What Is the Fear of Churches?

Ecclesiophobia (A Fear of Churches) Defined as a Specific Phobia

Congregation sitting in church
What is ecclesiophobia, or a specific phobia of churches?. Robert Nicholas/OJO Images/Getty Images

Don't let your fear of churches (ecclesiophobia) prevent you from sharing important moments with your family and friends. For many people, a specific phobia involving churches can be terrifying, especially if your beliefs hold that you should try to attend regular services. Even if you are not religious, however, a fear of churches can impact your life in an negative way. Weddings, funerals, and other religious ceremonies are meaningful events that can bring people closer together, even if you are not religious.

Defining Ecclesiophobia

Ecclesiophobia, or the fear of churches, refers to either of two separate fears:

  • A fear of the building itself
  • A fear of what the church represents

If your fear of churches is actually a phobia, it is, by definition, life-limiting. (If you have a fear, but it doesn't limit how you live your life in some way, it does not classify as a phobia.)

Fear of the Church Building

Some churches, particularly those that are hundreds or thousands of years old, can be imposing. Gothic cathedrals may conjure up images of Victorian horror novels.

Tiny village chapels can feel claustrophobic or put you into uncomfortably close contact with people in the pugh. Even ultra-modern church buildings can be disorienting.

Church buildings are often filled with imagery that can be disturbing to believers and non-believers alike. Scenes of Jesus' suffering on the cross could trigger phobias of blood and death even in those who do not attach a religious connotation to the depictions.

Fear of the Church

In many cases, the fear is not of the building itself, but of the religious or known nefarious practices that can occur within.

Some people distrust "the church" as an entity, regardless of personal religious beliefs. True stories of pedophile priests in the Catholic church and organized emotional abuse of the LGBT community during the now debunked conversion therapy "pray away the gay" camps, are pervasive and could invoke fear, which, over time, can develop into a full-blown phobia.

Fear of Other Religions' Religious Buildings

If you are comfortable in your own church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution, but fear those affiliated with other religions, you may be suffering from a form of xenophobia, which is a fear of strangers.

Some denominations teach their followers that other religions are untrustworthy or even dangerous. You may be afraid that spending time in a house of worship belonging to another religion is sacrilegious.

Some atheists and agnostics report that they are uncomfortable or fearful in any religious building, regardless of affiliation.

Do I Have a Fear or Phobia?

If you have an intense fear of churches, you might be wondering whether it's a phobia. If you go to a therapist, she will help you figure this out by comparing your symptoms to the criteria for diagnosis from the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

A true phobia of churches would fall into the category of specific phobia, the fear of a certain object or situation. However, you may also have another phobia that presents similar symptoms.

What you think is a fear of churches might actually fit the APA criteria for agoraphobia. If you have agoraphobia, you fear you won't be able to get to a safe and private place when you have a phobic reaction.

For example, if you're seated in the middle of the pew and start to feel anxious, you might worry that you won't be able to escape and that you might feel humiliated if parishioners stare at you.

Treatment

Whether a fear of churches is a specific phobia, or whether it occurs as part of agoraphobia, treatment often includes a combination of therapies. How aggressively to pursue a specific church phobia, however, may relate to how much this specific phobia interferes with a person's life. For someone with a strong faith who finds attending worship services an important part of that faith, the specific phobia will require a different approach than for someone who only goes to church for special occasions such as a wedding.

Short acting anxiety medications, such as benzodiazpeines, may be helpful for a person who attends church rarely, but due to their potential for abuse, would not be a good choice for someone looking for a way to comfortably attend churches services once a week, or even more than once a year.

If you are considering treatment, take a moment to learn about the goals of therapy for a specific phobia.

Bottom Line on a Fear of Church

While some people may find this phobia amusing, for a person experiencing the phobia it is all but funny. A phobia, by definition, means that a person's life is limited—changed in a negative fashion—by the fear.

Thankfully there are treatment approaches which can help people overcome a specific phobia.

Source:

McCabe, R. Agoraphobia in adults: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, and diagnosis. UpToDate. Updated 07/27/16.

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