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Xenophobia, or fear of strangers, is an umbrella term that encompasses any fear of someone who is not like us. Outsider hostility is frequently a reaction to fear. It is typically associated with the belief that an individual’s ingroup and outgroup are at odds.

While xenophobia frequently overlaps with other forms of prejudice, such as racism and homophobia, there are critical distinctions. Whereas racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are motivated by specific characteristics, xenophobia is typically motivated by the perception that outgroup members are foreign to the ingroup community.

Whether xenophobia is a legitimate mental disorder is a point of contention.

Additionally, xenophobia is linked to large-scale acts of destruction and violence directed at specific groups of people.



Characteristics

While xenophobia manifests itself in a variety of ways, typical symptoms include the following:

  • Uncomfortable around members of a different group

  • Extensive efforts to avoid specific areas

  • Refusing to befriend people solely on the basis of their skin tone, mode of dress, or other external factors

  • Difficulty taking a supervisor seriously or establishing rapport with a teammate who does not share your racial, cultural, or religious affiliation

  • While it may represent genuine fear, the majority of xenophobic individuals do not actually have a phobia. Rather than that, the term is frequently used to refer to individuals who discriminate against foreigners and immigrants.

  • Individuals who express xenophobia frequently believe their culture or nation is superior, desire to keep immigrants out of their community, and may even take actions that are detrimental to those perceived as outsiders.



How to Distinguish Between Fear and Phobia

Is Xenophobia a Form of Mental Illness?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not include xenophobia as a mental disorder (DSM-5). However, some psychologists and psychiatrists have advocated for the recognition of extreme racism and prejudice as a mental health problem.

For instance, some have argued that extreme forms of prejudice should be classified as a subtype of delusory disorder.

It is critical to note that proponents of this position also argue that prejudice becomes pathological only when it significantly impairs a person’s ability to function in daily life.

Others argue that medicalizing xenophobia or racism would be medicalizing a social problem.



Why Are Certain Disorders Not Listed in the DSM-5?

Types

Xenophobia is classified into two distinct subtypes:

  • Cultural xenophobia: This type is characterized by an opposition to objects, traditions, or symbols associated with another group or nation. This can include the language, clothing, music, and other cultural traditions.

  • Immigrant xenophobia: This type is characterized by the rejection of individuals who the xenophobic individual believes do not belong in the ingroup society. This can include discrimination against people of other religions or nationalities, which can result in persecution, hostility, violence, and even genocide.

The desire to belong to a group is pervasive—and a strong identification with one group can even be beneficial.

However, it may also breed suspicion of those perceived to be outsiders.

It is natural, if not instinctive, to want to safeguard the group’s interests by eliminating threats to those interests. Unfortunately, this natural protectiveness frequently leads group members to avoid or even attack those perceived as different, even if they pose no legitimate threat.



The Effects of Xenophobia

Individuals are not immune to xenophobia. It has a profound effect on entire societies, affecting attitudes, economics, politics, and history. In the United States, xenophobia manifests itself through acts of discrimination and violence directed at Latin, Mexican, and Middle Eastern immigrants.

Xenophobia has been linked to the following:

  • Homophobia toward people from diverse backgrounds

  • Outgroups’ social and economic opportunities are dwindling

  • Implicit prejudice against members of outgroups

  • Isolationism

  • Discrimination

  • Atrocities motivated by hatred

  • Positions taken on issues

  • Conflict and genocide



Domestic and foreign policies that are contentious

Certainly, not all xenophobes initiate wars or commit hate crimes. However, even subtly expressed xenophobia can have pernicious consequences for both individuals and society. These attitudes can make it more difficult for members of certain groups to live in society, affecting all aspects of life, including housing access, employment opportunities, and access to healthcare.

The perversion of a positive trait (group harmony and protection from threats) into a negative one (imagining threats that do not exist) has resulted in a slew of hate crimes, persecutions, wars, and general mistrust.

Rather than affecting only those who hold these attitudes, xenophobia has the potential to cause significant harm to others.



Combating Xenophobia

If you struggle with xenophobia, there are steps you can take to overcome these feelings.

Expand your horizons. Many individuals who exhibit xenophobia have led relatively sheltered lives with little exposure to those who are unlike them. Traveling to different parts of the world, or even just spending time in a nearby city, may help you overcome your fears.

Confront your apprehension of the unknown. Fear of the unknown is one of the strongest fears there is. If you have never been exposed to other races, cultures, or religions, increasing your exposure may help you overcome your xenophobia.

Take note. Keep an eye out for instances of xenophobic thoughts. Make a deliberate effort to replace these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.

If your xenophobia or that of a loved one is more pervasive, recurring despite exposure to a variety of cultures, professional treatment may be necessary. Choose a therapist who is receptive to working with you for an extended period of time.

Xenophobia is frequently deeply ingrained in a person’s upbringing, religious beliefs, and prior experiences. Combating xenophobia successfully typically requires confronting numerous aspects of one’s personality and developing new ways of experiencing the world.