Enochlophobia (pronounced [en-ah-cla-foh-bee-uh]) is the abnormal or irrational fear of crowds. It is very similar to Ochlophobia (the specific fear of mob-like crowds) and Demophobia (the more general fear of crowds, masses or people). It is also closely associated with Agoraphobia, a fear of public places and/or situations in which you would be uncomfortable or embarrassed. Though not specifically designated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), Enochlophobia can fall under a Social Phobia, F40.1.
If you have a fear of large crowds, you are among many others:
- Dr. Signe Dayhoff, in a Psychology Today interview, stated nearly 20 million individuals at any one time suffer from some form of social anxiety.
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in any given 12 month time span, 6.8% of US adults suffer from social phobias such as Enochlophobia.
- NIMH also states that the average age-of-onset is 13 years old.
Enochlophobia: Why are People Afraid of Crowds?
For some people, their fear of crowds stems from a trauma that they’ve not dealt with. Have you been mobbed by a crowd of people at a Black Friday event where someone was injured — or were you the one hurt? Maybe when you were a child you lost your parents in a large crowd and were overwhelmed with fear. Maybe being around the noise and chaos associated with crowds leaves you disoriented and afraid. Is there something traumatic you can pinpoint that has led to your enochlophobia?
Embarrassing Social Scenarios
I can clearly remember an incident that happened to me while I was a teenager. It was during a church service and I was singing on stage when I had an asthma attack. I couldn’t breathe, much less sing & chose to quickly walk off stage and out of the sanctuary, turning beet red as I felt everyone’s eyes boring into me. To this day I still flush with embarrassment if I perform in front of a crowd.
Everyone deals with embarrassment at some point in their lives, but some are more impacted by it than others. It could have been a botched public speech that left you running off the stage. A sporting event where you fell down the bleachers and broke your arm. A performance, like me, where things didn’t go as planned. Embarrassing situations such as these can lead to avoidance of places where people eyes are watching you.
3 Crowd Tragedies in History
There are 3 tragedies in history that remain prominent in the research. Though not exhaustive, they are examples of how crowds can be deadly.
The Who Fiasco
December 3rd, 1979 marked a tragic time in music history. Over 8,000 people crowded around a concert venue in Cincinnati, waiting in a mob to be the first to make it as close to stage as possible for The Who concert. When the band began their sound check, people towards the back of the crowd thought the concert started and began pushing forward. Waves and waves of people surged forward, unmoving. The venue didn’t open their doors, and 11 people died that day because they were trampled, or could no longer breath and asphyxiated in the mob.
England Soccer Game
In 1989, a tragedy occurred in England at a tournament match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Crowds of people surged forward into the stands, causing the deaths of 95 people due to suffocation or trampling. 180 others were severely injured as the world watched, helpless. The game was suspended after 6 minutes and never finished. This is one of the largest incidents of pedestrian deaths due to crowd surge.
A more recent incident was the trampling of a Walmart employee in 2008. Jdimytai Damour, a temp for the holiday season, was manning the doors when the crowd surged through the doors, trapping him underneath the glass. By the time other employees made it over to him, he was already dead.
The three previous examples are extreme circumstances that demonstrate the possible dangers of crowds. However, in the years following much work has been done to avoid these future tragedies. Here’s a summary:
Numerous studies and research has been done on understanding the dynamics of crowds and the psychology within. In a New Yorker article, John Seabrook stated “most crowd disasters are caused by “crazes” — people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear”.
A crowd management consultant, Paul Wertheimer, has worked with companies, concert venues, and the government to help bring about safer crowd environments. His work has helped pave the way for entering and exiting buildings so tragedies in the past will not be part of the future. Indeed, today tragedies like this have lessened and are few and far between as we learn to understand the psychology behind crowd behaviors.
So how do you know if you have an irrational fear of crowds?
Crowds in the News
Newsworthy stories in which crowds are depicted both negatively and positively (because let’s be honest, deadly examples are the ones that get all the press):
Now that you understand the causes and symptoms, you’re probably interested in how to overcome enochlophobia, so we’ll cover a couple of options below: online options and self-treatment.
Because of difficulty getting out and facing crowds, online counseling is a preferred option for many individuals suffering from enochlophobia. You can also seek a qualified mental health professional in your area if you are comfortable with that approach instead.
How do you overcome an abnormal fear of crowds on your own? Here are some suggestions:
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