Phobias generally have been one of the most paralyzing kinds of fears that a man can experience. One type of phobia that is commonly seen is the phobia called myrmecophobia.
Myrmecophobia can be defined as the intense fear of ants. This type of phobia belongs to a general class of phobia known as Entomophobias (The intense fear of insects).
Myrmecophobia is a specific phobia derived from two Greek words; ‘Myrimex,’ which means ants, and Phobos, which means fear. Hence, Myrmecophobia can be defined as the irrational fear of ants.
People who have myrmecophobia may have had a traumatizing experience with ants before and would find it difficult to go alone on road walks, on trails, or even step outside unfamiliar territories because of the intense fear of the possibilities of coming in contacts with ants.
Myrmecophobia is different from some other phobias, such as pupaphobia(the fear of puppets), sanguivoriphobia(the fear of vampires), and so on.
This is because, in the real sense, there are no actual dangers found here. However, in myrmecophobia, which is the fear of ants, the patient’s fear is deeply rooted in the fact that ants can cause actual harm and injury to them causing them to develop extreme anxiety towards ants.
One can somewhat understand a myrmecophobic’s fear in this instance as it has been discovered through research that particular ant’s bites can be painful while some can pose a real danger to the health of those affected.
For example, a particular type of ants known as the red ants and certain species such as panaponera(also called the bullet ants) have been seen to be particularly very painful to an individual. According to research conducted in 2010, it was recorded that the bite of the Bullet Ant, which is abundantly seen in certain cities such as Nicaragua and Honduras, is the most painful of all hymenopterans such as ants bees, wasps, etc.
In fact, according to this research, it was stated that one could compare the pain gotten from the bite of a bullet ant to the pain felt from a bullet wound hence its name Bullet Ant.
Although, ant bites can be painful, however, it is extreme to say that they can lead to anaphylactic shock. It should be noted that not all ants are dangerous and not all ant bites are harmful to the body.
A person who has been bitten before by either a bullet ant or any other ant is most likely to develop an actual fear of ants also known as myrmecophobia.
Causes of Myrmecophobia
Like all phobias, the exact causes of Myrmecophobia are not known; however, the development of this phobia has been linked to two significant factors; Genetic and Environmental factors.
Research has shown over time that a person who has a family history of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or anxiety disorder may most likely develop anxiety disorders, including myrmecophobia.
In other words, if a person has any family member who has suffered from any mental or anxiety disorder, there is a higher risk the patient may develop an anxiety disorder.
However, it is essential to note that even though a family member suffered from a particular anxiety disorder example, schizophrenia, another family member may not necessarily develop that certain anxiety or mental disorder.
Hence, if you have a family member (e.g., a parent) who developed an anxiety disorder such as thanatophobia(fear of death), then you have a higher tendency of developing any mental or anxiety disorder, including myrmecophobia.
However, although a person may have a genetic predisposition to develop an anxiety disorder, the person may not exhibit any symptoms until there is a trigger.
Like other phobias and mental disorders, it is not enough for one to only be predisposed by genetics. In other words, this means that a person predisposed to having certain anxiety disorders due to his or her genetic make-up may not necessarily end up experiencing symptoms throughout his/her lifetimes. This is because the person didn’t experience any trigger.
For example, a predisposed person may not develop myrmecophobia because the individual hasn’t had any particularly scary events with ants.
One may even see the person strolling in the sand where ants would typically be and not having any care in the world because the individual hasn’t had any disconcerting environmental event that can trigger his/her Myrmecophobia.
However, once the individual gets a scary event, he or she may then become very wary of ants and go on to develop Myrmecophobia.
Most times, individuals who go on to develop Myrmecophobia may have had a traumatizing event as a young child where hundreds of ants bit him or her at once.
Then when he or she sees ants, they keep on reliving that painful experience.
In some rare cases, an individual may develop Myrmecophobia, not by having a particularly traumatizing event from ants, but by continually hearing how dangerous ants are.
