Atephobia (fear of ruins): symptoms, causes and treatment

In the field of anxiety disorders, we know that there are many rare phobias; we don’t even know many of them. This may be the case with the phobia we will discuss in this article: athephobia, which consists of the phobia of ruins.

We will see here what it consists of, what are its predominant symptoms, the causes and possible treatments framed in psychotherapy that we can use to fight it.

    Atephobia: what is it?

    Athephobia is a specific type of phobia, which consists of an intense, irrational, and disproportionate fear of ruins.

    When we talk about ruins, we mean remains of human architecture. That is, to structures that have collapsed over time, partially or completely, as a result of depopulation, wars, natural disasters … Ruins should not be scary, although they can acquire a mysterious or “frightening” air, especially at night.

    In horror, horror or suspense films, for example, ruins are often used as an element to generate some tension in the viewer. If in addition, the scenes where ruins appear take place at night, it generates more agitation or fear.

    for disproportionate

    However, ruins are not something that can hurt anyone (unless they are actually in a state that certain structures might fall into), and it is for this reason that in itself it is not it’s not something that “I should be afraid of”.

    In athephobia, however, there is this intense fear of them. It is important to remember, in this regard, that phobias are usually generated towards objects or situations that have nothing to fear (Or that if they do, they don’t generate symptoms as intense as in phobias).

    Precisely because of this, they are phobias, because they are disproportionate fears about a specific object or situation; phobias, moreover, generate interference in the life of the individual, and cause discomfort, in addition to other symptoms that we will see throughout the article.


      What are the most common symptoms associated with athephobia beyond discomfort and interference in everyday life? Let’s get to know them.

      1. Fear of intense anxiety

      The main symptom of athephobia is an intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of ruin. These can be of different types: very old or less, large or small …

      Fear arises in the presence of ruins, or in some cases it is enough to imagine it to feel it. This fear, in fact, concerns a feeling of anxiety and distress generated by the phobic object, And can be of different intensity.

      2. Avoidance

      The second typical symptom of specific phobias is avoidance of the phobic object or stimulus. Thus, in the case of athephobia, it is avoided to be in contact with or near ruins. You also avoid watching them on television, in the cinema, in the newspapers …

      It is possible that the person, instead of avoiding them, “faces them”, resisting their sight or being close to them, although, of course, with great anxiety.

      3. Psychophysiological symptoms

      Athephobia also includes psychophysiological symptoms, as with most phobias, the idea of ​​seeing or the presence of ruins.

      These symptoms result in various physical reactions and sensations, such as: rapid heartbeat, sweating, chest tightness, migraine, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, suffocation, Restlessness, rapid breathing, feeling of “losing control”, fear of dying, etc.

      Many times these symptoms spill over into themselves, as well as catastrophic thoughts also associated with phobias, in this case, such as: “I’m going to hurt myself”, “something is going to fall on me”, “there will be someone in hiding who will hurt me ”, etc.

      Misinterpretation of symptoms

      Also, what often happens in athephobia is that the person feels “something” that bothers them at the thought of ruin (or a little fear) and ends up interpreting these physical (or cognitive) sensations. ) very catastrophically, so that this “misinterpretation” of the symptoms ends up generating the symptoms of the phobia itself.

      In other words, this whole process ends up becoming a kind of feedback loop that is totally unsuitable for the person, Because objective reality (phobic object) won’t really hurt you (in fact, that’s what phobias are).

      the causes

      The most likely and common cause of athephobia is a potentially traumatic event or situation experienced in ruins. For example: to be lost in them, to have been afraid in them, to have been hurt when something fell, to have been very afraid of them for the reason “X”, etc.

      However, a traumatic event is not the only probable cause of athephobia; it may also have developed as a result of listening to negative stories lived in ruins (for example on television, from friends, family, books …). In other words, that is to say phobias can also be acquired by vicarious or verbal conditioning.

      Watching movies where very negative things happen in ruins (eg murders, accidents …) can also be linked to the origin of athephobia; if we add to this a certain individual vulnerability (because we are very sensitive, for example, or because we have “inherited” a certain biological predisposition to anxiety disorders in general or to specific phobias in particular), this can facilitate and explain their occurrence.


      In psychotherapy, the treatment for athephobia, like that for most specific phobias, is generally of two types: exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

      1. Exposure therapy

      In exposure therapy, the patient is exposed to the stimulus or phobic situation, gradually and through a hierarchy of elements (At least to the most anxious, in order). This list of items is prepared in collaboration with the patient.

      In the specific case of athephobia, the following reasons can be considered: start by seeing the ruins through photographs, films, etc., and gradually expose the patient to living ruins.

      That is to say, accompany him to visit some ruins (although later he can – and he will have to do it alone); the first few times, for example, you will have to get closer to the place “X”, and gradually get closer until you manage to touch the ruins and stay there without any anxiety (that will be the goal).

      In exposure therapy, the patient must “resist” the anxiety that appears in front of the phobic object., And learn to fight- (eg through a state of relaxation, more typical of systematic desensitization). The goal is that the psychophysiological symptoms are finally “dissociated” from the phobic stimulus, and, in the case of athephobia, that they do not appear in front of the ruins.

      2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy

      Another treatment we can apply for athephobia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In, priority will be given to providing the patient with the necessary resources and strategies to cope with the phobia.

      Specifically, you will be trained in relaxation techniques, breathing etc. that is, the different coping techniques you can use to reduce anxiety when you present yourself.

      In addition, CBT also works with the patient’s dysfunctional thoughts associated with the phobic stimulus (eg, “I will be hurt in a ruin”, “I will not be able to escape …”), helping the patient’s patient. to replace them with more realistic and adaptive models (for example “I don’t have to hurt myself”, “the ruins are not dangerous”, etc.).

      Bibliographical references:

      • American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
      • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
      • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1 and 2. Madrid. 21st century (chapters 1-8, 16-18).

      Leave a Comment