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What is Gamophobia?

Gamophobia is an extreme and overwhelming phobia of commitment, specifically the commitment to relationships. Gamophobia can have a significant impact on an individual’s life and can negatively affect their romantic relationships and their social and professional relationships.

Although feeling some fear and anxiety in relation to commitment is normal, someone with gamophobia will have a phobia of commitment that is overwhelming and long term.

Today, we are going to look at gamophobia in more detail, including the common causes, triggers, symptoms and treatments.

What is gamophobia?

Gamophobia is the extreme, irrational, overwhelming and persistent fear of commitment and marriage. People with this phobia may be unable to have long-term relationships and may even find it difficult to maintain friendships and other platonic relationships.

Gamophobia can have a significant impact on your ability to form relationships with other people and to function normally in social and professional situations.

Someone with gamophobia will likely experience significant fear, anxiety, panic or dread if they feel like they are in or are entering a committed relationship or if someone expects or wants commitment from them. Gamophobia differs from the usual anxiety someone can feel regarding commitment and, particularly, marriage.

Committed relationships and the thought or memory of being in a committed relationship can be extremely anxiety-provoking. Someone with gamophobia may be unable to think about commitment reasonably or rationally and may feel out of touch with reality.

Gamophobia is a type of specific phobia, meaning it is a lasting, overwhelming and unreasonable fear of a specific object, situation, activity or person; in this case, an overwhelming fear of commitment.

To be classified as gamophobia, your fear of commitment will include:

  • Feelings of extreme fear, panic or anxiety when faced with commitment or when thinking about or anticipating commitment.
  • Feelings of fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to control or manage.
  • Engaging in avoidance behaviours or experiencing interference with everyday activities, for example, refusing to date anyone or refusing to date someone for more than a specific time.
  • Experiencing anticipatory anxiety or worry when thinking about commitment.
  • A fear of commitment that lasts for a minimum of six months.
  • A fear of commitment that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.

Gamophobia differs from other commitment phobias, which may affect other types of life commitments, such as choosing a career, committing to a mortgage or rental tenancy, or choosing a degree. Gamophobia instead relates specifically to relationship commitments.

Gamophobia also differs from a more normal fear of commitment. Although fear of commitment isn’t uncommon, many people eventually overcome their commitment anxieties or make a decision in spite of their anxiety.

Someone with gamophobia will experience fear and anxiety that is intense and persistent and lasts for a minimum of six months. Although gamophobia most frequently refers to romantic relationships, people with this phobia may also fear long-term friendships or may be unable to enter into professional relationships that involve commitment, such as signing a long-term work contract that involves a commitment to one person or entering into business with another person.

Because a fear of commitment is an individualised phobia, it can manifest in different ways and different people with this phobia may experience different fears concerning commitment.

For example, someone with gamophobia may:

  • Find it difficult to create and maintain long-term, meaningful relationships.
  • Be unable to enter into a monogamous relationship.
  • Experience fear and anxiety if they see a committed couple or are in the presence of people in a committed relationship.
  • Be unable to talk about the future, particularly any future plans that involve other people.
  • Be unable to feel or accept intimacy or emotional vulnerability.
  • Dislike labels such as boyfriend, girlfriend or best friend.
  • Consciously or subconsciously reject people or push them away.
  • Experience psychological symptoms, such as fear and anxiety, behavioural symptoms, such as avoiding relationships or mistreating people, and physiological symptoms, such as sweating, a pounding heart and dizziness, when faced with commitment.

Because commitment and committed relationships are an anxiety-inducer for people with gamophobia, commitment or feeling like someone wants commitment from you can result in overwhelming fear, panic or anxiety.

Commitment can also result in the fight-or-flight response, which is an automatic physiological reaction where your perception of the threat of danger can activate your sympathetic nervous system and result in a sudden release of hormones, such as adrenaline or noradrenaline.

These hormones cause physiological symptoms, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing and muscle tension, and are designed to help you fight or flee from danger. However, because your brain is perceiving commitment as a danger, you could experience adverse symptoms at the thought or reality of commitment.

