Are you afraid of seeing the faces of the dead ones? Do you always avoid attending the death rituals of a loved one, close relative, or friend? Do you develop goosebumps on seeing coffins, visiting cemeteries, and reading tombstones? If your answer to these questions is yes, you might be suffering from necrophobia.
If you’re suffering from necrophobia and shy away from things associated with death, that doesn’t make you abnormal. Every human on the face of the earth fears one thing or another. Some have the fear of public speaking (glossophobia), and some are afraid of heights (acrophobia). People are afraid of different things, and both genes and environment play a role in developing a particular phobia.
The word necrophobia comes from two Greek words; Nekros meaning cadaver or corpse, and Phobos meaning fear or anxiety.
Causes and Triggers
Like other phobias, necrophobia has to do more with the genes of a person. If someone is genetically predisposed to develop some phobia, a particular environmental condition can serve as a trigger. People without necrophobia can handle corpses and other rituals with ease. Oftentimes, necrophobia can be traced back to the childhood of the person suffering from it. Certain environmental and cultural triggers can make the situation worse. Below are some of the most important causes and triggers of necrophobia.
Genetic Disposition: Like other phobias, genes play a significant role in the development of specific fear. On the other hand, the environment can only activate those genes. Certain genes are more responsible for anxiety-related disorders than others.
Environmental Factors: Sometimes, a learned response might be the root cause of necrophobia. When a kid sees their parents averting and fearing death-related things, he or she may pick the same response and start fearing the same. Sometimes, classical and pavlovian conditioning processes are involved in the development of necrophobia. In addition, it’s a common observation that controlling parents can instill irrational fears in their children.
Traumatic Events: A person with a history of past traumatic events is more at risk of developing different kinds of anxieties and phobias, and necrophobia is no exception. If someone has lost his or her loved ones and has a gruesome memory of the past, they might fear everything that relates to death. No doubt, painful memories leave their footprints for life.
Entering the Vicious Cycle: Sometimes, the best way to treat necrophobia is to expose the person to death rituals and other related things, so that they can accept it as a natural phenomenon and normalize their behavior. But sometimes it can be the other way around and prove counterproductive. A necrophobic person can become more fearful when we expose them to death rituals involving the dead ones. They can enter a loop where; the more the exposure, the more the fear. It’s a positive feedback mechanism. In this kind of scenario, it’s more reasonable to resort to cognitive behavioral therapy, as it works best in the absence of a fearful situation.
Sometimes, stress can create or worsen an existing phobic condition. Horror films and novels can also make the situation worse.
The culture of a person plays an active role in developing this phobia. For instance, in some cultures, it’s a part of their belief systems that dead bodies turn into spooks and return to haunt their relatives. A glimpse of that can be seen in the famous novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” where the main character, José Arcadio Buendía, suffers from these kinds of beliefs. Such kinds of beliefs are very common in ancient cultures and ethnicities. As far as modern and urban cultures are concerned, such beliefs are becoming extinct.
Recent advances in multiple sciences have made it clear that phobias are the result of genetic, biological (involving hormones and neurotransmitters), and environmental factors.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of necrophobia match those of other phobias. Symptoms are both physical and psychological. Sometimes, people present psychosomatic symptoms (mental conditions giving rise to physical symptoms).
These are some of the most prominent symptoms that can arise due to necrophobia:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Indifference to the physical world (feeling detached from everything present around)
- Choking, breathlessness, or shortness of breath
- Tachycardia (increased palpitations)
- Sweaty palms
- Chest feeling tight and constricted
- A desire to run away or hide
- Losing control over himself or herself
- Brain fog
- Feeling as if dying
- Trembling or visibly shaken
- Feeling as if I’m about to collapse
Sometimes, the situation can become so much worse that a person experiences a panic attack. The panic attack is characterized by a sudden fear response involving most of the above-mentioned symptoms.
Having experienced panic attacks, people may start avoiding situations where they have the slightest possibility of coming across something they fear. For example, a person may avoid taking certain routes that lead towards a cemetery or a funeral house. They may refuse to watch a horror genre and can be a subject of ridicule in their social circle. Sometimes, phobias can become life-limiting, making people avoid social gatherings and resorting to aloofness and seclusion.
There’s no specific treatment available for necrophobia. But various forms of treatments and therapies known to work for other kinds of phobias can be used to treat the condition. Some of the most common treatment options for necrophobia are the following:
Self-help: It’s probably the best form of treatment for many phobias, including necrophobia. The first thing to do is to read up and understand the condition. You can talk to someone knowledgeable and who you trust, whether in the family or outside. Besides conventional techniques, you should also learn about different uncommon methods to help you alleviate the symptoms. For instance, you can go for cognitive restructuring, systematic exposure, and virtual therapy. In the latter, people are exposed to what they fear in a virtual environment. It’s similar to in vitro exposure therapy.
Talk Therapy: Talking to a psychologist or someone knowledgeable about the condition can help you a lot. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, talk therapy can help you get rid of your symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: In CBT, people learn to identify their irrational and negative thought patterns that arise the fear response. Understanding and then replacing negative thoughts with positive ones usually helps people get rid of their unrealistic fears.
Exposure Therapy: In exposure therapy, people are exposed to fearful conditions systematically and safely. Through repeated exposures, people learn to be normal in a fearful condition. Many kinds of phobias go away when a person is exposed repeatedly to the same situation.
There are certain medications, such as tranquilizers and beta-blockers that help people relieve their stress in a fearful situation. But these medications come with side effects and should be used as a last resort.