Megalophobia: Fear of Large Objects

Phobias can become extremely limiting. Today, we're going to talk about one of the most curious kinds. This is megalophobia, the fear of big objects.
Megalophobia: Fear of Large Objects
Ebiezer López

Written and verified by the psychologist Ebiezer López.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Do you feel extremely anxious when you’re near a large object, such as a building or a truck? If so, you may be experiencing megalophobia, a rare type of specific phobia.

People who suffer from this disorder feel extremely uncomfortable when they’re close to large objects. It’s a serious problem that shouldn’t be ignored and it requires professional attention.

There are different theories that offer varying explanations for this irrational fear. The general consensus is that there are several factors that could participate. Therefore, there are also several proposed treatments.

Megalophobia

In an etymological sense, this term comes from the Greek word, ‘mega’ which means ‘great’ and ‘phobia’ which means ‘fear’.

Patients who suffer from megalophobia feel intense anxiety in situations involving large objects. For example, someone with megalophobia might feel terrified walking past a skyscraper or a crane. The same could happen if they came across a large animal, such as an elephant or giraffe.

Within the DSM-5, this disturbance is classified as a type of anxiety disorder. According to the manual, in order to diagnose it, the patient must present with several of the following characteristics:

  • Intense fear or anxiety in the presence of extremely large objects.
  • The feelings of anxiety or fear almost always occur immediately.
  • The person actively avoids situations involving large objects.
  • The fear lasts for at least six months.
  • Clinically significant discomfort is experienced. This interferes with the sufferer’s daily life. For example, their work, studies, friends, etc.
  • The condition can’t be better explained by another illness, such as panic disorder or the like.

In 2018, Eaton, Bienvenu, and Miloyan conducted a study that indicated specific phobias affect between three and 15 percent of the world population. However, the most common are those related to animals and fear of heights. As a result, we could say that megalophobia isn’t a common disorder.

Big boat

Causes

As with other mental disorders, there’s no one single factor that generates this phobia. On the one hand, psychological models, such as the cognitive-behavioral model, understand it as a learned behavior. In other words, the sufferer has learned that large objects are dangerous in some way and that’s why they have these reactions.

On the other hand, there are those who suggest that this fear could have a biological component. Indeed, it’s important to remember that our species is the product of millions of years of evolution. Even today, we retain many instincts from our ancestors that once served our survival. As a matter of fact, it’s said that this phobia could be related to a genetic instinct of avoiding big things because they would’ve been seen as potentially dangerous.

However, gene expression can be altered by environmental factors. Therefore, it’s said that megalophobia could be a combination of this innate instinct and learning.

Treatment

To develop an adequate treatment plan, the sufferer must first obtain a diagnosis from a qualified professional. Once that’s done, the next steps will depend on each individual case. That’s because mental disorders tend to manifest themselves differently in each individual.

In severe cases, anxiolytics may be prescribed to regulate anxiety symptoms such as tachycardia, sweats, tremors, etc. This will allow the sufferer to function better in their environment and benefit from other interventions, such as psychotherapy.  Psychological therapy would have two purposes. One would be to educate the patient so that they better understand their problems. The other focus would involve reducing and eliminating irrational fear through different techniques.

One of the most common alternatives is the feared stimulus exposure technique. For example, systematic desensitization consists of gradually exposing the patient to what causes them fear. The psychologist or psychiatrist might start imagination exercises, firstly with photos of large objects and, finally, with real things. The idea is to increase the patient’s level of exposure as the sessions progress.

Treatments based on exposure techniques have a fairly high success rate. In 2008, Wolizsky-Taylor et al. conducted a meta-analysis that found that this type of therapy is more effective than a placebo and other options. When multiple sessions were undertaken, the positive effects increased in strength.

Sad woman in therapy

What to do if you think you have megalophobia

If you think you may be suffering from megalophobia, you need professional help. Because this phobia could actually prevent you from living your life in a calm way. For example, you might have trouble getting to work if your office is in a really large building.

In addition to interfering with your normal functioning, this condition often appears alongside other psychological disorders. Therefore, the best option is to get treatment for relieving the feelings of discomfort it causes and, ultimately, to overcome it.

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  • Eaton, W. W., Bienvenu, O. J., & Miloyan, B. (2018). Specific phobias. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(8), 678-686.
  • Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., Horowitz, J. D., Powers, M. B., & Telch, M. J. (2008). Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 28(6), 1021-1037.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.