Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

In this blog post, we answer the following question: Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? We talk about the possible causes and treatment of the extreme fear of being robbed.

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in?

Perhaps you are feeling paranoid – thus experiencing an extreme fear – that someone will break in because you have what is called harpaxophobia (the fear of being robbed).

Harpaxophobia is the persistent fear of thieves. It is a circumstance that, being classified as a phobia, implies the possibility that the experience of assault may provoke irrational fear. But can this be considered an unwarranted fear? Is it a specific phobia or is it rather an experience that accompanies more complex social ills?

We will see below how harpaxophobia can be defined and what elements accompany it.

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

Harpaxophobia: the fear of thieves

The term “harpaxophobia” is derived from Latin “harpax” which means “thief” or “he who steals”; and also from the Greek word “phobos” which means fear. Thus, harpaxophobia is the persistent and intense fear of thieves, as well as living a robbery experience.

It would be a fear that is activated by a specific stimulus: the possibility of someone around us may steal something from us. But, for someone to carry out such an act, it is necessary that circumstances allow it: in principle, it must be in a place where the robbery can go unnoticed (a very lonely space, or a space with a large number of people).

On the other hand, many of the robberies, although they are committed by a single person, can be covered or supported by several other people. If in addition to this, it is a moment in which our attention is scattered or focused on a specific activity, or we find ourselves in an important situation of defenselessness with respect to possible aggressors, the whole circumstance turns in favour of representing a potential risk to our belongings or our physical integrity.

Having said this, we can see that harpaxophobia is not only the fear that a person will steal from us, but rather an entire circumstance that implies the real or perceived possibility of suffering an assault or direct aggression. 

In this, various elements are mixed, which have to do with our previous experiences, direct or indirect to the violence, our imaginations about who can be potential aggressors, our difficulties to function in certain public spaces, among others.

In this sense, harpaxophobia could be classified as a specific phobia of a situational type, following the criteria of specific phobia manuals. However, harpaxophobia has not been studied or considered as such by experts in psychology and psychopathology. This may be because, far from being a disorder, the persistent and intense fear of an assault is rather an over-adaptive response generated from constant exposure to violence, either directly or indirectly.

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

The main symptoms of specific phobias are caused by the activation of the autonomic nervous system, which acts in the presence of a stimulus perceived as harmful. This system is in charge of regulating our involuntary motor responses, which prepares us to avoid possible damage, either by running away, hiding, exercising physical resistance, among others.

Thus, we generate a series of physiological reactions. For example, the increase in the speed of palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, decreased digestive activity, among others. All this while we process at high speed the information about the threatening event. 

The latter constitutes the typical picture of anxiety, and in cases of greater exposure to the stimulus, it can transform into a panic attack, which is more frequent in specific phobias of a situational type.

For its part, the level of anxiety experienced depends largely on the stimulus that causes the phobia. In other words, it depends on the degree of danger that it represents, as well as the safety signals that the stimulus itself can offer.

In the case of harpaxophobia, the experience of anxiety can increase significantly in contexts where the probability of suffering an assault is higher (going through a dark street alone, carrying a significant amount of money or items of high economic value, crossing a generally conflictive or overly touristy neighbourhood, etc.).

To the latter, other elements are added, such as the person’s state of mind (which can cause greater susceptibility), and the perceived possibilities of fleeing or receiving help if necessary.

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

Possible causes

Specific phobias are acquired experiences, which means that they are generated by constantly reinforced associations about a stimulus and the dangers related to it. Three of the most popular explanatory models for such associations are classical conditioning, vicarious learning, and the transmission of information.

Likewise, three of the most important elements for the consolidation of specific phobia are the following (Bados, 2005):

  • The severity and frequency of direct negative experiences with the stimulus, which in this case would have been theft previously.
  • Having had a lower number of previous safe experiences related to harmful stimuli. In the case of harpaxophobia, it may be, for example, not having crossed the same place without having been assaulted.
  • Related to the above, the third element is not having been exposed to the harmful situation in other conditions after the negative experience.

In this sense, harpaxophobia can develop from direct or indirect exposure to violence. That is, after having been assaulted, or for having witnessed one, or for knowing someone who has suffered it. 

