Lithicaphobia: symptoms, causes and treatment

We live in a society whose relationships are regulated by rights and duties. As human beings we are provided with legal guarantees that safeguard our physical, mental, social and economic integrity in situations of injustice.

Most states have judicial mechanisms aimed at restoring the balance between two parties when either party has committed a fault or a crime over the other, including penalties in the civil and criminal spheres.

All of us can resort to this system when we perceive ourselves as victims of injury, and we also have an obligation to respond to it when we have incurred in an infringement among those contemplated in the rule of law.

Lithicaphobia consists of an irrational fear of situations of this type (contentious) , and which is much more frequent than it might seem. We proceed, then, to address its fundamental aspects.

  • Related article: ” Types of phobias: exploring fear disorders

What is lithicaphobia?

Lithicaphobia (known as lithophobia) is a term in which two words of classical origin converge, but from disparate origins. The first of them comes from the Latin “litigium”, which in turn starts from the root “lis” (dispute or lawsuit), and the second (phobos) is a Hellenic inheritance (fear or aversion). Thus, lithicaphobia describes a situational type phobia, which is limited to the moment when one is part of the defense or the accusation in a trial.

The truth is that problems of a legal nature are very stressful situations for most people, despite not having any anxiety disorder. The knowledge of having been prosecuted in an investigation or legal case always triggers mixed reactions, both for the victim and the offender. Thus, the former may fear that her disadvantaged status is not recognized, and the latter may be subject to an excessively severe judicial decision.

For this reason, it is difficult to draw a line that clearly distinguishes the point at which anxiety, which arises reasonably in a context like this, becomes a psychopathological phenomenon. In any case , dimensions related to interference with daily life (harm in relevant areas) and intensity or scope (disproportionate expectation regarding the consequences expected as a result of the process) will have to be considered.

In the following lines we will delve into this specific phobia, with special emphasis on the way it is expressed and its possible causes. At the end, a brief review of the therapeutic application strategies will be made.

  • You may be interested: ” Types of Anxiety Disorders and their characteristics


Fear of litigation can be expressed in various ways . Below are some of its most common symptoms. People who suffer from this anxiety picture tend to experience more than one of them. Their anguish is precipitated by situations that relate to ordinary, civil and criminal disputes (from hearings prior to the last appeal); in which you persone as part of any of the agents involved.

1. Anticipatory anxiety before a trial

One of the common symptoms is anticipatory anxiety. These are concerns that range from the very notice of the injunction (or the forced imposition of a lawsuit) to the moment the case ends. Throughout this period the person imagines what the events will be like, adding dramatic overtones to their situation (content of the ruling, severity in the application of the law, etc.) and exacerbating fear of the imminent future.

Symptoms tend to increase as time passes and the scheduled day to appear in court approaches . During this period, automatic negative thoughts may arise (“they are going to destroy my life” for example), hyperactivation of the autonomic nervous system (acceleration of the heart rate and breathing, sweating, muscular tension, diffuse pain, etc.) and behaviors. avoidance (unsuccessful efforts to stop thinking or to do activities that remove the problem from the mind, for example).

2. Fear of being accused

Another common symptom is the irresistible fear of being accused by another person of a crime or misdemeanor, which translates into an attitude of condescension even when there is an obvious violation of rights. It supposes an attitude that denies any potential offense to a third party , which inhibits the expression of opinions or acts that could evolve towards tensions that warrant judicial mediation. Thus, courtesy would become excessive and would clearly transcend the lower limits of assertiveness (passivity).

3. Fear of participating as a witness in a civil or criminal process

People with a diagnosis of lithicaphobia strongly fear participating in a judicial process as witnesses, despite the fact that they do not position themselves in favor of any of the parties (neither as an accusation nor as a defense). For this reason they tend to withdraw from the scene in which an illegal situation of which they have witnessed occurs, so that they are not called to testify in court. This attitude supposes that the victim may lose a valuable legal resource in claiming his own rights.

This fear may be motivated both by the inquiry of the magistrates and by the fear that the accused party will decide to take revenge in some way on all the people who contributed to the indictment process. In other cases, it is possible to fear that a mere participation will end up degenerating in a situation of personal involvement, despite the fact that there is no evidence that could support this idea.

