The apeirofobia is excessive and irrational fear to infinity. It includes the avoidance of situations in which there is a stimulus related to infinity, anxiety responses and anxious anticipation.
When we speak of apeirophobia, it is opportune to start by emphasizing that this psychological alteration corresponds to a specific group of anxiety disorders, that is, to a specific phobia.
Specific phobias are quite common in world society, however, the elements feared in these disorders is usually not infinity.
In general, the elements feared in specific phobias usually have less abstract properties and are usually made up of tangible or easily discernible elements.
Clear examples of this type of phobia are the fear of spiders, of blood, of heights, of traveling by plane, of being in closed spaces, of driving, of certain types of animals, etc.
However, the apeirophobia, despite having different properties in terms of the element feared, is not far from the rest of specific phobias better known as regards the response of the person who suffers.
In this way, both a spider phobia and an apeirophobia are characterized by the person making a determined fear response when exposed to his or her feared element.
Thus, the response of a person who suffers spider phobia when exposed to these animals can be practically the same as that of a person apeirophobia when exposed to infinity.
Obviously, exposure in one case and another will vary, since it is not the same to expose a person to a spider (a perfectly identifiable animal) than to expose a person to infinity (a more abstract element).
However, we will leave aside for a moment the characteristics of the feared object and we will focus on the anxiety response that these produce when people with specific phobia are exposed to them.
In fact, the most important factor in dealing with this type of problem is not so much the feared element but the anxiety response it produces.
In this way, to determine the presence of an apeirophobia we have to focus on the fear that the person experiences when exposed to the idea of infinity.
Thus, to claim that someone suffers from apeirophobia, he must experience the following type of fear when exposed to his feared stimulus:
- Fear is disproportionate to the demands of the situation.
- Fear can not be explained or reasoned by the individual.
- Fear is beyond voluntary control.
- The reaction of fear leads to the avoidance of the dreaded situation.
- The fear experienced persists over time. ç
- Fear is totally maladaptive.
- Fear experienced not specific to a particular phase or age, so it lasts over the years.
Diagnosis of apeirophobia
So far we have seen what kind of fear should be experienced to catalog it within a specific phobia.
We have also clarified that this type of fear must be experienced when exposed to any situation that provokes an idea or a thought of infinity.
Thus, the conditions that must be met to carry out the diagnosis of apeirophobia are the following:
- Present an accused and persistent fear that is excessive or irrational, triggered by the presence or anticipation of the object or the specific situation that triggers the idea or the thought of infinity.
- Exposure to phobic stimulation almost invariably causes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a crisis of situational distress or more or less related to a given situation.
- The person suffering from apeirophobia recognizes that the fear he experiences regarding the idea of infinity is excessive or irrational.
- The situation (s) phobic (s) are avoided or supported at the cost of intense anxiety or discomfort.
- Avoidance behaviors, anxious anticipation, or discomfort caused by the feared situation (s) interfere sharply with the person’s normal routine, with work (or academic) or social relationships, or provoke a clinically significant discomfort.
- In those under 18 years, the duration of these symptoms must have been at least 6 months.
- Anxiety, panic attacks or phobic avoidance behaviors associated with specific objects or situations can not be better explained by the presence of another mental disorder.
Apeirophobia is a rare type of specific phobia, so the characteristics of this mental disorder have been little studied.
However, due to the enormous similarities that all specific phobias possess, there seems to be some consensus in admitting that the causes of apeirophobia do not have to differ from the other specific phobias.
In fact, as we have said, the only thing that differentiates a specific phobia from another is the feared element.
In this way, all types of specific phobia, including less common cases, belong to the same mental disorder, with possible common causes and, most of them, with the same response to the indicated psychological treatments.
In this way, through the multiple studies conducted on the pathogenesis of specific phobias, we can mention six main factors that would explain the acquisition of apeirophobia. These are:
Direct or classic conditioning
This factor would explain how before a neutral stimulus such as the idea of infinity, the person is able to match it with an aversive stimulus that causes anxiety.
