- Bibliophobia is an intense and irrational fear of reading/ being around books. Fear of reading a book out loud in front of others is also one of the most common forms of manifestation of bibliophobia.
- Most common symptoms of bibliophobia are anxiety or panic while reading a book, having dread while thinking about reading a book out loud, palpitations, and doing everything to avoid reading a book.
- Causal factors of bibliophobia include having a genetic or environmental predisposition, learned behavior or as a result of going through a traumatic event.
- The scope of treatment includes but is not limited to: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Hypnotherapy and other therapeutic alternatives.
Have you avoided reading books since you were a kid? Did reading out loud make you anxious? Keep reading to find out if you are suffering from Bibliophobia, also known as the fear of books.
Now, I know it’s difficult to imagine a world where a book or reading a book might cause us to fear it, but such is the power of our childhood experiences. Bibliophobia, simply put, is the fear of books, fear of reading, anxiety related to reading, and avoiding reading books altogether.
Phobias fall under anxiety disorders and since the fear of books is about a specific object that elicits fear, it falls under specific phobia. Here, we will learn in depth about the causes, symptoms and treatment of bibliophobia.
What is Bibliophobia?
Bibliophobia is an intense fear of books or reading specific books. It can also be the fear of reading out loud in public or classroom settings. It falls under the category of specific phobias under anxiety disorders.
Bibliophobia is the fear or dislike of books or reading books. It may also mean the fear of reading out loud in public. This irrational fear may rise out of early childhood experiences. People go out of their way to avoid or endure the phobia with extreme psychological distress.
The object of the phobia rarely presents any threat to the individual (as is in the case of a book) but rather the actual fear that they experienced is directed/ projected onto the object. It can be an after-effect of another anxiety disorder.
It’s rare to have bibliophobia develop by itself and not as a result of social anxiety or a specific phobia.
What are the symptoms of Bibliophobia?
For it to be considered phobia, there needs to be a significant level of anxiety and distress that is being caused. The severity of anxiety gets so much that it disrupts their daily life and function.
The main or the most common symptom of bibliophobia is having the fear of reading aloud or social anxiety regarding reading books due to past anxiety provoking incidents.
The phobia comes from the fact that they cannot stand to be around or even interact with the phobic object, books in this case.As the anxiety level is so disruptive, this can also lead to a panic attack in an intensely stressful situation.
Books are a general and one of the most common elements of our environment so, it gets difficult to draw a line about what is fearful about a 10 page or a 900 page book. The books have the fear projected onto them.
Being around or looking at, or having to read aloud a specific book may be a more accurate description of this fear that people have. They may read other forms of media and posts, but because of anxiety filled situations, the book becomes a triggering object.
For it to be diagnosed as bibliophobia, the following symptoms need to be present, which can be physical as well as psychological in nature. These symptoms may differ in each individual in its presentation and have different outcomes based on genetic makeup and environmental factors.
Some of the physiological symptoms include:
1. Having a tightness in the chest while thinking of the act of reading a book, or having tightness when you realize that there is a chance you will have to read a book (for a compulsory academic activity).
2. Breathlessness occurs when you think of yourself in a setting where you have to read a book or when you find yourself in a certain situation where you have to read.
3. Dizzy or light-headedness happens when there is an understanding that you have to read out loud. Dizziness might occur while in the middle of the act or getting up the nerve to read in a social setting.
4. Feelings of nausea persists when there is a social situation requiring reading. Nausea can also occur with just the thought of reading a book.
5. Sweating in a social situation requires reading or sweating because of the anxiety that is building up. Sweating is the result of thinking about or actually performing the phobic act.
6. Clamminess occurs when the anxiety is seeping in and nervousness is taking over while reading a book. Clamminess can also occur due to thoughts of reading out loud or having to interact with a book.
7. Anxiety can be seen through the hands shaking while thinking about or currently being in the phobia triggering situation.
8. Getting too anxious about reading aloud, the stomach can get upset. The fear of reading books or reading aloud can affect the nervous system and inturn give a person an upset stomach, so as to get out of doing the fearful task.
