Fear of Being Trapped – Cleithrophobia

I am sure that there were many of us in the past couple of years that were overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the lockdowns put in place due to the pandemic. Cabin fever may be a perfect word to describe our feelings of unease and frustration because staring at the same number of walls day in and day out, for many, was something we were over after the first couple of weeks. 

Many people may have comfortable living spaces, but after a time being confined to this living area the space feels as though it becomes smaller. While we experienced this, other individuals may view the experience of being confined to a single space as a nightmare and truly unbearable.

The fear of being trapped, also known as Cleithrophobia comes from the Greek word “Cleithro” meaning shut or close and “Phobos” meaning fear. While this phobia is different from Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces, Cleithrophobia is more so related to the possibility of being trapped/confined/locked in a space and unable to leave.

The most obvious example of a possible situation that can create immense panic for individuals with Cleithrophobia is being locked in a room or other place/room. Additional situations that may cause great distress to these individuals include amusement park rides (i.e., getting strapped into a seat with little room to move) as well as MRI chambers. 

What are the symptoms of Cleithrophobia?

There are a handful of symptoms experienced by individuals with Cleithrophobia, and most can be categorized into one of three areas: psychological, physical, and behavioral. If you are familiar with other phobias, you may see a similarity here as many phobias typically have the same symptoms in terms of psychological and physical symptoms due to their relation to fear, stress, and anxiety. 

Psychological Symptoms

Because phobias are tied to fear, anxiety as well as panic attacks are very common symptoms of this phobia. Overwhelming stress and anxiety can not only be present during an experience with confinement, but also in an instance where the individual believes they will be confined. 

In addition to these particular types of symptoms, cognitive symptoms are also common such as lack of concentration. For an individual with this fear, it can be easy to imagine not being able to focus on anything except the fact of being trapped or possibly being trapped. 

Physical Symptoms

Aside from psychological symptoms, physical symptoms induced by the stimuli of a confined space can also occur. These symptoms can include muscle tension, breathlessness, increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea. As you can imagine, in a situation where we are incredibly stressed or terrified our natural flight or fight instincts kick in to help us protect ourselves from danger such as increased heart rate, so we are prepared to fight or flight. 

Behavioral Symptoms

Lastly, behavioral symptoms are also common with this phobia and typically look like avoidant behaviors. These behaviors generally look like actions individuals take in order to not come across the stimuli or in this case a situation in which they will be trapped in some space. Even if this situation is a possibility for the individual, they may still avoid it completely due to the mere idea of being trapped somewhere. 

As a result of these behaviors, these individuals may avoid common places where there could be a possibility to be stuck as well as more situational places like hospitals where they may be asked to do MRI testing or even escape rooms. 

What are the causes of Cleithrophobia?

There is never a single cause for a psychological disorder, instead various factors play a role or increase the likelihood of developing one. Phobias typically have three main causes: biological factors, environmental factors or personal experiences, and psychological factors. 

Biological Factors

One possible risk factor for Cleithrophobia are genetics passed down through one’s family. While there is no singular gene nor cluster of genes related to phobias, there are genes related to anxiety. Thus, a family history of anxiety could mean that the individual may also have genes related to anxiety making them more likely in developing an anxiety disorder, in turn increasing the probability of developing a phobia like Cleithrophobia. 

Environmental Factors

Not only can genes be a cause, but personal experiences are also seen as a risk factor for the development of Cleithrophobia. In addition to one’s genes, parents who demonstrate anxious behavior may not only pass down anxiety, but also influence their children to follow in their footsteps and acquire these behaviors. 

Another common environmental factor is personal experience with being trapped somewhere. As you can imagine, experiencing being trapped in a place can be a terrifying and incredibly traumatizing experience which can impact an individual for the rest of their lives. 

Psychological Factors

Lastly, factors related to psychology can also be a cause for someone developing Cleithrophobia. Specifically, other psychological disorders can heighten this fear such as a clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder can already make one overly cautious and depending on the individual becoming overly cautious of a situation such as being trapped in a room or something similar can be a fairly easy fall-in. 

The psychological disorder Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also be a factor for developing Cleithrophobia. If you are not familiar with PTSD, this disorder is categorized as a stress disorder caused by the experience of a highly stressful event, a traumatic event, in which the individual continues to be affected by. As you can imagine, living through a situation in which you were trapped in a space with no way out is not a happy or fun experience, and can be easily understood why someone may develop a sever fear and eversion to such situations. 

How to cope and overcome Cleithrophobia?

While to individuals who experience Cleithrophobia overcoming the phobia may seem impossible, it is not! There are a number of ways one can cope and overcome phobias such as this one. In this article we will discuss two: relaxation therapy and medications. 

Relaxation therapy

Although typically not the sole treatment for phobias, relaxation therapy can be incredibly helpful for certain individuals. With relaxation therapy, individuals are given instructions on how to focus on ones breathing as well as presented with breathing techniques to help remove the focus on the stressful stimuli. Additionally, learning to release tension from the body, specifically, our muscles is also a critical part of this therapy since we do demonstrate physical responses if you recall from earlier in the article. Through these practices and techniques individuals learn to combat the physical responses that occur when confronted with the negative stimuli thus allowing greater ease for dealing with the other psychological or behavioral symptoms. 

Medications

Another form of treatment is medications. For most individuals with phobias, prescribed medications can fall into two categories: anti-anxiety and antidepressants. Prescribed medications for anti-anxiety are used to combat anxious behaviors and symptoms seen in an individual which typically keep them from living out their daily lives. Additionally, antidepressants can also be prescribed such as SSRIs since depression can also develop with a phobia. Behaviors such as isolation which can be seen because of their avoidant behaviors as well as low self-esteem tied to feelings or perceptions that something is wrong with them. 

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.