While some ants can bite, sting, or otherwise be detrimental to human beings, the specific phobia of Myrmephobia (fear of ants) causes an undue overabundance of caution that may cause the patient afflicted with it to suffer in many aspects of their life.
Myrmecophobia is a specific phobia fixated on ants and other ant-like creatures. Like many specific phobias, this fear can be unfounded or overly intense even in the face of the knowledge that ants do not pose a threat. While some ants, such as fire ants, do have a painful sting this phobia translates even to harmless species such as common house ants. This overly strong revulsion or terror focused on ants may be informed with the real-life example of terrifying ants such as bullet ants or army ants, but the fear is not confined only to the potential dangers that those ants may present but attributes danger to all ant species or even images of ants. Patients who have this specific phobia may manifest it as a panicked reaction at the sight of ants or may be preoccupied with worry that there are ants where none actually exists. Those suffering from Myrmecophobia may have their life greatly suffer because of the measures they enact to avoid contact with ants real and imagined.
Diagnosis of Myrmecophobia can be difficult because it may be a part of a much larger fear of insects (Entomophobia) or certain paranoia disorders. However, it is a common enough specific phobia that it can be classified as its own disorder.
Common symptoms are consistent with other specific phobias including extreme avoidance behaviors, screaming and crying when seeing ants, or even an abundance of suspicion that ants are waiting to attack. Patients may go to great lengths to avoid contact with ants, including running out of the home if an ant is seen or refusing to go outdoors if ants are visible from the doorway. Friends and family may notice that they engage in excessive fumigation efforts or constantly spraying insecticide throughout their home. Someone with this phobia may also hold beliefs that their food has been contaminated by ants and refuse to eat even if food is thoroughly checked. Patients may not feel safe in a home unless a large number of ant traps have been placed.
Sightings of ants can be extremely distressing to someone with Myrmecophobia and the sight of a colony such as an anthill can paralyze them with fear or leave them unable to speak. Symptoms when in the grip of this specific phobia include heavy perspiration, shortage of breath, chest pain, panic attacks, nausea, and vomiting. Some patients have been known to faint or lose consciousness at the sight of ants. More serious cases of this disorder may see patients scratch or engage in self-mutilation because they believe that ants are infesting their body.
The causes of Myrmecophobia are much the same as the causes of any phobia. The mental health community believes that most specific phobias are the result of childhood trauma, an improper initial relationship with the object of fear, or a genetic predisposition to phobias. Often, a parent’s insistence that a child stays away from ants because they bite can result in a lifelong apprehension regarding the insects. Traumatic incidents, such as being bitten or stung by ants can also contribute to the development of this phobia. Lifelong avoidance of ants can develop habitually and eventually grow out of control as it is combined with elevated levels of anxiety that may or may not be related to the fear of ants.
Other incidents that may cause the kind of traumatic revulsion that can lead to Myrmecophobia include finding ants infesting food that is being eaten or waking up and finding ants crawling over the skin when laying down outdoors. Despite the ants simply exploring as they go about their business, this behavior can seem like a malicious attack to children or people with a limited understanding of the biology of these insects. This phobia may also be linked to other unresolved issues from childhood or another traumatic incident in life.
Myrmecophobia, like many specific phobias, is treated initially with psychotherapy and counseling efforts. The initial diagnostic phase of treatment may focus on getting the patient to open up about events in their past which may contribute to their idea that ants are likely to harm them. One of the most common therapeutic methods of overcoming phobias like this is known as exposure therapy.
The aim of exposure therapy is not eliminating the fear of ants that the patient may have but rather helping them cope with the fear by gradually introducing them to the stimuli that trigger their reaction. This is done in a controlled environment with provisions made for the safety of the patient. For someone with Myrmecophobia, it may begin with looking at pictures of ants and graduating to viewing ants behind glass (an ant farm) before working their way up to viewing or touching an ant in a natural environment. The important goal of this method of therapy is to allow the patient to function in their own home or outdoors without needing to avoid the sight of ants.
During early stages of treatment, medical aids such as sedatives or beta blockers may be prescribed to help patients deal with their distress and anxiety. However, these medications are not considered a long-term solution or a viable treatment for the underlying issues that cause specific phobias.
Prevention of Myrmecophobia in children may involve helping children learn about ants and why they behave as they do, to include reassuring them that these little creatures mean no harm. In adults, it may be a much tougher road as these irrational feeling about the insects persist even in the face of learning more or even being certain that there is no danger. Good preventative steps are combating the impulse to avoid the presence of ants or seeking mental health therapy if the fixation on ants is unavoidable.
Other effective preventable steps include developing coping skills for the fear of ants including relaxation methods that will help patients suffering from panic attacks as a result of this phobia. Younger patients may have good results from being educated on ants and other insects. It is also very important that this phobia should not be belittled or minimized. Ridicule of those who are developing or suffering from a phobia can have many harmful repercussions including self-harm or suicide attempts. Overcoming a specific phobia such as Myrmecophobia requires a great deal of support not only from medical professionals but also friends and family.