Cleithrophobia is the fear of being trapped, locked in, or unable to leave. It seems similar to claustrophobia, but there are some distinctions. Claustrophobia is the fear of being in a small space where the space itself triggers a reaction. Cleithrophobia is the fear of being confined in a space in which you feel trapped. Those who experience cleithrophobia will likely feel comfortable if they know they are able to come and go as they please. The main issue is with being locked in or trapped whereas with claustrophobia individuals are concerned with the small space. For example, someone with claustrophobia may be triggered by getting into a small elevator full of people (i.e. limited space). Someone cleithrophobia may be triggered by the idea of getting stuck in an elevator for several hours. Cleithrophobia can occur from instances of trauma such as being locked in a closet, the trunk of a car, or getting trapped in a tunnel or stuck in an elevator.
As with most phobias, cleithrophobia can elicit a panic-like response. Individuals can experience physical symptoms that include nausea, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweating, and dizziness. They may also experience intense feelings of dread when thinking about being trapped. Those feelings can elicit responses such as crying, freezing, getting angry or aggressive, or even trying to run or escape the situation. Thoughts can become obsessive as they worry about being trapped and work to avoid situations where is could happen. Some symptoms can become so difficult that they begin hindering a person’s ability to function on a daily basis.
Treatment for cleithrophobia is similar to the treatment of most other phobias. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to adjust negative thought patterns associated with the phobia. Through cognitive and behavior modification, individuals can work through their phobia. Exposure therapy can also be effective. Individuals are slowly exposed to their fear while using anxiety and stress reduction techniques. Over time, they are able to minimize the panic response towards the phobia. In general, mindfulness, meditation, and other stress reducing techniques can be beneficial. It can decrease the stress response and lower anxiety in the moment, preventing intense fear and panic. When people think of being trapped and start to feel the panic rise, they can turn to something like a breathing technique to slow down the stress response. Another aspect to consider is if the phobia is connected to a past trauma. If the phobia does come from a past trauma, working through the trauma may be helpful. Addressing trauma should be done be a trained professional to avoid potentially re-traumatizing the individual. Lastly, medication can be utilized to help people manage the panic and anxiety that can come from dealing with a phobia. Medication along with therapy can be a helpful course of treatment for many individuals. Phobias have the potential to cause major issues and distress in a person’s life. No one wants to be restricted in their daily life. Understanding the phobia and seeking treatment can be the first steps towards living life more freely and without restrictions
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.