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Lupophobia is an extreme and overwhelming fear of wolves (and sometimes werewolves) that can have a significant impact on someone’s life.
Lupophobia is a type of animal phobia. However, because wolves are not found in the UK, many people (incorrectly) assume that lupophobia is a rarely occurring phobia. Phobias are not rational, meaning that even if you are aware that there are no wolves in the UK and there is no possibility of encountering a wolf, you can still experience extreme fear and anxiety and other negative symptoms.
Today, we are going to look at lupophobia in more detail, including the common causes, symptoms, triggers and treatments.
What is Lupophobia?
Lupophobia is the extreme, irrational, overwhelming and persistent fear of wolves. Someone with lupophobia will likely experience extreme and overwhelming feelings of fear, anxiety and panic if they see, hear or touch a wolf or something that reminds them of a wolf, or if they are in a wolf’s natural habitat. People can also experience symptoms of lupophobia if they think about or talk about wolves. Some people with lupophobia fear real wolves, whereas other people fear fictional werewolves.
Lupophobia is a type of specific phobia that is characterised by an enduring, overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, place or person; in this case, an extreme fear of wolves. It is also commonly classified as a type of animal phobia. Wolves can be so anxiety-provoking that someone with lupophobia may experience intense anxiety and fear at the thought of them. They may be unable to think about wolves reasonably or rationally and may be out of touch with reality regarding how much of a danger wolves pose to them in their day-to-day life.
Lupophobia is an evolutionary fear and humans are predisposed to fear wolves. Wolves are predatory animals that hunt in packs. They posed a threat to our ancestors, particularly at night, and have many of the qualities that humans are predisposed to fear, such as sharp teeth and claws and larger size and strength. Humans likely have an inherited stress reaction that helps us to quickly identify wolves as being dangerous. The evolutionary basis for fearing wolves likely developed as a survival mechanism, because of the risk wolves posed to our ancestors. Fear is designed to promote our survival and our ancestors who feared the wolves may have been more likely to survive, making humans predisposed to a fear of wolves. Although it is rare to encounter wild wolves, and there are no wild wolves in the UK, a predisposition to fearing wolves can result in someone developing a phobia, regardless of how unlikely it is that you will ever encounter a wild wolf and the positive relationship humans now have with dogs (the descendants of wolves).
Because humans are predisposed to a fear of wolves, feeling some fear and anxiety in relation to wolves is relatively common, particularly in situations where you could encounter a wolf. However, this does not mean that everyone who dislikes wolves is experiencing a phobia. A phobia of wolves differs from a fear of wolves because the fear is irrational and overwhelming. An individual who has lupophobia won’t usually just be fearful of wolves that pose a danger but will also experience symptoms in situations where there is no risk to them.
To be classified as lupophobia, your fear of wolves will include:
- Feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
- Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the true risk.
- A fear of wolves that lasts for at least six months.
- Engaging in avoidance behaviours to prevent encounters with wolves (whether real or imaginary).
- A fear of wolves that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.
- Experiencing anticipatory anxiety or worry when thinking about encountering wolves.
Because lupophobia is an individualised phobia, it can be connected to several different fears related to wolves.
These can include:
- The fear of being attacked or bitten by a wolf – This is one of the main fears people have relating to wolves and is likely because of a wolf’s sharp teeth and claws. Although there have only been 26 fatal wolf attacks across the world in the last 20 years and none in the UK, the fear of being attacked, bitten or scratched by a wolf or being chased or surrounded by a pack of wolves is still a fear that many people with lupophobia experience.
- The fear of wolves transmitting diseases, viruses or infections – Similarly to other animals, wolves can carry a variety of diseases, viruses and infections that can be transmitted to humans. These include rabies and infectious canine hepatitis and bacterial infections, such as tapeworm. These diseases and bacteria can spread from wolves to humans through their faeces, saliva or from a scratch or bite. Although transmission from wolves to humans is rare, the possibility that this could happen can cause someone to develop a phobia of wolves, especially as viruses such as rabies can be fatal to humans.