The psychological and physiological can influence each other as a feedback loop is formed when we notice our own physical symptoms, which causes more stress and anxiety which leads to more physical symptoms or severity of existing symptoms increases.
Some of the psychological symptoms include:
1. People with bibliophobia tend to avoid books as they cause them anxiety and stress. Instead of dealing with the fear, people tend to avoid the stress/anxiety causing the item/event altogether.
2. People with bibliophobia understand that this fear of books is irrational but tend not to act on correcting it as the fear and anxiety is extreme. People understand that this is not something that they need to fear but because of the lack of coping tools and resources, they continue to suffer and know that their fear doesn’t actually make sense.
3. People with bibliophobia, as stated above, do not fear all books. They are usually worrying about reading a book or a specific book. These specific books can be any genre or type of book, but hold a close relation to a traumatic event or situation, hence causing the fear of reading one specific book.
4. There is dread and panic while reading a book. The thought of reading can itself also cause feelings of panic. These feelings can arise out of past experiences that make the person believe that something bad is going to happen after they read a book/ read a book out loud.
5. People with this phobia also tend to avoid educational or learning settings because of fear of books. The panic caused by just the thought of being around books is so much that people with bibliophobia avoid or miss out on learning opportunities. This may also cause them to suffer in their academic life as they might perform poorly due to this stress or panic.
6. This phobia makes people miss out on opportunities significant to their life because of the possibility of reading books or being around them. The fear becomes too much to overcome, hence leading to the missed opportunities.
Panicking while picking up or reading a book is the most common response for bibliophobia. A fear sets in and they’re unable to be around a book or even interact with it.
7. This phobia can leave people feeling ashamed about reading books as it is uncommon. There is also awareness about the fact that the fear or avoidance of books is irrational and may lead to further ridicule hence spiraling into shame.
Other medical conditions associated with bibliophobia
Bibliophobia rarely is the only fear that the client is presenting with. A person suffering from bibliophobia may also have multiple other occurring fears, or be a part of other disorders.
Some of the overlapping conditions include:
In panic disorder, there are regular panic attacks and an unusual level of fear. This can co-exist with bibliophobia as the level of anxiety is overwhelming and can lead to having panic attacks in triggering situations (Such as reading aloud in front of strangers.) The overlapping of the physical symptoms of panic can lead people to associate bibliophobia with panic disorder.
People with OCD also have extreme levels of anxiety and intrusive thoughts and compulsive urges. Avoidance of books can also result from OCD thought or anxiety.
The phobias’ identifier is that the fear or anxiety is of an irrational situation/object/activity. Therefore, the phobias can be of a specific type, such as books.
The excessive avoidance to engage in activities is one of the many symptoms of depression. People with depression may avoid books as well.
Learning disabilities and difficulties that come with may lead to a situation where the fear of books can be created as the situation might arise where people may make fun of their abilities to perform a task (such as reading a book).
It is a learning disability that makes it difficult for people to read and write. The learning disability is such that it may lead to situations where the person may get conscious of how other people are reacting to their disability. Therefore,creating a chance to avoid reading books out loud, or avoid reading books altogether growing up.
Social anxiety disorder:
People with social anxiety get an overwhelming amount of anxiety so much so that it disrupts their day/life, when they have to do something in the public’s eye. This can start at an early age and in academic settings. People with social anxiety will do anything to avoid being in the social spotlight so they may avoid reading books out loud and avoid other opportunities that may have them read out loud.
Types of Bibliophobia
Bibliophobia is a specific phobia and occurs after a traumatic event has happened or results from learning from the environment, genetic factors, or as a byproduct of other mental health conditions.
Therefore, there are other specific phobias that are related or are in the same vein as bibliophobia. Some of these include:
- Arithmophobia is the fear of numbers.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, ironically, is the fear of long words.
- Logophobia is the fear of words.
- Metrophobia is the fear of poetry.
