Imagine being paralysed by words. Imagine being panic-stricken, sweating and trembling and simply unable to speak in public when you see or hear a misspelt, mispronounced or misused word. This is the reality of someone living with verbophobia.
Defined as a profound, persistent and abnormal fear of words, it may seem like an eccentric condition but is nevertheless debilitating for its sufferers.
The word itself originates from Latin “verbo” (word) and Greek “phobia” (fear). The condition may also be called logophobia and is related to Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and Sesquipedalophobia (the fear of long words), and Onomatophobia (the fear of hearing a certain word or name).
So, as Juan de Dios Martínez says “In that case, it is best to keep quiet”. But real life is rarely that simple. Words appear everywhere and silence itself is never completely silent. So what can sufferers do to alleviate this problem and live life without fear?
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What is verbophobia?
First, let’s define what a phobia is – it’s a real disorder that causes a strong, unreasonable fear of certain objects, situations, persons or activities. This fear is not a one-off thing, it’s persistent and consistent and the sufferer will always try to avoid what they fear.
One of the most common phobias – speaking in public – is actually a social phobia. Other examples include eating in public, meeting new people, attending events, dating or even using a public restroom. These phobias are different from shyness or everyday nervousness; they can disproportionate fear, anxiety, and physical symptoms as well as avoidance that can interfere with an individual’s daily routine.
A fear of snakes, elevators, blood, flying or clowns are some examples of specific phobias. It’s basically an intense fear of a particular object or situation that seem harmless but nevertheless provoke a strong physical and psychological reaction. Some fears, like a fear of the dark, develop during childhood and go away as the individual grows older. Fears that continue into adulthood may prevent sufferers from living a normal life; avoidance can cause professional, academic and relationship issues. Specific phobias fall under the category of anxiety disorders, so sufferers may also have associated disorders like anxiety and depression.
Agoraphobia is a fear of a fear, and the only phobia that is regularly treated as a medical condition. People with this phobia fear experiencing a panic attack in a situation that might be difficult to get away from. They may feel a fear of being alone, being in a crowd, using public transportation or using the elevator. Typically, the fear of a place develops after the individual suffers one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear having another attack and avoiding places or situations where it might happen again.
Verbophobia falls under the category of Specific Phobias.
Sufferers may try not to read books, magazines or newspapers. They may even feel uneasy watching a movie with subtitles. They may not want to say certain words, for fear of triggering a panic attack. Hearing these words may have the same effect. Even the thought of those words may cause anxiety and distress.
These panic attacks can cause physical symptoms like: sweating, trembling, hot flushes or chills, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, pain or tightness in the chest, nausea, headaches, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, hyperventilation and a rise in blood pressure. This is of course, frightening and distressing for the sufferer.
Combined, these panic attacks and physical symptoms can bring on psychological symptoms like : a fear of losing control, a fear of fainting, a fear of dying, a fear of harm, guilt, shame, self-blame, withdrawal, self-isolation, anger, irritability, anxiety, fear, sadness, hopelessness and a feeling of disconnection.
Ultimately, they may become depressed, or turn to substance abuse to cope.
People are all different, so it is important to note that the severity of symptoms will vary significantly.
What causes verbophobia?
It is believed that verbophobia is caused by a combination of external events (traumatic life experiences), heredity, brain chemistry and genetics. As a specific phobia, it may have been caused by a specific triggering event, often a traumatic experience during childhood.
An individual may have never had the chance to learn to read and they fear it because they may be embarrassed at being found out.
Or they might have gotten in trouble for reading something they weren’t supposed to which led to unpleasant consequences. They may end up fearing reading, feeling like the less they know, the safer they are.
Genetics may play a role wherein an individual’s ancestors were fearful of words, and passed down fearful genes.
Or a child could have observed his guardians behaving in an uncertain or fearful manner around words. This could thus cause them to learn this behaviour themselves.
How is verbophobia treated?
Individuals who suffer from verbophobia may not always feel the need for treatment. This is because they can simply avoid the object of fear. But realistically, words are very difficult to ignore completely. If the fear should become debilitating and come to threaten the quality of a sufferer’s life, it’s important to seek treatment.