- The fear that wolves are evil – There are many different superstitions relating to wolves. For hundreds of years, wolves were associated with the devil and were thought to act as the devil’s minions on Earth. Wolves have also been associated with witchcraft and are frequently portrayed as villainous characters. The portrayal of wolves as evil and dangerous and their association with characters such as the devil and witches can cause someone to develop a phobia of wolves.
- The fear of a wolf’s howl – The howling of a wolf is one of the most instantly recognisable sounds. It is often associated with wolf and werewolf attacks and is a sound many people associate with fear and danger. A wolf’s howl is also frequently used in frightening scenes in films and TV shows to show that the characters are in danger. The fear of hearing a howling wolf, particularly when you are outside or at night, can cause someone to develop a fear of wolves.
- The fear of werewolves – For some people with lupophobia, their fear of wolves stems from a fear of werewolves – a mythical shape-shifting creature that shifts from a human to a wolf at night or during a full moon. Many portrayals of werewolves depict them as being evil, dangerous and out of control and they are frequently portrayed as attacking and killing humans. Some people associate these werewolf traits with wolves and then develop a phobia of wolves.
Someone who has a phobia of wolves or werewolves may have difficulties functioning normally in certain places or situations because they fear they could encounter a wolf; for example, they may find it difficult to leave the house at night or during a full moon and may avoid going into a wood or forest. They may become consumed with the thought of wolves and find themselves being hyperaware and constantly checking there are no wolves around them, even in places or situations where wolves are not commonly found (e.g. anywhere in the UK). The fear, anxiety and panic that they feel can have a significant impact on their mental and emotional well-being and their behaviour.
A fear of wolves can also result in avoidance behaviours, whereby a person avoids any place or situation they associate with wolves, even if there is no chance of seeing a wolf. For example, they may avoid forests, zoos and other places they associate with animals. Avoidance behaviours can make it difficult for someone to function normally or engage in social events. Although people consciously or subconsciously implement avoidance behaviours to prevent their phobia from being triggered and from them experiencing negative symptoms, these behaviours can instead have a paradoxical effect. Instead of helping you to manage or reduce your symptoms, avoiding places or situations you associate with wolves can have the opposite effect and instead reinforce your fear and result in more severe symptoms in the future. Avoidance behaviours can also negatively impact your social life and professional life, your relationships and your ability to function normally.
If you have lupophobia, you may be aware that your fear of wolves is irrational and that the chances you will encounter a wolf are extremely low. However, you may still find that you are unable to control your fear or anxiety and are unable to manage or prevent your physiological, psychological or behavioural responses to wolves or the thought of wolves.
Lupophobia is connected to and can occur in conjunction with other phobias, such as:
- Agrizoophobia: An extreme fear of wild animals.
- Zoophobia: An extreme fear of animals.
- Cynophobia: An extreme fear of dogs.
- Selenophobia: An extreme fear of the moon.
- Daknophobia: An extreme fear of being bitten.
- Amychophobia: An extreme fear of being scratched, clawed or lacerated.
- Noctiphobia: An extreme fear of the night.
How Common is Lupophobia?
Because lupophobia is a type of specific phobia, any diagnoses of a wolf phobia will fall under the umbrella of specific phobias, which means there are no individual statistics available that show how many people have a phobia of wolves.
Unlike other animal phobias, such as arachnophobia (a fear of spiders), ophidiophobia (a fear of snakes) and galeophobia (a fear of sharks), a fear of wolves is a less well-known and less commonly diagnosed phobia. Although lupophobia is an evolutionary phobia that humans are predisposed to, the lack of contact with wolves and the lack of wolves in the UK can, in part, explain why lupophobia is not more prevalent in the UK.
However, there are other reasons why diagnostic rates for lupophobia are low. Many people with a phobia of wolves never seek a diagnosis, are misdiagnosed or their condition goes undiagnosed.
There are several reasons why this might happen, such as:
- Many people have never heard of lupophobia so may not realise they are experiencing a diagnosable medical condition.
- The lack of wolves in the UK may mean that their phobia is less frequently triggered.
