Xenophobia Fear of Foreigners or Strangers – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

One of the common, yet strangest kinds of phobia seen in people is xenophobia. Whenever we meet people from a new land, it is difficult to open up to them easily. It’s completely normal to feel a little conscious around them. However, for many others, the anxiety associated with meeting a stranger can cause them great distress, a condition called xenophobia.

Xenophobia has been derived from Greek word “xenos” meaning foreigner. It is signified by irrelevant apprehension and revulsion towards foreigners, strangers and people from different culture than one’s own. The fear is not a direct outcome of coming across a strange person, but rather the fear of losing one’s culture and coherence. Moreover, the person is obsessed with maintaining one’s cultural superiority and feels threatened whenever confronted with other people from foreign land. Xenophobia may also occur when the person encounters foreign place which is not familiar.

xenophobia, fear of foreigners

Xenophobia has been associated with racism too. However, it should be understood that both the terms are quite different. Racism is signified by complete discrimination and biasness against other cultural and racial groups. On the other hand, xenophobia is the condition where the person feels threatened and terror when confronted with any person from a different background.

What Causes Xenophobia?

Xenophobia has become a more global term rather than a mental health issue. Many political ingredients have been claimed to be causing xenophobic attacks in places like South Africa. However, clinically xenophobia can be caused by:

Weak Upbringing

The roots of xenophobia lie in the upbringing of a person. A prudish upbringing which is focused on teaching strict cultural and ethnic practices and implanting the superiority feeling at an early age can probably be a major cause of developing xenophobia. Another cause can be enforced isolation from other cultural and ethnic groups since childhood. The person develops a strong learnt behavior that foreigners and strangers are dangerous out of such upbringing.

A traumatic experience

If a person has encountered with a traumatic event associated with foreigners or people from different group, then he/she might also feel xenophobic. For instance, people who suffered from wars and domination from other countries can eventually develop terror and hatred for any person from that country.

The Symptoms of Xenophobia

The common symptoms that can occur with people having xenophobia are:

  • Unjustified and extreme anxiety of foreigners, people from different culture or foreign lands
  • Perceiving any foreign person or situation as threatening for no reason
  • Aggressive combat against any foreign person and situation
  • Isolation from any situation where new or foreign people are anticipated to be met
  • Avoidance of various social situations may lead to interruption in daily life
  • Low self- esteem and critical behavior towards foreign people
  • Physical signs such as racing heartbeat, difficulty in breathing, nausea, shaking, sweating and dry mouth

When to Visit a Doctor?

You need to get consultation from a doctor if the above symptoms have been underlying since a long period of time, exceeding over six months time and visibly affected your daily life. Moreover, if a person is avoiding social and public situations to avoid foreign people and place, then getting proper treatment would be necessary.

How Is Xenophobia Treated?

Xenophobia can be successfully treated with appropriate counseling and psychotherapies. Only in severe cases, medicines may be used for a limited time period. These are:

Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most effective ways to deal with the exaggerated thoughts about foreign people or situations. The major cause of feeling threatened due to any foreign person or body is the underlying thoughts and beliefs. The therapist conducts extensive counseling sessions to understand these negative thoughts encircling the aversion towards foreigners. Eventually, the therapist teaches different relaxing techniques to deal with these thoughts, and try building a positive mind. Along with this, the therapist will also make the person aware of how foreign people will not pose any sort of risk.


Medicines are only used in severe case where the person has become violent and aggressive. Anti-anxiety, beta blockers and anti-depressant medicines are used to bring down the symptoms.