In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Taurophobia.
A fear of bulls is called Taurophobia. Bulls are male mammals, opposite of cows.
They are muscular, tough and aggressive animals. They are used for breeding and because of their physical build, are used in sports such as bullfighting and or riding.
Festivals like Pamplona Running of the bulls in Spain is an annual event. It takes place every year in which daredevils are chased by bulls.
Though entertaining, it causes fatalities as the bull attacks people in the crowd when out of control.
Bulls are very aggressive and a defensive animal, who can also kill people.
Farmers or their owners make sure they don’t turn their back towards it, to refrain the animal from getting aggressive.
People are usually afraid of them because of their huge, strong build and their low temperament.
Taurophobia is an animal specific phobia which is a part of anxiety disorder in the DSM-V.
This is why sufferers experience extreme anxiety when exposed to bulls or by just thinking of them, unlike other people.
This extreme anxiety persuades them to make painstaking efforts in order to avoid bulls.
Avoidance causes hindrances in the sufferers daily routine (their social and occupational functioning is affected).
For example, one will avoid going to a farm where they might encounter bulls. A sufferer will choose to live in an urban city, as compared to a rural one because of the fear of bulls they have.
This dysfunction, though makes one feel good initially, in the long run they can develop Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and or depression.
If an individual is unable to avoid bulls, he experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to them.
Thus, he suffers from full-blown panic attacks as a result.
Taurophobia is an irrational fear of bulls. The name originates from the Greek word ‘tauro’ meaning bull and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Taurophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, have anxiety as their pivotal symptom.
Therefore, someone suffering from Taurophobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli, bulls.
Specific phobias are irrational fears. However, this fear of bulls is now wholly irrational.
This is because bulls can prove to be very dangerous if instigated. Their garresives behaviour has resulted in many deaths.
Though, people who suffer from Taurophobia experience anxiety in excess, which makes their fear out of touch with reality.
Their fear affects their physical and mental health alike, thus it is labelled as irrational.
Avoidance as mentioned earlier is repetitive. These recurrent actions maintain one’s fear by producing feelings of security, which makes one believe that bulls are to be feared of.
According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with Taurophobia, one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and at least 3-5 symptoms (from the list mentioned below).
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to bulls
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about bulls
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding bulls
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
Causes of Taurophobia
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 disorder has a higher chance of developing Taurophobia. 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 Taurophobia 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 might’ve been injured by a bull. Also, one may have lost a loved one due to a bull attacking them. These incidents may have induced fear.
Additionally, looking at news reports on the number of deaths bulls result in or the accidents that happen in the bull running festival in Spain can also be a reason for Taurophobia to develop.
The physical appearance of a bull or parents’ fearful behaviour towards them can also cause this phobia.
Thus, Taurophobia is caused by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Taurophobia
Taurophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Taurophobia is treated by a number of different methods: Psychological treatment and Biological treatment.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Taurophobia is defined as the irrational fear of bulls. 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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Zoophobia (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 bulls 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 bulls.
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 real bulls in a farm for example.
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 bulls, 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, 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.
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders.
It 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 Taurophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of bulls.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Taurophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of animal 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Taurophobia, 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
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Taurophobia.
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. 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.
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 Taurophobia, 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
- Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Dogs, Snakes, Rodents, Bees, Spiders, and More
by Martin M. Antony and Randi E. McCabe
- The A-Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties (Facts on File Library of Health & Living)
by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.
- The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Anxiety, Trauma, and Ocd-related Disorders
by Edited by Naomi M. Simon, M.D., et al.
- Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective
by Aaron Beck, Gary Emery, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Taurophobia?
Like all other specific phobias, Taurophobia is caused by either a genetic predisposition and or an environmental trigger event.
Q2) How common is Taurophobia?
Around 13% of the women and 4% of the men suffer from specific phobias.
Q3) What does Taurophobia mean?
Taurophobia is the irrational fear of bulls.
One will find the sight or thought of bulls extremely terrifying if they suffer from this type of phobia.
Q4) What animals do humans fear the most?
Mountain lions, alligators and bears are known to be the most common animals one fears in America.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.