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Though little is known in terms of statistics about scelerophobia in the UK or worldwide, for those who suffer from the condition it can be as disabling as any other phobia. According to NHS Inform, around 10 million people in the UK have at least one phobia, which makes it pretty common. In fact, phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder in the country. Let’s look specifically at this phobia and what it entails.
What is scelerophobia?
From the Latin scelero, which means ‘crime’ or ‘wickedness’, scelerophobia is the fear of burglars, robbers and criminals. Someone who has scelerophobia might worry irrationally about being burgled in their own home and might struggle with sleep and feeling safe.
The fear, like all phobias, is irrational and intense and gets in the way of day-to-day living. People who suffer from this phobia might also avoid going to unknown or busy places for fear of being pickpocketed or because they don’t want to leave their home unattended for fear of burglars.
It’s also possible for people to develop OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) as they continually check their doors and windows to ensure they’re locked.
How common is scelerophobia?
It is not known how common scelerophobia is as there are no studies or research on this condition. But with an estimated 10 million people with phobias in the UK (1 in every 6.8 people), there are likely to be many people suffering. What’s more, lots of people with phobias suffer in silence and don’t seek support so the number could be higher than estimates suggest.
Who is at risk of scelerophobia?
Just like all phobias, anyone can develop one. To a certain degree, it’s natural to fear intruders but in scelerophobia, this fear is extreme.
You’re most likely to be at risk of scelerophobia if you have been brought up by people who have been overly cautious about safety and burglars in their home or by ‘trauma transference’ through the observation of someone else struggling with the condition.
What’s more, if a family member has any phobias, anxiety or OCD tendencies, you’re more likely to be prone to this too. Finally, anyone who experiences a burglary or robbery of any kind could go on to develop the condition.
How to deal with scelerophobia
Dealing with scelerophobia presents a challenge. Firstly, a person needs to realise that their fear is irrational and extreme compared to a normal level of cautiousness as far as protecting oneself from intruders, etc. Once this phobia is understood to exist, there are many different ways people can seek support. These include talking therapies, CBT and medication.
What triggers scelerophobia?
When a person has scelerophobia it can be triggered by lots of different things. At home, it might be an unfamiliar noise outside, a security light coming on in the garden, or a doorbell camera detecting movement. Outside of the home, it might be triggered by being in a crowded and unfamiliar place, being a far distance from home, or by a notification of movement from a security or doorbell camera, for example.
What are the symptoms of scelerophobia?
There are lots of signs and symptoms of scelerophobia and there is no one-size-fits-all list to get a diagnosis. On the outside, a scelerophobe might have an advanced security system on their home that comprises security cameras, a camera doorbell, security lights and motion sensors, a high and imposing fence, and a guard dog.
Physical symptoms of scelerophobia
Scelerophobes will experience a number of physical symptoms.
- Chills or hot flushes.
- A choking feeling in the throat.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Tightness or pain in the chest.
- Butterflies or a nervous stomach.
- Pins and needles.
- Feeling faint.
- Dry mouth.
- Feeling out of control.
- Panic attacks.
- Needing the toilet.
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Increased blood pressure.
Psychological symptoms of scelerophobia
Besides the obvious physical symptoms, there are also many psychological symptoms that can occur or co-exist with scelerophobia.
- Feelings of dread.
- Shame or embarrassment.
- Withdrawal from social situations.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeing sad.
- Feeling disconnected.
- Mood swings.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Fear of fainting.
- Fear of losing control.
- Fear of illness/harm.
- Fear or dying.
Sometimes, people can experience complex phobias, which means that they have more than one phobia that are linked. This can have a severe effect on day-to-day living and wellbeing. Phobias, particularly complex ones, can also lead to depression.
What causes scelerophobia?
You don’t have to have been exposed to burglars or criminals to develop scelerophobia. The brain can create this phobia despite never having been in that situation.
There are a number of causes of scelerophobia, but the most obvious ones are:
- A person’s upbringing – If you’re brought up by scelerophobes, you might develop the intense fear yourself. Essentially, it becomes a learned behaviour.
- Past trauma or experience – Scelerophobia can be induced by experiencing or witnessing criminal activity. For example, your home might have been burgled or the home of someone in your family or in your street.
- Genetics – You’re more likely to develop scelerophobia if a direct relative has a phobia or OCD.
How is scelerophobia diagnosed?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies specific phobias as animal type, natural environment type, blood, injection and injury (BII) type, situational type, and other type. It’s likely that scelerophobia would be classed as ‘situational’ or ‘other type’.
The first step to diagnosis would be to see a GP. You’d then likely be referred to a specialist psychologist or psychiatrist who can diagnose the condition.
