In this blog we will discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment of Hoplophobia.
Hoplophobia is an extreme fear of firearms, guns and ammunition.
People who suffer from Hoplophobia will jump or get a start at the mere sound of gunshot even in the TV or video games.
They cannot bear to even see guns, let alone hold one.
Universally guns are considered dangerous and are used either for protection, killing or making war.
The basic concept of firearms is considered to be tyranny.
Hoplophobia is an irrational fear of firearms and weapons, that include all sorts of guns.
Hoplophobia is extracted from the Greek word ‘Hoplo’ meaning weapon and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear.
The term Hoplophobia was coined by Col. Jeff Cooper in 1966.
The Hoplophobes suffer from extreme panic like symptoms at the thought of firearms also.
They are victims of their fears and thoughts. They even blame the firearms for the bad that is happening in the world, responsible for the violence.
They are also fearful of people who carry guns and can be judgemental about them.
Symptoms of Hoplophobia
The symptoms of Hoplophobia resemble those of a panic attack.
- Dreading the thought of seeing a firearm.
- Avoiding TV programs or news that shows guns or incidents related to firearms.
- Avoiding video games that show the use of guns and firearms.
- Feelings of extreme panic and horror.
- Flight from the scene
Physical symptoms of Hoplophobes can include:
- rapid heartbeat
- dry mouth
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach, nausea
- tightness in the chest
- feeling of dread
Causes of Hoplophobia
As with most phobias and anxieties, there is no clear consensus about what causes Hoplophobia..
The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have been exposed to death of a loved one in the family or even a beloved pet due to the use of a firearm, like being shot.
It could also be that he was involved in a mugging accident, where his valuables were snatched at gunpoint.
Anyone who is afraid of firearms cannot even bear to see the toy guns that kids play with.
Seeing news of warfare and movies that show vivid killing scenes with firearms and also news of genocides that have taken place; all these are elemental in causing Hoplophobia.
People may also be afraid of losing control because this is something that is not in their hands and not controlled by them, no matter how powerful a person is.
Thus, the symptoms of panic can leave the person not in control of the situation.
This inability to manipulate the situation according to one’s own whims might also push them to Hoplophobia.
There are plenty of people with Hoplophobia who cannot even recall the traumatic incident that would have developed this fear.
Many times, Hoplophobia can suddenly arise out of the blue.
Scientists believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental factors could cause such fears to develop.
As is common in specific phobias, the cause Hoplophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.
Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Hoplophobia.
Other causes can be as follow:
• Learned behavior
• Traumatic experiences
Etiological Models of Hoplophobia
1. Biological (Genetic) Model
Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels. Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families.
The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.
2. Psychodiagnostics Model
If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life.
A childhood traumatic experience could be where children often see a movie where people die in accidents involving gunshots or suffer before they die.
This may leave a long lasting impression. Reading books that have a detailed account of deaths and dying by guns , can add to the fears.
Firearms and guns take life; this is what this Hoplophobe believes in, not that they can be used for protection as well.
Therefore to avoid this anxiety they start fearing and evading what they fear.
The intensity is more because they know that death cannot be avoided, only the thought of it can be.
3. Behavioral Model
According to this model, irrational fears may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.
Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.
If a family member is already suffering from anxiety or is scared of one or another thing, then chances are higher that only by observing this, the child may develop fears
Treatments of Hoplophobia
Hoplophobia can be treated through different treatments.
These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP), Exposure Therapy, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.
1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.
This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.
The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to death and dying.
This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.
It changes the way a person thinks and feels.
CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation.
Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.
Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior.
Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.
For the treatment of Hoplophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts.
These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions.
- What thought is invoked at the thought of firearms?
- How do you feel when you see firearms?
- What do you do when you hold firearms?
- Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis. According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is.
In Hoplophobia, the person thinks of dying when he sees the guns and gets anxious because there is a fear of leaving loved ones behind and experiencing the unknown.
2) Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP)
In this therapy the client is asked to
- Access the phobia in a safe environment.
- Help them to replay the phobia along with happy emotions.
- Disassociate from the phobia.
3) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)
This is one of the most common therapies used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient.
In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the stimulus gradually with varying durations of time.
Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.
In Hoplophobia the client is exposed to images of firearms first.
For the fear to be invoked during therapy, the patient must be exposed to an intense stimulus (one that is feared).
He is also asked to narrate any scene from a movie he has seen that involved diseases or hospitals.
It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.
The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’
Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client.
Then the client is asked to present a list that has a hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most.
The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:
a) In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine
b) In vivo – where the client visits the the feared place in reality
The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.
3) Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.
We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.
We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions.
In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!
In Hoplophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is thinking of what he is afraid of.
Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms.
For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.
The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.
The client will meditate during the thoughts of death and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus.
5) Self-Help Groups
Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.
These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.
They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.
This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.
6) Changing Lifestyle
Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well.
• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:
Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.
• Indulging in an exercise regime:
Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.
This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.
• Altering eating and drinking habits:
Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.
This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum. With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.
• Improving the sleep cycle:
When we get proper rest, our concentration improves. When the mind is properly rested we think rationally.
7. Psychiatric Medication
There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Hoplophobia are severe.
- Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.
These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Hoplophobia as well as other phobias.
Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better.
7) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.
A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.
Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.
Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.
Frequently Asked Questions
What phobia is the fear of guns?
Hoplophobia is the irrational fear of guns.
The person suffering from this undergoes a panic attack.
What is Hopophilia?
Hopophilia is a love of firearms and the opposite of Hoplophobia.
What is a Gun Fetish?
There are people who purchase or keep firearms as fetish items.
They get sexually aroused by just being near guns and ammunition, giving them a high.
Who invented guns?
In the late 15th century the Ottoman empire used firearms as part of its regular infantry.
The first successful rapid-fire firearm is the Gatling Gun, invented by Richard Gatling and fielded by the Union forces during the American Civil War in the 1860s.
Examples of other interesting phobias
Titles To Read
- The Comprehensive Clinician’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
by Leslie Sokol and Marci Fox
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry
by Seth J Gillihan PhD
- Phobias: The Psychology of Irrational Fear
by Irena Milosevic and Randi McCabe
- Mastering Your Fears and Phobias (Treatments That Work)
by Michelle G. Craske, Martin M. Antony, et al.