What is Mastigophobia? (An Overview)

In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Mastigophobia. 

An intense fear of punishment is called Mastigophobia.

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 punishment. 

Even the thought of being punished can instigate very high levels of anxiety. If the condition worsens, one can even have full-blown panic attacks. 

People, especially children are fearful of being punished. This is because it makes them feel humiliated and or lowers their self-confidence.

However, someone suffering from Mastigophobia will feel terrified when being punished and or thinking of it. 

These extremely high levels of terror and anxiety persuade one to avoid doing things which might lead them to being punished.

Avoidance maintains their fear. An individual feels safe when they avoid being punished but feels stressed when in the fear causing situation.  

Avoidance is repetitive because of the pleasant feelings it produces. These recurrent actions can turn into compulsions, leading one to develop OCD. 

According to the DSM-V, anxiety that causes avoidance in Mastigophobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.

For example, a sufferer will avoid doing things he feels will lead him to be punished.

He may not participate in household activities and or co-curricular activities at school because he fears he might do something wrong which will result in punishment. 

In other cases, one will take part in all activities or work because he feels his less participation will get him punished.

Because it is almost impossible to predict what action can lead to one being punished, avoiding punishment can be a difficult task for one, physically and mentally.

Thus, someone suffering from Mastigophobia can also develop depression in the future. 

Mastigophobia is an irrational fear of being punished. The name originates from the Greek word ‘mastigo’ (meaning flog) and ‘phobos’ (meaning fear). 

Symptoms of Mastigophobia 

People with Mastigophobia, like in all other phobias, experience intense anxiety when exposed to punishment.

They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus, end up feeling more anxious. This anxiety, in extreme cases, can give rise to full-blown panic attacks.

The sufferer 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) or stay and combat their fear (fight).

In the case of Mastigophobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to punishment (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.

Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.  

Including anxiety, Mastigophobia has a number of other physiological symptoms which include:

  • Extreme anxiety when exposed to punishment 
  • Extreme anxiety by just thinking about being punished 
  • Avoiding being punished 
  • Full-blown panic attacks
  • Inability to handle anxiety
  • Muscle tension
  • Increased heart beat
  • Breathlessness
  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Screaming or crying
  • Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus)
  • Migraine
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach

Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months to be diagnosed with Mastigophobia, according to the DSM-V.

Causes of Mastigophobia 

Mastigophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause.

These types of phobias 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/phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.

According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Mastigophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of being punished. 

A trigger event can be for example, one must’ve been punished by his parents in front of siblings or other family members.

The humiliation one felt in that situation can be the reason to develop Mastigophobia. 

Also, if one got really harsh punishments from his teachers/parents, the pain or uneasy feeling felt at that time too can cause this irrational fear. 

Hearing about someone else’s bad experience with punishment can also cause this phobia. 

Additionally, someone who has a fear of how others see him or society is very likely to develop Mastigophobia because punishments can lower one’s self-esteem and make them feel ashamed. 

Therefore, Mastigophobia is caused by both genetics and environmental factors. 

Treatment of Mastigophobia 

Mastigophobia, like all other phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.

Like all the other specific phobias, this phobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, 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.

Mastigophobia is defined as the irrational fear of being punished. 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 being exposed to punishments.

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, to 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.

• Yoga/Meditation

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Mastigophobia, 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 of being punished. 

• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This is another effective therapy used to treat Mastigophobia.

It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this 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 blowing wind, 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/fearful aspects to it.

• Drug Therapy

Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Mastigophobia.

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. Anti-anxiety Drugs

Medicines like Valium 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.

                   ii.Antidepressant Drugs

These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.

Medicines like Lexapro 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.

Whether the cause of Mastigophobia, 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).

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1) What causes Mastigophobia? 

A genetic predisposition and or environmental factors cause one to develop Mastigophobia. 

Q2) Do I have Mastigophobia? 

To be diagnosed with Mastigophobia one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Other physiological symptoms like nausea, heart rate and or breathlessness are also experienced by one.  

Q3) Is Mastigophobia curable? 

Yes. Like all other specific phobias, Mastigophobia is treated using a number of psychotherapies and medicinal drugs.  


  • https://psychtimes.com/mastigophobia-fear-of-punishment/
  • https://fearof.org/mastigophobia/
  • www.commonphobias.com
  • www.psychologytoday.com

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!