Hadephobia – The Fear of Hell Usually Stems From Childhood.

HADEPHOBIA, also known as stygiophobia, is the intense, chronic, irrational, fear of ‘hell’ and that one may be ‘sent there.’ It is serious enough to disrupt day-to-day functioning and significantly reduce the quality of life. According to the General Social Survey (2008), approximately three-quarters of Americans expressed some belief in hell.


Typically, the person suffering from this will have a pervasive dread of ‘suffering eternal torture in hell’, and may have intrusive internal, mental visualizations of being condemned to such a fate.

Often, too, the person may fear ‘ beings’ who, according to some legends, ‘inhabit hell’ such as ‘demons’ and ‘Satan’.

As we know, the irrational belief stems largely from religious fundamentalist belief systems which the person suffering from the phobia may have been INDOCTRINATED with as a child by parents who may have been controlling and used the idea of ‘hell’ to dissuade him/her (the child) from behaving in ways of which they disapproved in the same way that many churches do and other dogmatic sectors of society who wish to censor and impose their will on others through fear-mongering and coercion. Scientists who see religion as harmful, such as Professor Richard Dawkins, regard such indoctrination as a clear-cut case of child abuse. (In order to read more about this, see subsection ‘How Religion Can Be Used As A Weapon, below).

It is also very commonly found that a person suffering from haedephobia has experienced some severe trauma in life. The phobia can be so severe that the individual often feels ‘paralyzed’ by anxiety in a way that makes normal day-to-day functioning impossible. At times s/he may experience terror leading to full-blown panic attacks involving hyperventilation, sweating, dizziness, racing heartbeat, trembling, and even fainting.

One dysfunctional coping strategy that the person may employ in a desperate attempt to allay his/her terrible fears is to become extremely pious and obsessively to try to avoid doing ( or even thinking) anything that could possibly be construed as a ‘sin’. Clearly an impossible task for anybody.


There has been a scarcity of research into the effects of this condition on mental health. However, Cranneya et al. (2018) carried out research, using the Hell Anxiety Scale (HXS), to investigate to what degree haedophobia correlated with other conditions and with psychological functioning.

Surprisingly, it was found that there was only a very weak correlation between haedophobia and fear and anxiety subscales for neuroticism but that haedophobia did (unsurprisingly) correlate with the person’s strength of belief that they were destined for hell. From this finding, the researchers suggest that haedophobia is not connected to a general tendency towards experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety but, rather, it may be a ‘rational’ response to a strong (irrational) belief that they are destined for hell. 

The researchers also found that those with high levels of haedophobia were also more prone to negative religious coping, had poorer overall psychological functioning, had higher levels of death anxiety, and were more likely to suffer from general anxiety.


The highly distressing nature of this phobia is obvious and the first port of call is normally one’s GP (in the UK) or primary doctor. After discussion, the person may then be referred to an appropriate mental health professional in order to try to identify any possible underlying, psychological causes and/or to determine what course of therapeutic intervention may be most suitable. Possibilities include :

– cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

– exposure therapy

– hypnotherapy

– desensitization therapy

– antianxiety medication where severe distress is being experienced

How Religion Can Be Used As A Weapon:

When I was thirteen, shortly after my disturbed and deeply unstable mother had thrown me out of the house and I was grudgingly received into the house (I won’t dignify it by calling it home) of my father and his new wife (my step-mother,) I became, as might be expected, and which I may conceivably expect to be forgiven for, a rather argumentative and defiant child (although, interestingly, only at home – never at school). I remember ( indeed, the memory is seared into my brain), that I was arguing with my stepmother in the kitchen and she suddenly fixed me with a violent stare and started to shout (loudly and with a kind of demented aggression) at me in ‘tongues’. I do not know if she deliberately faked it or whether it was merely a symptom of religious psychosis. I do know, however, that, as a naive thirteen-year-old, it profoundly disturbed my sense of self. Was I not just bad, but evil?  And not just evil, but so evil that God had just taken the trouble to let me know, in no uncertain terms, personally (rather than, say, the serial killer that had been on the front page of the paper that day?).

Emotional abuse by parents, or, indeed, if I may be so bold as to suggest, by step-parents, has such a destructive effect not least because of the disparity in power between them and the child. The more authority and power that the emotional abuser has, the more damaging the effects of that emotional abuse are likely to be.

Those who use religion to abuse others employ the tactic of augmenting their power, authority and control BY PRESENTING THEMSELVES AS HAVING DIVINE AUTHORITY. They have the breathtaking arrogance to position themselves as god’s spokesperson. They will, too, of course, carefully select passages from religious texts like the bible to bully, control and coerce others, robbing them of their individuality and authenticity – even their independence of thought. The victim of this abuse can find that they are left feeling bad, worthless, guilty, and ashamed.

They may even spend their childhoods, and, later, much of their adulthood, preoccupied that they are destined for eternal torture in hell.



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Stephen Cranney, Joseph Leman, Thomas A. Fergus & Wade C. Rowatt (2018) Hell anxiety as non-pathological fear, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 21:9-10, 867-883, DOI: 10.1080/13674676.2018.1443436


Fear of Death Stemming from Childhood Trauma

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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