Fairy tales have a “good vibes only” sense about them—the giddiness of a meet-cute, the warmth of connection, and the magic of awe. The thing is, though, they often sell us short on the realities of love. When we try to apply the same formula to our own lives, we quickly realize that there’s more to it beyond the “happily ever after.”
That may well lead to a breakup. So we try again. That leads to an intense screaming match. And so, we try and try again, which then leads to another breakup. Round and round it goes, up to the point where we find ourselves with philophobia, the fear of falling in love.
“How did it get this way?” we may wonder. And what can be done to undo this imprint or prevent us from becoming a permanent basket case?
Love makes the world go ‘round, as the saying goes. And when you take off the veil of fear, you may just find the beauty of love and all that encompasses it.
What Is Philophobia?
The philophobia definition is a combination of two Greek words: philo meaning love, and phobia meaning fear. It’s when a person is so intensely (and perhaps irrationally) scared of the emotion that they find it difficult to form or maintain love relationships.
In pop culture, you may be familiar with plenty of examples. Alfie from Alfie, Christina Walters from The Sweetest Thing, and Polly Prince from Along Came Polly are all notorious for having attachment issues under the guise of “just having fun.”
The question boils down to, “What is it about love that is so scary?” It’s not like it’s covered in a white sheet with two holes cut out for eyes and yelling “Boo!” at every passerby.
It seems, according to science, that there is a much deeper cause to philophobia, meaning that a person who fears falling in love really has an underlying and unresolved issue.
What Causes Philophobia?
Fear plays an important role in protecting the body from danger or the sense of immediate danger (like your gut feeling). However, when the fear is triggered too often or is not addressed, it can lead to a phobia, a disorder where the fear outweighs the troubles or the possibility of it.
A 2017 article examined the neurobiology of fears and specific phobias. It highlighted that the latter is derived from one of two:
- Experiential-specific phobias. One developed by a negative experience or fear conditioning. For example, the fear of intimacy.
- Nonexperiential-specific phobias. A stimulus that arouses fear without a direct experience or learning. For example, the fear of spiders.
In the case of philophobia, the origin is likely to be experiential-specific. While it differs from person to person, Cleveland Clinic lists four causes:
- Difficult relationships in the past. Infidelity, divorce, or abuse as a child or in adulthood can be why a person finds it difficult to feel love for another.
- Fear of rejection or abandonment. A parent leaving during childhood or repeated rejections in adult relationships.
- Pressure from society or religion. Cultural or religious expectations to marry from a certain stature, race, or belief system.
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). A type of reactive attachment disorder where there’s a lack of attention, love, and validation during childhood from a parent or guardian.
Additionally, as the aforementioned 2017 article stated, “People who suffer from specific phobias work hard to avoid their phobia stimuli even though they know there is no threat or danger.” Regardless, they feel powerless to stop their irrational fear.
How to Know if You Have Philophobia: 7 Symptoms to Look Out For
Every person’s coping mechanism for their phobia varies. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these philophobia symptoms can indicate that you fear falling in love:
- Unable to have or keep an intimate relationship.
- Feel extreme anxiety during the relationship.
- Constantly worry about the relationship ending.
- Fearful of your partner or their emotions.
- Push people away.
- End relationships abruptly.
- Struggle to open up to or trust your partner.
An important note: It’s natural to want to protect ourselves from pain—it’s part of our fight-or-flight response, after all. However, when fear transitions into a phobia, it’s always best to seek help from your healthcare provider. They have the psychological tools to help you learn how to overcome philophobia.
5 Tips to Help You Move Beyond Philophobia
When you dodge the experience of love not to get hurt, it can drive you to a lonely, unhealthy life. Hever, there are ways you can do some inner work and build resilience so that you address and rise above the root cause(s) of your phobia.
Mindvalley, being the renowned personal growth platform that it is, has a number of experts who can guide you to do just that. Here are tips from five of them whose expertise revolves around self-awareness, authenticity, and self-love.
1. Stop identifying with your past self
When you continue to mull over your trauma instead of healing and growing from it, it becomes a part of your narrative. And “what you focus on increases,” says Katherine Woodward Thomas, licensed marriage and family therapist, author of best-selling Calling In the One, and trainer of the Mindvalley Quest with the same name.
Stop identifying with the self that we formed in response [to a past traumatic event] so that we can actually generate our lives outside of that story, and we can actually begin to identify with the self of the future.— Katherine Woodward Thomas, trainer of Mindvalley’s Calling In the One Quest
To move beyond an intense fear such as philophobia, there must be a level of healing and knowing your true desires. And while it’s easier said than done, your past should remain there — in the past.
Here’s what else Katherine has to say about it:
2. Be self-aware
“I think where people are going wrong,” says relationship expert Neelam Verma in an interview with Vishen, founder of Mindvalley, “and where why people are struggling to find amazing connections, heart-centered relationships, and love is because they’re looking at it from an outside approach but it’s actually an inside approach.”