The first step for most sufferers is to see a professional – a psychologist, psychiatrist, hypnotherapist or hypnotist. These doctors will help an individual manage the phobia and achieve better understanding of the underlying issue so it can be resolved. Below are some commonly recommended treatments:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
The aim of cognitive behavioural therapy is to identify if an individual’s anxiety and distress are based on an accurate depiction of reality or not. For example, if a person should fear words. CBT aims to help sufferers identify if words are genuinely a threat. And if not, what strategies can be employed to overcome these inbuilt perceptions.
Hypnoanalysis (also called Hypnotherapy)
Hypnoanalysis or hypnotherapy is a type of therapy that opens the subconscious mind to suggestion in order to change one or more behaviour patterns. It has to be performed by a trained specialist, who will speak directly to the subconscious. In this manner, it may be possible to find underlying issues that cause the phobia (like a traumatic childhood event). The therapist can then make positive suggestions and introduce new ideas that may help a patient achieve the desired change. Hypnoanalysis sometimes has a negative perception in that it is akin to playing with people’s minds. However, it is a proven form of therapy that has been approved by the American Medical Association since 1985. It is considered a safe, fast-acting treatment.
Counselling, psychotherapy, psychological therapy and talking treatments are all talking treatments. Talking treatments are physically non-intrusive and carried out in a relaxed setting; nevertheless it may be very effective at treating verbophobia. The patient speaks to a highly trained professional about their thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The aim is to give patients a safe time and space to share their with a non-judgemental third party. Talking therapies can help patients identify unhelpful thought patterns and find ways to change. They can also help patients understand themselves better, resolve complicated feelings and finding strategies to manage these feelings.
Energy therapy uses techniques like yoga, tai chi, qi gong and acupressure to help people make changes in their lives. These techniques emphasise breath work and stimulates energy points on the surface of the skin. When paired with specific psychological procedures, they may help to shift the brain’s electrochemistry. This type of therapy is relatively new and controversial, but has shown to be helpful in helping people deal with their phobias.
Generally, medication is not typically used for overcoming phobias. Some medications like antidepressants, tranquillisers or beta blockers may be used as short-term solutions to treat the side effects of phobias like anxiety or depression. Never use medications without asking a doctor first.
Tips to manage verbophobia
If you’re a sufferer who is already seeking treatment, there are other things you can do to alleviate the symptoms of verbophobia. These include being mindful of your thoughts and actions, reaching out to others and finding out everything you can about your condition. Some tips include:
Try to relax.
Easier said than done, but it helps to always try to be mindful and take a positive approach. You can try using relaxation and yoga techniques to centre yourself and take control. Remember that you can’t control things that happen externally, but your own response is under your control.
Constantly talking or thinking about a phobia can make it seem worse than it is. It can create more fear and anxiety. Instead, choose to think and talk about other, positive things.
Knowledge is power.
You don’t have to constantly think about your phobia, but you can learn as much as you can about it. Try researching as much as you can, and asking your therapist as much as you need. Find books or magazines on the subject of your phobia. You might even find it rewarding to take classes or seminars about your phobia.
Find a community.
There is no shame in having a phobia. Try to find groups that allow you to talk about your fears in an open and non-judgemental way. This way, you’ll feel less isolated, and knowing that you’re not alone could be a powerful panacea.
Surround yourself with positivity.
Reach out to supportive people whom you trust to provide assistance and feedback on your fear. Sometimes all you need is someone who can reassure you that everything is in fact, alright.
Take care of yourself.
You may not have control over your verbophobia, but you can keep yourself in good shape. Maintain a healthy diet, adequate sleep and a regular exercise routine. Keeping the body strong and healthy may go a long way to alleviating the symptoms of anxiety.
Verbophobia is a specific phobia that results from a perfect storm of heredity, brain chemistry, genetics and environment. Sufferers may endure panic attacks from the mere mention of words. They may avoid certain words and situations that may trigger these attacks. Should the ailment interfere with normal function and life, it is wise to seek treatment. Many therapies are available, and there are many things sufferers can do to improve their situation.
It is important not to lose hope; reaching out to others and taking care of oneself is of utmost importance; having a phobia does not mean that you’re worthless as a person.