X is for Xenophobia

Xenophobia gets a bad name from those who fail to understand is it not racism. Racism is based solely on ancestry, race and ethnicity. Xenophobia is far more and many times far less. It includes the strange and the different. What do you know about xenophobia?


Xenos is the Greek word for stranger and foreigner. Phobos is the Greek word for fear. Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners, strangers or things which are foreign or strange. Some of the criteria xenophobes use to judge which groups of people as foreign or strange are:

  • Age
  • Culture or subculture
  • Disability
  • Dress
  • Habits
  • Language
  • Music choices
  • Occupation
  • Orientation
  • Personal or political beliefs
  • Physical features
  • Religion
  • Weight

By far, this is not an exhaustive list of criteria to establish someone is foreign to the xenophobe. Xenophobes believe alien (different from them) groups of are not acceptable to society. In most cases, the distaste for the target groups is not supported by the societies they believe should shun the groups.

The disorder is generally associated with one of four causes:

Conditioning and Imitation: These xenophobes are brought up to distrust or fear alien groups. Either from the use of propaganda or through norms exhibited by those close to them or through their societies, they are convinced their fears are normal. Xenophobic cultures often practice isolationism, which fosters greater xenophobia.

Organic: Occasionally, xenophobes develop the disorder without a definitive precipitating event. Symptoms and behavior simply evolve without the patient being able to identify why and often without being able to admit it is a fear. In many cases, the person presents rational and analytical reasons for the aversion.

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest xenophobia. Victims of and witnesses to crimes and war can develop a distaste and distrust of people who resemble the criminals and combatants in their experience. The similarities can be anything from eye color to sex to the scent of cologne.

Psychological Immune System: Humans, and all other animals, exhibit avoidance behaviors and distrust of others they believe to be diseased. Xenophobes will often distance themselves from others for fear of contracting a disease or being indoctrinated. This is different from mysophobia because xenophobes can consider obesity, stuttering, homosexuality and dyspraxia as diseases they can contract.


Not a chance. Xenophobes will go out of their way to avoid their target alien groups. When forced into contact with someone within the group, they will avert their gazes, refuse to touch (shake hands) and, in extreme cases, flee.

Beyond not being social, xenophobes will attempt to convince others their fears are reasonable, justified and sustainable. They seek out others who have biases against their target groups and support causes which promote the exclusion of their alien groups.

The choice of supporters and causes to support often fails the endorsement test. For instance, a xenophobe may support an animal shelter as a strike against pet-less people because those without pets show a lack of humanity. This xenophobe believes society should be held to a higher level of animal consciousness.

Some xenophobes choose a superiority complex when it comes to their alien groups. A xenophobe could believe he is better than a person who smokes because he is tobacco-free or even a former smoker. He may go so far as to post insulting and hateful media about tobacco users on social networks or in his home.


When large groups of xenophobes congregate, their gifts are not what one would want to receive as a housewarming present. The most profound example of xenophobic behavior was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany and Austria on 9-10 November 1938. The pogrom ended with 91 Jews killed, over 30,000 incarcerated in concentration camps, more than 7,000 Jewish business burned or destroyed and more than 1,000 synagogues burnt.

Terms like ethnic cleansing, pogrom and genocide are associated with xenophobic cultures. Examples extend well into the 21st century, including the current ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Christians. Although they only represent 5% of the Iraqi population, they represent more than 40% of the Iraqi refugees living in neighboring countries.


The bottom line on xenophobes is they believe their alien groups threaten them, their lifestyles or belief systems. They suffer physical and emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, increased blood pressure and heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, anger, terror and others, when coming in contact with their alien groups.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Treatments for xenophobia, as with most phobias, include:

There is no pharmacological or natural medicinal treatment for xenophobia.

Because of the diverse number of triggers, statistics on actual rates of incidence are inconsistent, where they are available at all. Xenophobia can be masked by other disorders, such as bipolar disorder, adult-onset ADHD and depression, as well as other phobias.

Many statistics exist on xenophobic acts which are often based on racism and not xenophobia. Not all xenophobes participate in aggressive or violent behavior, as most prefer avoidance techniques to confrontation.


Do things and people different from you cause anxiety or fear? How many of the xenophobic criteria did you know? Have you ever known a xenophobe? 

If you tweet or +1 this post, please use the hashtag #AtoZChallenge!

(c) Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. R is for Red « Debbie Adams

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