Bibliophobia (Fear of Books)

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What is bibliophobia?

The thought of reading a book puts some people into a panic. This condition is bibliophobia. The root of the word is ‘biblion’ or ‘biblio,’ which is Greek for book. ‘Phobia’ is Greek for fear. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), phobias are types of anxiety disorders. A phobia is an extreme, irrational and uncontrollable fear of an animal, object, person, activity, environment or situation. In reality, the phobia stimulus presents little or no danger. Most people with phobias know their reaction is disproportionate, but they feel powerless to conquer it or control it.

The APA classifies bibliophobia as a simple, or specific phobia. Bibliophobia is specific to books and no other forms of media, such as computers or tablets. Simple phobias are the most common type of phobia. The APA estimates that up to 9% of the population has a simple phobia.

Bibliophobia causes an excessive and overwhelming fear of books. Just thinking about reading a book can trigger the anxiety in some people. People with bibliophobia recognize this fear is not reasonable, but they can’t help it.

What are the symptoms of bibliophobia?

Simple phobias, including bibliophobia, have both physical and psychological symptoms. They can be mild, moderate, severe, and even disabling. The physical symptoms are a reaction to fear. They come from a basic fight-or-flight response and the release of adrenaline it produces.

Common physical symptoms include:

  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or like you’re about to pass out
  • Nausea
  • Trembling or shaking

Other bibliophobia symptoms include:

  • Avoidance of books
  • Awareness that fear of books is irrational
  • Dread or worry about having to read a book
  • Guilt or shame about the fear of books
  • Inability to control or overcome the fear of books
  • Intense panic and strong desire to flee when reading a book

Children who have a simple phobia may not be able to articulate what they are feeling. Their feelings may manifest as inconsolable crying, clinginess, or a temper tantrum.

Discomfort around books may or may not be disruptive. When it is disruptive, it is a phobia that should have medical attention. See your doctor early if you recognize the fear of books is interfering with your (or your child’s) ability to live normally. Treatment is often most effective when you address the phobia promptly.

What are the causes of bibliophobia?

The exact cause of simple phobias is uncertain. Like other areas of mental health, the cause is likely a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Some people have very specific experiences in their past that they associate with the fear of books, such as an embarrassing situation reading out loud in front of others. In this case, the fear involves an area of the brain called the amygdala. This tiny region records your reactions to experiences. When you have a similar experience in the future, the amygdala reminds you of what you felt.

Other people aren’t able to relate any definite experience with their fear of books. This is where a genetic influence could be at play. Personality traits and temperament have inherited aspects. This could explain why simple phobias seem to run in families. However, people also learn behaviors and reactions from their relatives. In fact, the amygdala records fear and worry expressions you notice in people around you. So, it’s often hard to know whether phobias are learned or inherited.

What are the treatments for bibliophobia?

If you have a phobia of books, you don’t have to endure it. Phobias are real disorders. They aren’t signs of weakness or immaturity and they aren’t “all in your head.” Recognizing that your phobia is real is the first step. Seeking help is the next.

In general, doctors recommend treating simple phobias when they disrupt your ability to function normally. This includes interfering with work, school, and personal relationships and situations. The most effective bibliophobia treatments are forms of psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy. This form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, teaches you to identify and change unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors. With a therapist, you will learn new beliefs about your fear and build confidence about facing it. You might also discuss possible origins of the phobia from your childhood. Therapists usually combine CBT with exposure therapy.
  • Exposure therapy. This type of talk therapy gradually and repeatedly exposes you to your fear of books. Under these controlled situations, a therapist will teach you anxiety-reducing strategies. It may start with just thinking about books. Once you can control your fear, you may move on to looking at books or touching them. The goal is to master your fear instead of it mastering you. Desensitization therapy is another name for this method.

Talk therapy is the most successful treatment for long-term relief of phobias. Doctors sometimes recommend medications on a short-term basis for simple phobias. It can help some people get started with talk therapy. Medicines can also help phobias involving temporary situations, such as fear of public speaking.

Your doctor may also recommend psychological testing or screening for a learning disability possibly related to your (or your child’s) fear of books. (As many as 60% of adults with a literacy deficit have an undiagnosed learning disability, according to the World Literacy Foundation.)

Simple phobias, including bibliophobia, can lead to complications without treatment. Potential complications include:

  • Social isolation, loneliness, and problems with work, school and social relationships
  • Substance abuse with alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate and deal with the phobia
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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