A fear of commitment can be connected to several specific fears regarding commitment, such as:

  • The fear of being hurt
    This is one of the most common causes of commitment issues and commitment phobias. This can occur for multiple reasons, for example, if you grew up in a home or environment where you felt unsafe, if you were abused or neglected, if you dislike being vulnerable or if you were hurt in a previous relationship. Many people are scared of getting hurt or of being emotionally vulnerable with another person and the fear and associated behaviours may occur consciously or subconsciously.
  • The fear of committing to the wrong person
    Some people find it difficult to commit because of the fear that they are committing to the wrong person and that there could be someone better out there for them. They may fear that being in a relationship could limit them and their chance at happiness and that they may regret their choice or find themselves living an unhappy life in the future with no chance of escape.
  • The fear of abandonment
    Someone with abandonment issues or someone who has been abandoned or neglected by a parent or previous partner may fear future abandonment and fear being hurt or rejected by others. The fear of losing your loved ones or figures of attachment can cause someone to reject relationships and refuse to enter into situations or commitments where they could be abandoned or let down.
  • The fear of the relationship ending
    The fear of the relationship ending or the fear of feeling like a failure can cause someone to avoid or fear commitment. You may fear that you will ruin the relationship, or your fear of commitment will cause the relationship to end, or you may fear that you have no control over someone else ending the relationship. The fear of feeling rejected or unloved can contribute to someone developing a phobia of commitment.
  • The fear of past trauma or negative experiences repeating themselves
    If you have experienced previous trauma during a committed relationship, such as a partner being unfaithful, leaving you unexpectedly or dying, or abusing you in some way, you may fear going through a similar experience and reliving or repeating the trauma or heartbreak. This is more likely if you have not addressed or dealt with the initial trauma. A negative previous experience can also cause you to associate commitment with misery, trauma or physical or emotional pain.
  • The fear of feeling trapped or losing freedom or independence
    This is a common cause of many commitment issues and can develop into gamophobia. The individual may fear that a committed relationship will negatively affect their social life or affect their independence. They may also fear working to someone else’s schedule or someone else having control over their time. They may fear losing out on time with their friends or family and having less time to spend on their hobbies.

Someone with gamophobia may find it extremely difficult to think reasonably or rationally about their fear and may unintentionally sensationalise or exaggerate the downfalls of being in a relationship and their perception of another person’s flaws. They may find it difficult to function normally around people who they spend a lot of time with, such as friends and colleagues, in case a relationship is developing.

They may become consumed by their fear of commitment and find themselves constantly evaluating their social and professional relationships or altering their behaviour to reduce the likelihood of someone wanting a romantic, social or professional relationship commitment from them.

They may go to extreme lengths to avoid commitment, for example, they may treat the person they are dating poorly to prevent them from developing feelings and may repeatedly change jobs to prevent themselves from forming personal relationships with their colleagues.

These changes in behaviour, although designed to help the individual manage their phobia and reduce the likelihood that they will experience adverse symptoms, can actually have a paradoxical effect. This means that they can, instead, reinforce your fear and anxiety and worsen your phobia of commitment. Additionally, changing your behaviour to prevent you from forming attachments or committing to other people can also have a negative effect on your social and professional life.

The negative thoughts and feelings associated with commitment are likely to be overwhelming and can have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life, their mental and emotional health and their overall well-being. They may also experience anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to situations where they are required to spend time with people who are in committed relationships with each other.

Gamophobia is often associated with and can occur in conjunction with other phobias, such as:

  • Pistanthrophobia: An extreme fear of being hurt by someone in a romantic relationship.
  • Philophobia: An extreme fear of love.
  • Autophobia: An extreme fear of being alone.
  • Thanatophobia: An extreme fear of death or dying (including of someone you love dying).
  • Cherophobia: An extreme fear of happiness.
  • Atychiphobia: An extreme fear of failure.
  • Genophobia: An extreme fear of sexual intimacy.
Man with partner struggling with gamophobia

How common is gamophobia?

Because gamophobia is a type of specific phobia, any diagnoses of this condition fall under the specific phobia umbrella. This means there are no individual statistics available that show how many people have a phobia of commitment.

Although approximately 5 million people in the UK are currently diagnosed with a specific phobia, there are more than 400 different specific phobias, with no statistics available that indicate how many diagnoses each specific phobia has. Similarly to other specific phobias, it is thought that many people with gamophobia never seek a diagnosis for their condition, are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed.

There are multiple reasons why cases of gamophobia may go undiagnosed, such as:

  • Many people have never heard of gamophobia so may not realise they are experiencing a diagnosable medical condition.
  • Many people are unaware that there are successful phobia treatments available so may never seek a diagnosis.
  • Someone with gamophobia may implement successful avoidance behaviours to avoid commitment, making their phobia seem more manageable.
  • Because someone with gamophobia often avoids commitment and meaningful relationships, they may not have many people in their life to discuss their feelings and experiences with so may not realise that what they are experiencing isn’t normal.
  • Someone with gamophobia may be embarrassed or ashamed of the way they are feeling or their behaviour towards others.

