Agliophobia or the fear of pain is an extreme fear that is beyond the usual apprehension about feeling physical and emotional pain. The intensity of the fear is what distinguishes it from ordinary fear and qualifies it as a phobia.
A phobia is an overly excessive and irrational fear of people, animals, places, objects or situations that actually pose little or no threat or danger. Even the perception of pain can be enough to trigger the symptoms of agliophobia.
While pain is not pleasurable, people who suffer from agliophobia take the fear to an extreme level. Those with a phobia for pain live with an irrational belief that pain can be caused by any situation. They do everything in their power to avoid anything that could trigger the phobia.
Pain phobics also perceive pain, even the slightest pain, to be worse than it actually is. Their obsessive avoidance of pain can become so chronic that it interferes with a phobic’s quality of life, including their health, job, and relationships.
Because of their heightened apprehension and preoccupation with avoiding pain, they tend to experience symptoms consistent with anxiety and panic attacks. Symptoms can sometimes be so severe that phobics may isolate themselves as an avoidance strategy.
Because it is human nature to be afraid of pain, it can be challenging to determine if someone has a generalized fear of pain or an actual phobia. Symptoms of the fear of pain typically occur when the subject is exposed to the fear in real life. They vary from person to person and can occur at various levels of severity.
Symptoms of agliophobia can also be triggered when pain is thought of or anticipated. The following are the symptoms that help differentiate a mere fear of pain from agliophobia. Many of them are similar to the symptoms of heightened anxiety and a panic attack:
Several factors are found to be responsible for agliophobia or the fear of pain. The fear may be triggered by one particular factor in one person while a different factor triggers it in another person. Sometimes, the phobia may be caused by more than one reason in the same person. Some common known causes of agliophobia are:
Traumatic Experience: Trauma, caused especially by severe injuries such as those experienced in a vehicle accident, is one of the main causes of agliophobia. Trauma can have lasting effects on a person’s psyche, making this cause of the phobia one of the most challenging to treat.
Genetics: Due to genetics, some people are physically or psychologically predisposed to being highly sensitive to pain. While the measure of the severity of pain varies from person to person, people with a phobia for pain are considered as having a very low tolerance for pain. Some of the things they squirm in pain over won’t even cause a flinch from people with a higher tolerance level. The fear may be more painful than the pain itself.
Other Phobias: Trypanophobia (the fear of needles or injections), latrophobia (the fear of doctors), and nosocomephobia (the fear of hospitals) may be underlying causes of the fear of pain. Those fearing pain may suffer from hemophobia or the fear of blood, because they associate blood with pain.
Environment: Children who were exposed to painful situations may grow into adults who fear pain. Parenting could also impact the way a child perceives pain by instilling in them that certain things or situations cause pain. Seeing a parent or loved one suffer could be another source of the phobia.
Treatment for agliophobia can be one or a combination of approaches. The level of severity of the phobia, access to available resources, and willingness to be treated are important factors to be considered. One or a combination of the following treatments may work for many people:
Desensitization Therapy: This involves gradually exposing the phobic to various levels of pain to desensitize or reduce their hypersensitivity to pain.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This method is an aspect of psychotherapy. It helps the client to mentalize the fears to discover the root cause. In a state of awareness, the patient is able to process the fear, the feelings, and the voluntary and involuntary physical and psychological responses.
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): This is another aspect of psychotherapy. It could be used to assess the way the brain responds to stimuli, so that the corresponding behavioral responses can be treated.
Sometimes treating other pe-existing phobias which may be root causes of agliophobia in some people can help their hypersensitivity to pain. These other phobias can be addressed in therapy.
Relaxation Techniques: An effective tool for overcoming the fear of pain is relaxation techniques. Yoga, exercise, meditation, and listening to relaxing music are ways to calm and soothe the mind. This is an effective way of lowering anxiety levels and pain felt as a result of the phobia.
Hypnotherapy: This is a clinical relaxation technique that targets the subconscious mind while the client is still conscious. It helps clients identify the root causes of the fear and confront and process the stimuli in psychologically and physically constructive ways.
Medication: To alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Studies show that actual physical pain increases in pain phobics whenever they become anxious about pain. In these cases, pain medication can be used to reduce or stop the pain.
Phobias are generally unpreventable. This is because they occur due to unavoidable reasons such as genetics or unforeseen reasons such as a traumatic incident. Many phobias stem from a person’s mental state of mind, and because phobias are not mental disorders, they cannot be easily treated with medication.
While some of the symptoms can be treated with medications, such as anxiety-related symptoms, it takes a reconditioning of the mind to alleviate or eliminate the fear of pain. Phobics can utilize the mainstream treatments and techniques available to manage their fears and prevent them from escalating.