Have you been in a relationship where your partner pushed you away just as you got really close?
Did they make excuses about not wanting to get too close to someone?
Are they always pushing someone away?
Do they tell themselves that they’re satisfied with only casual sex?
What is philophobia, the fear of falling in love?
When is fear of love in the range of “normal” anxieties about meeting someone new, being worried it won’t work out, and getting the jitters about whether they will love you back?
When does that fear become a full-blown phobia? And, what is a phobia, anyway?
A phobia is a major fear that’s focused on something specific and people will go to great lengths not to get anywhere near what they’re afraid of. If you can’t avoid what you’re afraid of, you panic — big time.
Philophobia comes from the Greek. “Phili” means “love” and “phobos” means “fear.” So, in short, the philophobia definition is a “fear of love.”
If someone has philophobia, they might have some of these physical symptoms: shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, panic attacks, extreme anxiety, nausea, irrational fear, crying, numbness, and chest pain.
They might even get panic attacks just at the thought of what triggers them.
One interesting thing about philophobia is that people who suffer from it can still enjoy sex. That is, if the sex is casual, doesn’t involve anything too deep, and (for sure) has nothing to do with love.
But, as soon as there’s any talk of love or any hint of feeling it, they run. The question is: Why?
The root of this specific fear isn’t “the thing” itself. It seems like they’re afraid of love or letting someone get too close, but this real fear is actually about something else.
What causes philophobia?
A number of childhood losses can be at the bottom of this fear.
Death of a parent. Being the child of divorce. A parent’s illness. Abandonment. Neglect. Abuse.
When there was no one to count on, of course, they were scared. Somewhere inside, they wanted and needed love. But, they had been left too many times. So they sealed themselves off.
They’re experiencing a loop of the past repeating itself. All the things they felt then, they feel now. But, they also learned long ago that there are different ways to stop their feelings.
They’re terrified of being hurt, even if they don’t know that consciously. After all, they have a lot of different psychological defense mechanisms in place, and many different ways to practice avoidance.
Symptoms of philophobia
They tell themselves no one matters.
Someone did matter once or twice, or many more times than that. It hurt when they left. So, now, they tell themselves no one matters, and no one will ever matter again.
They create a bubble around them, live in a sort of cave. No one can enter. If someone tries, an alarm goes off inside: “Don’t come in!”
So, they remind themselves, no one can matter, remember? It’ll just be a little fling. That’s not too scary.
But, what if the “nothing matters” mantra doesn’t work? They have to have other defenses.
They ignore all their feelings.
This is what they do: keep their feelings locked up as if they don’t exist.
And, when it comes to that feeling of love, they tell themselves, “Don’t take it seriously.” And, maybe they drink too much to get control over what seems to be a threat.
Or, they find fault with the person who likes them so they can pick a fight. They mention that they need space, that they’re “not ready.”
In reality, they’re in one big fight inside themselves. They want love but also don’t. They pretend not to care. Or to need anyone at all.
But, it’s not true. Everyone has needs. And, when you ignore your needs — it makes you isolated and alone. Yes, having philophobia does that.
Plus, the problem is this: ignoring your feelings makes you destined to repeat the past.
Ignore it and you’ll repeat it.
It’s true! Ignore it and you’ll repeat it. Hurt after hurt. Or, in trying to be “just fine” with being alone. The past is a time loop if you run from your feelings.
All those old feelings and experiences still live inside someone with philophobia; as hard as they try to push them away. They can’t get rid of them just because they pretend that they aren’t there.
The question is, what’s really going on? Underneath all those determined self-protective maneuvers.
And, in being afraid of love, what is it that they’re really afraid of repeating?
The “danger” of falling In love.
It may well be that they’re running from not feeling wanted. Losing a mom when they were little, having no dad, being neglected or abused — those are things that have scarred them.
Those early experiences can make someone misinterpret reality and feel like they did something wrong. That they weren’t important enough for someone to stay. That they weren’t wanted and never will be.
So, if they let themselves even think that they could like someone, maybe even love them, they panic. And they find themselves in a complicated dance.
Trying to stay tough, without a care in the world, especially for him or her. It’s, of course, one big lie.
They’re afraid of being unwanted, not as good as, being rejected, and even feeling jealous — all the ways they think they could lose love if they let themselves need it.
That’s the past talking. And, that’s the “why” of philophobia.
How to heal philophobia
Anything can happen, even love that lasts. As long as someone doesn’t tell themselves, “Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same.”
Remember, that’s the voice of the past. That’s philophobia.
Sure, love is scary if love has hurt you. But if you don’t take the chance, you’ll stay stuck.
Getting unstuck means opening up. Admitting you’re scared, but trying anyway. You have to know that the mantras of “No one loves me. Everyone will leave” aren’t really true.
If someone’s fears are in the “normal” range, they might be able to open up on their own, especially with someone they like. But it’s best to take it slow. They have to give love and trust a chance.
But, if it’s philophobia that’s causing someone to keep running, it’s probably because they can’t shake the belief that no one will stay and that they aren’t good enough to make someone want to.
It might be time for professional help.
It’s best for sufferers of philophobia to find a therapist trained in childhood trauma. Therapy works, especially when it seems to someone like they’re risking their life if they even think about trying to love again.
Truly, it can be that scary.
But getting over a phobia is about taking things one step at a time, and having someone for guidance who knows how to do it. Anyone can beat philophobia with the right help.
Plus, the best result?
They just might find someone they couldn’t imagine existed — and don’t want to live without.
Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D’s Moving Forward Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.