It is also important to consider that not everyone who avoids or dislikes commitment is experiencing gamophobia. Negative thoughts and feelings concerning commitment can occur on a spectrum, ranging from mild anxiety in specific situations, such as at the thought of getting married, to severe fear, panic and anxiety that can impact your day-to-day life, affect your decision-making and result in changes in your behaviour.

Without medical intervention, it can be difficult to determine whether you are experiencing gamophobia or whether you have a more normal fear of commitment. The symptoms and characteristics of gamophobia are also similar to other fears relating to relationships, such as a fear of abandonment, a fear of intimacy and a fear of trusting other people.

Who is at risk of gamophobia?

Although anyone can develop gamophobia, there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of you developing a commitment phobia.

These include:

  • Having attachment insecurity as an infant or child.
  • Having a personality disorder, such as borderline personality disorder.
  • Having low self-esteem or low confidence.
  • Currently or previously being a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or assault.
  • Being a victim of bullying (particularly during childhood or adolescence).
  • Having a previous negative or traumatic experience involving commitment, such as being cheated on or abandoned by a partner.
  • Growing up in a divorced or ‘broken’ household, particularly if this was acrimonious and there was trauma attached.
  • Having another related phobia, such as pistanthrophobia or philophobia.
  • Being exposed to negative or unhealthy views about commitment or unhealthy relationships during childhood or adolescence.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with gamophobia.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with another phobia.
  • Being exposed to the fear of commitment during childhood or adolescence.
  • Having another mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Being a naturally more anxious or nervous person.
  • Experiencing a significant life stressor, having higher than usual stress levels or being in a heightened mental state (particularly if you are exposed to gamophobia or had a negative experience involving commitment during this time).
  • Having a substance use disorder, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Although these risk factors can increase the likelihood that you will develop gamophobia, they do not guarantee this. Someone with none of the above risk factors who has only previously experienced or witnessed healthy relationships may develop gamophobia unexpectedly, whereas someone with several of these risk factors may never develop gamophobia and may engage in long-term, healthy and committed relationships throughout their life.

Unlike many other phobias which are more prevalent in childhood or adolescence, gamophobia is more likely to occur in adulthood, particularly before the age of 35.

This is because adults are more likely to have experienced or witnessed committed relationships that ended negatively or traumatically and may understand the potential consequences of commitment.

How to deal with gamophobia

Multiple medical treatments can effectively treat the cause and symptoms of your phobia. However, there are also other effective strategies that you can implement yourself that can help you to successfully manage and reduce the symptoms of your phobia and reduce the impact your fear has on your life. Coping and calming strategies can be combined with lifestyle changes to help alleviate your symptoms and reduce the impact your phobia has on your day-to-day life and your health and overall well-being.

Some coping and calming strategies should be implemented long term, meaning you engage in them regularly, even if you are not faced with your triggers. These strategies could become part of your daily or weekly routine and can help you to reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms over time and enable you to engage in commitment in the future without experiencing negative thoughts and feelings.

Other strategies are most effective short term and should be utilised in the lead-up to or when you are faced with your triggers. They are designed to minimise or prevent any physiological, psychological or behavioural symptoms in the moment and to prevent a triggering situation from worsening and your negative thoughts and feelings from taking over.

The most effective long-term and short-term coping and calming strategies to help you deal with your commitment phobia are:

  • Acknowledge and understand your phobia
    This is the first step to accepting and understanding your fear of commitment. Acknowledging your phobia gives you the power to change your beliefs and thought processes. It allows you to explore the reasons behind your fear and deal with the root cause of your phobia. Understanding the root cause of your phobia and any negative or damaging beliefs, patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours that are attached to it can help you to change your conscious and unconscious reactions to commitment. Spend some time thinking about your commitment history and any past behaviours from you or others that could be contributing to your phobia, for example, if your phobia stems from a previous trauma where an ex-partner cheated on you. Having a more thorough understanding of your phobia can help you to understand and rationalise your thoughts, reduce your automatic fear response and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
  • Be honest with people in your life
    Pushing people away and intentionally or unintentionally hurting other people can be a side effect of commitment phobia. Seeing your relationships continue to break down and the hurt you cause yourself and other people can also perpetuate your fear and worsen your phobia. Being honest with the people in your life, including friends and potential partners, can ensure they understand your phobia and are aware of what you find difficult. It can also be helpful as they will be more conscientious and will be more aware of what triggers your phobia. Maintaining honest and open communication is an important way to encourage the success of any relationships in your life.
  • Think about what you want
    Not everyone wants a serious relationship. Some people with gamophobia want a committed relationship but their fear is stopping them. Other people genuinely don’t want a relationship or may not want one right now. Think about what you really want to ensure you are making the best decisions for yourself. Even if you don’t want a romantic relationship right now, consider the other relationships in your life, such as those with friends and colleagues, and consider whether anything is missing or if there are any changes you would like to make.
  • Keep a journal
    A journal can be an effective way of managing your phobia. It allows you to express your thoughts and feelings clearly and allows you to explore your feelings in more detail, without the fear of judgement from others. You could also use your journal to record your goals and track your day-to-day and long-term progress. A journal can be filled with positivity, to keep you motivated and empowered to overcome your fear, or it can be used to record and understand any negative or damaging thoughts you had that day. There are many potential ways a journal can help you to manage your phobia.
  • Visualise yourself overcoming your fear
    Visualisation can be an effective way to help you overcome your fear. It involves visualising yourself successfully confronting your fear and overcoming the source of your phobia and any fear and anxiety you may be experiencing. Visualise yourself facing a trigger, such as moving into a home with another person, and imagine the positive ways this would make you feel, for example, you may feel settled, secure and happy, and the positive ways it would change your life. Visualising positive experiences can reassure your brain that commitment isn’t a threat to you and that you can overcome your fear.
  • Challenge negative thoughts and feelings
    You may find yourself fixating on commitment and become increasingly anxious or distressed at all the things that could potentially go wrong in a relationship. You may begin to imagine the worst-case scenarios, particularly if you begin to grow close to another person or think about starting a relationship. If you find yourself thinking about commitment negatively, try to disrupt these negative thoughts and remind yourself that they are not accurate. Think about all the positive aspects of being in a relationship and the positive ways it can change your life. This can prevent your fear from escalating.
  • Create a fear ladder
    A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your phobia and can help you to identify which of your triggers creates more severe anxiety and panic than others. Because phobias are highly individualised, everyone’s fear ladder is different. An example fear ladder is shown below:
    – 1 = Getting married.
    – 2 = Making a commitment to someone else.
    – 3 = Attending other people’s weddings.
    – 4 = Dating someone for longer than a few weeks.
    – 5 = Going on a first date.
    – 6 = Watching a romantic film.
    Once you have created your fear ladder, you can then confront your triggers one at a time, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you slowly deal with your phobia and the triggers that are worsening the symptoms of your phobia.
  • Avoid negative portrayals or stories about relationships
    Negative portrayals of commitment can validate and reinforce any negative connotations you have already associated with being in a relationship and worsen your phobia. There are many examples of films and TV shows that portray relationships negatively, for example, by showing domestic violence or one person cheating on another. Furthermore, you may also hear negative stories from family and friends about their own relationship disasters. Being exposed to negative relationships can exacerbate your phobia and cause you to avoid commitment more drastically. Avoid any negative portrayals or stories to prevent your phobia from escalating.
  • Practise mindfulness
    Mindfulness can teach you how to be grounded and present in the moment, how to accept your thoughts and feelings and how to overcome any fear and anxiety you may be feeling. Mindfulness teaches you to focus your breathing and attention and reduces the likelihood of you experiencing a panic attack. Mindfulness can also help you to manage stress and anxiety and be more in control of the connection between your mind and body and help you to control the symptoms of your phobia.
  • Practise yoga and meditation
    When people practise yoga and meditation consistently, they can achieve a meditative state of mind that can help them manage their symptoms of gamophobia. Through yoga and meditation, you can achieve a highly relaxed state and decrease your stress levels, reducing your likelihood of experiencing a fight-or-flight response. You can also learn how to control your breathing and manage your body’s negative reactions to commitment. Over time, daily practice can help reduce the impact of your phobia and improve your symptoms.
  • Learn deep breathing exercises
    If you encounter a trigger for your phobia, deep breathing exercises can help you manage or prevent its symptoms. Deep breathing helps you to manage your anxiety by relaxing and calming your brain. You can effectively reduce your stress levels, relieve tension in your body, and reduce your anxiety if you practise deep breathing exercises every day.
  • Make lifestyle changes
    Certain lifestyle factors can worsen the symptoms of your phobia and increase your anxiety. By making changes to your lifestyle, you can reduce your anxiety and the impact your phobia has on your life. Some of the lifestyle changes you could make are:
    – Implement a successful sleep routine.
    – Reduce your daily stress.
    – Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
    – Implement an exercise routine.
    – Avoid caffeine, sugar and other stimulants.
    – Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
    – Stop smoking.
Being honest about gamophobia

What triggers gamophobia?