- Many people are not aware that there are effective treatments available for phobias so may not seek a diagnosis.
- Someone with lupophobia may be embarrassed about their fear so may never seek a diagnosis.
- If the individual is a child or adolescent, they may be expected to grow out of their fear.
- Someone with a phobia of wolves may implement successful avoidance strategies that prevent them from being in triggering situations. This can make their phobia seem more manageable.
- Someone with lupophobia may not discuss their thoughts and feelings with others so may not realise that their fears are extreme.
However, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone who is afraid of wolves is experiencing lupophobia. Negative thoughts and feelings surrounding wolves can occur on a spectrum, ranging from mild fear and anxiety in certain situations (for example, if you hear a wolf howling) 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. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between someone who is afraid of wolves and someone who has lupophobia.
Who is at Risk of Lupophobia?
Although anyone can develop lupophobia, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of someone developing a fear of wolves.
These can include:
- Having a previous negative, traumatic, scary or painful experience involving wolves.
- Having a previous negative, traumatic, scary or painful experience involving another animal, such as a dog.
- Having a previous negative, traumatic, scary or painful experience in a wolf’s natural habitat.
- Being exposed to negative portrayals or superstitions about wolves, particularly during childhood or adolescence.
- Having little understanding or knowledge about wolves.
- Having another related phobia, such as agrizoophobia or cynophobia.
- Having another animal phobia.
- Being exposed to the fear of wolves at a young age.
- Hearing traumatic or scary stories about wolves, for example, someone being bitten by a wolf and contracting rabies.
- Having a close family member, for example, a parent or sibling, with lupophobia.
- Having a close family member, for example, a parent or sibling, with another phobia.
- Having another mental health condition, 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 a fear of wolves or have a negative experience involving wolves during this time).
- Having a substance use disorder, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- Having an allergy to fur.
Although lupophobia can manifest at any age, it is more likely to occur in childhood and adolescence. This is because children are less able to manage fear and anxiety and rationalise their thoughts. For example, an adult who is exposed to a scary story about wolves will be able to rationalise that their fear is not real, and wolves pose no threat to them, whereas children may think that wolves really are a danger to them. This makes children more likely to develop a phobia of wolves than adults.
It is also important to keep in mind that although the risk factors listed above can increase the likelihood of you developing lupophobia, they do not guarantee this. Someone with none of the above risk factors can develop lupophobia without warning, whereas someone with several risk factors may never develop lupophobia.
How to Deal with Lupophobia
Although there are multiple treatment options available for treating phobias such as lupophobia, there are also proven effective coping and calming strategies that you can implement yourself. These strategies can be implemented both long term and short term and can be combined with lifestyle factors to help you successfully manage the symptoms of your phobia and reduce the impact your phobia of wolves has on your life.
Long-term coping and calming strategies are most effective when you engage in them regularly, rather than only utilising them when you are 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 be exposed to your triggers in the future without experiencing negative thoughts and feelings.
Short-term strategies are designed to be implemented in the short term – the immediate situation when you are faced with (or are about to encounter) your triggers. They are particularly effective in helping you to prevent or manage any physiological, psychological, or behavioural symptoms that usually occur when you face wolf-related triggers, 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 that can help you deal with your lupophobia are:
- Learn about wolves – The negative and often sensationalised portrayals of wolves in popular media are common reasons why many people are scared of wolves. The reality is that wolves are not as dangerous as many people believe. Reading facts and information about wolves and speaking to specialists can help you to understand more about wolves and is a great first step to overcoming your fear. Learning about wolves can help you understand that they pose a minimal threat to you and can help to dispel many of the common myths and misconceptions that may be contributing to your phobia, which can help you to overcome your phobia.
