Gelotophobia: How to Overcome the Fear of Being Made Fun Of

People who have gelotophobia are characterized by an excessive and uncontrollable fear of being teased. Learn more in this article.
Gelotophobia: How to Overcome the Fear of Being Made Fun Of

Last update: 16 November, 2021

You’ve probably been in a situation where a group of friends laughed because of an embarrassing experience of yours: a fall, a mistake, something silly you said… It might have caused you discomfort. Maybe you even lost the desire to get back together with that group. If this sounds familiar, we’re talking about gelotophobia.

This refers to a condition in which a person feels so insecure around people because they’re afraid of being made fun of. Then, they start to withdraw from their social world.

Do this sound like you? Do you know someone like this?

Let’s see a little more about it.

What is gelotophobia?

Gelotophobia is the excessive, irrational, and uncontrollable fear of being the object of ridicule. The significant disadvantage for those who have gelotophobia is that laughter is not usually a positive thing for them. In many cases, when they hear a group of people laughing, they automatically assume that they’re being made fun of.

It doesn’t occur to them that maybe they’re laughing because someone just told a joke or because they remember an old anecdote. Thus, gelotophobia also ends up in the affected person starting to have paranoid-like behaviors or thoughts.

Finally, it’s worth clarifying that a differential diagnosis must be made to determine that it is gelotophobia and not another clinical condition. Many times, this type of fear is confused with an avoidant personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder.

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The signs and symptoms of gelotophobia

When the phobic situation occurs, the person suffering from it may experience anxiety, shortness of breath, a desire to run away, very intense discomfort, nervousness, sweating, and shaking hands, among other things.

In fact, some of the most common signs and symptoms of gelotophobia are as follows:

  • Excessive fear of ridicule or ridicule from others.
  • Anxiety and discomfort in the face of other people’s laughter.
  • Shyness and embarrassment. They’re often introverted and seek not to draw attention to themselves.
  • Muscle stiffness, avoidance of gaze, awkward movements. This is known as Pinocchio syndrome.
Timidez en una mujer con gelotofobia.
The extreme shyness of gelotophobia prevents proper social contact and encourages isolation.

The causes and origin of gelotophobia

Like many phobias, gelotophobia is often the result of a previous traumatic experience that develops this fear. For example, it may occur in the case of a person who went shopping with their underwear trapped between their pants and another article of clothing and was laughed at, teased, and stared at all the way there and in the supermarket.

This person began to feel watched, uncomfortable and embarrassed without knowing what was happening. It was only when she returned home that she was able to identify what the situation was about. However, the event already caused her such fear and bitterness that it set a precedent.

The causes of gelotophobia have to do with a fear of ridicule that may have occurred in childhood or early adolescence, in the midst of identity formation. Those who live with this fear develop a distrustful and defensive personality because any occasion is potentially conducive to receiving ridicule.

Having been a victim of bullying sets the conditions for the development of this particular phobia.

The consequences of gelotophobia

Gelotophobia is among the phobias that cause the most significant deterioration on a social level. For example, it’s not the same to be afraid of airplanes (a means of transport that we use on particular occasions) as having an irrational fear of a situation that usually occurs when there are other people.

Thus, the person who has the phobia of ridicule chooses to stay at home and avoid social plans to avoid being teased. In addition, some of the most frequent consequences are the following:

  • Their self-esteem is also usually damaged, as these people feel worthless and diminished.
  • They may suffer from withdrawal and shyness.
  • People with gelotophobia often experience stress in situations of laughter, so they may come across as a person who has no sense of humor or fun.
  • They may project a distant and cold image.

How to address the fear of being teased

First, it’s essential to understand that a phobia is not a simple fear. It’s an intense fear that causes actual discomfort in the person and deteriorates different areas of their life. Thus, it’s necessary to help people who suffer a situation and encourage them to seek professional help.

Like all phobias, the approach to gelotophobia is made with exposure techniques. We advance step by step, gradually.

First, therapists usually propose an exposure in the imagination. They ask the person to visualize and express how the feared scene would be while the therapist accompanies and guides them. As the patient gains confidence, the final stage of exposure to a social situation may occur.

On the other hand, they also work with cognitive restructuring, which allows them to identify the thoughts at the base of the fear. The aim is to replace them with more functional ones.

The use of drama and humor techniques in role-playing is also recommended. For example, people should be able to identify what embarrasses them and then put it on stage to take hold of their weakness and turn it into a natural source of laughter.

This way, they can actively begin to see the situation differently. This exercise is done with a set of instructions and has to be guided by a professional.

Finally, it’s essential to work with the patients on various relaxation techniques to cope with the phobic stimulus. Thus, they’ll not feel like they have to flee or avoid the situation.

Técnicas de relajación para la gelotofobia.
People with this phobia can learn relaxation techniques that reduce stress in the social situations that make them uncomfortable.

Gelotophobia: When everything is experienced as a personal attack

Throughout this article, we explained that one of the most significant difficulties of gelotophobia is that people who live it feel like they’re the center of ridicule. They may take any laugh, look, or whisper around them personally, and it turns into a natural source of torture.

The reactions are of flight or avoidance. However, there are also cases of violence and resentment in relationships.

Imagine how difficult life would be when laughter is a problem or a threat. This is why it’s important to educate about phobias, since we must support those who suffer from them and understand the reason behind certain behaviors. 

Finally, we must avoid mocking, ridiculing, and belittling children and adolescents as a society in general and as individuals. We all play a role in this. As individuals, it’s also essential to work on our solid self-esteem and tolerance to frustration.

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  • Sevilla Moreno, Antonio; López Martínez, Olivia. GELOTOFOBIA: EVALUACIÓN DEL MIEDO AL RIDÍCULO EN ALUMNOS UNIVERSITARIOS. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology, vol. 1, núm. 1, 2010, pp. 289-298 Asociación Nacional de Psicología Evolutiva y Educativa de la Infancia, Adolescencia y Mayores Badajoz, España