Liticaphobia: symptoms, causes and treatment

We live in a society whose relationships are governed by rights and duties. As human beings, we benefit from legal guarantees which preserve our physical, mental, social and economic integrity in the face of situations of injustice.

Most states have judicial mechanisms aimed at restoring the balance between two parties when one of them has committed an offense or a crime of the other, including civil and criminal penalties.

Anyone can use this system when we perceive ourselves to be the victim of harm, and we also have an obligation to respond to it when we have committed an offense among those provided for by the rule of law.

Liticaphobia consists of an irrational fear of such situations (contentious), And it’s a lot more common than it looks. We therefore discuss its fundamental aspects.

    What is lithicaphobia?

    Liticaphobia (known as litigophobia) is a term in which two words of classical origin but different origins converge. The first comes from the Latin “litigium”, which in turn comes from the root “lis” (litigation or lawsuit), and the second (phobos) is a Hellenic heritage (fear or aversion). Thus, lithicaphobia describes a situational phobia, which is limited to the moment when one is a party to the defense or the prosecution in a trial.

    The truth is that legal issues are very stressful situations for most people, even if they don’t have any anxiety disorders. Knowing that you have been indicted in the context of an investigation or a court case always triggers opposite reactions, both for the victim and for the perpetrator. Thus, the former may fear that they will not be recognized as injured, and the latter may be the subject of an excessively severe court decision.

    For this reason, it is difficult to draw a line that clearly distinguishes when anxiety, which reasonably arises in a context like this, becomes a psychopathological phenomenon. Anyway they will have to take into account the dimensions related to interference on daily life (Damage in relevant areas) and intensity or scope (disproportionate expectation in relation to the expected consequences of the process).

    In the following lines, we will delve deeper into this particular phobia, with particular emphasis on how it is expressed and its possible causes. At the end, there will be a brief review of therapeutic application strategies.


      Fear of litigation can be expressed in several ways. Here are some of their most common symptoms. People who suffer from this image of anxiety tend to experience several of them. His anguish is precipitated by situations linked to ordinary litigation, civil and penal (of hearings before the last appeal); in which he is personified as part of one of the agents involved.

      1. Anticipation anxiety before a trial

      One of the common symptoms is anticipatory anxiety. These are concerns that range from the actual notification of the trial (or the forced imposition of a trial) to the moment the case ends. Throughout this period, the person imagines what will happen to events, adding dramatic nuances to their situation (content of the sentence, severity in law enforcement, etc.) and exacerbating the fear of it. imminent future.

      Symptoms usually worsen over time and the day is set to appear in court.. During this period, negative thoughts of the automatic type (“they will destroy life” for example), an overactivation of the autonomic nervous system (increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, muscle tension, diffuse pain, etc.) can be observed. occur.) and avoidance behaviors (unsuccessful efforts to stop thinking or to do activities that distract from the problem of the mind, for example).

      2. For being accused

      Another common symptom is the overwhelming fear of being accused by another person of a felony or misdemeanor, which results in an attitude of condescension even when one experiences a clear violation of rights. suppose an attitude that renounces any potential infringement to a third party, Which inhibits the expression of opinions or acts which may develop into tensions which will merit judicial mediation. Thus, courtesy would become excessive and clearly transcend the lower limits of assertiveness (passivity).

      3. Fear of participating as a witness in a civil or criminal trial

      People diagnosed with lithicaphobia are terribly afraid to participate in a trial as witnesses, even if they do not position themselves in favor of either party (neither as an accuser nor as a defense). For this reason, they tend to withdraw from the scene in which an illegal situation occurs which they have witnessed, so that they are not required to testify in court. This attitude means that the victim may lose a valuable legal remedy. to claim their own rights.

      This fear can be motivated both by the magistrates’ investigation and by the fear that the accused will decide to take revenge in one way or another on all those who have contributed to the indictment process. In other cases, it is possible that there is concern that a simple participation will eventually escalate into a situation of personal involvement, although there is no evidence to support this idea.