- Mythophobia is the fear of legends which are in the written form.
- Scolionophobia is the fear of school.
The same principles of bibliophobia apply to these specific fears as well. They rise out of wide-ranging social, personal or interpersonal situations and become big enough gradually that they disrupt the life of the individual.
Impact of bibliophobia
As is the case with specific phobias, the people facing these phobias have troubles with their normal routine/ normal life as the fear is overwhelming. The irrational fear is always present and makes them panicky, paranoid and an overthinker in their daily life.
As it is an irrational fear, the individual may feel that they cannot escape this fear. The fear may then lead them to avoid multiple situations, which may lead to their social isolation.
People with bibliophobia may avoid taking some course or opportunity because of the compulsory reading that is required. Intense fear may hence lead to a poorer quality of life where it is not enjoyed by them and is mostly lived in anticipatory paranoia.
What may cause bibliophobia?
Bibliophobia is a mostly rare phobia as it is not that well documented over the world. It is mostly understood that a cause for any phobia is rooted in childhood or early traumatic events, or unpleasant experiences.
All individuals are unique and most reasons for a phobia may vary vastly, but some of the more common reasons include the following listed below.
1. Negative Experiences
Bibliophobia occurs in people who have had terrible experiences with reading a book. It is an experience that gives them anxiety and stress.
Someone may have made fun of someone reading out loud, or the class situation might have intensely pressured the child and developed anxiety about reading aloud in class.
2. Genetic Predisposition
Hereditary predisposition also plays a role in gaining this phobia because of mental illnesses that may run in the family.
A predisposition is created when someone in the family has suffered from anxiety disorder, OCD, schizophrenia, or other phobias as well.
3. Previous Experiences
Having a stressful event happening while reading might not be the only reason why a fear of books may be developed. Experience of any trauma may give rise to bibliophobia as a reaction to it.
A trauma that is experienced can affect a person so much that they get anxiety while doing simple things and may learn to avoid doing such activities altogether.
These traumas can be anything like car accidents, sudden death of a loved one, surviving life-threatening events, living through global catastrophes, school shooting, witnessing or being a part of a humanitarian crisis.
4) Reaction Formation
Amygdala is responsible for recording the reactions to experiences that we face. This can record a traumatic situation and reaction to it and remind a person each time something similar might occur.
It also registers the reaction of other people to a situation and makes you aware of them, hence making this phobia learned from the environment.
So if a person experienced shame and anger when they tried to read or read out loud, then they might remember the reaction that other people around them might have given. These can be unsupported or shaming parents or family members, or shaming and insulting/ bullying from classmates.
5) Environmental Factors
Environmental factors play an important role in understanding bibliophobia.
Factors such as the reactions of family/ relatives/ friends on reading, literacy level in the family, the learned responses picked up as a child.
If there is a taxing or fearful nature created around learning or reading, that can have a negative effect.
6) Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities, such as ADHD and dyslexia, may lead to bibliophobia as a byproduct of the disability.
As these disabilities can make it difficult for normal learning growth and being in a normal population with these disabilities can lead to shaming and bullying in the early years of development.
Learning disabilities also make it difficult to manage the reading even if someone wants to read for leisure.
When to get help?
The important thing is to reach out to an actual Mental Health professional like a psychiatrist, psychologist or a psychotherapist. They will understand your symptoms in the correct light.
Bibliophobia falls under specific phobias according to the Diagnostic and Statisticians Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The diagnostician will enquire in-depth about previous experiences, initial understanding of the fearful object.
Initially, the session would be about the rapport building and establishing the information required to piece together, whether this is an irrational fear or co-morbidly existing with other mental health conditions.
The diagnostician will diagnose based on:
- If you have extreme anxiety about reading, which leads to extreme levels of stress in your life and hinders the way you live your life, maybe that’s a signal to reach out to a mental health professional.
- It may also be time to see a professional when it has been going on for six months or more and you realize that this fear is irrational or out of proportion for the object in question.
