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Xenophobia: Definition & Effects

Instructor: Alexandra Carpenter
Xenophobia may sound like a groovy disco move, but it is a serious anxiety disorder. In this lesson, you'll learn about xenophobia, review its symptoms, and look at some treatment options.

Definition of Xenophobia

Josh had never quite experienced anything like what had just happened to him. He had gone to a function at his son's school and met a fellow parent, who happened to be from India. In the minute he was exposed to this new person he broke out in a cold sweat, his heart raced, and he made up an excuse to leave a function he had been looking forward to for some time. What's going on?

Turns out, Josh is suffering from a medical condition called xenophobia. Have you heard of this? Xenophobia is a mental disorder in which the affected individual experiences an extreme fear upon meeting a stranger, generally one from another country. In extreme cases, this initial fear can sometimes be expressed by verbal or physical assault, but the more common response is for the affected individual to remove themselves from the situation due to their discomfort. Let's take a look at how this disease works.

Symptoms of Xenophobia

Josh does some Internet research to find out why he might have reacted in this extreme way to this stranger he's never met. He quickly comes across a list of physical and psychological symptoms very similar to what he experienced under a description of xenophobia:

  • anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • panic attacks
  • trembling or shaking
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • accelerated heart rate

The site cautions that only a medical professional can diagnose someone with an anxiety disease like xenophobia since the symptoms can closely resemble other anxiety and panic-related disorders. Based on this, Josh makes an appointment with his doctor to discuss the incident.

Effects of Xenophobia

Over the next few weeks, Josh is able to make an appointment to see a specialist, have his suspicions of xenophobia confirmed, and have several therapy sessions to treat his disorder. Josh's therapist commends him for getting into therapy so quickly, as most sufferers take much longer to do so.

When it is left untreated, xenophobia can make life very complicated for the person suffering from it. The normal response is to withdraw from social situations, even social situations that have a low risk of meeting someone that causes the intense reaction. This course of action can result in the sufferer feeling more and more disconnected from society and individuals. Some individuals with this condition have been known to verbally and even physically assault the stranger that has caused the irrational fear reaction; however, this reaction is quite rare.

Treatment for Xenophobia

Josh is grateful for all the information he received and that there is hope for recovery. Treatment for xenophobia is like many other anxiety disorders. In some cases, drugs are used to lessen anxiety until other parts of the treatment take effect, but most of the time, treatment focuses on calming or relaxing techniques to better control reactions along with cognitive behavioral therapy to help examine the irrational causes of the anxiety and choose a different response.

After several months, Josh is doing much better and is able to hold a nearly normal conversation with the Indian parents from his son's school. Like many anxiety disorders, recovery is a process that may take some time.

Other Definitions of Xenophobia

People or communities large and small that are insular are sometimes described as xenophobic. Insular communities are marked by a lack of interest in cultures, ideas, and people that are outside of their experience.

To some of their political opponents, presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were thought of as xenophobic because of their preferred policy of non-intervention, or staying out of the internal workings other nations' politics.

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