Fear of Love – Philophobia

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Andrew English
Reviewed by:
Andrew English, Ph.D.

Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. Bruce Willis in The Kid. There are plenty of movies about commitment phobes. You might know a few people like this in your real life. All their lives, they fail to commit to one person, sabotaging relationships and preferring to be alone. But are these people total jerks, or do they have philophobia? 

Philophobia isn’t a fear of commitment, but the effects of this fear are pretty similar. With a proper understanding of what causes philophobia and theories in psychology about attachment, a “commitment-phobe” may get their happily ever after, just like in the movies. 

What Is Philophobia? 

Philophobia is the fear of love. A person experiencing philophobia may go out of their way to avoid close emotional relationships. They may not scream or faint at the sight of a potential love interest, but philophobia is a real fear that may affect a person’s quality of love.

Where Does the Word Philophobia Come From? 

Etymologists can break this word into two easy parts: philos and phóbos. Both are Greek words: “philos” translates to loving, and “phóbos” translates to fear. Put them together, and you get “the fear of loving.” Most names of phobias come from Ancient Greek or even Norse words. 

What Causes Philophobia?

There is not one direct event or gene that leads people to develop philophobia. It is unlikely due to genetics at all. Humans are hard-wired to seek out connection and belonging. The newborn baby reaches for its mother and puts all its trust in its parents. But certain events in the baby, child, or young adult’s environment may “teach” them that love is not something they should seek.

Most likely, these events were traumatic experiences involving someone that a person loved or trusted. A child who was abandoned by their parents at a young age, for example, may grow up to fear putting their trust in other people. Being neglected or abused as a child may also lead to philophobia. Bruce Willis’s character in The Kid develops a fear of commitment and love after a childhood of bullying, both from kids at school and his father. 

The fear of love is often coupled with the fear of rejection. After a painful breakup or divorce, a person may be anxious about putting themselves through another close relationship. Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids holds herself back from happiness and love after her boyfriend leaves her and her store has to close down. Even watching a set of parents get divorced may lead a person to be afraid of going through that traumatic event themselves.

Other times, cultural norms or beliefs may cause or directly contribute to a person’s philophobia. The idea that a person may not be “worthy” of love because of their abilities, appearance, or otherwise may hold that person back from seeking it in the first place. 

What Does Philophobia Feel Like? 

Philophobia is more than just brushing off potential suitors because you don’t want to marry them right away. A person with philophobia may experience the following symptoms:

  • Panic attacks at the thought of love and commitment 
  • Nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Avoiding close relationships completely, even if that means hurting the other person
  • Avoiding situations in which a person could fall in love
  • Constant feeling of danger or threat when in a romantic relationship 
  • Isolation

Philophobia looks different in everyone. For example, one person may be okay with casual dating but find their palms sweating when it’s time to talk about feelings or commitment or exchange “I love you.” Another person may avoid dating or meeting new people altogether. Philophobia may affect a person’s ability to date, form close relationships with family, or hold down close friendships. Symptoms will also depend on how much the people around the person with philophobia are asking them to get out of their comfort zone.

Specific Phobias and Philophobia

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5 does not have a diagnosis for every single type of fear. There are just too many! A person might be scared of pickles, ghosts, or balloons. Even though these can be real fears, there is no need to create a specific diagnosis for all of them. 

Instead, the DSM-5 list's criteria for “specific phobias” are as follows:

  • Marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation 
  • The phobic object or situation almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety.
  • The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation and the socio-cultural context.
  • The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  • The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, including fear, anxiety, and avoidance of situations associated with panic-like symptoms or other incapacitating symptoms (as in agoraphobia); objects or situations related to obsessions (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder); reminders of traumatic events (as in posttraumatic stress disorder); separation from home or attachment figures (as in separation anxiety disorder); or social situations (as in social anxiety disorder).

In some cases, a person experiencing philophobia may check all the boxes. Other people may act as if they are “afraid of love” but still want to be in love. If this is the case, a person may want to look into their attachment style.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style 

Being afraid of love and vulnerability may not present itself like the fear of clowns or the fear of balloons does. A person afraid to love doesn’t scream or tremble at the concept of love. They may avoid love and serious relationships altogether. In some circles of psychology, this is described not as philophobia but as a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. 

Attachment styles were first studied in the 1950s. Psychologists describe three different “styles” influenced by a child’s relationship with their parents and impacting the adult’s later relationships with friends and partners. The first three attachment styles were secure, avoidant, and anxious. Attachment styles have evolved since then, and the one that best matches philophobia is also called the dismissive-avoidant attachment style. 

Characteristics of the dismissive-avoidant attachment style include:

  • Extreme self-reliance
  • Withdrawal from parents, partners, and friends
  • Fear of relying on loved ones
  • Habitually forming short, shallow relationships 
  • Little disclosure of secrets, hopes, and dreams 

The impact of a person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style is the same as the impact of a person with philophobia. Does this mean the fear of love can be directly traced to a person’s parents? Not always. Remember, this is just one theory in psychology about how people see and form relationships. 

How to Overcome Philophobia 

Often, the people experiencing philophobia do not think they have a problem. Individualistic communities see self-reliance and independence as good things. Many people are rewarded for their inability to find love! Others wonder why everyone around them is in happy relationships, but they or they become increasingly bitter at the world around them. Fortunately, if a person wants to address their attachment style or philophobia, they have plenty of options.


A person can begin to address their fear of love through practices like journaling, meditation, and other forms of self-reflection. If you are picking up a pen and paper, write your answers to the following questions: 

  • When was the last time (if ever) you pursued a close personal relationship? 
  • What are your fears surrounding love and close relationships? 
  • What examples of close personal relationships did you have as a child?

When we journal, we use different brain parts than we think. Allow yourself to look at your fear of love from a different perspective by journaling once a day.  

Talk Therapy 

Talk therapy is a viable option for anyone who wants to treat their phobias. Therapists help clients manage their emotions, work through trauma, and set themselves up to live a more productive, happier life. They are not strangers to people with a fear of love. Having a third-party, neutral professional to help you through this fear can be a great opportunity to be honest about your fears and get an honest opinion on how this fear was formed. 

Narrative Therapy 

Not all therapists use the same approach to managing phobia. Some ask their clients to dive into their phobia, while others try to find the roots of the phobia. One approach is called “Narrative Therapy.” Narrative therapy puts the client in the center of their own story. As they build their narrative, they see what events have influenced their character and where they still have to go on their “hero’s journey.” For people experiencing the fear of love, this therapy allows them to write themselves their “happily ever after” and see how their experiences lead up to that ending. 

Philophobia is real, but it can, fortunately, be managed. If you believe that you have a fear of love or a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. You can form deep, personal connections and achieve all that you want to achieve in life!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). Fear of Love - Philophobia. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/fear-of-love-philophobia/.

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