In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Harpaxophobia.
An intense fear of being robbed is called Harpaxophobia.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to a situation where one might fear being robbed.
At times, even the thought of getting robbed can instigate extreme anxiety. One might suffer from full-blown panic attacks as a result.
The fear of being robbed is normally a very common fear felt by almost everyone.
People are afraid of losing money or precious things in their possession. However, in Harpaxophobia this fear is completely out of touch with reality because of excess anxiety one feels.
They get extremely terrified when thinking about or being exposed to robbery, which might lead to one being hospitalized.
These overwhelmingly negative feelings persuade the sufferer to avoid their fear stimuli.
Though avoidance may seem an easy way out of the unpleasant feelings one suffers from, in reality this avoidance maintains one’s fear. Overtime, their phobia can get severe and one may suffer from depression.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one may refuse to leave their house for going to school or otherwise because they fear they might get robbed.
In severe cases, a sufferer will take all the possible measures such as installing security cameras, not leaving the house unattended and or refusing to meet friends and family.
These obsessive thoughts, which lead to one repeatedly avoiding their fear stimuli can cause one to develop OCD in the future.
Harpaxophobia is an irrational fear of getting robbed. It is a type of specific phobia in which one feels extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli.
The name originates from the Greek word ‘harpax’ meaning snatch and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Additionally, some people ask Why am i so paranoid about someone breaking in?
Because they don’t know whether it’s because of Harpaxophobia or Paranoia.
Symptoms of Harpaxophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Harpaxophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of robbery suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heartbeat or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around his fear stimuli, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Harpaxophobia, being the fear of getting robbed is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Harpaxophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to a situation one might get robbed
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about getting robbed
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might get robbed
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Harpaxophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Harpaxophobia
Harpaxophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause. In this phobia, one experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to a situation one might get robbed.
This type of specific phobia can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Harpaxophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This triggering event can be for example, one might’ve been robbed in the past. The feelings of helplessness and or if, suffered from an injury, can be the reason for one to develop Harpaxophobia.
Also, a sufferer may have seen or heard someone else suffer from an injury or death while being robbed.
Additionally, the fear or poverty (Peniaphobia) can be another reason for one to have Harpaxophobia.
To conclude, Harpaxophobia is developed by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Harpaxophobia
Harpaxophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Harpaxophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Harpaxophobia is defined as the irrational fear of getting robbed. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders.
It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear. In the case of Harpaxophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of robbery.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Harpaxophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i.Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii.Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii.The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Harpaxophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear stimuli.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Harpaxophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Harpaxophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Running from the fear of poverty
by Emily Wade
- FEAR EVERYTHING & RISE: A young girl’s journey from poverty to finding her power
by Felicia Wilson
- Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Their Cause and Cure
by Robert Handly and Pauline Neff
by Gill Hasson
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is the fear of being robbed?
Harpaxophobia is an irrational fear of being robbed.
Q2) How do you overcome Harpaxophobia?
One should consult a psychologist/psychiatrist in order to get help in overcoming his fear of being robbed.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Harpaxophobia?
Excessive anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, breathlessness and increased heart rate are some of the symptoms one experiences in Harpaxophobia.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.