- If you are getting physical symptoms and wishing to avoid books or running away from daily life situations that involve books, then it’s time to get help.
- Anytime a problem becomes big enough that it affects your daily life, it is time to get help from a professional.
Left untreated, it can lead to substance abuse issues, depression or mood disorders, and social isolation in work and related fields.
What is the statistic about bibliophobia?
As it is one of the rarer phobias out there, it is not currently well-documented.
So far, what we do know is that
- According to the APA up to 9% of the population has simple phobia which can also include specific phobias like bibliophobia.
- 1 out of 10 adults, and 1 out of teenagers, deal with some type of specific phobia in their lives, which can be bibliophobia.
Sometimes people do not share about this fear due to shame, or this may be bundled together with other disorders and may go unnoticed because of it.
Very little research exists specifically on bibliophobia and how much it affects the population.
Treatment for Bibliophobia
Although it is a tiny pool of people that have been diagnosed with bibliophobia, it still falls under the category of specific phobia. Specific phobia has empirically been proved to be effective with behavioral modification techniques such as CBT and exposure therapies.
Systematic desensitization is effective in reducing anxiety in individuals with specific phobias. The following discussed treatments can help in overcoming bibliophobia as well.
1. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
CBT is one of the most competent therapies used all over the world due to its effectiveness in changing the behavior of the people while targeting their negative thoughts and emotions. Changing the maladaptive thoughts, emotions, or behavior of a person can be done with the help of CBT.
CBT is used in helping phobias by targeting the pattern of thought that occurs and helping the individual form a coping behavior to that maladaptive thought.
Therapists and clients can also work on changing the behavior and thought pattern after the individual is helped with effective coping to combat the fear in daily life.
A CBT session helps the client learn to challenge their negative thought, understand how irrational it is and give them tools to cope with further phobic situations.
The most effective way in which CBT helps is by having exposure techniques, which include systematic desensitization and flooding.
Flooding is a technique in which the individual is exposed directly to a maximum-intensity anxiety-producing phobic stimulus, either described or real. In this method, there is no attempt made to lessen or avoid anxiety or fear during the exposure.
Exposure therapy and systematic desensitization are explained further ahead.
2. Systematic Desensitization
This is used to reduce anxiety associated with a particular stimulus. It is one of the most effective and widely used techniques to help with anxiety disorders and phobias.
In this method, the individual is given a relaxation technique to do before reacting to the foci stimulus. This is an important step to change the relationship between the phobic stimulus.
After giving the client deep-muscle relaxation, numerous anxiety-provoking situations related to the phobic situation are listed in order from weakest to strongest.
All of these situations are imagined or begin in reality with the least phobic situation while the client is performing muscle relaxation. The images of the phobic stimulus are then being treated with the mixing of muscle reactions and a new experience/ reaction to the phobic situation is being formed.
Therefore, the client begins to have less anxiety after performing the relaxation process and continues to do this until the responses are strengthened and the phobia is then overcome through desensitization of it through multiple stages.
3. Exposure Therapy
This type of therapy is used to reduce the anxiety provoking thought or situation with the repetition of anxiety provoking material. The primary goal is to get the individual habituated with the anxiety-provoking stimulus and gradually.
The exposure to the phobic stimulus can be live or in imagination and then exposure therapies (systematic desensitization, flooding, implosive therapy, and extinction-based techniques.) are performed to lessen the anxiety-provoking thoughts and behaviors.
Exposure therapy works by:
- Habituation of the feared stimulus. By repeated exposure, the fear starts to dwindle over time.
- Not conforming to fearful predictions.
- Increasing the feelings of self-reliance and independence by strengthening their self-efficacy and mastery of this technique.
4. Gateway Reading
This is used as a foot in the door to get back into reading. The aim of this is to start reading again, even if it is from different sources. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Reading graphic novels
- Listening to audiobooks
- Reading screenplays
- Reading script
- Visiting a library to expose themselves to different spaces and reading materials.
5. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
DBT is a flexible therapy that combines principles of behavior therapy, CBT, and mindfulness. It helps people accept their life and their behavior and the reality of those elements. And this thus helps them learn to change their lives and their maladaptive behaviors.
The core of this therapy approach is to help individuals learn to regulate and be with their emotions.
Some of the ways it can help the client be equipped with various coping skills, such as:
- Half-Smiling is where the client will think about the stressful situation and start raising the corners of their mouth. The goal is to not engage with fearful thoughts.
- Mindfulness meditation empowers the client with the ability to be present in the moment and focus on breathing. The goal is to refocus the attention on something else other than the phobic thoughts and materials.
- Coping ahead is practicing to deal with the phobia by thinking about it in natural settings that will come up in the future and giving yourself strength and the tools to deal with it by already expecting it and creating a response.
6. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
MBSR is an intensive training that helps clients to overcome their anxiety and stressful thoughts. A qualified therapist teaches meditation and Yoga to help manage stress and anxiety.
The goal of MBSR is to help the individual be present in the moment and experience their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way and not worry about past or future events.
As a part of MBSR, the following are taught along with it in a session:
- Gratitude journaling to help the individual reframe their negative thoughts and views on life and helps them have a more positive outlook on life.
- Listening to guided meditation at their own pace and leisure at home.
- Watching guided informational videos to understand the scope of the practice and how to be effective at it.
- Getting homework workbooks to work through and maintain the progress made in therapy.
- Yoga helps in relaxing the body and mind.
- Mindfulness meditation helps to focus on the body and how it is being affected and changing that.
- Breathing techniques to help the recenter and get relaxed much easily.
It is a practice that puts the individual in a highly suggestive state of consciousness. Hypnotherapy works by relaxation, concentration and focused based therapy approach.
It puts people in a suggestive state and then makes modifications or changes about the fearful stimuli, thoughts and behaviors.
It helps them in finding and changing the triggering symptoms and fearful situations.
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) helps in reframing one’s thoughts and feelings about irrational fear and helping them to be aware of their words, actions, and gestures.
It is a set of techniques to enhance interpersonal relationships and communications by changing the mental models of the world, something that people use to interact with the environment and other people.
According to NLP, in order to achieve change, the individual must first understand subjective experience and the structures of thought (i.e., mental programs) underlying the experience, and then learn to change these fearful thought programs as needed.
NLP can enhance adaptive behavior across a variety of situations or to attain excellence in personal performance.
9. Exercise and Lifestyle
Exercise, Yoga, and medication such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs help in getting the symptoms of bibliophobia under-control. Having effective and healthy lifestyle habits can help in managing stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.
Reducing caffeine intake as it can make you more anxious. Yoga and exercise help in controlling anxiety.
10. Energy Psychology
Energy psychology is a therapy that is based on the mind-body connection. Therefore, it focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, behaviors and the individual’s bioenergetic systems.
It treats emotional problems by intervening in the energy flow of the body.
Some Self-help tips to overcome bibliophobia
Reading is a part of the daily life, having anxious reading experiences can be a drag to live with.
These are tips you can focus on and use when you feel yourself getting triggered or under duress.
These tips are not a replacement for therapy and medication. These are to help in the moment of distress or to manage it enough until therapy is taken.
1. Journal your thoughts and feelings
Start journaling your thoughts and feelings. Getting into the habit of journaling can help you understand when and where the triggering thoughts and feelings are coming from.
Understanding yourself and your mind under the triggering event can help you get a clear understanding of what does and doesn’t work for you.
2. Face your fear head on
The best way to get over a fear is to get through it. Trying to challenge your irrational fear is the best and easiest way to have it leave your system.
When you know that your fear is irrational, run with that and question when your fear starts to build up. Ask provoking questions about your fear. Focusing on the fact that it is irrational is a fact that is needed to understand that it could be overcome, that it doesn’t have a logical foothold in reality.
3. Positive visualization
In this, you imagine yourself in a situation where you are interacting with the fearful object/ situation, but a positive element is added to it.