A trigger, also known as a stressor, is an object, person, place, situation or thought that triggers a negative reaction and negative thoughts and feelings, such as fear, panic, anxiety or distress. A trigger can also lead to physiological, behavioural and other psychological symptoms. Your brain perceives a trigger as a threat to your physical or mental safety or well-being and will react accordingly.

Because gamophobia is an individualised phobia that usually manifests in very different ways, the things that trigger one person’s phobia can differ from the things that trigger another person’s. There are many different potential triggers, with the types of things, places and situations that trigger your phobia varying from person to person. Some people with gamophobia may only have one trigger and other people may have multiple triggers.

The types of triggers and the number of triggers experienced by different people can vary depending on what initially caused their commitment phobia to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health. In many cases, your triggers are associated with your own experiences of commitment. For example, the church where your parents got married or a particular restaurant where you witnessed an engagement can become triggers for your phobia.

Although triggers can be very varied, the most common triggers for gamophobia are:

  • Entering into a committed relationship.
  • Someone asking for more commitment from you.
  • Spending time with people who are in a committed relationship.
  • Seeing a committed relationship on a TV show or in a film.
  • Seeing one person committing to another, for example, witnessing a marriage proposal.
  • Spending a lot of time with the same person, whether romantically or socially.
  • Celebrating an anniversary.
  • Attending a wedding, engagement party, housewarming party or another event that celebrates people’s commitments.
  • Someone asking you why you aren’t in a relationship.
  • Hearing about a negative or traumatic incident involving a committed relationship, such as someone being left at the altar or someone cheating.
  • Thinking about being in a committed relationship or remembering a previous relationship you were in.
  • Walking past a church, a wedding venue or another place that symbolises commitment to you.

What are the symptoms of gamophobia?

The symptoms of gamophobia can be varied and often differ significantly from person to person. The symptoms can differ in the way they manifest, their severity and the type of symptoms a person experiences. Some people with gamophobia only experience a few mild symptoms whereas other people experience more severe symptoms.

You may also experience different types and severities of symptoms in different situations and when you are faced with different triggers. For example, your symptoms may be more severe if someone you are dating asks for more commitment from you compared to if your friend tells you they are getting married.

Differences in the severity of symptoms, how frequently they occur, and their manifestation can also occur for other reasons, such as how acute your phobia is, your triggers, your perception of the situation and your current mental health and mindset.

The symptoms of gamophobia can occur at any time, even in unexpected situations. The symptoms are often automatic and uncontrollable. It may feel like you are unable to control or manage your thoughts or feelings and that your phobia is taking over your body. To be classified as a phobia, you will need to experience symptoms for at least six months.

Symptoms of gamophobia can be psychological, behavioural and physiological.

The most common symptoms are:

Psychological Symptoms:

The psychological symptoms of gamophobia are the cognitive and emotional symptoms you experience when faced with your triggers.

The most common psychological symptoms are:

  • Intense, overwhelming persistent, excessive and unreasonable fear, anxiety, panic or dread at the reality or thought of being in a committed relationship.
  • Feeling anxious, panicked or depressed at the thought of being in a relationship.
  • Anxiety or panic if someone uses a label such as partner or best friend.
  • Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the situation.
  • Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are unreasonable.
  • Catastrophising the possible risks of being in a relationship (e.g. your partner could cheat on you).
  • Experiencing anticipatory anxiety, for example, in the lead-up to seeing a person you have grown close to.
  • Experiencing depersonalisation or derealisation in triggering situations (where you feel like you no longer understand what is happening around you or you have lost touch with reality).
  • Feeling immobilised or frozen by your fear when faced with commitment.
  • Feeling defenceless or vulnerable in your relationships.
  • Feeling like you have no control over your relationships.
  • Experiencing frequent or distressing nightmares about commitment.
  • Feeling like you are in danger or having a sense of impending doom.
  • Feeling like you are going to die in triggering situations.

Behavioural Symptoms:

The behavioural symptoms of gamophobia are the changes in your behaviour (whether conscious or unconscious) that occur as a result of your fear of commitment. These changes will be negative or detrimental and will likely be unusual for you or for society as a whole.

