Xenophobia is the irrational fear or dislike of people who are different from oneself, particularly foreigners. The term xenophobia originates from the Greek words xénos (stranger) and phóbos (fear), so it essentially means the fear of strangers. However, it is more often used to describe hatred or hostility, especially toward immigrants, migrants, and refugees from other countries.
Xenophobia is a type of specific phobia, a common mental disorder. Therefore when such views are significantly and negatively impacting a person’s life, the person may qualify for diagnosis of specific phobia. (Only a mental health professional can make a diagnosis.)
Learn more: Specific phobia symptoms
Xenophobia comprises multiple aspects of prejudice and may be based on any racist, religious, ethnic, cultural, or national discrimination. Xenophobic attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a fear that outsiders or foreigners are a threat to one’s community or national identity. People with xenophobic attitudes often want to secure the perceived purity of their own culture or nation.
For example, an American man who feels threatened or angry that his company has hired Russian interns would be considered xenophobic. Perhaps deep down he fears that his cultural and religious values are being threatened by what he perceives as an influx of different types of people. He fears being outnumbered, losing his job to one of these “other” people, or losing his current way of life.
Studies have shown that economic inequalities and poor social conditions can lead to mass fear and tension, giving rise to racism and xenophobia. People who are perceived to be outsiders — such as refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, displaced persons, and non-nationals — are often targeted.
Politicians use the irrational fear of immigrants and foreigners to foment anger and dissension in society. There is little scientific evidence to support the fears reinforced by politicians about what happens to a country when they welcome immigrants, migrants, and refugees into their country. There is significant evidence — both economic and social — that immigrants help most countries. (The United States, for instance, is a country whose entire history is based on immigration; before the 20th century, there were virtually no limits imposed on who could come and stay within the country.)
Example: Her xenophobia is so pronounced, she even refuses to dine in ethnic restaurants.