That’s where self-awareness comes in. It may be a buzzword, but research shows that it greatly benefits a person’s well-being. Greater confidence, more creativity, stronger relationships, better communication, and overall life satisfaction, amongst others, according to a 2018 article in Harvard Business Review.
And, as Neelam highlights, with self-awareness, you’re naturally radiant, can naturally magnetize people, and naturally know how to open your heart.
Tune in for more advice from Neelam:
3. Cultivate an unf*ckwithable mindset
Even someone in the celebrity-sphere, like Vishen, isn’t immune from fear and rejection. Those experiences led him to cultivate an unf*ckwithable mindset.
Coined by Vishen, it’s defined as this:
Extraordinary minds do not need to seek validation from outside opinions or true the attainment of goals. Instead, they are truly at peace with themselves and the world around them. They live fearlessly — immune to criticism or praise and fueled by their own inner happiness and self-love.
The term isn’t as crude as it sounds; rather, it’s meant to empower one to rise above the situations that make them feel lesser than
The thing is, “fear limits us from really doing epic things,” explains Vishen. “To do something big, you got to be prepared for rejection you got to be prepared for failure.”
You can watch Vishen explain more:
4. Redefine “fear”
“Fear is an emotion like any other emotion,” explains Lisa Nichols, founder of Motivating the Masses and trainer of Mindvalley’s Speak and Inspire Quest. It’s a story you’ve told yourself that might happen in the future — and by doing that, you put it in the driver’s seat.
However, fear is not your enemy. Instead, it’s your friend.
Lisa explains that it shows up to remind you that “you have not arrived at the top of the mountain, that you are still climbing with the rest of us.” By redefining what fear means to you, you can see it as a push of encouragement rather than a punishment.
Listen in for more of Lisa’s wisdom:
5. Build emotional agility
The reality is, life isn’t linear and there will be instances where you’ll find yourself in an emotionally vulnerable situation. Building emotional agility—being aware of emotions as they arise, accepting them, and learning from them—can help prevent you from spiraling into phobia-dom.
“These emotions contain very often gifts,” says Susan David, award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist, in an interview with Vishen. “They often feel uncomfortable but they are often signaling things that we care about our needs and our values.”
Additionally, emotional agility helps you be fully present, see things from different points of view, be more empathetic and compassionate, make decisions with a clear mind, and have better communication with others.
Find out more about it from Susan’s sit-down with Vishen:
Philophobia: Frequently Asked Questions
There could be tons of questions you have about philophobia — and it’s important to direct them to your healthcare provider. However, with that being said, here are some general frequently asked questions to which you can find the answers.
Is philophobia the same as the fear of commitment?
There are a number of phobias pertaining to love that exists: the fear of being touched, the fear of kissing, the fear of sex, and so on. The fear of commitment (which is often associated with the fear of marriage) is also one.
While they have similar symptoms, like anxiety and worry or inability to keep a long-term relationship, it’s not the same as philophobia. In fact, it has a different name altogether: gamophobia.
Fearing commitment means you have a serious problem devoting yourself to your partner and relationship. Fearing falling in love, on the other hand, is more about opening up yourself to another.
How can you love someone with philophobia?
If you find yourself with a person who is philophobic, there are a few things you can do to help:
- Whether you understand it or not, recognize that phobias are a real fear.
- Educate yourself on the signs of philophobia so that you can respond appropriately instead of reacting.
- Be gentle and patient, for they might run the other way if they feel pressured.
- Ask them how you can help. For example, if they’re going through an anxiety attack, maybe all they need you to do is hold them.
- Encourage them to seek professional help.
Is philophobia common?
There’s no definitive report that declares how common philophobia is. However, phobias themselves are quite common — around 19 million people in the U.S. are affected by one or more phobias, and that includes philophobia.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, phobias are often first seen between ages 15 and 20. Additionally, it affects both men and women equally.
While it might be scary to fall in love, the fear of falling in love can prevent you from truly enjoying the joys of intimacy, the beauty of vulnerability, and the warmth of deep affection.
Great Love Starts With You
Remember: fear is your friend. When you lean into it, there can be great lessons to be learned about yourself and how you can best rise above the fear itself.
If you need a little help learning how to do so, head over to Mindvalley, where plenty of personal growth experts can help you with your inner work. Here’s where you can start:
- Speak and Inspire Quest with Lisa Nichols. While this program focuses more on communication skills, Lisa has great insights to help you overcome your fear so you can speak your truth powerfully and authentically.
- Be Extraordinary Quest with Vishen. You’ll learn how to observe and identify your own negative patterns and limiting beliefs, shifting them so you can better show up for yourself and in the world.
- Calling In the One Quest with Katherine Woodward Thomas. How you love yourself is the kind of love you attract. And so, this program encourages you to explore your emotional and energetic self to gain the insights you need to welcome the relationship you’ve longed for.
You can sample the few lessons of their Quest for free when you sign up for a Mindvalley account. What’s more, you’ll also have dibs on sitting in on interviews with Vishen and his guests as they discuss all that encompasses personal growth, including love.
The truth is, we’re all worthy of love. Yes, you too…even when you don’t believe it. So don’t let your fear of love overtake your love for love.