The most common behavioural symptoms are:

  • Avoiding commitment, not entering into a relationship with another person or ending relationships before you develop feelings or an attachment.
  • Distancing yourself from others.
  • Withdrawing socially and/or professionally.
  • Feeling unable to spend time with people who are in a committed relationship.
  • Being unable to talk about the future, particularly any future plans that involve other people.
  • Avoiding intimacy or emotional vulnerability.
  • Rejecting people or pushing them away.
  • Treating someone poorly to avoid commitment, such as cheating on them or trying to make them dislike you.
  • Avoiding monogamy.
  • Avoiding certain people, places or situations to prevent someone from thinking you are open to a relationship.
  • Being unable to talk about or think about commitment.
  • Being unable to eat or having a lack of appetite during or in the lead-up to triggering situations.
  • Having difficulties sleeping or insomnia in the lead-up to triggering situations.
  • Feeling like you want to run away and hide from commitment.

Physiological Symptoms:

The physiological symptoms of gamophobia are the physical symptoms you experience in different parts of your body. The symptoms are usually physical disturbances or physical changes that occur as a result of the fight-or-flight response.

The anxiety, fear or panic that you experience in relation to commitment causes your body to react to the threat of danger and your sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause physical changes to your body and physiological symptoms.

The most common physiological symptoms are:

  • Chest pain or feeling a tightness in your chest.
  • Hyperventilating, shortness of breath or rapid breathing.
  • Feeling like you cannot catch your breath.
  • A choking sensation, finding it difficult to swallow or feeling a lump in your throat.
  • Uncontrollable trembling or shaking.
  • Unusual or excessive sweating or clamminess.
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint.
  • Feeling confused or disorientated.
  • Unusual or unexplained headaches or other pains.
  • Muscle tension or stiff muscles.
  • Hot flashes or chills.
  • Heart palpitations, increased heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach discomfort.
  • Feeling like you have butterflies in your stomach.
  • A dry or sticky mouth.
  • Pins and needles, particularly in your extremities.
  • Being unusually sensitive to hot and cold temperatures (e.g. feeling like you are extremely hot even though the room temperature is normal).
  • Pale or flushed skin, particularly on your face.
  • Having a panic attack.

Some people with gamophobia only experience some of the symptoms from the lists above. For example, they may experience fear and anxiety at the thought of commitment and may avoid commitment, but they may not experience any physiological symptoms of their phobia. Other people experience a range of physiological, psychological and behavioural symptoms.

Cheating on partner due to fear of commitment

What causes gamophobia?

There are many possible causes of gamophobia. It could be that your commitment phobia has one clear cause that can be easily identified, or that multiple factors contributed to you developing a fear of commitment. Some people with gamophobia find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused them to develop a fear of commitment and have less of an understanding of their phobia. This is more likely if your phobia developed a long time ago or if your fear manifested slowly over time.

Identifying the root cause or causes of your fear of commitment can be extremely beneficial, as it allows you to address your initial triggers and any negative patterns of thought or feelings that are attached to your initial triggers. This can make it easier to manage your symptoms and reduce the impact your phobia has on your life.

The causes of gamophobia can be psychological, environmental, societal and/or genetic. Because gamophobia is an individualised phobia, the causes often vary from person to person.

The most common causes of gamophobia are:

  • Having an insecure attachment style
    The attachments you form in early childhood can contribute to you developing a fear of commitment in adulthood. Insecure attachment can develop if your needs were not met as a child or you were unable to build a secure bond with your parents or caregivers. Research has shown that attachment security is an important contributor to an adult’s commitment to and satisfaction with relationships. Someone with an insecure attachment style will likely experience fear or uncertainty in relationships and will have difficulties making emotional connections with others. Someone with insecure attachment may also feel insecure about their relationships with others and may become avoidant of or ambivalent towards relationships. This can then develop into gamophobia.
  • Having a previous negative or traumatic experience involving commitment
    Also known as traumatic conditioning or a direct learning experience, this is a common cause of commitment phobia. The experience may not have involved real danger, however, as long as the individual experienced emotional pain or trauma, this can develop into a phobia. Examples of traumatic experiences involving commitment are:
    – Your partner cheating on you.
    – Your partner leaving you unexpectedly.
    – Your partner dying.
    – Your partner cancelling your wedding at the last minute.
    – Experiencing a traumatic divorce.
    Following the experience, you may experience intrusive and negative thoughts or memories and begin to avoid trauma-related triggers, for example, by avoiding future commitments or closing yourself off from relationships. This can make any fear, anxiety or dread you feel about commitment linger and worsen. If your feelings remain unchecked, you could then develop a phobia of commitment.
  • Parental divorce or conflict
    Children or adolescents who witness their parents’ divorce, particularly if the divorce was painful or messy, are more likely to develop negative beliefs, thoughts and feelings surrounding commitment. Many divorces and break-ups are acrimonious and if the child witnessed one or both parents’ anger or heartbreak they may be later fearful of entering a committed relationship that could lead to the same conflict or heartbreak. Parental conflict is more likely to lead to gamophobia if the child felt stuck in the middle or if the divorce had a negative impact on their life, their mental health or their relationship with one or both parents.
  • Cultural or religious pressure
    In some cases, a person can develop gamophobia because they currently or previously belong to a culture or religion that participates in arranged marriages. Growing up knowing that you will likely have an arranged marriage or witnessing an unhappy arranged marriage can contribute to you becoming fearful and anxious about the idea of marriage. You may not want to commit to a marriage in case you don’t like the chosen partner or marrying them negatively affects your life, for example, you need to move away from the area you live in or give up your job. In some situations, these fears can become so severe that you develop a phobia of marriage.
  • Having another mental health condition
    Some people with other mental health conditions, such as depression or schizophrenia, or personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, may avoid commitment and committed relationships for a number of reasons, such as:
    – A fear of intimacy.
    – Difficulties trusting other people.
    – A fear of being abandoned.
    – A fear of burdening someone else.
    – A fear of someone else not being able to handle their mental health struggles.
    – The feeling that they are not worthy.
    Avoiding commitment for an extended period of time can cause someone to develop fear and anxiety surrounding commitment which, if left unchecked, can develop into gamophobia.
  • Fear rumination
    This is a common cause of phobias and usually occurs following a negative experience involving commitment or after witnessing a traumatic relationship. Fear rumination involves engaging in repetitive negative thought processes and persistently and repeatedly recapping traumatic, negative or painful experiences involving commitment. Over time, these thoughts and memories can become increasingly upsetting and intrusive and can make you remember the experience as being more negative or scary than it was in reality. Fear rumination reinforces your natural fear responses, creates additional anxiety and can result in you developing a phobia of commitment.
  • A learned phobia
    Also known as an observational learning experience or modelling, a learned phobia usually means you observed a fear of commitment in another person and learnt to be scared of these situations yourself. You are more likely to learn a phobia if you are exposed to it during childhood or adolescence; for example, children who grow up with a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with gamophobia are more likely to develop the condition themselves. However, a learned phobia can also develop during adulthood.
  • An informational learning experience
    Being exposed to negative information or negative statistics regarding commitment can result in you developing feelings of fear and anxiety surrounding commitment. For example, you may learn statistics such as the number of marriages that end in divorce or the number of people who admit to being unfaithful to their partner. Hearing this information can cause you to think about marriage and commitment negatively and you may avoid relationships because you are convinced they are going to fail, or you will get hurt. If these thoughts and feelings are not dealt with, they can escalate and you may eventually develop a phobia of commitment.
  • Negative portrayals of marriage and commitment
    There are countless examples in TV shows, films and even music where marriage and commitment are portrayed negatively. There are also many positive portrayals of remaining single and living your life as a bachelor or bachelorette. Exposure to negative portrayals of commitment can result in a phobia, particularly if the exposure occurs during childhood or during a vulnerable or stressful time in your life. Negative depictions can cause you to view commitment as traumatic and stressful and you could begin to experience fear and anxiety responses at the thought of being in a committed relationship. This can then develop into gamophobia.
  • Experiencing significant or higher than usual stress levels
    Significant, long-term stress can result in a disproportionate fear response or an inability to manage intense situations. This can make it more likely that you will develop a phobia, such as gamophobia, particularly if you have a negative experience involving commitment while experiencing higher levels of stress. A stressful or distressing event, such as a death, can also trigger a phobia, as you may be less able to manage your emotions and thought processes when experiencing grief, which can result in a disproportionate fear response. If you are experiencing high stress levels and then a relationship causes you even more stress, this can further increase the likelihood that you will develop a fear of commitment.

How is gamophobia diagnosed?

If you think you may be experiencing gamophobia, you should first visit your GP or primary healthcare provider, particularly if your fear of commitment is impacting your life or affecting your relationships. Your GP will look at whether you are experiencing normal levels of fear or anxiety or whether your fear of commitment is abnormal.

Your GP will likely look at your medical history and ask questions about any medication or supplements you are taking to ensure your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source. They will then make a referral to a psychologist or phobia specialist.

To gain more information about your symptoms and your negative beliefs, thoughts and feelings surrounding commitment.

The psychologist will conduct a phobia questionnaire, focusing on:

  • The types of symptoms you experience, how frequently they occur and how severe they are.
  • The initial onset of your phobia, including when your symptoms first began and what initially triggered your fear of commitment.
  • Your medical history, including whether you are currently or have previously had any anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias or other mental health conditions.
  • Whether you have a family history of phobias.
  • How much your fear interferes with your day-to-day life, your well-being and your behaviour.

