Coping With the Fear of Women

A man with a fear of women

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Gynophobia is defined as an intense and irrational fear of women. It may be characterized as a form of specific phobia.

Specific phobias such as gynophobia involve a fear that is centered on a specific trigger object or situation, which in this case is women. The fear that people experience is far out of proportion to the actual danger that they face, and people with this phobia recognize that their anxiety is excessive. Understanding that the fear is irrational, however, does not prevent people from feeling highly anxious and even panicked.

Gynophobia should not, however, be confused with misogyny or male chauvinism. Where gynophobia involves a fear response, misogyny and chauvinism involve prejudice, hatred, objectification, and contempt against women.

Gynophobia is not recognized as a disorder by the DSM-5, but it could potentially fall under the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias. 

Causes, Triggers, & Risk Factors

Like other specific phobias, both genetic and environmental factors may play a contributing role in the development of gynophobia. The exact causes of such phobias are not well-understood, although some research indicates that inherited factors may play at least some part. Studies have found that twins raised apart have a higher than average rate of phobias. People are also more likely to develop a phobia if they have close relatives with phobias.

While genetic and family factors present an increased risk, gynophobia is also likely heavily influenced by environment and experience. Negative or traumatic experiences involving women often play the largest role in the onset of this phobia. Mental, physical, or sexual abuse involving women, for example, might lead to feelings of fear or anxiety of being around women.

Other risk factors include:

  • Age: children tend to be more susceptible to the development of phobias in general
  • Having another anxiety disorder or phobia
  • A more negative or sensitive personality

Signs & Symptoms

Some of the symptoms a person with gynophobia might experience include:

  • A persistent, excessive, and overwhelming fear of being around or thinking about women
  • Avoidance of women or social situations where women may be present
  • Physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, shaking, nausea, or trembling in response to women
  • Difficulty with daily living or normal functioning as a result of this fear of women

Diagnosis

Because this fear is not a recognized mental disorder, a psychologist or doctor will not formally diagnose an individual as having gynophobia. Instead, the individual’s symptoms will be assessed and they may be diagnosed as having another type of disorder such as a specific phobia or social anxiety.

Self-tests for gynophobia typically involve a self-check for symptoms of the phobia.

If you feel that these symptoms are interfering with your life, relationships, and normal functioning, you should consider seeing a doctor or mental health professional to discuss your treatment options.

Treatment

There is no treatment protocol specifically indicated for the treatment of gynophobia, so your doctor will make recommendations based upon your symptoms and diagnosis. For specific phobias, behavioral treatments are usually the recommended approach. This may include the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which addresses the underlying thought patterns that contribute to phobic responses.

Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments for specific phobias. In this case, efforts might be made to help the sufferer understand some of the underlying dynamics leading to the fear of women. A person with gynophobia would be gradually exposed more and more to women until the feelings of fear are reduced or eliminated. The process would typically start by looking at images of women while practicing relaxation techniques to help ease anxiety symptoms. The process would continue step-by-step, progressing to watching videos of women and finally going places where women are present.

Complications

One of the most pressing complications associated with gynophobia is the possibility that symptoms may become so severe that they result in a panic attack. Such attacks frequently involve extreme feelings of fear accompanied by a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, sweating, chills, feeling out of control, chest pain, and even the feeling that death is imminent.

Symptoms of gynophobia can also lead to social isolation and serve as a barrier to treatment. People will not only avoid social situations where women might be present, but they may also avoid seeking medical treatment for the same reasons.

Prognosis & Prevention

There is no data specifically related to treatment effectiveness for gynophobia, but the long-term prognosis may be similar to that of other phobias. Research has shown that exposure-based treatments can be particularly effective in the treatment of specific phobias such as gynophobia. All forms of this treatment are better than no treatment, but in vivo (or real-life) exposure has been found to be more effective than imagined exposures in most cases.

While it is difficult to control the personal experiences that might contribute to such phobias, treatment after trauma may help with the prevention of gynophobia. Children who have been involved in difficult experiences should receive appropriate care and counseling afterward to ensure that lingering fears do not escalate into a phobia. Parents can also help model appropriate behaviors and responses to fearful situations by dealing with anxieties in a healthy and reasonable way. Doing so can help ensure that phobias such as gynophobia do not develop as a result of observational learning.

Coping Tips

Gynophobia can be particularly disruptive to a person’s life because it often leads to avoidance behaviors and social isolation. If you suspect that you might have this fear of women, there are things that you can do to cope and find relief.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your fear symptoms. The more you practice these techniques, the easier it will be to stay calm when you are in a fear-inducing situation.
  • Ask for help. The sooner you seek treatment from a medical or mental health professional, the less likely you are to suffer from negative impacts on different areas of your life. Your doctor can recommend further treatment that might include psychotherapy, exposure-based therapy, or even medication to control symptoms of severe anxiety.

Most importantly, remember that recovering from gynophobia is a process that will take time. Having a support system, seeking appropriate treatment, and being patient with yourself can ensure that you are taking steps toward overcoming your fear.

Talk to your doctor about your options or use the psychologist locator offered by the American Psychological Association to find mental health services in your area.

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