what is it, symptoms, causes and treatment

In recent years, cases of a specific type of phobia have been detected in which various psychic and physiological symptoms have been observed triggered by circumstances linked to religion (for example, sweating, nausea and feeling of danger when witnessing an act religious, entering a temple, etc.).

Theophobia is mainly characterized by an unwarranted, abnormal and persistent dislike or fear of anything related to religion. and to God and, above all, for the fear of suffering divine punishment, being the most frequent that this type of specific phobia occurs between people who have grown up in an environment of iron religiosity.

In this article we will talk in more detail about theophobia, explaining what the main symptoms are and how it can be treated in therapy.

What is Theophobia?

The term theophobia, also often called zeusophobia, refers to this irrational and excessive fear of religions, God and all matters related to religious issues and ideasbut above all theophobia is the fear of divine punishment.

Therefore, when a person suffers from theophobia, they may express it through anger, aversion and/or fear or any emotion of a negative nature towards religious practices and anything related to religion.

It is quite common for people with theophobia to get used to it avoid places of worship (e.g. synagogues, mosques, churches, monasteries, etc.), and perhaps even parishioners of a religion. In these cases, the person may also suffer from “hamartophobia”, which is the irrational fear of sin.

Symptoms of Theophobia

Theophobia is not a very common phobia, so it is not explicitly reflected in any of the diagnostic manuals on major mental disorders (DSM-5 and ICD-11), although in such cases could be considered a specific phobia; however, as some cases have been detected where symptoms compatible with this type of phobia were present, we will explain a brief adaptation based on the symptoms of a specific phobia.

1. Theophobia adapted to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria

First of all, one of the main symptoms that must occur in a specific phobia, as in this case theophobia, is intense anxiety or fear of anything related to God and religion, and especially of possible divine punishment.

Moreover, this anxiety or fear must be totally disproportionate to the real danger that religion or God poses in everyday life, as they may come to believe that something bad is going to happen to them for no apparent reason. In contrast, anxiety or fear cannot be explained by the use of drugs and/or medication, or by another mental disorder.

Another compatible symptom would be strong avoidance of anything related to God or religion.

These symptoms must be present for 6 months or more and can lead to significant deterioration at various important levels of the subject’s life (professional-academic, family and social).

2. Theophobia adapted to ICD-11 diagnostic criteria

Below we will explain an adaptation of the ICD-11 specific phobia diagnostic criteria to possible cases of theophobia.

First of all, for a case of theophobia to be detected, there must be excessive or marked anxiety or fear on the part of the person that manifests itself at the time the person is exposed to anything related to religion and to God. (for example, entering a church) and especially the fear of divine punishment. Besides, these symptoms of anxiety or fear must be disproportionate to the actual danger.

In case the person is exposed to anything related to religion (e.g. religious monument, people with religious profession, etc.), they will be exposed to intense fear and generally avoid being exposed to this type of religion. .

It is important to note that the symptoms of theophobia should not have occurred in a timely manner but he would have to be present for several months to be able to remember that this type of phobia occurs.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the symptoms of theophobia, to be considered those of a type of phobia, must be severe enough to cause discomfort and / or deterioration in the person experiencing them.

3. Other observable manifestations to detect a case of theophobia

Faced with a case of theophobia, several manifestations can be observed, so it is important to know them in order to decide what would be the most appropriate psychological treatment and techniques for this case.

The manifestations in a case of theophobia that can be observed and that are of greater importance are those mentioned below:

  • Avoid going and even passing near churches, temples and/or any religious icons
  • Having catastrophic thoughts about being able to receive God’s punishment.
  • Ignore and/or avoid any type of information related to religion.
  • Suffering from excessive sweating at religious gatherings.
  • Suffering from a racing heart rate from religious encounters.
  • Having palpitations before any religious encounter.

It should be noted that it is not a clinical picture contained in textbooks of mental disorders, although we wanted to report its existence because real cases have been detected. It is advisable in such a case that a mental health specialist carefully assesses the clinical features of the recent to determine whether or not there is a case of theophobia.

In addition, for a case of theophobia to occur, it is not enough that one of the observable manifestations that we have just listed exists in isolation in the person consulting, but several of them must occur and also during at least a few months. (6 according to the DSM-5), as in any type of specific phobia.


Below we will discuss the possible causes of theophobia, since it is important that they are taken into account in order to implement prevention plans to prevent the further development of this type of phobia.

1. Having had a traumatic experience

One of the main causes usually occurs in cases where the person suffering from theophobia has experienced a traumatic situation due to certain actions, having considered it a punishment for not having done the right thing, this being a predisposing factor. This usually occurs in people who grew up in a religious home environment.

It can also be triggered by having suffered a traumatic experience during a religious act or because of an act committed against a person by a parishioner.

2. Suffering from other mental disorders

In other cases, theophobia can develop as a result of another mental disordertherefore this phobia could exacerbate the symptoms and worsen the prognosis of the evolution of the disorder and the effectiveness of the psychological treatment.

Treatment of theophobia

In the case of theophobia, it is appropriate see a mental health professional who can assess whether the symptoms are compatible with the possible diagnosis, in which case psychological treatment could be carried out.

First of all, they can be used during psychological therapy techniques such as cognitive restructuring in order to modify these irrational beliefs linked to their fear and aversion for everything related to religion.

Second, the patient is usually trained in the use of relaxation techniques so that they can initiate them in the face of the thoughts and experiences that cause this theophobia. It can also be a good tool to perform the technique of exposure to different stimuli that cause this discomfort (for example, entering a church, being able to speak to a parishioner, etc.) being important to emphasize that this process must be carried out gradually and without forcing until the patient is able to face situations of fear and /or anxiety.

However, it should be noted that in the case of having developed theophobia for having suffered a traumatic experience, it would be more practical to carry out specific treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It should be noted that the type of treatment that would be carried out in the face of chaos theophobia will depend on various factors (e.g.: characteristics of the patient, severity of the disorder and symptoms, comorbidity or not with other disorders, therapeutic evolution to be followed ).the mental health professional, etc.).

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