Adding positive thoughts and images towards a fearful experience can help them manage it in a panic driving situation.
4. Not avoiding reading/books
The aim is to engage with the fearful stimulus. You have to read in your day-to-day life and make sure that you don’t avoid opportunities or tasks that require you to read.
Slowly exposing yourself to the fearful stimuli and pushing through smaller levels of reading will build up strength and tolerance and assurance that it is an irrational fear.
5. Avoid Self-medicating
There are always new products or advertisements coming up that target a vulnerable audience.
Don’t start taking medicine without consultation.
Don’t take medications that are unknown or unreliable.
6. Practice Mindfulness
As the primary indicator that something is wrong is the feeling of anxiety and breathlessness, try to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness requires deep breathing exercises and meditation. Having a good hold for these practices becomes an advantage when dealing with stressful and triggering situations.
7. Be gentle with yourself
Having an irrational fear is a difficult way to live life. Don’t beat yourself up about the little details or other factors that come into play when living with a phobia.
It is a difficult process to go through and therefore it requires self-compassion and acceptance of self.
When working on yourself, it is important not to be harsh on yourself.
8. Distract yourself
Get yourself through the phobic situation by distracting yourself. Phobic situation here is just something you would avoid, usually like being around books.
When you find yourself around books, try to engage with the rest of the environment as well (such as classroom or cafes with bookshelves)
9. Build courage
Getting over a fear, having control over it is not an easy task. People need to build tolerance over a long time for it to be effective.
Getting over a fear is the most courageous thing you can do, so just remind yourself that you are on your way.
You are already courageous by attempting to get control of your life.
Taking things one step at a time will help you build this courage.
10. Stress Management
Stress and fear physical and psychological symptoms mimic each other, so therefore it is important to manage your stress so that you do not feel under burden or anxious all the time.
When physical symptoms of stress manifest (such as shortness of breath, tightness in chest, fatigue, etc.) take that as a clue and start working on managing your stress.
You can manage it by having healthier lifestyle choices and working out. Activities really help the negative thoughts.
Meditation and deep breathing also help with stress control.
11. Engage with support groups
Being a part of support groups really brings focus to other people who may be suffering from the same or similar conditions.
Sharing with people about your irrational fears and feeling validated about them is also an important aspect of being in the group.
Support groups work out for community and well-being needs. Having other people who know exactly how you feel will help you feel accepted and also give you the strength to work on your problems.
Support groups also give way to having multiple people help you with the issues that are like yours that they may have gone through and give guidance on what may or may not work best.
Bibliophobia can exist on a wide scale of extremities and it depends on the individual’s experiences and genetic and environmental predispositions to mental illnesses.
Although it is a fear that is not well documented and there is a research gap that needs to be filled. But other people with specific phobias exist, so if you are suffering from bibliophobia, don’t be afraid to reach out.
It is important to note that any fear or phobia that exists, however rare, will be helped in therapy and accepted without judgment. Specific phobias are successfully treated with multiple interventions, some of which were discussed above.
The fear is irrational and it can hinder the life of an individual if not taken care of. There is a loss of control over one’s life when there is a fear involved, and the control can be regained with the use of therapeutic techniques and lifestyle changes.
Reading is an important part of life and should not be avoided because of anxiety and fear. You can always choose to overcome your fear rather than living in it. Take your time but also take the step necessary for the betterment of your life.
1. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders https://sourceessay.com/fear-of-reading-textbook-and-how-to-overcome-it/ https://psychtimes.com/bibliophobia-fear-of-books/
2. https://www.lifepersona.com/bibliophobia-symptoms-causes-and-treatment https://www.lifepersona.com/bibliophobia-symptoms-causes-and-treatment
Passionate about both writing and psychology. A Counseling psychologist by profession and a writer by desire. Her aim has always been to combine the two wherever she can. You can always catch her updating her reading list and reflecting on the world around us. Empathetic to a fault and hoping to help people enough to leave a positive impact.