What is emetophobia?

At a simple level, emetophobia is basically a fear of vomiting or being around a person who is being (or might) be sick, this even includes people who are loved dearly like your own children. Although the definition of this phobia is quite simple the the underlying causes can be very hard to shift (although it is very possible).

Because when we have a phobia that is under-pinned by a biological sensibility we get a little unconsciously confused – what we mean by that is; to fear a natural bodily defense reflex causes a dilemma, the human part says “being sick is horrible” whilst your unconscious biology might be saying “Of course we need to eject this bad food from our stomach!”

This powerful fear of being sick can go under quite a few names, like; vomitaphobia, sicknessphobia or often the experiencer doesn’t even want to refer to it as even the thought of vomiting causes a huge emotional reaction. Of all the phobias that it is possible to latch onto, this one seems to take hold the deepest.

Sorry if reading about this makes you wince a little, however, if reading words that refer to sickness make you feel uncomfortable, then you really need to do something about it and stop acting the victim to this anxiety based disorder.

What causes a fear of vomiting?

In our experience emetophobia is normally traceable back to some childhood event, perhaps;

  • Vomiting as a child and embarrassing ones self
  • As a child seeing a loved one vomit and becoming scared
  • Influences from films etc. we are aware that watching the Exorcist didn’t help some people!
  • As a child seeing a person who scared you vomit, like a tramp or a drunk
  • As a child you had a tantrum which got you over agitated and made you vomit

Having said that, it really doesn’t matter where it came from or why you have it, what matters is that you take back control of these fearful thoughts and controlling behaviours.

It is a surprisingly common phobia (although few openly discuss it)- intense psychological and biological reactions kick off when the trigger thought or event occurs and this leads to feelings of panic and a massive desire to avoid vomiting or anything that they think may make them vomit, typical symptoms of emetophobia are:

  • Feeling as if you may be sick
  • Excessive saliva production
  • An inability to think logically or listen to others
  • Finding it hard to breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Only eating certain foods
  • Hands and body shakes
  • Dizzy and tearful
  • Feeling hot and flustered
  • Racing heart and tight chest
  • Feeling of nausea

When the fear of being sick phobia is at its height, often the sufferer becomes agoraphobic and refuses to go out or to go to work and this starts a destructive cycle of feeling fearful and then feeling stupid, because they have to become super controlling to try and manage life so they don’t have to interact with it. People who love you, try to help and they use logic to say “of course it will be alright” and you can’t use logic in your replies so you have to revert to an emotional reaction to prove to them you can’t do something.

This perpetuates the problem and (unknowingly) teaches the sufferer to use an adverse emotional reaction as their way of controlling people, unknowingly they are saying “We’ll do it my way or will go into an emotional response.”

This leaves those around you helpless, frustrated and angry, people suffering from emetophobia need to recognise that they are the controlling ones, not their carers!

Avoidant emetophobia behaviours

It is quite hard work being fearful of vomiting and often other issues arise, such as, agoraphobia, eating disorders and intense self esteem problems, typical behaviours that arise include:

  • Not drinking too much alcohol and feeling uncomfortable around those who do
  • Becoming very hygienic and worried about germs
  • Feeling awkward in schools and hospitals
  • Feeling uncomfortable eating in front of others
  • Only eating small meals or just crackers
  • Weight problems – normally too thin
  • Afraid of getting ill so stay away from visiting sick people
  • Problems using some public conveniences
  • Looking away if an actor vomits on television
  • Not going out to restaurants or only drinking water in a cafe

The sufferer feels like a victim to their emotions – and they are! This whole phobia ends up being about low self-esteem, unworthiness and a fear of being out of control.

Treatment to overcome the fear of vomiting

The Calmness In Mind Anxiety & OCD Treatment Program teaches you how to manage the anxiety attacks and then works on changing how your unconscious body responds to the old triggers that used to make you scared. As you realise that you can interrupt the anxiety it becomes possible to reconnect with external life, however, as you get better the realisation that you don’t feel good enough resurfaces because if you are not anxious you need to get a job or a relationship or change something big in your life and this becomes scary and may re-trigger the anxiety!

To counteract this the program teaches you strategies to begin to develop your own self-esteem and confidence, from this new perspective you can calm yourself down and you can respect yourself, this opens the door for you to reengage with life.

Start today, it’s not easy, but it’s not easy being stuck either!

PS – If a loved one has emetophobia and is not prepared to change, it may be useful to follow this program yourself, then, at least you will be able to support them in a way that will break their controlling patterns and allow you to understand how and why they act the way they do.