- Accept and understand your phobia – Acknowledging your phobia of wolves and accepting your thoughts and feelings can be beneficial in helping you overcome your phobia. It enables you to accept and change your beliefs and patterns of thought and explore the cause of your phobia in more detail and any negative or damaging beliefs, patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours that are attached to the initial cause. Accepting and understanding your fear allows you to change your automatic and conscious reactions and behaviours towards wolves and other triggers. It can also help you to understand and rationalise your thoughts and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
- Visualise yourself overcoming your fear – Visualisation techniques have proven to be effective in helping people to overcome their phobias and any fear and anxiety they experience when they are faced with their triggers. As part of this strategy, you will visualise yourself in triggering situations and imagine confronting your fear and successfully overcoming it, for example, by imagining yourself seeing a wolf and remaining calm and positive throughout. Visualising positive encounters with wolves can help to reassure your brain that wolves don’t pose a threat to you and that you are not in any danger. This can make it less likely that you will experience an automatic fear response in the future.
- Avoid negative portrayals of wolves – Negative portrayals of wolves in films, TV shows and books can cause someone to develop a fear of wolves or worsen an existing phobia. Negative portrayals can reinforce any negative connotations, beliefs or thoughts connected to wolves. Negative portrayals can also result in you becoming anxious or fearful of wolves and can encourage avoidance behaviours. This can exacerbate your phobia and result in more severe phobic symptoms. Try to avoid any triggering portrayals or superstitions about wolves to prevent your phobia from escalating.
- Create a fear ladder – A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your fear of wolves and can also help you to identify which of your triggers creates more severe fear, anxiety and panic than others. When creating your fear ladder, your triggers will be organised from least severe to most severe. It may not be possible to confront all your fears, as you cannot plan an encounter with a wolf. However, you can confront triggering situations.
Because phobias are highly individualised, everyone’s fear ladder is different. An example fear ladder for overcoming a fear of wolves is shown below:
1 = Spending time with a dog that reminds you of a wolf (such as a husky).
2 = Visiting a country where wolves are more prevalent.
3 = Going to a wolf’s natural habitat.
4 = Listening to a wolf howling.
5 = Watching a video of wolves.
6 = Looking at pictures of wolves.
Once you have created your fear ladder, you can then confront your fears one at a time, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you to build up your tolerance of your triggers gradually and reduce your fear of wolves long term.
- Challenge negative thoughts and feelings – If you have a phobia of wolves, you may feel extreme fear, anxiety or distress if you see, hear or think about wolves. You may also find yourself thinking about your triggers negatively. Instead of allowing any negative thoughts to take over, you should try to disrupt your thoughts to prevent your fear from escalating. Remind yourself that you aren’t in any danger and that wolves don’t pose a risk to you. If you begin to experience negative emotions, remind yourself that your feelings will soon pass.
- Implement distraction techniques – This is a popular short-term strategy that can be utilised when you are faced with your triggers or feel the symptoms of your phobia beginning. Distraction techniques can help to prevent your automatic fear and anxiety responses and prevent the symptoms of your phobia from beginning or escalating. Some distraction techniques you could use are:
– Listening to music.
– Talking to someone (whether in-person or on the phone).
– Counting objects or reciting times tables.
– Writing in a journal or colouring.
– Focusing on your breathing.
- Learn deep breathing exercises – Deep breathing is another short-term strategy that can be effective in helping you manage the symptoms of your phobia. When you breathe deeply, this sends a message to your brain to relax, which can help to reduce your anxiety. Organised, deep breathing also makes it less likely that you will experience symptoms such as breathing difficulties or panic attacks. Deep breathing exercises can effectively reduce your stress levels, relieve tension in your body, and reduce your anxiety over time. If your phobia is triggered, practise deep breathing for at least 10 minutes, or until your symptoms abate.
- Practise mindfulness – Mindfulness can be beneficial as it teaches you how to accept your thoughts and feelings, how to overcome your fears and how to manage your symptoms. Mindfulness teaches you how to focus your attention and breathing, which can reduce your anxiety in triggering situations and make it less likely that you will experience 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.
- Practise yoga and meditation – Yoga and meditation can be effective in helping you reduce the severity of your phobia long term. You can also implement yoga and meditation practices if you are faced with your triggers. Meditation and yoga can help you achieve a highly relaxed state and reduce your stress levels, which can reduce the likelihood that you will experience a fight-or-flight response. It can also reduce stress and anxiety and prevent panic attacks. You should practise yoga and meditation regularly to reduce your phobia long term.
