What is Topophobia?

Topophobia is the irrational and abnormal fear of certain places or situations. A firm definition of topophobia poses some issues, as a frequent example in literature is stage fright, but this may be technically inaccurate. The use of “topophobia” to describe stage fright may have drifted into common usage and stage fright is technically a form of glossophobia.

The origin of the term is the Greek root word “topo” meaning “place”, leading to an association with specific places rather than social embarrassment, thus classifying topophobia as a specific fear rather than as a social phobia.

Some online medical dictionaries define topophobia as “A neurotic dread of or related to a particular place or locality,” “Morbid fear of a place or situation specific to the individual,” and “A neurotic fear of being in a particular place or area”. All of these might be inclusive of a fear of any given environment, including a stage. Interestingly, the American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) has no listing for topophobia.

In his book  “Topophobia: A Phenomenology of Anxiety”, Dr. Dylan Trigg describes topophobia as being a broadly inclusive spatially-related term associated with agoraphobia, claustrophobiagephyrophobia (the fear of bridges).
Accordingly, “stage fright” in the form of topophobia would be literally a fear of the stage environment itself rather than the social context of embarrassment.
Topophobia can be a fear of any given kind of place and may be highly individual in nature, and according to Dr. Trigg can be better thought of as an ambiguous and inclusive phobia including agoraphobia, claustrophobia

Topophobia is thought to be similar to claustrophobia

The root word “topo” is Greek meaning “place".

Medical dictionary references:
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc.
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partner

Symptoms of Topophobia

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • obsession with the subject of the phobia
  • fear or feelings of losing control
  • avoidance behavior
  • headaches

Learn more about phobia symptoms

Causes of Topophobia

Topophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (such as “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. (An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.)

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. (A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.)

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less well understood, are driven by social anxiety and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation or seeing something on the news or on TV and movies.

Topophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias

Treatment for Topophobia

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Habit strategies to relax
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • In vivo exposure
  • Response prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

Learn more about phobia treatments


Book Shelf

The list of books below are hand picked by the staff at Massive Phobia. It's a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Strategies, Trauma Healing, Mindfulness, Meditation, Buddhist Knowledge and Somatic Study. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.