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Maskaphobia or Fear of Masks

Understanding the Fear of Masks

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Updated June 18, 2014

Maskaphobia, or fear of masks, is surprisingly common, especially among children. However, it is important to note that this fear is often a part of normal childhood development. Therefore, like most phobias, it is not diagnosed in children unless it persists for six months or longer.

Causes of Maskaphobia

Maskaphobia is believed to be related to automatonophobia, or fear of humanoid figures. A precise cause has not been determined. Nonetheless, a common theory states that these phobias may be rooted in our expectations of human appearance and behavior.

Masks distort the wearer’s appearance, causing him to look strange and unusual. Most masks do not feature moving mouths, so when the wearer speaks, the sound appears to come out of nowhere.

Wearing a mask may also change the wearer’s behavior. Many people wear masks as part of becoming a character, causing the wearer to act in accordance with that character. Additionally, some people love the freedom that a mask’s anonymity provides. The wearer might behave in socially unacceptable ways while hidden behind the mask.

Religious Issues

Even when not being worn, masks often seem to carry a certain mystique. They are worn in some cultures as part of religious ceremonies. Members of that culture may see the masks as a symbol worthy of respect, while those of differing religious beliefs might view those masks as somehow evil or dangerous.

Maskaphobia in Pop Culture

Many films and TV shows and even Broadway plays exploit the fear of masks. For example, the popular Halloween series focuses on a serial killer hidden behind a mask. The Phantom of the Opera explores the fate of a disfigured musical genius who wears a mask to conceal the horror.

These and other works both demonstrate the effects of maskaphobia and help to create it. After growing up with the images of stalking serial killers and disfigured antiheros lurking behind masks, is it any surprise that our brains naturally begin to wonder what is behind any mask that we see?

Symptoms of Maskaphobia

Maskaphobia is extremely individualized. Some people fear only horror masks or religious masks. Some people have a more generalized phobia that might even extend beyond masks to costumed characters as well. Clown phobia may also be related to maskaphobia.

Common symptoms include, but are not limited to, sweating, shaking, crying and heart palpitations. You might have a panic attack. You might try to run away or even hide from the person in the mask.

Complications of Maskaphobia

Masks are extremely common in today’s world. From carnivals to theme parks, movies to retail grand openings, costumed characters can be found almost everywhere. Many of these characters wear masks, which are much cheaper and easier than complicated makeup.

If your maskaphobia is severe, you might attempt to avoid situations that could involve masks. But since masks are so common, this could start to become all-consuming. Eventually, some people with maskaphobia become isolated or agoraphobic, afraid to venture into unfamiliar settings.

Treating Maskaphobia

Fortunately, there is help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly common and effective. You will be taught to explore your feelings about masks, and replace negative messages with more positive self-talk. You might be gradually exposed to different types of masks through a process known as systematic desensitization.

To learn more about the types of therapy available to you, see Talk Therapy: An Overview.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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