- 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 of wolves 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.
What Triggers Lupophobia?
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.
The triggers of this phobia are the things that trigger your fear of wolves and result in negative symptoms. Some people think that animal phobias are only triggered by seeing the animal in real life. However, this is often not the case. Many different things can trigger the symptoms of your phobia.
Because lupophobia is an individualised phobia that manifests differently in different people, there are many different potential triggers, with some people only having one or two triggers and other people having many different triggers. The types of triggers and the number of triggers experienced by different people can vary depending on what initially caused their phobia to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health.
The most common triggers for lupophobia are:
- Seeing a wolf.
- Hearing the howling of a wolf.
- It being a full moon or the lead-up to a full moon.
- Going outside at night.
- Being in a place you associate with wolves, such as a forest.
- Going to a zoo or another place where animals are frequently found.
- Seeing or hearing an animal that reminds you of a wolf, such as a dog or a fox.
- Watching a film or TV show that features a wolf or werewolf.
- Hearing frightening or negative stories about wolves or werewolves.
- Thinking about wolves.
- Talking about wolves.
- Seeing a toy, figure or ornament wolf.
- Seeing a movement that makes you think a wolf is close by, such as rustling in the grass.
What are the Symptoms of Lupophobia?
The symptoms of lupophobia are the physiological (related to your body), psychological (related to your mind) and behavioural (related to your behaviour) symptoms and negative changes that you experience when you see a wolf or are exposed to another trigger. The symptoms of lupophobia can vary and usually change from person to person and can differ in the types of symptoms you experience, the way they manifest and how mild or severe they are.
Some people with lupophobia only experience a small number of relatively mild symptoms, whereas other people experience more varied and severe symptoms. Some people experience different types and severities of symptoms depending on the situation and the trigger they are facing. For example, your symptoms may be more severe if you hear a wolf howling compared to if you see a wolf on TV.
Differences in the severity of symptoms, how frequently they occur, and their manifestation can also occur for other reasons, including how acute your phobia is, your perception of the situation and your current mental health and mindset. For example, your phobia is more likely to be triggered and your symptoms are more likely to be severe if you are currently experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, compared to if you are feeling calm and relaxed.
The symptoms of lupophobia can occur at any time and 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 diagnosed as having a phobia, you will need to experience symptoms for at least six months.
The most common symptoms of lupophobia are:
This refers to the cognitive and emotional symptoms you experience when faced with a wolf or another trigger.
The most common psychological symptoms of lupophobia are:
- Intense, overwhelming persistent, excessive and unreasonable fear, anxiety, panic or distress when faced with wolves or another trigger.
- Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the risks.
- Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are out of proportion to the risk.
- Being unable to concentrate or function normally when in triggering situations, even if no wolves are present.
- Feeling embarrassed or blaming yourself for your reaction to wolves.
- Anger, irritability or mood swings.
- Feelings of dread at the thought of encountering wolves.
- Feeling immobilised or frozen by your fear when you encounter a trigger.
- Feeling defenceless or vulnerable.
- Feeling like you are losing control or are out of control.
- Catastrophising the potential risks, for example, if you go outside during a full moon you could be attacked by a wolf.
- Feeling like you have a lack of mental and physical control over your body.
- Experiencing anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to triggering situations.
- Experiencing depersonalisation or derealisation when in a triggering situation (where you feel like you no longer understand what is happening around you or you have lost touch with reality).
- Experiencing frequent or distressing nightmares about wolves or werewolves.
- Feeling like you are in danger or having a sense of impending doom.
- Feeling like you are going to die if you see a wolf.
This refers to the conscious or unconscious changes in your behaviour that occur as a result of your fear of wolves. Any behavioural symptoms are usually negative or harmful, even if this is not recognised by you. They will also likely be different from your usual behaviour or abnormal for society as a whole.