Vision and hearing are two powerful instruments that can be used to instill fear in the minds of children and even adults too.
Some caregivers unknowingly may have instilled a deep sense of the fear of ants in the wards but continually mentioning how dangerous they are.
According to research, about 25% of children who see or repeatedly hear how dangerous ants are or can be have been seen to develop Myrmecophobia.
Symptoms of Myrmecophobia
People who suffer from Myrmecophobia make most of their life decisions(either big or small) based on their intense fear of ants.
Myremecophobics may decide not to live in rural areas where there is a large space of land. Instead, they can choose to live in the cities where they know have properly been occupied with people.
Suppose they have no choice but to live in rural areas, people who have myrmecophobia who go through great lengths to ensure that they apply pesticides on the areas closest to them.
For most Myrmecophobics, the sight of ants would cause them to have intense anxiety, and sometimes, it may grow to become a full-blown anxiety attack.
Most people suffering from Myrmecophobia develop both physiological symptoms and physical symptoms.
According to research, most people who have Myrmecophobia tend to suffer from another anxiety disorder known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders(OCD). This is gotten due to their obsessiveness of getting bitten by ants.
This obsession with ants causes them to develop severe mental stress and deep anguish, which would eventually lead to them having a deep fear of ants.
A classical sign that one would often notice with Myrmecophobics is avoidance. Most myrmecophobias would rather avoid completely areas that ants may be present rather than having to deal with them.
People dealing with Myrmecophobia feel that having to deal with having to avoid and completely would give them a sense of relief from the intense anxiety they have to face when confronted with ants.
However, avoidance doesn’t bring any sense of relief; rather, it gives the patient a false sense of hope that they will be fine if they keep avoiding.
In the long run, the patient tends to have the irrational belief that ants are things that are dreadful and should be feared and avoided altogether.
Reinforcing this belief causes the patient to feel that he or she needs no treatment, and eventually, the patient’s condition worsens.
Common physical symptoms of myrmecophobia include;
- Intense anxiety and fear when ants are seen
- Unusual concern about ants
- The uncontrollable use of pesticides
- Deep fear of being outside or at areas where ants may be seen
- Development of panic attacks when ants are seen or spoken about.
Treatment of Myrmecophobia
Just like any other phobia, there is no particular treatment that can ultimately be used to cure myrmecophobia. However, psychiatrists have been seen to use three distinct methods of treatment to help their patients deal with their symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as talk therapy, has been seen to be one of the very effective ways of treating many phobias, including myrmecophobia. This form of treatment often includes the patient having to talk about his or her fears with a therapist.
In this form of therapy, the patient speaks with the therapist about why he or she is petrified of ants. The therapist also tries to explain why the patient’s fear is irrational and why they have nothing to be scared of.
Also included in this talk therapy are numerous cooing mechanisms which the patient can apply whenever their fear of ants arises. The therapist also tries to help them with coping skills that they can use whenever they are about having anxiety attacks as a result of their Myrmecophobia.
Often, exposure therapy is done after the patient has successfully completed his or her talk therapy. In this form of treatment, the patient is exposed to his or her fears but in a controlled environment.
The therapist may begin by showing the patient pictures of ants and watching their reactions. The therapist also tries to help them cope with panic attacks that may arise as a result of being exposed to pictures of ants.
After the therapist sees that they have successfully completed this stage, he or she gradually begins to expose them to videos of ants. This process is repeated until the patient no longer has to deal with myrmecophobia.
The use of medications
Your therapist can prescribe the use of certain medications such as antidepressant drugs and some common anti-anxiety drugs to help the patient cope with his anxiety symptoms.
However, it is essential to note that these medications do not necessarily treat myrmecophobia. Instead, these medications treat the symptoms of myrmecophobia but not the disorder.
It is also important to note that one must not use these drugs without the doctor’s prescription as some types of medications such as benzodiazepines can become quite addictive.