Atephobia (fear Of Ruins): Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Summary of the characteristics of this type of phobia of abandoned architectural structures.


In the realm of anxiety disorders, we know that there are many rare phobias; surely, many of them do not even know them. Perhaps this is the case of the phobia that we will discuss in this article: athephobia, which consists of the phobia of ruins.

Here we will see what it consists of, what are its predominant symptoms, its causes and possible treatments framed in psychotherapy that we can use to combat it.

Athephobia: what is it?

Athephobia is a specific type of phobia, consisting of an intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of ruins.

When we speak of ruins, we mean remains of human architecture. That is, to structures that have collapsed over time, either partially or totally, as a result of depopulation, wars, natural disasters … The ruins do not have to cause fear, although they can acquire a mysterious or “ghostly” air. , Especially at night.

In scary, horror or suspense films, for example, ruins are often used as an element to generate some tension in the viewer. If in addition, the scenes where ruins appear are set at night, this generates more concern or fear.

Disproportionate fear

Even so, the ruins are not something that can harm anyone (unless they are really in a state where certain structures could fall), and it is for this reason that in itself, it is not something that ” must be scary ”.

In athephobia, however, there is this intense fear of them. It is important to remember, in this sense, that phobias are usually generated towards objects or situations that do not have to be scary (or that if they do, they do not generate symptoms as intense as in phobias).

This is precisely why they are phobias, because they are disproportionate fears of a specific object or situation; Phobias also generate interference in the life of the individual, and cause discomfort, in addition to other symptoms that we will see throughout the article.


What are the most common symptoms associated with athephobia, beyond discomfort and interference in daily life? Let’s get to know them.

1. Intense fear or anxiety

The main symptom of athephobia is an intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of ruins. These can be of different types: very old or not so, large or small …

Fear appears in the presence of the ruins, or in some cases it is enough to imagine them to feel it. This fear is actually a feeling of anxiety and anguish generated by the phobic object, and it can be of different intensities.

2. Avoidance

The second typical symptom of specific phobias is avoidance of the phobic object or stimulus. Thus, in the case of athephobia, one avoids being in contact with ruins, or near them. Also avoid seeing them on television, in movies, newspapers …

It may be that the person, instead of avoiding them, “faces them”, resisting seeing them or being near them, although, yes, with high anxiety.

3. Psychophysiological symptoms

In athephobia, psychophysiological symptoms also appear, as with most phobias, at the idea of ​​seeing ruins or at the presence of them.

These symptoms translate into various physical sensations and reactions, such as: fast heartbeat, sweating, tightness in the chest, migraines, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, choking, agitation, rapid breathing, feeling of “losing control”, fear of die, etc.

Many times, these symptoms feed back on themselves, and they also feed back the catastrophic thoughts also associated with phobias, in this case, of the type: “I will hurt myself”, “something will fall on me”, “there will be someone hidden behind me. will hurt ”, etc.

Misinterpretation of symptoms

Furthermore, what often happens in athephobia is that the person feels “something” that bothers them at the idea of ​​ruin (or a small fear) and that they end up interpreting those physical (or cognitive) sensations in a very catastrophic way, so that this “erroneous” interpretation of the symptoms just the symptoms themselves generating phobia.

That is, this whole process ends up becoming a kind of totally maladaptive feedback loop for the person, because the objective reality (phobic object) will not really hurt (in fact, this is what phobias consist of).


The most probable and frequent cause of athephobia is a potentially traumatic event or situation experienced in a ruin. For example: getting lost in them, having been scared in them, having been hurt by falling something, having been very scared in them for “X” reason, etc.

However, a traumatic event is not the only probable cause of athephobia; This may also have developed as a result of hearing negative stories lived in ruins (for example through television, from friends, family, books …). That is, phobias can also be acquired by vicarious or verbal conditioning.

Seeing movies where very negative things happen in ruins (for example, murders, accidents…) can also be related to the origin of athephobia; If to this we add a certain individual vulnerability (because we are very sensitive, for example, or because we have “inherited” a certain biological predisposition to anxiety disorders in general or specific phobias in particular), this can facilitate and explain their appearance.


In psychotherapy, the treatment of athephobia, like that of most specific phobias, is usually of two types: exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

1. Exposure therapy

In exposure therapy, the patient is exposed to the stimulus or phobic situation, gradually and through a hierarchy of items (from least to most anxiogens, in order). This list of items is prepared jointly with the patient.

In the specific case of athephobia, the following can be chosen: start by seeing ruins through photographs, films, etc., and gradually expose the patient to the ruins live.

In other words, accompany him to visit some ruins (although later on he will be able -and must- do it alone); the first few times, for example, you should get closer to “X” place, and little by little get closer until you reach the ruins and stay in them without anxiety (this will be the goal).

In exposure therapy, the patient must “resist” the anxiety that appears before the phobic object, and learn to combat it (for example, through a state of relaxation, more typical of Systematic Desensitization). The objective is that finally the psychophysiological symptoms are “disassociated” from the phobic stimulus, and, in the case of athephobia, that they do not appear before the ruins.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another treatment that we can apply in cases of athephobia. In it, priority will be given to providing the patient with the resources and strategies necessary to deal with the phobia.

More specifically, you will be trained in relaxation techniques, breathing, etc., that is, in different coping techniques that you can use to reduce anxiety when it appears.

In addition, CBT also works with the patient’s dysfunctional thoughts associated with the phobic stimulus (for example, “I will hurt myself in a ruin”, “I will not be able to escape from it …”), helping the patient to replace them with more realistic and adaptive (eg “I don’t have to hurt myself”, “the ruins are not dangerous”, etc.).

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
  • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of Psychopathology. Volume I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
  • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Vol. 1 and 2. Madrid. XXI century (Chapters 1-8, 16-18).

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