The most common behavioural symptoms of lupophobia are:
- Refusing to go outside at night or during a full moon.
- Refusing to spend time in places where wild animals are found (even if wolves are not commonly found there).
- Being unable to travel to countries where wolves are more prevalent, such as the USA and Canada.
- Refusing to watch a TV show or film that features wolves.
- Avoiding any place or situation where you could encounter a wolf or another trigger.
- Being unable to talk about or think about wolves.
- 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 or hide if you see a wolf or another trigger.
- Being unable to spend time around animals that remind you of wolves, such as dogs and foxes.
This refers to any physical symptoms or changes you experience in your body as a result of your fear of wolves. Physiological symptoms are usually physical changes or disturbances that you experience as a result of the fight-or-flight response, which is an automatic physiological reaction that takes place when your brain perceives the object of your fear, in this case, wolves, as an immediate threat or danger. This results in a sudden release of hormones, such as adrenaline or noradrenaline, that activates your sympathetic nervous system and prepares your body to fight or flee from the perceived danger.
This can result in physiological symptoms, such as:
- A ringing noise in your ears.
- Unusual or excessive sweating or clamminess.
- Chills or hot flushes.
- Shaking or trembling.
- A dry or sticky mouth.
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
- Feeling confused or disoriented.
- Chest pain or feeling a tightness in your chest.
- Difficulties breathing, 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.
- Heart palpitations, increased heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Pale or flushed skin, particularly on your face.
- Unexplained headaches or other bodily pains.
- Muscle tension or stiff muscles.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or stomach pains.
- Feeling like you’ve got butterflies in your stomach.
- An unusual sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
- Experiencing a panic attack.
Symptoms of Lupophobia in Children:
Although the symptoms of lupophobia can be similar in children and adults, the symptoms can also manifest differently – particularly in younger children. This could be because children are less able to manage intense emotions, such as fear and anxiety, may be less able to rationalise and understand the way they are thinking and feeling and may be less constrained or less likely to hide their feelings.
Some of the common symptoms of lupophobia in children are:
- Crying, screaming or having a tantrum.
- Lashing out by hitting or kicking people or objects that are close to them.
- Trying to run away or hide.
- Clinging to a parent, guardian or another safe person.
- Showing signs of extreme anxiety, fear or panic.
What Causes Lupophobia?
There are many possible causes of lupophobia. Some people with a phobia of wolves can identify exactly when their fear started and what initially caused their fear to develop. For other people, multiple factors contributed to them developing a fear of wolves.
It could also be that you find it difficult to identify what initially caused your phobia to develop, particularly if your symptoms manifested slowly over time or your fear developed during childhood. However, identifying, exploring and understanding the root cause of your phobia can be extremely beneficial as it can allow you to understand and address your fear, manage your symptoms and reduce the impact your phobia has on your life.
The causes of lupophobia can be psychological, environmental, societal or evolutionary. Because phobias are specific to each individual, the causes of phobias often vary from person to person.
The most common causes of lupophobia are:
- Negative portrayals of wolves in popular culture – Wolves (and werewolves) are commonly portrayed negatively in popular culture as dangerous predators who chase and attack humans. Even popular children’s films, such as Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast portray wolves as being scary and dangerous. Popular culture also frequently exaggerates the physical features of a wolf, such as their sharp teeth, strong jaws and yellow eyes. Although wolves are predatory animals and can pose a risk to humans, negative encounters with wolves are rare. However, because popular culture often portrays wolves as being dangerous, threatening and bloodthirsty, this can result in many people developing a phobia of wolves, particularly if they are exposed to negative portrayals during childhood.
- Negative superstitions and cultural beliefs – There are many well-known superstitions and cultural beliefs surrounding wolves, for example, wolves were believed to be the devil’s minions in disguise and seeing a black wolf was considered to be a bad omen. The negative representations and the negative connotations people learn about wolves can cause them to think of wolves as being dangerous, evil, scary or bad luck, particularly if they are exposed to these superstitions at an early age. Some people may begin to fear seeing a wolf, for example, in case they were sent by the devil. If these negative feelings are not addressed, this can then develop into lupophobia.
