What is Novercaphobia? (An Overview)

In this blog we will learn about the symptoms, causes and treatment of Novercaphobia. 

Fear of one’s step-mother is called Novercaphobia. Normally, children fear their step-mothers because for them, a  step-mother is a replacement of their real mother. 

Some children feel fearful of them because she’s an entirely unknown person, living with their father as his wife and as their mother. 

Mothers are very special and important for a child. No matter what his age is, a child wants his mother to be with him all the time.

No one can love a child the way his mother does. And generally, children are more close to their motors as compared to their fathers.

Thus, watching their mother’s position getting replaced by some other woman can be really hurting and fearful for them. 

For children who have seen and or lived with their real mother, feel uncomfortable when adjusting with a new one.

Maybe because they miss their mother or the negative perception society has of this new relationship.

However, not all step-mothers are bad. Some might be a bit difficult to live with or ‘evil’, but not everyone’s the same.

Many children very easily adjust with this new relationship because of the love and affection they get in return. 

It would be incorrect to call one’s fear of step-mothers as irrational in Novercaphobia because, though not all are harmful or evil, for children or anyone, accepting someone as their mother can be difficult and they may fear her, until they don’t adjust. 

But, the excessive anxiety and terror one experiences when exposed to their step-mother, in Novercaphobia is completely irrational or unjustified. Their fear is out of touch with reality and this induces very high levels of stress and anxiety. 

These overwhelmingly high levels of anxiety cause hindrances in the sufferers day-to-day activities.

According to the DSM-V, hurdles in one’s daily activities are called social and occupational dysfunction. 

Repetitive avoidance, caused by anxiety is what leads to this dysfunction. For example, one will avoid living with his step-mother and opt to live independently. 

They will refrain from having any exposure with their step-mother.

Even if they have to leave their father, they will. One will choose to live life in solidarity and adverse conditions over compromise and living with his step-mother because of the intense fear he feels. 

These avoidances and social occupational dysfunction can make the sufferer feel safe and pleasant.

This sense of security maintains their phobia because it proves to them that their fear stimulus is dangerous and threatening. 

Though, these feelings are short-lived. In the future, an individual is very likely to develop OCD and or depression. 

Novercaphobia is an irrational fear of one’s step-mother. It is a type of specific phobia whose name originated from a Latin word ‘noverca’ meaning step-mother and a Greek word ‘phobos’ meaning fear. 

Symptoms of Novercaphobia 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-5th Edition (DSM-V) suggests a number of symptoms one suffers from in all specific phobias, including Novercaphobia. 

This irrational fear of one’s step-mother is a part of anxiety disorders, thus anxiety is it’s pivotal symptom.

It aggravates other physiological symptoms, such as heart rate, breathing rate and one’s mood.

These symptoms persuade the repetitive acts of avoidance as mentioned earlier. 

Though, people suffering from this specific phobia feel extreme anxiety when exposed to one’s step-mother.

Because Novercaphobia comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V, one gets extremely anxious at the mere thought of his fear stimuli. 

Individuals suffer from misery, which can give rise to full-blown panic attacks if exposed to one’s step-mother. One may require hospitalization as a result. 

Because each individual experiences Novercaphobia differently (based on their past experiences), one will  suffer from more severe symptoms , as compared to someone else. 

According to the DSM-V, anxiety that one experiences in Novercaphobia should last for at least 6-months.

Other than this, one should also suffer from 3-5 symptoms for the list mentioned below. 

  • Excessive anxiety when exposed to one’s step-mother 
  • Excessive anxiety when thinking about step-mothers 
  • Inability to manage anxiety 
  • Full-blown panic attacks 
  • Avoiding one’s step-mother
  • Increased heart beat 
  • Breathlessness 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Nausea 
  • Feelings of dizziness/fainting 
  • Feeling depressed 
  • Fear of an impending doom 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Tremors 
  • Hot/cold flashes 
  • Butterflies in the stomach 
  • Drying up of the mouth 
  • Disorientation 
  • Migraine 

Causes of Novercaphobia 

It is argued that all anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real cause. They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors. 

According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition.

Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders has a higher chance of developing Novercaphobia.

This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him. 

This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship.

This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Novercaphobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event. 

Those environmental trigger events refer to the past-traumatic experiences associated with one’s fear stimuli.

For example, someone who was abused by his step-mother and or harshly treated/disliked can develop Novercaphobia. 

Also, hearing about someone else’s unpleasant experience with their step-mother can induce fear. 

Additionally, the negative/evil perception society holds about step-mothers can also be a reason why one develops Novercaphobia.

News and or soap operas play a significant role in causing this irrational fear of step-mothers.

For example, even the most famous Disney movie ‘Cinderella’ portrayed a very negative role of Cinderella’s step-mother who used to treat her harshly. 

Thus, there is no definite cause as to why one develops Novercaphobia. Both genetics and environmental factors play significant roles in it’s development. 

Treatment of Novercaphobia 

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

Like all the other specific phobias, Novercaphobia is treated by a number of different ways: Psychological and Biological treatment. 

  • Psychological Treatment 

• Exposure Therapy

It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Novercaphobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).

In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.

To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of his step-mother for example.

As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.

In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he encounters his step-mother. 

During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.

 Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to his real step-mother. 

While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.

These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.

This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.

Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.

However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of step-mother, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.

• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Novercaphobia is defined as the irrational fear of one’s step-mother.

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.  

• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 

This is another effective therapy used to treat Novercaphobia.

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.

• 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.

• Yoga/Meditation 

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Novercaophobia, 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. 

  • Biological Treatment 

• Medicinal Drugs 

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

These include medicines like Klonopin. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the 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 Novercaphobia, 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 is the fear of a mother called?

Pentheraphobia is an irrational fear of the mother-in-law. 

Q2) What is Novercaphobia?

It is an irrational fear of one’s step-mother. 

Q3) Is it normal to be scared of your step-mother? 

Yes. Many children are afraid of their step-mothers, either because they don’t like her or her behaviour towards them is not good or warm. 


  • www.commonphobias.com
  • www.psychtimes.com
  • https://fearof.org/novercaphobia/
  • www.apa.org 

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