Xenophobia is a severe aversion to foreigners, strangers, their politics and cultures. Often, the term xenophobia is used interchangeably with racism, yet the two are actually different in that one is much more specific than the other. While racism defines prejudice based solely on ethnicity, ancestry or race, xenophobia covers any kind of fear related to an individual or group perceived as being different from the person with the phobia. People with xenophobia do not understand or accept that their condition is based in fear, yet it is the perceived threat of losing one’s own identity, culture and imagined superiority or purity that initially spurs the disorder.
Symptoms of Xenophobia
It is important to catch xenophobia early on. If left untreated, this condition can have seriously detrimental effects on not only the sufferer but also the objects of his or her prejudice. Furthermore, the xenophobic is liable to pass along his or her highly generalized and ungrounded perceptions to impressionable children and family members. Some symptoms of a xenophobic include:
- Feelings of fear or dread when exposed to people or cultural items perceived by the phobic to be different
- Apparent hostility towards people or cultures perceived by the phobic to be different
- Distrust aimed specifically towards cultures perceived by the phobic to be different
- Rash generalizations and stereotypes aimed at a set of people who can be identified by superficial qualities
- Finding abusive and prejudiced behavior humorous
Causes of Xenophobia
Like all phobias, there is no universally specific cause that leads to the development of xenophobia. Rather, various unique factors and experiences culminate in the development of the disorder. For some, such as veterans who fought in the Vietnam War, it is attendant with posttraumatic stress disorder. After witnessing fellow American soldiers being killed, many veterans developed a hatred of people with Asian features. Other times, xenophobia is simply the result of poor upbringing or alienation from people and cultures different than one’s own.
Treatment of Xenophobia
Like many phobias, treatment for the disorder is usually best left to a mental health practitioner. The goal of any such expert is to first target the initial inciting factor that caused the person’s irrational and extreme fear. The patient and therapist talk about why the fear unfounded, how they can come to terms with any traumatic experiences that caused the phobia, as well as ways to deal with the symptoms of the condition. This type of therapy is usually very effective, with a vast majority of patients completely overcoming or successfully coping with xenophobia symptom-free for years, if not for the remainder of their lives.
Some therapists opt to use cognitive behavioral therapy. With this type of treatment the patient meets with the therapist and in a systematic and gradual progression confronts the source of fear while learning to control the physical and mental reactions to it. By facing the phobia head on, the patient becomes accustomed to it and thus ultimately realizes that his or her initial fears were not grounded in real or imminent danger.
If you are searching for help with xenophobia, finding it is quite easy. There are plenty of therapists and peer groups willing to help not only with the disorder but also the psychological difficulties attendant with it. If self-help is not working, do not hesitate to reach out to these resources for support.
American Psychiatric Association – info about phobias in general, causes, treatment.
Wikipedia – general info on xenophobia (definition, possible causes).
xenophobia.org – xenophobia as it relates to current events.