Because gamophobia is a type of specific phobia, your symptoms will be compared to the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias.

 Your symptoms will need to correspond with the seven key criteria listed below:

1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is faced with commitment or at other times.

2. Exposure to their triggers leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.

3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.

4. The individual avoids situations where they could be exposed to commitment or expected to commit to someone. If they are exposed to commitment, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or panic.

5. The anticipation of commitment and the change in behaviour and avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding commitment can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.

6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.

7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.

If your symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria, you will receive a diagnosis of a specific phobia (gamophobia). Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may then be offered treatment.

Leaving relationship suddenly

How is gamophobia treated?

There are multiple proven effective treatments available for treating specific phobias such as gamophobia. In fact, treatments have shown to be effective in approximately 90% of cases of specific phobias. However, not every person who has a phobia requires treatment.

You may not require medical intervention if your symptoms are mild, your fear of commitment doesn’t affect your daily life or well-being, or if you’ve already implemented successful coping strategies. However, you should always consult your doctor before making any decisions regarding your treatment.

On the other hand, many people with phobias find medical intervention to be particularly beneficial. If your phobia is triggered frequently, if you change your behaviour to avoid commitment, if your symptoms are severe or if your phobia negatively affects your life, then treatment will likely be recommended.

Because there are several types of treatment available, your psychologist will create a personalised treatment plan that is designed to treat your phobia.

Your treatment plan will be based on several factors, such as:

  • The severity of your symptoms.
  • The frequency of your symptoms.
  • The root cause of your phobia.
  • How significantly your phobia impacts your life.

The most common treatment options for gamophobia are:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a type of psychotherapy and is particularly effective in treating a phobia of commitment. CBT can help you to explore the underlying causes of your beliefs and thoughts surrounding commitment. If you have gamophobia, you will view commitment negatively.

This can lead to automatic negative thoughts and behavioural reactions. CBT aims to change the way you think about commitment. Because your thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected, changing the way you think will help all aspects of your phobia.

CBT can help you to identify your fear and reshape any negative beliefs, patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours associated with commitment. You will learn to replace your negative thoughts and feelings with more positive, healthy thoughts. You will also learn how your thoughts affect your behaviours and how to identify harmful thoughts and behaviours and learn strategies on how to change them.

During your CBT sessions, you will work to:

  • Understand your triggers and what initially caused your fear of commitment.
  • Recognise distorted patterns of thinking.
  • Change any unhealthy beliefs surrounding commitment.
  • Learn coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements to help you to create healthy, long-term relationships without the fear of commitment.

Exposure Therapy:

Exposure therapy, also known as gradual desensitisation, involves repeated and gradual exposure to your triggers and the source of your fear in a safe and controlled environment. Exposure will happen gradually over multiple sessions. It will involve visualising and talking about your fear of commitment and experiencing real-life triggers.

You will be given real-world tasks to help you unlearn any negative thoughts and become more comfortable with commitment and relationships. Exposure will happen gradually, in escalating phases. You will start with a situation that is less anxiety-provoking, such as watching a romantic film. You will then move on to another exposure. With each exposure, you should experience progressively lower anxiety with the aim that you can eventually think about and experience commitment without experiencing a negative response.

Because some situations can only be experienced in the real world, the psychologist will likely give you some scenarios to work on away from your therapy sessions. Gradual exposure will also be paired with relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and visualisation to help you unlearn negative associations and patterns of thought and decrease your negative reactions to commitment.

Clinical Hypnotherapy:

Clinical hypnotherapy uses a combination of guided relaxation techniques and focused attention to alter your beliefs, patterns of thought and response to commitment. Hypnotherapy can change the way you think and respond to commitment and the idea of a relationship and can change your overall beliefs and perception of commitment.

During your sessions, you will also try to identify the underlying cause of your commitment phobia. If you have any unprocessed trauma or negative memories that are contributing to your phobia, hypnotherapy will also help you to address these. You’ll also learn how to overcome your negative feelings towards commitment in the short term and the long term. You will also learn calming strategies to help you manage your fear more effectively.


Medication is not usually prescribed as a sole treatment option for gamophobia. However, it may be beneficial if you are also experiencing another mental health difficulty, such as depression or anxiety, alongside your phobia.

In this case, you may be offered medication such as:

  • Beta blockers.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Anti-anxiety medication.

Medication will only usually be offered alongside another treatment, such as CBT or exposure therapy.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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