Damocles syndrome: what it is and what are its symptoms

Throughout history, many fables and stories have served as inspiration to give context to certain mental phenomena in psychological jargon.

Damocles syndrome, for example, Comes from a story typical of classical Greek culture in which a young and courteous flatterer is punished by his master, Dionysius II.

In this article, we’ll learn what this story is about, as well as its psychological background and why it served as the inspiration for the syndrome that bears its name.

    What is Damocles syndrome?

    this syndrome it bears its name thanks to a fable of ancient Greek culture. Let’s see what this fable consists of.

    Damocles was a young courtier, most flattering to his master, the tyrant Dionysus II, who was ruler of Syracuse between 367 and 357 BC. And again that would still be between 346-344 to. vs.

    On one occasion, Dionysius decides to punish his faithful servant, teaching him a lesson because of his exaggerated devotion to him. The tyrant offers Damocles to change seats during a meal, And in this way, he gives up his privileged place at the table with all the attentions, as if Damocles were the same absolute master of the place.

    The courtier enjoyed her time eating, drinking and enjoying the personal attentions of local women.

    At the end of the meal, Damocles looks up and notices that there is an extremely sharp sword attached to the ceiling, On his head, only for a fine thread of horsehair.

    The realization of this situation took away all his desire to continue eating, and he never wanted to receive the “privilege” of sitting in this place again.

    From this story is that the aforementioned Damocles syndrome was born, coining the term as a reference to the dangers that can arise when we least imagine it, or when everything seems to be going just fine.

    Psychological context of the myth

    From the field of psychology, this term has been adopted as a metaphor for the ‘ state of anxiety that some patients experience after overcoming a certain illness.

    In general, this syndrome usually occurs very often in cancer patients who manage to overcome it in a seemingly successful way. It is common for them to be excited and overwhelmed with an indescribable sense of satisfaction after hearing the news.

    But after a while an irrational worry about a possible relapse begins to ariseThey begin to fear that at any time, when you least expect it, cancer will once again be present in their lives, falling on them like the sword hanging over Damocles’ head.

    Thus, from the first moment when these intrusive thoughts enter the subject’s life, a test begins for them, in the sense that already his calm is largely compromised by the fear and anguish of a relapse.


    It is natural that after overcoming a complicated disease, such as cancer, by following the thread of the previous example, patients feel a little worried about the continuity of their health.

    Therefore, to determine that a person has this syndrome must meet the following criteria:

    • Fear of relapse it must be irrational and very intense.
    • Subject exhibits high levels of anxiety prior to performing routine exams.
    • Anxiety begins sometime after receiving medical leave.
    • Presence of intrusive and catastrophic thoughts.

    It is important to note that the subject’s anxious behavior must be intense and widespread for a significant period of timeOtherwise, it could be due to a particular situation and not to Damocles syndrome.

    In any case, Damocles syndrome is not an officially recognized clinical category in psychiatric textbooks.

    what to do in this situation?

    Since this syndrome is primarily based on states of intense anxiety and distress caused by catastrophic intrusive thoughts, treatment is divided into psychotherapy sessions for the patient and counseling for relatives.

    In the case of the patient, the process is based on making him understand his real situation, that he is a survivor and that this should be a reason for joy and motivation to have a full life.

    He tries to keep the subject in the here and now, Prevent your thoughts from going faster than the reality you are experiencing right now. Psychotherapy based on cognitive-behavioral methods is effective during the sessions.

    In the case of relatives, the process consists of psycho-educate them so that they do not play a counter-productive role in the life of the subject in question; it often happens that, out of ignorance, the family acts incorrectly and can become extremely protective of the person, making them even more anxious.

    And sometimes the opposite happens: since they think he has fully recovered, they think it is better to remove him from the whole environment of hospitals and doctors.

    None of these postures is correct, the ideal is to follow exactly what is indicated by the specialists, to attend a consultation during the routine examinations and not to make decisions based on personal convictions.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Baker, K. (1987). Encyclopedia of Benet’s Re.ader.

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