4. Uncertainty about one’s ability as part of a jury

One of the most distressing situations for someone with lithicaphobia is being claimed to be part of a popular jury . If this (random) circumstance occurs, they can try to invoke any legal loophole that allows them to evade the entrusted task, since they perceive that they do not have sufficient critical capacity to settle the innocence or guilt of a third party. They are also suspicious that the accused / accused may try to take revenge later.

It is necessary to take into account that the formation of a popular jury is carried out by public draw in even years, and that it assigns this responsibility for a period of up to twenty-four months (which are experienced with overflowing anxiety).

5. Resistance to file complaints

In lithicaphobia, there is usually an evident refusal to process complaints in the event in which the subject has felt injured, due to the intense fear of participating in a process that would expose him to great affective tension and that can last several years. This way of proceeding leaves you helpless in legal terms, since you will not receive any compensation for the grievance received. The situation worsens if there is an objective life risk (intentional crimes of physical violence, for example).

It is a classic avoidance mechanism in specific phobias, which can be associated with beliefs regarding the uselessness of the legal system or the fear that the lawsuit will impose a situation of frank lack of protection (that the police or other devices are not articulated to protect who denounces). In any case, it has important consequences, since the person is deprived of the recourse available in any democratic system to resolve conflict situations for which no agreements are reached (through mediation or during the preview).

6. Distorted Thoughts About Procedural Consequences

At the time when people with lithicaphobia have been unable to avoid participating in a trial, fear shifts to its potential consequences. One of the most frequent concerns is about the economic availability to hire a good lawyer , as well as to cover the costs of the process in the event that it ends in an unfavorable way. These kinds of thoughts, which are articulated over many months of tension, become significantly separated from the reality of the judgment itself.

In this way, there may be fears that a civil case will somehow evolve into criminal proceedings, or that the defense itself will raise suspicions in the judge and turn against oneself. In serious cases a fear of incarceration arises, despite the fact that the offense committed is very slight and corresponds to a sanction of equivalent magnitude.

7. Anguish over double victimization

When you have been the victim of a particularly burdensome crime, which has involved the eruption of considerable emotional damage, there may be a tenacious fear that the judicial process involves double victimization . This concept refers to the damage resulting from the system not creating or not recognizing the magnitude of the damage, that it reduces its importance or that it even shifts responsibility for the fact to those who have suffered its direct consequences.

This fear is common in cases of harassment, abuse and rape; And it is not limited only to the legal system, but also extends to the healthcare facility or to any body responsible for ensuring the care of those who are experiencing a situation of this type. In some cases it is a factor that prevents reporting events that progressively erode self-image and self-esteem , interacting with the rest of those previously reported.


The causes of lithicaphobia are varied, and result from the confluence of a set of environmental and personality factors . Among the former, the possibility that a very adverse legal situation has been experienced personally (or in the family), with very damaging consequences for those who suffer this specific phobia or for those close to them (extreme pecuniary sanction, deprivation of liberty, etc.), especially during childhood.

In other cases, phobic fear may be associated in a secondary way with the potential consequences of a lawsuit. Thus, fear would be the result of a feeling of vulnerability to which it is considered that the system cannot respond adequately.

Finally, lithicaphobia is more common among people who have difficulties to tolerate uncertainty, since these are processes in which a certain margin of unpredictability must be recognized and which tend to last for a long time. It is therefore a very aversive experience for those who present these traits, so they tend to avoid it deliberately.


Lithicaphobia has an effective cognitive behavioral treatment . Given that the characteristics of the phobic stimulus hinder the development of an in vivo exposure, it is advisable to design a program in imagination through which a series of scenes related to what is feared are presented (having previously ordered them according to the level of anxiety that the patient attributes to them ), so that progressive habituation can occur (from the mildest to the most serious). For this, some relaxation technique is also usually taught.

The approach of irrational beliefs linked to judicial contexts is also often important, since the person may harbor thoughts that do not fit the reality of the facts that he faces. Aligning what is expected with what could actually happen is a necessary step to alleviate feelings of restlessness. The combination of these two procedures is more effective than each of them separately.


Leave a Comment