phobias and there’s a high incidence of people developing phobias after traumatic brain injuriesSubstance abuse and depression are also connected to phobias. Phobias have different symptoms from serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. In schizophrenia, people have visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, negative symptoms such as anhedonia, and disorganized symptoms.

Prosopophobia can simply be defined as the fear of faces. It is an extremely rare disease/phobia which is triggered basically by seeing the faces of strangers.

Causes of Prosopophobia

Some areas of the brain store and recall dangerous or potentially deadly events. If a person faces a similar event later on in life, those areas of the brain retrieve the stressful memory, sometimes more than once. This causes the body to experience the same reaction. In a phobia, the areas of the brain that deal with fear and stress keep retrieving the frightening event inappropriately.

Researchers have found that phobias are often linked to the amygdalaTrusted Source, which lies behind the pituitary gland in the brain. The amygdala can trigger the release of “fight-or-flight” hormones. These put the body and mind in a highly alert and stressed state.

Symptoms of Prosopophobia

The People that are suffering from phobias, are most of the times purposely avoid coming into contact with what it is that triggers them to experience fear or anxiety. For example people that suffer from Prosopophobia, which is a body part phobia, try to avoid not only the exact objects or situations that trigger it but sometimes in severe cases the thought of those things all together.

There have been a lot of cases in which an individual has develop a phobia from faces where they become fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it would make them feel very uncomfortable. A person doesn’t necessarily need to be in a situation exposed to faces to experience Prosopophobia. The brain doesn’t have to be in that situation to experience the symptoms of panic. A persons brain is capable of creating a reaction to fearsome situations even when the subject is not actually in that situation.

People are different and so are all the types of phobias someone might suffer from. So the symptoms also vary strongly on the severity in which an individual is experiencing these fears. But generally speaking, body part phobias and fears such as Prosopophobia fall under the category of anxiety disorders. Meaning that a person can experience any if not all of the below mentioned physical and/or psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

People with fear of faces often experience panic attacks. These panic attacks can be extremely frightening and distressing for the person suffering from those. These symptoms most of the time happen suddenly and without any prior signs or warnings. No matter how overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can cause real physical symptoms, such as but not limited to the ones below:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Choking sensation
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Dry mouth
  • A need to go to the toilet
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hyperventilation
  • Tightness in the chest/chest pain and difficulty breathing
  • Rise in blood pressure

Psychological Symptoms

In some very severe cases, a person suffering a panic attack triggered from Prosopophobia. Usually when exposed to its triggers such as faces can have one/or all of the following symptoms.

  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of fainting
  • feelings of dread
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of harm or illness
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of specific phobias is based on a thorough clinical interview and diagnostic guidelines. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and take a medical, psychiatric and social history. He or she may use the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Treatment of Prosopophobia

For many individual who are suffering from faces – Prosopophobia, they do not always feel the need of treatment because they can just avoid the object of their fear. This gives people suffering from Prosopophobia a feeling of control on the problem. But sometimes avoiding faces might not be possible or enough.

It is important for someone to always seek professional help when possible. This way they don’t lose time and do a better job and understanding what is happening. With understanding they can next move on to overcoming their fear of faces.

Conclusion

Phobias should never be taken very lightly. Because, all phobias can to some degree limit a person’s daily activities and are in some cases the root cause that make someone experience anxiety and leading up all the way to depression. Phobias may be irrational, but people with phobias do not fail reality testing. While most phobias are curable, there is no single treatment available for all of them, or guaranteed to work. It strongly depends on the person suffering and severity in which that person is experiencing Prosopophobia. There are cases that a combination of treatments might be more effective.

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