The latter can easily translate into a constant feeling of threat, generating avoidant behaviour towards places that pose a risk, as well as defensive behaviour to prevent assaults, especially in places that have high crime rates.

Thus, it can hardly be defined as a disproportionate response, since the stimulus that provokes it (a robbery) is potentially harmful to physical and emotional integrity so that avoidance behaviours and the anxiety response are rather a set of adaptive and proportional responses to the stimulus.

If these responses become generalized and prevent the person from carrying out their daily activities regularly, or negatively impact their interpersonal relationships, or cause an experience of generalized anxiety, then it may not be harpaxophobia, but rather an experience of more complex discomfort. For example, an experience related to social interactions or open spaces, and of which fear of thieves is only a part.

Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? (Harpaxophobia)

Treatment for harpaxophobia

Having explored and determined the above, there are different emotional support strategies that can be used to reduce prolonged and intense experiences of anxiety.

The latter will not necessarily remove the fear of thieves, as this could backfire, but can minimize deeper fears (such as certain social interactions) while maintaining self-care strategies. In these cases, it is advisable to go to psychotherapy to learn how to manage stress levels and regain autonomy.

FAQ on Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in

What is the fear of someone breaking into your house called?

The fear of someone breaking into your house is called harpaxophobia.  Scelerophobia is the fear of burglars, bad men or crime in general. 

How do I stop being so paranoid?

To stop being paranoid, it is better to consult a mental health professional to get properly assessed, first. Do not self-diagnose and do not self medicate. Besides that, take better care of what you are eating and how you are sleeping. By taking care of your body, you are also taking care of your mind and thoughts. 

Why have I been so paranoid lately?

It is possible that you have been feeling more paranoid lately because you are going through a more stressful, even traumatic situation. You may be upset, under high-stress or suffering from anxiety. Paranoia is a symptom of some mental health problems.

Is being paranoid normal?

Generally speaking, being paranoid is something we all have experienced at one time in our lives. Either because we were under high-stress, dealing with trust and commitment issues. However, if you are experiencing an unrealistic or exaggerated belief that other people mean you harm on a daily basis, it is a sign that something more is going on. 

Does paranoia go away?

Paranoia can go away once the stressful situation you are going through will pass. However, paranoia is a symptom of some mental health problems. If you are experiencing an unrealistic or exaggerated belief that other people mean you harm on a daily basis, you should consult a mental health professional.

What triggers paranoia?

There are many situations that can trigger paranoia. They are usually associated with past traumas. For example, a person who was once cheated on may become paranoiac in his new relationship when he’s new partner does not answer the phone. 

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: Why am I so paranoid about someone breaking in? We talked about the possible causes and treatment of the extreme fear of being robbed.

Harpaxophobia is the persistent fear of thieves. It is a circumstance that, being classified as a phobia, implies the possibility that the experience of assault may provoke irrational fear. 

Harpaxophobia can develop from direct or indirect exposure to violence. That is, after having been assaulted, or for having witnessed one, or for knowing someone who has suffered it. 

The latter can easily translate into a constant feeling of threat, generating avoidant behaviour towards places that pose a risk, as well as defensive behaviour to prevent assaults, especially in places that have high crime rates.

In these cases, it is advisable to go to psychotherapy to learn how to manage stress levels and regain autonomy.

If you have any comments or questions on the subject, please let us know!

Further Reading

Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (New Harbinger Self Help Workbook), by Edmund J. Bourne 

A Practical Guide to Overcoming Phobias: Stand Up to Your Fears (Practical Guide Series), by Patricia Furness-Smith

Phobia Relief: From Fear to Freedom (Building Your Best Series Book 1), by Kalliope Barlis Barlis

Treating Affect Phobia: A Manual for Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy, by Leigh McCullough 

Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective, by Aaron Beck 

References

Bados, A. (2005). Specific phobias. Faculty of Psychology. Department of personality, evaluation and psychological treatments. The University of Barcelona.

Garcia R. (2017). Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 24(9), 462–471. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.044115.116

Harpaxophobia. (2017). Common-Phobias.com. 

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.