Gelotophobia Basics

Dictionary Medical

The Gelotophobia is an anxiety disorder in the field of social phobias. Those affected have an abnormal fear of being laughed at by others and therefore withdraw socially.

What is gelotophobia?

Phobias are mental illnesses that are characterized by anxiety. The patients suffer from unnaturally extreme fears of certain situations, certain living beings or objects. In the German specialist literature, phobias are also referred to as anxiety disorders. To characterize a phobia in more detail, the Greek loan word is preceded by the fear-inducing phenomenon.

Gelotophobia is accordingly an excessive fear of laughing (gélōs – laugh) people. Gelotophobia patients are irrationally afraid of being laughed at by other people. This makes gelophobia one of the social phobias’ anxiety disorders. The quality of life of social phobics is limited due to social avoidance behavior.

There are other restrictions for gelotophobics. Patients cannot use humor, exhilaration, and laughter in their lifestyle because they see a threat in every laugh. Michael Titze introduced the term gelotophobia in 1995 and used it to describe people who regard themselves as ridiculous in a global way and who therefore see a degradation of themselves in every laugh of their social partners.


The causes of gelotophobia can vary widely from case to case. In principle, however, the anxiety disorder is usually based on an event that has severely impaired the patient’s self-esteem. Most gelotophobia patients develop the primary type of shame that underlies the disorder in childhood.

In many cases, the feeling of shame arises from disinterest or emotional coldness that a child encounters on the part of their caregivers. For most patients, primary shame formation is followed by repeated traumatic experiences that are characterized by mocking, teasing, or laughing laughs. The more often the person concerned encounters mocking laughter, the more his perception changes.

Areas of perception are generally selective. Expectations shape the perception of a situation just as much as previous experiences. In a certain way, the person concerned only takes in what he wants to perceive or expects to perceive. Since patients with gelotophobia were confronted with mocking laughter more often in the past, they soon expect every laugh to be mocking.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

People with gelotophobia are afraid of being laughed at. They show social avoidance behavior so as not to be ridiculous in public. They rate humorous statements from their environment as paranoid.

Those affected can hardly or not at all deal with other people in a humorous or happy manner. The patients rate themselves and their own bodies extremely critically and often consider their verbal and non-verbal communication skills to be below average. Their negative self-worth causes the patient to develop feelings of inferiority.

The tendency towards direct comparison with others makes those affected feel envious. The patient’s social skills continue to degenerate through avoidance behavior. Often there are also psychosomatic symptoms such as tension headache, tremors, dizziness, blushing or speech disorders.

Laughter often causes aggression in the patient, which can even lead to a loss of emotional control. Gelotophobia can also manifest itself in the form of Pinocchio’s syndrome. In this case, whenever the patient hears someone laughing, they freeze.


The diagnosis of gelotophobia is made by psychologists. Various determinants are listed in the ICD-10, including above all social avoidance behavior and the inability to interact with humor. Gelotophobia is assessed using a questionnaire. In addition to questions and answers, the corresponding sheets also contain pictorial instruments such as cartoons with laughing people.

The test persons use these images to estimate what preceded the situation and what an observer might feel. The detailed diagnosis of gelotophobia corresponds to an explanation of the cause. This explanation of the cause can only take place in direct conversation with the patient.


Gelotophobia leads to very strong psychological complaints and furthermore to depression. In the worst case, the disease can also lead to thoughts of suicide and ultimately to suicide. Even humorous statements from friends and acquaintances that are not meant to be serious are perceived as an attack or an insult.

There are social phobias and, not infrequently, social exclusion. The patients withdraw more and more and no longer take part in social activities. The statements can also lead to aggressiveness or increased irritability. Speech disorders or dizziness also occur. The patient is trembling and often blushing.

Furthermore, a loss of consciousness can occur if the gelotophobia is severe. The quality of life is extremely reduced by the disease and there are considerable restrictions in everyday life and in social life. Treatment of gelotophobia is usually carried out by a psychologist and with the help of medication.

However, it cannot be predicted how long the treatment will last and whether it will really lead to success. The use of medication can also lead to addictive behavior. Gelotophobia itself does not reduce life expectancy.

When should you go to the doctor?

People who suffer from increased anxiety should always consult a doctor. If the feelings lead to a reduced zest for life or emotional suffering in everyday life, help is needed. In the event of social withdrawal or isolation, a doctor should be consulted. If participation in leisure activities or sports interests decreases, a doctor should be consulted. If there is sweating, racing heart, tremors all over the body or inner restlessness, therapeutic help is required.

If you experience increased stress, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, or avoid behavior, you should see a doctor. If the emotions guilt and shame rise sharply, this is considered worrying. If the person concerned believes that everyone around them is permanently fixated on him and his behavior, he should seek advice from a therapist.

If the daily obligations can no longer be fulfilled, the normal level of performance falls and the quality of life is severely restricted, it is advisable to consult a doctor or therapist. A doctor should be consulted in the event of sudden speech disorders in contact with other people, a strong tendency to spontaneous reddening, as well as signs such as dizziness, vomiting and nausea. If there is internal aggression, a tendency to overreact or if the person concerned suffers from fits of anger, a doctor’s visit is required.

Treatment & Therapy

Multimodal forms of therapy are used to treat patients with gelotophobia. In this case, multimodal means encompassing several directions. The individual directions of treatment for anxiety disorder mostly correspond to depth psychology, pharmacotherapy, behavior therapy and relaxation therapy.

Using depth psychology, the therapist clarifies the biographical cause of the phobia and provides help in coming to terms with it. The cause is clarified in discussion sessions, whereby the trust between patient and therapist is crucial for a functioning therapy session. In behavioral therapy, the patient questions his or her own assessment of the fear-inducing situations.

He gets to know new evaluation options and learns special behavior and thought patterns for dealing with situations. In conservative drug pharmacotherapy, the therapist gives the patient, if absolutely necessary, anxiolytics, antidepressants, beta blockers or St. John’s wort. This type of therapy is a purely symptomatic therapy that does not address the cause of the disease and thus cannot achieve a complete cure as a single procedure.

Due to the side effects and the addictive potential of individual tranquilizers, the drugs are generally only given for as long as they are urgently needed to work with the patient. A gentler alternative are relaxation techniques that the patient can use before and in a fearful situation. In addition to autogenic training, these techniques include muscle relaxation.

Outlook & forecast

Gelotophobia can usually be treated well. If this is done early, the complaints and symptoms can often be completely resolved over the course of months or years. Although many patients experience paranoid moments for a lifetime, these can also be alleviated by drug therapy. The causes of the symptoms can also be remedied relatively easily through behavioral therapy.

In severe cases, gelotophobia persists for life. Then further psychological complaints develop, above all pronounced paranoia and depressive moods. In such a severe course, which is usually due to deeper emotional suffering and a lack of or inadequate treatment, the prognosis is rather poor.

The quality of life of those affected is severely restricted. Most of the time, the sick are no longer able to move around in public without fear. They eventually withdraw completely from social life, which increases the signs of illness.

Pronounced gelotophobia can only be treated symptomatically. The sick then receive drug treatment, which alleviates the symptoms. However, the use of antidepressants and sedatives is associated with serious side effects and interactions.


Since gelotophobia is usually only consolidated by a traumatic event in adolescence or adulthood, psychotherapeutic intervention can prevent the full manifestation of the disease immediately after the relevant events. If a causal situation such as bullying is dealt with promptly with a therapist, at least no mature gelotophobia will develop.


In the case of gelotophobia, the options for follow-up care are very limited in most cases. A complete cure of the disease can never be guaranteed, so that those affected are primarily dependent on the treatment of the disease by a doctor in order to prevent further complications and complaints. In most cases, gelotophobia is treated with the help of a psychologist and behavioral therapy.

Complete healing cannot be guaranteed. In general, early diagnosis and treatment of the disease have a very positive effect on the further course of the disease. In some cases, patients are also dependent on medication. It is necessary to take it regularly, whereby possible interactions with other drugs must also be taken into account.

In the case of gelotophobia, self-help treatment is also possible, although this treatment usually cannot guarantee a complete cure. The support of friends and family is very important and useful in this disease. Contact with other sufferers of gelotophobia can also be useful, as it is not uncommon for information to be exchanged.

You can do that yourself

Those with gelotophobia should seek therapeutic treatment for the fear of laughing at them. The strategies learned in behavior therapy can be practiced in everyday life and at work and help those affected to slowly overcome their fears. Measures such as a change in diet, sport or a new hobby contribute to a higher quality of life and can have a positive effect on gelotophobia therapy.

When gelotophobia has afflicted their own child, parents need to look to themselves as well. Parenting errors may have been made in the past or the child may not have been able to build up enough self-confidence for other reasons. Above all, it is important not to put any pressure on the child if, for example, he spends little time with schoolmates or behaves abnormally in everyday life.

The exact measures to be taken can only be answered by a specialist due to the complexity of an anxiety disorder and its causes. Affected children should definitely use behavioral or relaxation therapy.

After the fears have been dealt with, a change of school is recommended. Although this does not alleviate the gelotophobia, it does give the child the chance to start over.