Gelotophobia: symptoms, differential diagnosis, causes and treatment

Gelotophobia is the fear that they will laugh at us, laugh at us, or laugh at us.. It usually appears in social situations, in front of more people; it occurs mostly in childhood and adolescence.

Gelotophobia (a specific phobia) should not be confused with other types of disorders, such as social phobia, avoidant personality, or schizoid personality. In this article, we will make your differential diagnosis and find out what it is, its symptoms, causes and possible treatments.

Gelotophobia: what is it?

Phobias are intense fears of certain stimuli, objects or situations. It can be said that there is a phobia for everything, which is why virtually any stimulus can be dreaded. In general, the fear that appears in phobias is irrational and disproportionate to the possible harm that such a stimulus or situation can cause. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders) classifies specific phobias into 5 groups, depending on the phobic stimulus: phobia in animals (eg Snakes), blood / injection / wound (eg needles), situations or natural environments (eg Storms)), situational phobia (eg driving a car) and other types of phobia (eg drowning).

Gelotophobia is a type of phobia associated with the possibility of being ridiculed; that is, the person who suffers from it feels an irrational and intense fear of being ridiculed or ridiculed. This is why a person with gelotophobia may adopt paranoid or suspicious behaviors towards others, constantly fearing to speak badly or to be ridiculed.

Thus, according to the classification proposed by the DSM-5 for specific phobias, gelotophobia could be classified as “another type of phobia”, because it does not correspond to any of the preceding 4.


Symptoms of gelotophobia correspond to typical symptoms of specific phobias, And which constitute the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5. These symptoms are:

1. For intense mockery

Gelotophobia mainly results in an intense fear that others will laugh at us. Instead of fear, intense anxiety can also appear when faced with the experimental fact of these situations. This implies that the body is psychophysiologically hyperactive (with typical symptoms of anxiety).

The dreaded situations are those that can make others laugh or make fun of us. This is also extrapolated to people who may have done it or have done it before.

2. Avoidance

The person with gelotophobia also wants to avoid this fear that is caused by the fact that they can make fun of them.. That’s why it also avoids people or situations that can trigger it. On the other hand, it may happen that instead of avoidance there is resistance to these situations but with associated strong anxiety.

3. Persistence of fear

The fear or anxiety that appears in gelotophobia, like in other types of phobias, is persistent.. In other words, it appears very constantly and grows longer over time. Indeed, the symptoms of gelotophobia must be maintained for a minimum of 6 months in order to diagnose such a phobia.

4. Modified operation

The daily functioning of the person with gelotophobia is impaired; that is, the person finds it difficult to carry out their daily activities normally, even to start or finish tasks that they would normally solve.

These alterations cover the different spheres of an individual’s life, including social, professional, academic and personal spheres.

differential diagnosis

It is important to distinguish gelotophobia from other types of mental disorders. The disorders that could most closely resemble gelotophobia and therefore should be ruled out first, making a correct differential diagnosis, are as follows.

1. Avoiding Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder (TPE) is characterized by the fact that the person exhibits a marked pattern of social inhibition, Associated with feelings of hypersensitivity to negative evaluation and rejection and feelings of incompetence.

It is precisely this hypersensitivity to negative evaluation that can confuse us with gelotophobia. However, TPE is a personality disorder, which means that the individual’s functioning will be much more impaired than in gelotophobia (a type of anxiety disorder). In addition, in TPE fear is in mockery but also in criticism, rejection, isolation … that is to say that fear is more generic than in gelotophobia (where fear is limited to mockery).

In addition, TPE includes other symptoms that are not included in gelotophobia, such as fear of taking personal risks or engaging in new activities (i.e., that the person avoids many types of situations, in gelotophobia, on the other hand, the situations are limited to those that can cause a situation of ridicule).

2. Schizoid personality disorder

Another disorder that can confuse us with gelotophobia is Schizoid Personality Disorder. In the schizoid personality, a pattern characterized by social isolation appears. However, this does not appear out of fear that they will laugh at us, as is the case with gelotophobia; in fact, people with schizoid personality are socially isolated because they are not interested in others.

3. Social phobia

finally a third disorder that must be differentiated from gelotophobia is social phobia. Social phobia, like gelotophobia, is also an anxiety disorder. The difference is, however, that the fear of gelotophobia is related to a specific stimulus situation; on the contrary, in social phobia, it is one or more social situations (or public performances) that produce fear.

In other words, in social phobia, more situations are feared, and because of being social situations (for fear of shame, to be left empty, not to know what to say, to be judged …); in gelotophobia the only fear is that they might laugh at themselves.

Also, for all this social phobia involves a larger avoidance model than gelotophobia.

the causes

The causes of gelotophobia they are usually related to traumatic experiences where one or more simulated situations were experienced. It can make us think of situations like bullying (bullying at school) or bullying (bullying at work).

The etiology of this phobia is also linked to low self-esteem, insecurities, fear of other social situations, etc. It can also appear as a consequence of a depressive disorder, where the person experiences a feeling of deep sadness, guilt and insecurity, among others, and where this fear of being laughed at can also appear.


Psychological treatment for gelotophobia will include cognitive restructuring techniques to help the person understand that they are not always laughing at themselves and that they can sometimes have dysfunctional and mistaken thoughts that make them believe this.

In other words, care will be taken not to make the person feel threatened by situations that do not actually threaten them, trying to reduce and eliminate paranoid thoughts that make the patient feel observed and criticized.

On the other hand, psychological therapy will try to get the patient to have (or learn) appropriate coping mechanisms that allow him to cope with social situations and / or where others really laugh at him.

Importance of prevention

Childhood and adolescence are typical ages when gelotophobia appears; that’s why prevention will be important, Encourage respectful behavior in children in the classroom and at home to avoid intimidation or ridicule from others.

In addition, it is advisable to bet not to overprotect the little ones, as this can make it difficult for them to socialize and they do not know how to behave properly with others.

Finally, they should opt for techniques that teach children to tolerate feelings of frustration or fear of ridicule when they appear, so that they can manage their emotions well. This will increase your personal safety and prevent you from feeling so bad when “laughing at them” or when they “laugh at them”.

We still need to fight harassment and bullying, but we also need to provide tools for children and teens to deal with these situations if they arise and seek help when needed.

Bibliographical references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. Washington DC: author.

  • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

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