In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Syngenesophobia.
Fear of relatives is called Syngenesophobia. It is a type of specific, social phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this type of specific phobia will experience extreme anxiety when they see their relatives or a specific relative.
One can also suffer from great amounts of anxiety if they only think about seeing their relatives.
An individual can also have panic attacks if the anxiety intensifies.
In Syngenesophobia, people are terrified when they are around their relatives.
This fear can be either generalized to ‘all’ relatives or it is specified to just one specific person in the family.
This fear, being subjective, is experienced in different ways by different people depending upon the cause of their phobia.
A sufferer will make painstaking efforts to avoid their relatives in order to lower their anxiety.
These acts of avoidance are repetitive and can take the shape of compulsions.
Therefore, one may develop Obsessive-compulsive Disorder in the future.
According to the DSM-V, one’s anxiety and acts of avoidance affects their social and occupational functioning.
For example, someone will not leave his house in order to visit his relatives.
He won’t attend family functions or other festivities where his relatives are present.
This was not only will he self-isolate himself from his relatives but he will lose his relations.
Maybe the relatives stop inviting him or maintaining any sort of contact with the sufferer or, may be the sufferers only family leaves him because of his irrational fear due to which they are deprived of meeting their loved ones.
This loss of relations can lead to someone suffering from Syngenesophobia to develop depression.
The sufferer is also very likely to develop Anthropophobia (fear of people).
Syngenesophobia is an irrational fear of relatives.
The word originated from the Greek word ‘sy’ meaning the same, ‘gen’ meaning heredity and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Syngenesophobia
Similar to all other specific phobias, Syngenesophobia’s main symptom is extreme anxiety.
Sufferers experience high levels of anxiety when around people.
This anxiety can also lead to full-blown panic attacks.
When the sufferer thinks he is around his fear stimuli, he 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)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
As the DSM-V suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months to be diagnosed with Syngenesophobia.
Other than anxiety, one also experiences a number of other physiological symptoms.
The severity of these symptoms depends upon the intensity of one’s fear, depending on how they perceive a certain situation or person, based on their personal experiences (or the cause of the phobia).
The symptoms that one endures in Syngenesophobia are:
- Extreme anxiety when around one’s relatives
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about one’s relatives
- Avoiding relatives
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate
- Feeling dizzy
- 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).
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of mouth
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety) to be diagnosed with Syngenesophobia.
Additionally, this fear of relatives can also be a part of other mental disorders such as PTSD, delusional disorder or social anxiety disorder.
Causes of Syngenesophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Syngenesophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Syngenesophobia than someone who doesn’t.
This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
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 Syngenesophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of relatives.
The trigger event that one requires to experience Syngenesophobia can be a past-traumatic event.
For example, someone might have experienced sexual or physical abuse by a relative in their childhood.
Since then, they either developed a fear for that particular individual or they generalized this fear to all relatives.
Someone can also develop this fear of relatives if they have seen any of their loved ones being afraid of or harmed by them.
Additionally, the soap operas also portray certain relatives, like mother-in-laws or aunts as dangerous in terms of ruining one’s relation with other people.
This social mindset also adds to one developing Syngenesophobia.
Therefore, both genetics and environmental factors play a significant role in causing Syngenesophobia.
Treatment of Syngenesophobia
Syngenesophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Syngenesophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or NLP that lowers 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.
Syngenesophobia is defined as the irrational fear of relatives.
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 interacting with relatives.
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:
- A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
- B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
- C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
- 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.
• Neuro-Linguistic programming (NLP)
It is a psychological approach that includes ways of trying to reach a personal goal.
It links language, thoughts and patterns of behavior learned through experience.
The key elements of NLP are action, modeling and effective communication. It suggests that everyone has different ways of how they see the world.
By understanding a number of perspectives of others, patients who use NLP see the world through a combination of their personal views and that of others.
NLP therapists treat patients with Syngenesophobia by making them understand their thoughts, behaviors and emotional state.
By having an insight of the patient’s own ‘personal’ view of reality, they assist them in forming new, positive thoughts.
NLP helps the patient in improving his state of thoughts about other people by understanding their cognitive-behavioral patterns.
Like CBT, this form of therapy is also very effective.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. I
t is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears.
They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear.
In the case of Syngenesophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of relatives.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Syngenesophobia (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 relative(s) 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 is around his relatives, for example at a wedding party.
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 real situation in which he meets his relatives.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of fear causing 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 relatives, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• 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, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Syngenesophobia.
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 Syngenesophobia, 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 Robert Sardello
by Susan Sanders, Tom Dotz, et al.
by Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti, et al.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, Third Edition: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures
by Francine Shapiro
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Syngenesophobia?
It is an irrational fear of relatives.
Someone suffering from this type of specific phobia experiences extreme anxiety when around relatives.
It is similar to social phobia.
Q2) How is Syngenesophobia treated?
It is treated by using a number of therapies including NLP, exposure therapy, CBT, DBT.
Medicinal drugs are also used to lower the physical symptoms of Syngenesophobia.
Q3) How is Syngenesophobia caused?
It is caused by either a genetic predisposition (family history) or an environmental factor (past-traumatic event).
Q4) Do I have Syngenesophobia?
The symptoms of Syngenesophobia are similar to all other specific phobias which include, extreme anxiety, panic attacks, inability to manage anxiety, dizziness, nausea etc.
Examples of other interesting phobias