Fear is an adaptive emotion whose objective is to protect the organism from possible danger, so it can be activated in unknown or uncertain situations. The fear of change is based on a sense of self-preservation, of survival. That is why it usually appears before new stimuli such as a job, people, moving to another city, etc. However, sometimes this fear of novelty can be excessive and limiting, so if you want to know more about it, keep reading this Psychology-Online article: Fear of the new: causes and how to overcome it.
We all experience true fear of changes, such as fear of changing jobs, fear of changing homes or fear of doing new things. However, at times this fear becomes excessive and disproportionate.
What is the fear of the new and unknown called?
The fear of the new and unknown is called neophobia. This word derives from the Greek so neos means new and phobos afraid. Neophobia is a type of specific phobia in which there is an uncontrollable, persistent, irrational and disproportionate fear towards everything that implies novelty, is essentially the fear of doing new things.
In this phobia, unlike other specific phobias, there is a wide variety of phobic stimuli, since they can be feared both material things, such as situations and activities, provided they are attributed qualities of novelty. One of the most investigated areas within this phobia is the food neophobia, which has a high incidence, especially in childhood, in which new foods and dishes are intensely rejected. However, neophobia can manifest itself in any area of daily life and time of the life cycle, from the In the same way that it can be due to the fear of failure, as well as the fear of uncertainty or the feeling of lack of control.
Symptoms of neophobia
The symptoms of this specific phobia are as follows:
- Physical symptoms: symptoms of activation of the nervous system before exposure or the idea of exposing oneself to something new such as tachycardia, sweating, nausea, dizziness, hyperventilation, stomach pain, muscle tension, etc.
- Cognitive symptoms: distorted beliefs, irrational and catastrophic thoughts, fear of not being able to control the new situation if exposed to it, and intrusive ideas about the novelty.
- Emotional symptoms: Anxiety, anguish, feeling helpless in the inability to control disproportionate reactions self esteem issues, sadness, personal dissatisfaction, boredom, ...
- Behavioral symptoms: avoidance or escape behaviors in the face of something new and resistance to change which can lead to progressive isolation. There is a limitation and detriment in the quality of life of the person with neophobia, just as these people usually have a totally monotonous and routine lifestyle that restricts the amount of rewarding items that can be accessed by the person.
Regarding the etiology of neophobia, no single cause has been identified that is capable of explaining the origin of this fear. irrational, rather a series of interrelated factors have been recognized, which may lead to the development of this phobia:
- Comfort zone: Why are we afraid of change? The fear and excessive resistance to leave this area of control, comfort and stability may be due to fear of uncertainty and inability to manage changes. This terror may be due to the fact that the person projects into the panic zone when thinking about leaving the comfort zone, so he believes that the situation or stimulus is going to overwhelm him and overwhelm him. There is, therefore, a feeling of incompetence and a lack of coping resources.
- Personality traits: there are certain personal characteristics that could be predisposing to neophobia, such as neuroticism, lack of self-esteem, self-efficacy and confidence or perfectionism. It can also be related to an avoidant personality style, in which there is a generalized pattern of inhibition.
- Anxious / Ambivalent Childhood Attachment: Childhood ties with primary caregivers can influence exploratory behaviors in general, as well as mental representations about the self and the world. An insecure attachment style can lead to the development of a fear of the new due to a negative unconscious interpretation of both characteristics and competencies of the person, as well as from the outside, which is perceived as an uncontrollable place full of dangers that generates distrust. In the following article you will find more information about attachment theories.
- Traumatic situations: The experience of a situation that involves a trauma for a person can lead to the development of some schemes and mental models by which the world is conceived as threatening and dangerous, thus rejecting everything that is a stranger.
- Parenting styles: an educational style that conveys an excessive sense of responsibility and perfectionism can generate fear in the person for fear of failure or to disappoint the parenting figures, so all those situations that are not controlled and about which there is no certainty of success are avoided. On the other hand, an educational style that conveys a rejection of innovation and exploration, as well as attributes a sense of danger to novelty, can condition this fear.
- Cognitive styles: Neurotic and anxious thinking patterns and distortions may also contribute to neophobia. These cognitions are characterized by catastrophic thoughts, attentional biases to threats, a general pessimistic view, etc.
How to stop being afraid of the new? Regarding neophobia, psychological intervention is recommended to overcome fears and insecurities. Once information has been collected about the person with this phobia, the treatment should address the following lines of work:
- Psychoeducation: the first step to overcome the fear of the new is to know the theoretical explanation about fear, its function, fear adaptive and maladaptive, on phobias, symptoms and functioning mechanism and, finally, on neophobia and its consequences.
- Exposure technique: The behavioral component of the phobia is worked through the exposure technique. In it, the person realizes a hierarchy of fears and is gradually exposed to them, either live or in the imagination previously, through the support and guidance of a specialized person, and in a controlled. The reinforcing role in the phobia of avoidance and escape responses is explained, and an attempt is made to prevent the appearance of these. The objective is to generate a habituation to to lose the fear.
- Relaxation and breathing: training in both techniques decreases anxiety levels, and can increase the effectiveness of the technique of exposure if applied in it, since the person will find and feel endowed with resources to calm down when faced with the fear of her. Through these exercises the physical element of neophobia is addressed.
- Cognitive restructuring: work on the cognitive component of this disorder with the aim of improving thought distortions and promoting more functional and adaptive beliefs. For this you can make use of the questioning of beliefs, of thought registers, of the Socratic questioning, pushing the belief to the limit "what would be the worst that could happen?" etc.
- Personal Skills Work: To overcome the fear of the new and unknown, it is essential to address and work on qualities such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, confidence, security or social skills. For this, an exhaustive exploration of the specific problem of the person is necessary, what skills are diminished, Personality traits and their interaction with the disorder, as well as the origin of their phobia (fear of failure, intolerance of uncertainty, need for control, mental models of threat etc.), since depending on all this the intervention will be individualized and will place greater emphasis on certain aspects.
- Behavioral activation: Regarding the emotional state, it is expected that this will increase as the person faces more and more novel situations or activities. This improvement in mood on the one hand is due to increased self-esteem and self-efficacy because he sees that he is capable of facing what he fears and, on the other hand, because new activities are usually rewarding and are a reward in themselves. As the person assimilates new experiences, the elaboration of joint planning of new tasks and activities in order to maintain this activation.
This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.