In this way, the idea of infinity would be paired with independent aversive elements to the point that the person would end up responding in a totally phobic way before it.
For this to happen, many factors may be involved: early traumatic experiences, rigid thought styles, specific educational styles or personality types in need of excessive control over one’s life.
According to this theory, apeirophobia could not be acquired through experiences experienced in the first person but through learning or external visualization of elements that are capable of matching the idea of infinity with aversive stimuli.
In these cases it is especially important that during childhood, parents or someone close to them experience this type of phobia or some kind of fear similar to apeirophobia.
Likewise, behaviors or operating styles excessively modulated by fear or the need for control witnessed by the person during their childhood or adolescence could also participate in the acquisition of apeirophobia.
Another aspect that has proven to be relevant in the acquisition of specific phobias is the verbal and direct information to which a person is exposed.
In this way, if an individual is exposed to manifestations or repetitive information about the negative meaning that the ideas of infinity possess, this could end up acquiring an apeirophobia.
Other theories refer to the genetics of phobias and to affirm that fear is an innate element in people.
Indeed, the response of fear is an innate element that, although it can manifest itself in different ways in each person, all human beings possess it and experience it during our lives.
In this way, a part of the phobia could be explained through a genetic predisposition to experience apeirophobia.
Likewise, although there does not seem to be a high specificity regarding the genetic transmission of phobias, it does seem that the fear response in a general sense may contain important genetic components.
These factors seem to be especially important in the maintenance of apeirophobia and not so much in their genesis.
That is, the cognitive factors most likely do not explain the acquisition of an apeirophobia but they can explain why this alteration is maintained over time.
In fact, unrealistic ideas about the damage that can be received if exposed to the feared stimulus is the main factor that keeps specific phobias.
Likewise, cognitive factors explain the attentional biases that people with apeirophobia present, by paying greater attention to any threat related to the phobic element.
Finally, the main indicator of recovery of apeirophobia lies in the exposure of the person suffering from this alteration to the feared elements.
In this way, cognitive factors are what prevent the person from being exposed to these situations by predicting anxiety and discomfort, which is why these factors are fundamental in the maintenance of apeirophobia.
The treatment of specific phobias, as marked by the Society of Clinical Psychology (APA) is based fundamentally on two intervention techniques.
The first of them, as we have said, focuses on exposing the person to the situation that has shown greater effectiveness in eliminating phobic thoughts.
That is, exposing the person to their feared element so that they get used to the phobic stimulus and eliminate their irrational thoughts about their fears.
In fact, irrational thoughts about the feeling of danger or fear produced by the phobic element are maintained because the person’s own fear makes him unable to expose himself to the stimulus and prove that his fearful thoughts are not real.
In this way, when the person is exposed to his or her feared element for a long time, he or she gradually sees that his or her thoughts are irrational and reduces their anxiety response until the phobia is completely extinguished.
However, apeirophobia presents a barrier in its treatment of exposure, since a person with this type of phobia can not be exposed to their fears live because these are not made by real elements but thoughts about ideas of infinity.
Thus, people with apeirophobia present a response of phobic anxiety when they are exposed to thinking about the universe, the infinity or the feeling of falling into an endless void.
These elements are not tangible so we can not expose the person directly to their feared stimulus.
In this way, exposure in apeirophobia must be carried out through virtual reality in which the person can be exposed to situations of infinity that generate phobic anxiety through computer programs.
Another treatment methodology consists in the exhibition in imagination where the person is exposed to his feared thinking through the imagined situations that the therapist is guiding him.
Both techniques of exposure have been shown to be effective in reducing phobic thoughts and reducing the anxiety that arises in those moments.
Finally, in parallel with the exposure treatment, two more treatments can be carried out.
One of them, the relaxation techniques, are especially effective in reducing the levels of anxiety of the person prior to exposure to their feared elements.
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In this way, before initiating therapy on exposure, a relaxation treatment is performed so that the person is exposed to their fears with the lowest level of anxiety possible.
Finally, cognitive techniques can be applied to finish modifying irrational thoughts that have not disappeared during exposure therapy.