      4. Uncertainty about his ability to sit on a jury

      One of the most distressing situations for a person with lithicaphobia is pretend to be part of a popular jury. If this (random) circumstance arises, they may attempt to invoke any legal loophole to evade the task entrusted to them, as they feel that they do not have sufficient critical capacity to deal with the problem. innocence or guilt of a third party. They also doubt that the accused / defendants will try to retaliate later.

      It should be noted that the formation of a popular jury is done by public lottery in even years, and that it assigns this responsibility for a period of up to twenty months (living with overwhelming anxiety).

      5. Resistance to filing complaints

      In liticaphobia, there is usually an obvious refusal to deal with complaints about facts in which the intense fear of participating in a process that would expose them to great emotional strain and that it can last for several years. Such a way of proceeding makes him legally impotent, because he will not receive any remuneration for the offense received. The situation worsens when there is an objective risk of life (willful offenses of physical violence, for example).

      This is a classic mechanism for avoiding specific phobias, which can be associated with beliefs about the futility of the legal system or with fear that the trial will impose a situation of frank deprotection (that the devices are not not articulated from the police or otherwise to protect the whistleblower). In any case, this has important consequences, since the person is deprived of the resource available in any democratic system to resolve conflict situations for which no agreement is reached (through mediation or during the preview).

      6. Distorted thoughts on procedural consequences

      In an age when people with lithicaphobia have not been able to avoid their participation in a trial, fear is shifting to its potential consequences. One of the most common concerns is the reverse on financial availability to hire a good lawyer, As well as to cover the costs of the process in the event of an unfavorable end. Such thoughts, articulated over several months of tension, come to be significantly separated from the reality of one’s own judgment.

      In this way, there may be fears that a civil case will somehow evolve into a criminal case, or that the defense itself will raise suspicion on the judge and turn on itself. . In the cases serious, a fear of imprisonment emerges, even if the offense is very minor and corresponds to a sanction of an equivalent magnitude.

      7. Anxiety about double victimization

      When he was the victim of a particularly expensive crime, which led to the emergence of considerable emotional damage, there may be a lingering fear that the legal process involves double victimization. This concept refers to the damage that results from the system failing to believe or recognize the extent of the damage, reduce its importance or even shift de facto responsibility to those who have suffered it. the direct consequences.

      This fear is common in cases of harassment, abuse and rape; and it is not limited to the legal system, but also extends to the health service or any body responsible for providing care to those who are going through such a situation. In some cases it is a factor that prevents the denunciation of facts that gradually erode self-image and self-esteem, Interact with the rest of those previously discussed.

      the causes

      The causes of lithicaphobia are varied and result from the confluence of a set of environmental and personality factors. Among the first, there is the possibility that a situation of a very unfavorable legal nature has been experienced personally (or in the family), with very harmful consequences for those who suffer from this specific phobia or for their immediate entourage (financial penalty extreme, deprivation of liberty, etc.), especially during childhood.

      In other cases, it is possible that the phobic fear be associated in a secondary way with potential consequences that could arise from legal action. Thus, fear would result from a feeling of vulnerability to which the system is considered unable to respond adequately.

      Finally, lithicaphobia is more common in people who find it difficult to tolerate uncertainty, as these are processes in which a certain margin of unpredictability must be recognized and which tend to last for a long time. So it’s a very aversive experience for those with these traits, so they tend to avoid it on purpose.


      Liticaphobia has an effective cognitive-behavioral treatment. Since the characteristics of the phobic stimulus make it difficult to develop an exposure in vivo, it is advisable to design a program in imagination through which a series of scenes related to the dreaded are presented (having previously ordered them according to the level of anxiety attributed to them by the patient), so that a gradual habituation may occur (from mild to severe). That’s why he usually teaches some relaxation techniques as well.

      Address irrational beliefs related to legal contexts it is also usually important, as the person may harbor thoughts that do not correspond to the reality of the facts with which they are confronted. Aligning what is expected with what might actually happen is a necessary step in relieving feelings of unease. The combination of these two procedures is more effective than each of them separately.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Carpenter, JK, Andrews, LA, Witcraft. SM, Powers, MB, Smits, JA and Hoffman, SG (2019). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety and related disorders: meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety, 35 (6), 502-514.
      • Kakzkurkin, AN and Foa, EU (2015). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: updated empirical evidence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17 (3), 337-346.

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