How is scelerophobia treated?
A person should seek treatment for this condition when they realise it is becoming all-consuming and it is affecting their day-to-day living. Lots of phobia sufferers don’t seek treatment for their condition because they just avoid it instead. However, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid criminals compared to avoiding heights, for instance.
There are lots of successful phobia treatments and most phobias can be cured with time. There is no one treatment that cures phobias nor are any of the suggested treatments guaranteed to work. Whether or not a treatment will work depends on the individual and how severe their phobia is. Typically, people need a combination of treatments.
Talking therapies and treatments can be highly effective in treating scelerophobia. These are a relaxed way to explore the fear with a professional.
Though there are different types of talking therapies, they can all:
- Help the person recognise unhelpful thinking patterns and work on ways to change them.
- Help the person work through their feelings and find ways to cope with them.
- Help the person understand why they feel the way they do.
- Give the person a safe place and time to talk without being judged.
Some names given to talking therapies might include counselling, therapy, psychological therapy, psychotherapy, and talking treatment.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This treatment is based on exploring what a person thinks and perceives to be influencing their behaviour. Experiencing distress and anxiety can bend a person’s perception of reality. CBT aims to get the person to understand the reality of a situation or problem and use strategies to overcome and challenge them. With scelerophobia, for example, CBT can help a person identify if the anxiety and fear is real or if it is irrational. They can then work on ways of changing the thought processes around it.
With exposure therapy, a therapist will begin introducing stimuli, but it will be only a tiny bit triggering at first. As the treatment progresses, the imagery and stimuli will be increased gradually so that the person learns coping strategies like breathing techniques and muscle relaxation to help lower anxiety.
It’s important for the therapist to gauge the severity of a person’s phobia before starting as this could cause harm if it’s not pitched at an appropriate level.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)
NLP is a technique whereby patients are required to assess their phobia while in a safe place and environment. They are shown how to replay their phobia alongside happy emotions. This means they can learn to disassociate from their phobia.
MBSR – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
This technique means being aware of your feelings and thoughts and reducing any interference coming in from your environment.
Essentially, this is about paying attention in the moment, knowing what your situation is but not trying to analyse, judge or change it.
DBT – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
This therapy helps people to regulate their emotions. It uses a technique that’s referred to as ‘half smiling’. When taking part in this technique, the person is asked to raise the corners of their mouth whenever their fear comes to mind. As well as this, the person is trained to stop thinking about the phobia.
Mediation allows a person to clear their mind of random thoughts and it trains the mind and body to be in sync with one another so that the cause of a phobia doesn’t invoke a negative feeling.
There is some evidence that yoga is useful for helping anxiety disorders and phobias. It can help lower stress levels and make symptoms less severe.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a technique that involves contracting and relaxing the muscles in turn, starting at the feet and working your way up your body until you reach your head. It is a great technique to use when the fear becomes overwhelming.
This technique takes you through a series of different soothing images. Some people who suffer from a phobia use visualisation to help lessen their reaction to a situation they find themselves in. For scelerophobes, it’s useful when they feel their phobia consuming them and want to change their situation and feelings.
This uses visualisation, repetitive physical movements and purposeful breathing to relax the body and mind and overcome an anxiety attack caused by a phobia.
This is an effective way to treat a phobia because sufferers don’t feel so alone. While it might be challenging to find a group specific to scelerophobia, it is possible to find groups of people who have other phobias.
Online groups mean you can meet other people without distance getting in the way.
One of the best ways of helping yourself to overcome a phobia is by making lifestyle changes and taking good care of yourself. This improves the anxiety that feeds the fear.
Things you can do include:
- Going for walks each day.
- Including some vigorous exercise in your weekly routine.
- Altering your drinking and eating habits by cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and fatty foods.
- Getting good sleep.
Generally speaking, medication isn’t the first option for people trying to overcome a phobia. However, sometimes it is useful depending on the individual.
Medication might include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs.
Final thoughts on ‘What is scelerophobia?’
Though it’s entirely natural to fear crime and criminals, scelerophobia takes this fear to the extreme. This is an intense and irrational fear that affects life considerably for those who suffer from it. They might be overly cautious to the point of investing in CCTV, security lighting, high fences and guard dogs, for example.
Or they might be so consumed with fear that they daren’t leave their home. Some people with scelerophobia also develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as they frequently check locks, doors and windows to be sure they’re secure. Thankfully, you can improve this phobia. Usually, people need a combination of techniques from therapies, meditation, exposure therapy, lifestyle changes and medication to get on top of their fear.
If someone is suffering from scelerophobia, they should speak to their GP to be referred for a diagnosis or treatment.