- A negative, scary, traumatic or painful experience involving a wolf – This is one of the most common causes of animal phobias and is also referred to as a direct learning experience or traumatic conditioning. The negative experience may or may not have involved real danger or risk, or a real wolf; however, as long as the individual experienced significant fear, distress, or trauma, this can lead to them developing a phobia. A traumatic experience is more likely to cause a phobia if it occurred during childhood or during a particularly vulnerable period. The experience may be direct, meaning it happened to you, or indirect, meaning you witnessed it happening to someone else. Examples of traumatic experiences are:
– Being chased or attacked by a wolf.
– Hearing a wolf howling while you are feeling vulnerable.
– Seeing the aftermath of a wolf attack.
Following the traumatic experience, you may begin to have intrusive and negative thoughts or memories of the trauma and begin to avoid trauma-related triggers, for example, by avoiding places and situations where you might see a wolf. This can cause the fear or anxiety you felt at the time of the experience to linger or worsen and can lead to you developing a phobia.
- A negative, scary, traumatic or painful experience involving another animal – It is possible to develop lupophobia following a negative or traumatic experience involving an animal that reminds you of a wolf. It could be that following this experience, you develop a fear of all animals, or of animals that remind you of the original stressor, for example, following a traumatic experience with another nocturnal animal or an animal that looks like a wolf (such as a dog). You are more likely to develop a phobia by association if the original event involved significant trauma, fear or pain.
- Fear rumination – Fear rumination usually occurs following a negative encounter with a wolf or another traumatic situation. Fear rumination involves engaging in repetitive negative thought processes and persistently and repeatedly recapping a traumatic, scary, negative or painful experience involving wolves. Over time, these thoughts and memories can become increasingly upsetting and intrusive and can make you remember the event 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 lupophobia.
- A learned phobia – Also known as an observational learning experience, a learned phobia usually means you observed a fear of wolves in someone else and learnt to be scared of them 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 lupophobia are more likely to develop the condition themselves. However, a learned phobia can also develop during adulthood.
- Having an allergy to animal hair or fur – Having an allergy to animal hair and fur affects between 10% and 20% of the world’s population. Even though it is unlikely that you previously had your allergy triggered by a wolf, experiencing symptoms following contact with a similar animal (such as a dog or a fox) can cause you to fear that being close to a wolf will trigger an allergic reaction. You may be more likely to fear this if your allergy is severe and could result in anaphylaxis shock or if you are embarrassed by the symptoms of your allergy. If your allergy has existed since childhood, you may have been repeatedly warned of the dangers of being close to animals and the avoidance behaviours you implemented may have caused you to develop lupophobia and other animal phobias.
- An informational learning experience – You could develop lupophobia if you are exposed to information about wolves that creates feelings of fear or anxiety, for example, if you learn about the number of people who are attacked by wolves each year or the ways that wolves attack and kill their prey. Exposure to this information can cause you to think of wolves as being scary or dangerous and result in feelings of fear, anxiety or distress when you are exposed to wolves or another trigger. If these feelings are not addressed and dealt with, they can then develop into a phobia.
- Evolutionary factors – There is thought to be an evolutionary basis for lupophobia, particularly because humans evolved to avoid predators to maximise survival. Because wolves are predatory animals that hunt in packs and would have posed a danger to our ancestors, humans may be predisposed to a fear of wolves. Fear is designed to promote survival, meaning in the course of human evolution, those who feared wolves and other predators may have been more likely to survive. Humans may have then evolved to be predisposed to fear wolves and other animals with similar features, such as large, sharp teeth. In some people, this fear can become excessive and develop into a phobia.
- 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 lupophobia, particularly if you have a negative experience involving wolves or are exposed to the fear of wolves 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.
How is Lupophobia Diagnosed?
If you or your child are experiencing any symptoms consistent with lupophobia, you should make an appointment with your GP or primary healthcare physician, particularly if your fear has lasted longer than six months or is disrupting your life in any way. Because experiencing some level of fear of wolves in certain situations isn’t unusual, your doctor can determine if you are experiencing normal levels of fear or whether your symptoms are severe enough to meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.
