Phobias can get pretty strange.
Take ‘antidaephobia’. This is the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you…
Then there are all those people who have phobias of buttons, balloons and other random inanimate objects. I personally have a fear of sticky labels! That’s a phobia so odd that I have yet to find a name for it…
But perhaps a fear of colors might seem even stranger that all those other phobias combined. After all, colors are everywhere! How can you function if you are afraid of them? And what reason would someone have to be afraid of something so abstract?
Chromophobia is actually not a phobia of ‘all color’ as the name might suggest but rather a phobia of specific colors or specific shades. You may have a phobia of a particular shade of red for instance. Of course this is still very difficult to avoid but it does become a little more manageable this way and it does become a little easier to understand.
Interestingly, chromaphobias have a number of specific titles depending on which color you are afraid of. A fear of the color blue for example is ‘cyanophobia’. Likewise, a fear of the color yellow is ‘xanthophobia’. Green is ‘prasinophobia’. White is ‘leukophobia’. Black is ‘melanophobia’.
So where does a phobia like this come from and what explanation do we have for it?
Well, it actually shouldn’t be that hard to understand how something like a color phobia could come about. For starters, colors are highly emotionally charged and can already hold sway over the way we feel. ‘Color psychology’ is the study of the myriad ways in which colors can influence our mood. Did you know for instance that the color red can raise your heart rate and blood pressure? The color green meanwhile can actually make you more creative (1) and more relaxed.
This all comes from various associations that we hold with different colors, some of which have an evolutionary basis. The color green makes us relaxed for instance because we associate it with plants and trees – which provide shelter and nutrition! Blue is also calming because of its association with water and pleasant weather…
Unless of course you have had a bad experience with water in the past!
And meanwhile, a dark red color might well symbolize blood for some.
Often our reactions to colors are not conscious but rather emotional responses that happen spontaneously. It makes sense then that a color like black – associated with night, the abyss or mystery – might cause a panic response. Certain colors can also be considered repulsive, if we associate them with mold, disease or rotting.
And culture can also play a role – many Asian cultures see white as being symbolic of death for instance.
Obviously when a reaction to a color reaches the state of being a phobia this is considered an abnormal response however and is very rare. Usually, this can be traced back to highly traumatic experiences such as experience of war, serious illness, rape, death or severe injury.
Many people who suffer from chromophobia find it to be a debilitating condition due to the difficulty involved in trying to ‘avoid’ colors. They may be unable to hold down jobs or relationships or even go outside.
Fortunately, numerous effective treatments exist for phobias. One of the most popular is ‘reassociation’ which involves conditioning a new response to the stimulus through gradual exposure combined with breathing exercises. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) also works well for many people and these psychotherapeutic approaches can be combined with anxiolytic medications with a good chance of recovery.