Mastigophobia (phobia of punishment): symptoms, causes and treatment

Phobias are a very common group of anxiety disorders. Indeed, and although they are rarely the main reason for consulting a psychologist, they are the most common comorbidity problem in other clinical entities of the same category (generalized anxiety, for example).

Those who suffer from a phobia experience an overwhelming fear, which they often perceive as uncontrollable, and which conditions the way they live or carry out activities that are meaningful to them.

In this article we will discuss mastigophobia, a relatively common fear in childhood and that he has proven that he has a very deep lineage. Here we will talk about its clinical expression, the potential underlying causes and the psychological treatment currently available.

    How is mastigophobia expressed?

    Mastigophobia (also called poinephobia) consists of widespread, irrational and disproportionate fear of punishment. It is a word made up of the confluence of two terms that come from the Greek: “mastigos” (which could be translated as whip or flagellum) and “phobos” (which would mean fear or aversion). It describes any irrational panic reaction the moment a patch is applied, and which exceeds what would be expected based on its intensity or the immediate conditions in which it occurs.

    However, it is important to consider that sanctions are strategies aimed at reducing the frequency with which a behavior is considered undesirable (for the child or for others). This is why, implicitly, they are attributed an aversive quality on which their effectiveness is based. This fear must therefore be differentiated to a certain extent from that expected under normal conditions during the application of the procedure; in such a way that it conditions the way in which children (who are most affected by this disorder) feel, think and act.

    Here are the forms that mastigophobia can take on a clinical level. Although the most common is that they occur in childhood, it can sometimes maintain fear into adulthood.

    Usually fear is projected as much towards corporal punishment as towards psychological punishment, And precipitates a physiological reaction similar to that of a panic attack. Likewise, the phobia extends to positive (production of an aversive stimulus) and negative (withdrawal from something the child perceives as pleasant or reinforcing) punishments. Both behavior modification strategies have been the subject of debate in recent years.

    1. Anxiety oriented towards situations of punishment

    The feelings of anxiety that emerge against the background of mastigophobia, as a result of punishment or its anticipation, are very similar to those depicted in other phobic pictures. For descriptive purposes, three relatively independent core domains can be differentiated (although they have multiple relationships with each other): physiological, cognitive, and motor.

    At the physiological level, there is an overactivation of the autonomic nervous system, and in particular of its sympathetic branch (tachycardia, tachypnea, sweating, tremors, etc.). At the cognitive level, catastrophic preoccupation and the interpretation of fictions are very relevant that occur in the midst of normal coexistence. On the motor level, finally, the avoidance of any situation that could lead to the imposition of a physical or mental punishment stands out, even if there is only a remote possibility for one of them.

      2. Fear of being subjected to corporal punishment

      Children who suffer from mastigophobia are afraid of being subjected to corporal punishment (for example, whipping) for engaging in behavior deemed undesirable by the people (for example parents) who might administer it. This feeling does not always have an objective basis, so it can extend even to those who do not seek to generate any punitive situation.

      This phenomenon is common among children adopted by a new family after having experienced traumatic experiences of physical violence with their original caregivers. The pre-parenting style will make it easier to learn the dynamics of conflict resolution that would extend to the current environment. that’s why they react with a huge departure when the adoptive parents they confront or correct them for disruptive behavior, even if they do so appropriately and without the mediation of any beetles.

      Children with mastigophobia are very sensitive to facial expressions associated with anger, an emotion that has often anticipated the physical punishments they have suffered throughout their lives. It is a learning forged for a long time, from which it is possible to predict a negative and potentially dangerous stimulus. Over the years, a disproportionate watchfulness for hostile non-verbal signals may be maintained.

        3. Fear of psychological punishment

        Punishments can be both physical and psychological. In the latter case, behaviors such as contempt, isolation, threat, unwarranted disapproval or insult are included. Those who suffer from this phobia show overwhelming fear in any interaction in which these unwanted exchanges may occur, so they develop behavior aimed at avoiding at all costs. like that, they may come to be too complacent with others, Despite obvious abuse in their relationships.

        One of the situations that generates the most anxiety in people with this disorder is the silences resulting from a situation of interpersonal conflict. The ignored feeling is perceived as a punitive act of unbearable dimensions, from which emerge intense bodily sensations that can evolve into an acute image of hyperactivation (such as nausea, abdominal discomfort, tachycardia, tachypnea, etc.).

        4. Anxious anticipation of a potential punishment

        Children with this phobia feel like they could be punished anywhere and for any reason. The moment they realize they have done something wrong, they harbor an intense fear of being discovered, facing the possibility that their conduct will be reprimanded or reprimanded.

        All of this leads to constant concern for what might happen, As well as disproportionate ideas (undergo severe corrections for a harmless, accidental or unintentional act).

        5. Disproportionate reactions to errors

        Children with mastigophobia are hyper-vigilant about mistakes they can make, so fallibility also becomes a fact that triggers their anxiety level (Physiological, cognitive and motor). For this reason, they invest considerable effort in many of their activities. It is crucial to note that they would not be involved in them for the intrinsic pleasure of performing them correctly (or for the motivation of mastery), but lest error precipitate the dreaded retribution. They would not seek the good, but would flee from the evil.

        This expression of mastigophobia is common among children whose parents have adopted authoritarian parenting styles, aimed at the exclusive reinforcement of successes and the systematic punishment of any deviation from them. This model would forge a painful perfectionism that does not aim for excellence, but the prevention of harm.

        Why does mastigophobia occur?

        Mastigophobia is common in children who they were brought up on the basis of the use of punishments, positive and negative, In order to systematically correct their way of proceeding. This is especially common in cases where the application of the same was excessive, involving physical damage or deprivation of activities necessary for healthy physical / emotional development (beating, permanent ban on sharing time with friends, etc. .)

        It is not uncommon for children with mastigophobia they report a serious history of back abuse, And who live with a constant fear of being punished for their actions. By a survey sensitive to the past, we can often detect the point at which this disorder arose, which is often associated with a deterioration in self-esteem and a self-esteem weighed down by the belief that it is ” undesirable and / or inappropriate ”. It can also appear after observing the severity of the punishments inflicted on others (siblings, classmates, etc.).

        Which one is the treatment for mastigophobia?

        The treatment of mastigophobia is complex, as it must integrate many areas of childhood experience: past experiences of a traumatic or severely hostile nature, altered identity formation, persistent difficult emotions, and even difficulties adapting to situations. areas such as school or home. Parents should also be involved in providing psychoeducation on how reinforcements and sanctions are properly applied (and the situations in which this is appropriate).

        Rigid perfection is also a problem that usually requires intervention., Since the child sets an impossible standard without deteriorating other key aspects of his life (leisure, social relations with his peers, etc.), and does not allow him to build a positive image of himself either. even. The described pattern may end up being associated with comorbidities such as depression (which expresses itself as irritability during this time), or other anxious images that become stretchy into adulthood.

        It is an approach which must consider the family system as a whole and be very sensitive to the specific needs of the child. Cognitive-behavioral treatment makes it possible to modify the environmental contingencies that maintain the problem, And in turn, explore the thoughts and emotions of the child in order to detect and discuss the beliefs that contribute to his symptoms.

        Finally, in the event that it is demonstrated that the family commits any form of ill-treatment against the child, it will be essential to inform the competent authorities so that the appropriate legal acts can take place.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Grös, DF and Antony, MM (2006). The assessment and treatment of specific phobias: a review. Current Psychiatric Reports, 8 (4), 298-303.
        • Singh, J. and Singh, J. (2016). Treatment options for specific phobias. International Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, 5 (3), 593-598.

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