During your appointment, your GP will look at your medical history and ask questions about your symptoms, other health conditions and any medication or supplements you are taking to ensure your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source. If your GP thinks your symptoms may be consistent with lupophobia, they will likely refer you to a psychologist or phobia specialist.
To gain more information about your symptoms and any negative thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours concerning wolves, the psychologist will conduct a phobia questionnaire.
They will focus on information relating to:
- 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 wolves.
- 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 lupophobia is a type of specific phobia, your symptoms will need to correspond with the seven key criteria outlined in the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias:
1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is close to a wolf or when they are not.
2. Exposure to a wolf or another trigger 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 places or situations where they could be exposed to wolves. If they are exposed to a wolf, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or distress.
5. The anticipation of encountering a wolf and the avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding wolves 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 correspond with these key criteria, you will be diagnosed with a specific phobia (lupophobia). Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may then be offered treatment.
How is Lupophobia Treated?
There are multiple treatment options available that are proven to be effective in treating lupophobia. The majority of people with phobias find medical intervention to be successful in treating their phobia, with some treatment options having a success rate of up to 90%. If your fear is triggered frequently, if you change your behaviour to avoid your triggers, if your symptoms are severe, if your phobia negatively impacts your life in any way, or if you have experienced a fear of wolves for longer than a year, then your doctor will likely recommend you undergo treatment.
However, not everyone with a phobia requires treatment. You may not require medical intervention if your symptoms are mild, your fear of wolves doesn’t affect your daily life or well-being, or if you’ve already implemented successful coping strategies. Before making any treatment decisions, you should always consult your doctor.
As there are different treatment options available, your doctor 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 types of treatment for lupophobia are:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):
CBT is a popular type of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, that is based on the theory that the way you think and your perception of certain things and situations can have a significant impact on your behaviour. If you view wolves as dangerous or scary, this can lead to automatic negative thoughts and related behavioural reactions. CBT is designed to help you identify and reshape your fear of wolves and any negative beliefs, patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours that are attached to it.
You will work on recognising harmful or negative patterns of thought and focus on how to change them. CBT aims to change your perception of reality to ensure you think about and perceive wolves in a more realistic and positive way. You will also explore the initial cause of your phobia and identify any damaging thoughts and feelings that are connected to the initial cause.
During CBT sessions, you will likely focus on:
- Understanding your triggers and what initially caused your fear of wolves.
- Recognising distorted patterns of thinking.
- Changing any unhealthy beliefs surrounding wolves.
- Learning coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements.
Exposure therapy, also known as gradual exposure or gradual desensitisation, is a popular treatment method for treating phobias. It involves gradual and repeated exposure to your triggers in a safe and controlled environment. By being gradually exposed to your fears, you should be able to be in previously triggering situations without experiencing automatic fear and anxiety responses and adverse symptoms.
Exposure therapy can be more difficult to plan and execute for a phobia of wolves, as it isn’t possible to be exposed to a real wolf during your sessions. However, it may be able to help you unlearn any negative thoughts, beliefs and associations connected to wolves and create more realistic thought patterns. During the sessions, you will also work on decreasing your negative reactions towards wolves and will likely learn relaxation techniques and coping and calming strategies.
Exposure will happen gradually, in escalating phases. You will start with the least anxiety-provoking triggers, such as looking at pictures of wolves. Once you are comfortable with this level of exposure, you will gradually increase your exposure. With each exposure, you should experience progressively lower anxiety, with the aim that you can eventually be exposed to your biggest triggers without experiencing an adverse reaction.
Although medication is not usually prescribed as a sole treatment for phobias, it may be prescribed as a short-term solution to treating the symptoms of your phobia. Medication may also be prescribed if you experience another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, alongside your phobia. Medication will usually only be prescribed alongside another type of treatment, such as CBT.
Some types of medication that may be prescribed for treating phobias or anxiety are: