Cacophobia (Fear of Ugliness)

Cacophobia is an intense fear of ugliness. People with this anxiety disorder may fear becoming ugly. Or they might have symptoms of panic and anxiety when they think about or see something ugly. Cacophobia is one of only a few phobias that are subjective instead of objective. The individual determines what’s ugly and, therefore, scary.

Overview

What is cacophobia?

Cacophobia is an intense fear of ugliness. The condition is a specific phobia (fear), which is a type of anxiety disorder.

People with cacophobia might be afraid of looking ugly themselves, or they might worry about seeing something they consider to be ugly. A person with cacophobia might fear all forms of ugliness or a specific kind, such as perceived ugliness in people, animals, places or objects.

People with cacophobia can get very stressed or anxious when they think about or see something they consider to be ugly. The condition can also affect personal and professional relationships. People with this condition may understand that their fear is extreme, but may not be able to control it.

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What are people with cachophobia afraid of?

Most phobias are objective, meaning they have to do with things that are indisputable. For example, being afraid of snakes is objective because the definition of snake can’t be disputed. A snake is clearly a snake.

But cacophobia is subjective. An individual with cacophobia determines what’s ugly and what’s not. One person with cacophobia may be terrified of a certain “ugly” object, but another person with cacophobia might not react at all to the same thing.

How common is fear of ugliness?

It’s hard to know exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like cacohobia (fear of ugliness). Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives.

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Symptoms and Causes

What causes a fear of ugliness?

Mental health professionals aren’t sure what causes specific phobias, such as cacophobia. But most believe it’s a combination of:

  • Environment: Some people are raised in a way that emphasizes the way things and people look. This can develop into certain behaviors and fears.
  • Genetics: Some people have a family history of anxiety and specific fears.
  • Traumatic experiences: Life experiences may lead to cacophobia. One example is a parent who tells a child repeatedly that the child is ugly. Another example is a childhood bully making fun of the way someone looks.

What are the symptoms of cacophobia?

A person with cacophobia may experience anxiety symptoms when they think about or encounter something they consider to be ugly:

People with cacophobia may also demonstrate certain behaviors:

  • Avoiding places and situations in which they might encounter ugliness. This may involve skipping important educational, professional or personal activities.
  • Criticizing self (low self-esteem) and others excessively.
  • Spending a lot of time and money on beauty treatments and even surgeries to avoid looking ugly.
  • Taking a long time getting ready or trying to fix themselves up.
  • Worrying excessively about the possibility that they’re ugly.
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Diagnosis and Tests

How is cacophobia diagnosed?

There are no tests to diagnose specific fears. A healthcare provider can diagnose the condition based on discussions with you about:

  • Their symptoms.
  • How long they’ve been happening.
  • Whether they’re interfering in your life.

A healthcare provider can diagnose cacophobia if your fear of ugliness:

  • Causes extreme anxiety.
  • Leads to significant stress or affects your daily life.
  • Has been happening for at least six months.
  • Leads you to take unreasonable steps in an attempt to look more beautiful.
  • Makes you avoid specific situations where you think you might encounter ugliness.
  • Produces physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks.

Management and Treatment

What are the treatments for cacophobia?

People with mild cacophobia may not need treatment. But if the fear causes physical symptoms or affects your life, you should talk to a healthcare provider.

Possible treatments for cacophobia include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is structured psychotherapy that can help a person understand and control thoughts and emotions. This talk therapy can help people unlearn negative thoughts that happen when they think about or encounter ugliness. One type of CBT is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). With DBT, a therapist asks the person to think about something ugly and then half-smile. Over time, this may change the emotions associated with perceived ugliness.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy, sometimes called desensitization, helps people confront their fears. The therapy exposes a person to things they fear — gradually, in a controlled environment. Exposure therapy starts with something less scary, like a picture of something mildly ugly. Through increased exposure, people can learn to manage cacophobia.
  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy can put a person in a trance-like but focused state. A person under hypnosis is more open to suggestions and change. A hypnotist may be able to convince a hypnotized person that something they thought was ugly isn’t. Or perhaps the hypnotist can convince the person that ugliness isn’t to be feared.
  • Medications: Antianxiety medications can lessen anxiety and its symptoms. The drugs aren’t a cure for cacophobia. But they can help people face certain situations when necessary.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of cacophobia?

Mental health professionals don’t fully understand what causes cacophobia, so there’s no proven way to prevent it.

However, treating cacophobia can help you prevent the development of related anxiety disorders:

Outlook / Prognosis

Can cacophobia be cured?

Cacophobia has no cure, but therapy helps most people who practice it regularly.

Living With

How can I best learn to cope with a fear of ugly people?

Many people can manage specific fears and the associated symptoms of anxiety. Certain techniques can help people with cacophobia when they encounter something they think is ugly:

  • Breathing exercises.
  • Muscle relaxation.
  • Meditation.
  • Yoga.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Cacophobia is an anxiety disorder that involves intense, irrational fear of ugliness. People with the condition may worry about being ugly themselves or encountering something they consider to be ugly. The fear is subjective, meaning the individual determines what’s ugly and frightening. Untreated cacophobia may lead to other disorders, so it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/23/2022.

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