In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Soceraphobia.
An intense fear of parents-in-law is called Soceraphobia. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone’s suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli.
Even the thought of parents-in-law can trigger anxiety and may lead to full-blown panic attacks if the fear worsens.
Parents-in-law are parents of one’s spouses.
They are not harmful or dangerous but people, especially a girl, fear how her parents-in-law will be with her because of the negative perception society has about this relationship.
Normally, people’s fear or stress is a result of their personal experiences.
However, someone suffering from Soceraphobia will get terrified at the sight/thought of his parents-in-law.
Even if they aren’t bad (which society perceives them to be), a sufferer won’t be able to withstand their presence.
In order to get rid of this terror, one avoids getting exposed to their parents-in-law. This avoidance will be repetitive because it gives one a sense of security in the absence of their fear stimuli.
Recurrent acts of avoidance, though can make one feel pleasant for the time being, in the long run they can cause one to develop OCD.
According to the DSM-V, avoidance caused by anxiety in Soceraphobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will prefer living in a separate house with the spouse, away from his parents-in-law. A sufferer will even avoid visiting them on occasions or otherwise.
In other cases, one can avoid getting married at all or divorce their partner because of the inability to avoid their fear stimuli (parents-in-law).
These actions can lead one to develop depression in the future.
Soceraphobia can also result in one developing fear of marriage (Gamophobia).
Soceraphobia is an irrational fear of parents-in-laws.
It is a type of specific phobia whose name originates from a Latin word ‘socer’ meaning father-in-law and Greek word ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Soceraphobia
People with Soceraphobia, like in all other specific phobias, experience intense anxiety about having an encounter with their parents-in-laws.
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.
Sufferers go 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 panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive steps.
Symptoms one suffers from in Soceraphobia, including anxiety are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety upon getting exposed to parents-in-law
- Extreme anxiety when thinking of parents-in-law
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding parents-in-law
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
Out of these, one should experience at least 3-5 symptoms, including anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Soceraphobia.
Causes of Soceraphobia
Soceraphobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause.
In this phobia, one is fearful of parents-in-laws because of unpleasant feelings or memories associated with them.
Specific 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 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 Soceraphobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This trigger event can be for example, someone who had cruel parents-in-law or who made one’s life unbearable after marriage is very likely to develop Soceraphobia.
Also, if one has heard of someone else’s bad experiences with parents-in-law can also suffer from this irrational fear.
For example, if one’s own parents had gone through this unhappy experience, they are very likely to induce fear into their child by telling them stories of incidents that happened with them.
The negative perception society/people hold of parents-in-law can also be the reason for someone to suffer from Soceraphobia.
Soap operas are one of the biggest culprits in causing this irrational fear of Soceraphobia.
Movies like ‘the hand that rocks the cradle’ and ‘monster inlaw’ shows that the insecurities of parents in law at having to share their child with another person may lead to dire consequences, like it can lead to a broken marriage between a couple too.
Additionally, if one’s spouse is fearful of his own parents, an individual is very likely to fear them too (his parents-in-law).
Therefore, genetics and environmental factors play significant roles in causing Soceraphobia.
Treatment of Soceraphobia
Soceraphobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Soceraphobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lowers anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Soceraphobia (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 one’s parents-in-law 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 in which he meets his parents-in-law.
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 a situation where he meets his real parents-in-law.
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 parents-in-law, 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.
Soceraphobia is defined as the irrational fear of parents-in-law.. 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 Soceraphobia.
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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Soceraphobia, 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 Soceraphobia.
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:
- 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.
2) Anti-anxiety Drugs
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 Soceraphobia, 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
by Ellen Hendriksen
- The Solution to Social Anxiety: Break Free from the Shyness That Holds You Back
by Dr. Aziz Gazipura PsyD, Dr. Aziz Gazipura, et al.
- Through Tears and Fears I Conquered: My Story My Recipes
by Mrs Jean N Petranto
- Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love
by Judith Orloff
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Soceraphobia?
It is an irrational fear of parents-in-law.
Q2) Is it normal to be scared of your parents?
Yes. Many children are afraid of their parents either out of respect or because their parents are strict.
Q3) What phobia is fear of parents?
Childhood experiences can lead one to fear their parents.
Q4) Is parent in law a word?
Yes. It means the father and mother of one’s spouse.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.