Bibliophobia is a condition characterized by the fear of books. It also refers to the fear of reading aloud or in public.
What Is Bibliophobia?
Bibliophobia is a phobia defined by the fear of books or reading. Bibliophobia comes from the Greek word “biblio” meaning books.
Some people often develop only a subset of this phobia characterized by the fear of textbooks, historical novels, or children’s stories, rather than all books. Mythophobia or a “fear of legends” is also considered a subtype of bibliophobia.
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People with a phobia of books often experience difficulty when forced or encouraged to read. They may even fear the stories or even the simple act of reading, holding a book, or being in a library.
A specific learning disability or difficulty with reading might also lead to the development of this phobia as the fear of books is usually associated with a lack of control over reading material resulting in an aversion to reading and developed anxiety around reading books. Surveys suggest that at least 5% to 20% of children and adolescents are afflicted with some type of phobia.
It is important to note that someone with this condition does not necessarily have epistemophobia (the fear of knowledge). However, it is possible for someone to have additional phobias along with bibliophobia as well.
Since she was 5 years old, Rita’s parents encouraged her to spend hours with children’s story books and try to read words that were beyond her level of learning so that she could stay ahead of her peers.
Initially, the child was fascinated by the pictures in the books and would do as her parents asked. However, as the reading time eventually started eating away at her playtime, Rita began feeling irritated and throwing tantrums.
But her mother made her spend more time reading whenever she made mistakes. She even forbade her from going out to play.
Soon, reading books turned into a dreadful task for Rita. With age, she developed a certain repulsion to storybooks which gradually turned into fear.
When asked to read in class, Rita would start sweating and breathing fast, as the fear of being reprimanded always played at the back of her mind. This continued well into her teenage years.
Even at the age of 16, Rita felt suffocated in the presence of storybooks and on several occasions, had a full-blown panic attack in the class or the school library, wherein she would feel suffocated, her chest tightening, palpitations, and lightheadedness. Moreover, the anticipation of being asked to read would often affect Rita’s concentration in class.
It seems evident that Rita had a debilitating fear of storybooks and reading. Not only did she experience extreme psychological distress and physical discomfort in the presence of such books but also a degree of anticipatory anxiety that interfered with her everyday academic functioning. These symptoms are characteristic of bibliophobia.
Symptoms Of Bibliophobia
A specific phobia such as bibliophobia has both physical and psychological symptoms. The main signs 1 of bibliophobia are
- Intense persistent fear of books, stories, or reading
- Actively getting out of any involvement with books and reading
- Excessive worry about having to encounter or interact with books
A person suffering from bibliophobia can even experience full-blown panic attacks in the presence of books. Some of the common physiological bibliophobia symptoms include
- Shortness of breath
- Increase in heartbeat
- Trembling/ shaking
- Chest tightness
- A feeling of being choked
- Dizziness & nausea
- Chills, etc.
Such panic attacks may even result in them getting hospitalized which requires supervision. However, it is important to keep in mind that such experiences can vary from person to person.
A person with this phobia may keep away from reading environments such as libraries, museums, and other places that involve books and reading. They may even go out of their way to avoid reading by sitting in the back of a classroom or even skipping classes altogether.
Causes Of Bibliophobia
Bibliophobia is not a very common condition and its causes are still unknown. However, similar to other specific phobias, a combination of genetic and environmental influences can lead to it. Some of the potential factors that can lead to a risk of bibliophobia may include
- Genetic influences 2 such as certain inherited personality traits
- Dysfunctions in the amygdala and other regions of the brain
- Traumatic experiences in the past related to books (eg: being taunted while reading, bullying, etc.)
- Illiteracy 3
- Cultural influences 4 and superstition
- Social isolation
Diagnosis Of Bibliophobia
Although bibliophobia is not a clinically recognized condition per se, it can be diagnosed as a specific phobia per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 1) 5.
For a diagnosis to be given, the condition must have persisted for a period of 6 months or more and caused significant distress and impairment in functioning.
A mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist usually takes a history of the symptoms along with other details such as family and personal history before making a diagnosis. Specific clinical assessments such as the Behavioral Approach Test 5 may also be used to assist in the diagnosis.
Treatments For Bibliophobia
Phobias are real disorders and it is important to understand that they are not signs of weakness or immaturity. Bibliophobia treatment usually involves therapy but medication may be used in extreme cases.
The most effective forms of treatment are as follows.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT involves identifying and evaluating negative and maladaptive thought patterns that may act as bibliophobia triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps a person alter such cognitions and develop coping strategies to deal with bibliophobia. Studies 6 report it as an effective method for treating phobias.
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Exposure therapy 7 involves gradually and repeatedly exposing the patient to books in a controlled environment. The therapy can start with just thinking about books.
Once the patient is able to control their fear around the thought of books, they may move on to looking at or touching the books. The primary goal of this therapy is to master the fear and take control.
Hypnotherapy involves inducing a deep state of relaxation. This therapy 8 allows the individual to understand the unconscious thoughts and motives that may underlie their phobia. Hypnosis is a widely used technique to address the root cause of a disorder.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is an evidence-based 8-week program that involves intensive mindfulness training to help people suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, or phobias. Mindfulness meditation 9 has proven quite effective with people who have intense phobias.
Medication can be prescribed to ease the physical symptoms of anxiety associated with this condition. Antidepressants 10 such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may help manage intense symptoms of bibliophobia.
Anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin may also be prescribed in severe cases.
How To Overcome Bibliophobia
Along with availing of professional treatment, some self-help strategies may also be adopted to cope with a fear of books. Some of these are mentioned below.
- Practice mindfulness.
- When going through a panic attack, try grounding yourself using techniques such as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique 11.
- Expose yourself to books in a gradual step-by-step manner.
- Do not hesitate to confide in someone you trust and seek assistance.
- Try looking for a support group where you can share your experiences and learn from those of others.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation to ease the physical symptoms associated with your phobia.
Even though bibliophobia can be a distressing condition and cause difficulties with day-to-day functioning, it is possible to manage the symptoms and recover from this condition with effective guidance from a professional. With therapy and medication, it is possible to lead a phobia-free life.
At A Glance
- Bibliophobia is the fear of books and reading.
- People with bibliophobia often experience extreme distress in the presence of books or when asked to read.
- There can be a combination of genetic and environmental influences that can cause bibliophobia.
- Bibliophobia can lead to complications if left untreated.
- Phobias are real disorders and it is important to understand that they are not signs of weakness or immaturity.
- Even though some people with this condition may experience anxiety and panic-like symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How common is bibliophobia?
Bibliophobia is not a very common phobia, as compared to other specific phobias such as the fear of needles or the fear of thunder and lightning.
2. What are the types of bibliophobia?
Bibliophobia may either involve a fear of being around books, reading, or the fear of stories. It can also be a combination of all of these.
3. Can bibliophobia be cured?
Bibliophobia, like most simple phobias, can be treated with the help of therapeutic techniques such as cognitive therapy and graded exposure therapy, among others.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, June). Table 3.11, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Specific Phobia Comparison. Nih.gov; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t11/
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