The fear of love is truly an enigma in contemporary psychology. Human beings are the most social of animals, and yet the prospect of being loved — of expressing love to another, and thereby being emotionally vulnerable — evokes enough fear in some people that they run screaming for the nearest exit.
An element of philophobia showed up during the first season of the hit TV show, “Glee.” A high school club teacher, Will Schuester, has a date with Emma Pillsbury, the high school counselor who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and a few other phobias. Nonetheless she insists that she loves Will and wants to make love with him. However, after seeing the two in romantic contact to the tune of Madonna’s hit song, “Like a Virgin,” viewers later learn that Emma ran screaming from Will’s apartment before they could consummate their love.
A distraught departure from a potential partner is certainly one of the signs of philophobia. Emma’s character exhibited some of the classic signs of the conflicted emotions endured by many people who suffer from the fear of love and/or intimacy. They can experience a momentary exhilaration when they think of the prospects of giving and receiving love. Then, at a crucial moment, philophobics become overwhelmed by their fears of what the previous emotions imply, such as the loss of emotional control and the vulnerability of physical contact.
Some people have such severe philophobia that they can’t even get as close to a potential lover as Emma came to Will. They suffer the classic reactions of many people with persistent, unreasonable fears including dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, dry mouth, sweating, trembling, weeping, panic attacks and roller-coaster emotions. These physical symptoms signal that something has gone wrong emotionally, that the body is responding to a mildly cautionary situation with an extreme expression of the “fight or flight” reaction.
In other words, in these severe cases, the mind is thinking that falling in love poses a life-or-death threat to such a degree that it automatically prepares the body to fight for survival. This excessive emotional response forms one of the clearest signs that a person is in the grip of a phobia, in this case, the fear of love.
It’s important to understand that fear is a normal human emotion. In fact, although it generally causes an unpleasant experience, fear is a helpful emotion. It heightens people’s alertness to potential dangers and releases adrenaline useful for “fight or flight.” However, when fear becomes debilitating in the way we’re discussing here, it becomes an obstacle to life and not an ally.
Dealing with philophobia, also called “love fear,” fear of emotional connection and a host of similar names, may require a complicated set of therapeutic approaches. A patient and his or her therapist may need to work on relationship skills as well as techniques to control the excess fear stimulation. This reality can take time and money, and may cause frustration if the patient doesn’t seem to progress. While a patient suffering from philophobia may never be completely free of the condition, he or she can progress to the point where the most negative symptoms are removed, and normal romantic relationships become possible.