Emotional Health

Understanding Fear of Crowds

Clearly, these feelings are very unpleasant, and many people will go to great lengths to avoid them, including spending all their time at home, which is the only place they feel (relatively) safe. While it is difficult to comment without knowing too much about your history, what you write reminds me of a number of women I have known over the years whose symptoms started soon after marriage. In these cases, a woman who may have been very independent and high functioning develops phobic symptoms that cause her to become increasingly dependent on her husband. The underlying picture includes unmet needs to be taken care of, usually because the woman was forced to grow up too soon. When she is finally in a position in which she feels she can count on someone to take care of her, these dependency needs reassert themselves in an extreme way.

Often her husband, like yours, responds in a caring and obliging way, which enables the woman’s phobia to take root and even flourish. Sometimes, in marriages like these, the husband is actually gratified by his role as protector and guardian, though at times it can be exasperating. For an excellent depiction of this dynamic, see the film When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), in which the marriage begins to falter after the wife gets treatment and improves her dysfunctional behavior. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, he enjoyed being in control and being the hero who copes because his wife cannot.

While your doctor is right that medication can help, it needs to be accompanied by therapy to be most effective, and your husband needs to be on board with the plan. Also, you should be aware that the drugs usually prescribed for long-term treatment of panic attacks and agoraphobia are not habit forming—though the kind of anti-anxiety drugs given for short-term immediate relief, like Ativan, need to be monitored carefully.

But given the extent of your symptoms, I think it is well worth it to seek treatment. The fact that your problem is so long-standing, but you have not tried to get help, indicates to me that there may be an underlying psychological issue, such as the problem of dependency needs, that should be addressed. Just seeking relief from your symptoms may be a band-aid, but not a reliable one.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have been repeatedly put in the position of experiencing symptoms like yours because of the many random acts of violence that take place in our country every day. We have to address the root problems of the issue, such as the need for gun control and mental health availability, in order for progress to be made, but any small action in that direction can help increase feelings of control, and thus safety. It is important for us all to understand that while such events are always possible, they are still very rare statistically, and the cost to our freedom of avoiding participating in the world is too great a price to pay.

Cecilia M. Ford

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.