Philophobia: The Fear of Falling in Love

September 6, 2019
The fear of falling in love can be overwhelming for some people. They're afraid of being hurt or betrayed, and become extremely anxious at the thought of building an emotional connection with someone and being vulnerable. Some people are also terrified of losing their independence.

The characteristics of philophobia make it a very specific, unique fear: the fear of forming a strong emotional bond with someone. Some people say that this tends to come from childhood abuse, divorced parents, etc. But that’s not always the case. There are many cases where there’s no obvious reason for it.

How could that be, though? What could lead someone to experience a true fear of an emotion everyone says is so fantastic? It’s a matter of perspective. While some people consider falling in love the most wonderful and intense thing that can happen to you, other people find it terrifying.

There are also people who like to think this phobia says something about modern society, but the truth is that it seems to have always been around.

For example, some people think that Elizabeth I is a historical figure who probably had philophobia. Some people say that her refusal to marry was “a consequence” of what happened to her mother, Anne Boleyn. She was executed by her husband, Henry the 8th, for falling in love with another man.

While it’s true that Elizabeth I had several lovers, she herself said that she preferred to keep love out of her life. She was firm that she would never get married. She couldn’t imagine sharing her life with someone else. Philophobia ended up leaving its mark on her reign in the same way it does in the daily lives of people who have it nowadays.

Although philophobia isn’t in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),  it’s a relatively common condition.

A couple talking in a cafe.

The characteristics of philophobia

Philophobia can take many different shapes. No two people experience it in the same way, and there’s no pattern that makes for an easy diagnosis. In fact, if you look for it in the DSM, all you’ll find is that it’s a subset of social phobia.

Experts in this topic, such as Dr. Scott Dehort at the Delphi Behavioral Health Group in Maryland, say that philophobia is just as common in men as it is in women. No biological or genetic factors determine it, and it may just develop after a bad experience with a romantic partner.

It’s such a bad experience that it creates a fear that the same thing will happen again, that they’ll suffer, be hurt. As time goes on, the fear turns into a full-blown phobia. But as we all know, part of the problem with a phobia is that it can lead to other issues such as anxiety, depression, social isolation, and drug use, among others.

A heart balloon standing on the ground, surrounded by pins.

Romantic philophobia

When you think of this, the first thing that comes to mind is probably people who try to avoid commitment and emotional bonds at all costs. But other people manage to take the step and form a bond with someone. The problem here is that the relationship can be extremely toxic.

  • In the case of that last group of people, they’re often cold, harsh, inaccessible, and have a constant need for control. They also tend to be jealous and possessive. All of that is a clear sign of the underlying fear and insecurity.
  • These people also tend to have low self-esteemThey don’t know how to communicate, never give in, don’t empathize. Philophobic people with partners are extreme emotional saboteurs. Their insecurity blows a hole in their emotional bond. That fear of commitment and vulnerability leads them into roller coaster relationships.

People who avoid all relationships

Then, there are people who avoid any kind of relationship at all costs. They’re not just avoiding the idea of commitment, partnership or feeling affection, passion, and infatuation. These people are truly afraid of building any kind of emotional bond, including a platonic one.

Think about it: it’s a form of social phobia that will almost inevitably lead to isolation, anxiety, panic attacks, and several other personality disorders.

This form of philophobia is characterized by physical manifestations of the fear. When someone tries to become closer to them and establish a connection with them, they may start to sweat, feel uncomfortable, and have an increased heart rate.

A man with philophobia disintegrating into dust.

How do you treat it?

The treatment options for people with some of the symptoms listed above can vary a lot. Depending on the intensity of the phobia, it may be enough to change their lifestyle. Or they may just need to do a very specific form of therapy: exposure therapy. What that means is that they’d work through their anxiety by playing out scenes with their therapist.

In more severe cases, medication may be necessary. This is especially the case if they’re going through social isolation, depression, or anxiety, among other conditions. In those cases, the person is definitely dealing with a true case of phobia. That means that things such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can be a major help.

This form of therapy can help them identify their fears and change their beliefs, thoughts, and negative reactions surrounding the origins of the phobia. The point is that there’s a way to treat it. All it takes is commitment. Overcoming it can lead to much better relationships.

  • Tavormina, R. (2014). ¿Por qué tenemos miedo de amar? En Psychiatria Danubina (Vol. 26, pp. 178–183). Medicinska Naklada Zagreb.