Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting, whether it’s the fear of being sick oneself or being near others who are being sick. It’s a fairly common fear as our ancestors would have been on alert when hunting and gathering to see if something was safe to eat or not.
It can develop after a severe bout of illness or even after eating something which has made the person throw up. One client, I had developed the condition after overindulging in multicoloured sweets as a child, vomiting rainbow colours and then developed a fear of food with colour, only eating white food. This lead to an eating disorder later in her teens.
What sufferers of emetophobia may be experiencing
- Checking other people for signs of illness.
- Avoiding having children as babies vomit a great deal.
- Avoid socialising, as may encounter other people being sick from drinking too much.
- Not eating foods when away from home.
- Avoidance of foods or smells associated with past vomiting episodes.
- Being scared of germs, hospitals, and sick people.
- Holding one’s breath when around other people.
- Refusing to shake hands with others.
- Obsessive about foul-smelling or dirty things.
- Overuse of soap.
- Excessive cleaning of foods and prep surfaces.
- Avoidance of non-packaged foods.
- Eating the same thing over and over again as they know it’s “Safe”.
- Throwing away food before it has reached its expiration date.
- Excessive smelling and checking of food.
- Overcooking food to kill potential pathogens.
- Avoidance of eating new foods (or extreme anxiety when eating new foods).
- Refusing to eat food which looks unusual or different.
- Checking for the locations of toilets when out and about.
- Restricting travel.
- School or work avoidance.
- Taking one’s temperature excessively or monitoring one’s body for other signs of illness (e.g., checking lymph nodes).
- Superstitious rituals designed to avoid getting sick.
- When eating in public, monitoring other people’s reactions to their food.
Treatment of fear of sickness
Usually the NHS will prescribe Cognitive behavioural therapy for Emetophobia, however, hypnotherapy can help immensely in reducing the overall stress, which can lead to much greater control in awkward situations. SFT can help focus on what they would like to achieve as well as not giving in to the anxiety.
Case Studies for emetophobia
I can confess among my many phobias I suffered from, I didn’t even realise I had suffered with it until discussing it with my husband. From childhood, if I saw someone being sick, I would be sick too. I didn’t realise that this was unique to me. No one else did it. If the cat hairballed I sometimes vomited over him, much to his displeasure. If someone started to gag I’d run for the hills. Now, after understanding how the brain works, I may still have the trigger but I no longer react to the situation, which my cat is eternally grateful for.
Laura came to me because in her line of work – for the emergency services she often encountered people being sick. This was making work really difficult. She also wanted to have a child and the thought of morning sickness and the baby vomiting were causing a great deal of stress.
We worked on lowering her general stress from the job first. Then there were a few incidents which kept coming to mind, so we used BWRT on them. Using visualisations she was able to keep focused on the positives which would come from becoming pregnant.
About 3 years later Laura returned. She had her baby and had coped excellently with the morning sickness and the baby vomiting on a regular basis. But suddenly out of the blue when picking him up from nursery she read a notice that a bug had been going around and it set her off again. We only needed a few more sessions and erasing of the response using BWRT again helped her manage the fear of her son from becoming ill.
Case Study 3
Tom was a builder and his emetophobia was seriously effecting his social life. He would go out drinking with his friends in the city centre and those who had consumed a bit too much had the habit of vomiting in the street. This was seriously cramping his style. We worked for 6 sessions including using the Rewind on one particular incident. Then over the Christmas break, he had contracted Hepatitis and had been hospitalised during an outbreak of the Winter Vomiting Bug.
After he came home he arranged his last session with me. The CD had helped him get through the worst of the experience as well as what he had learnt about how his brain worked. The constant exposure meant he became acclimatised to vomiting and was very pleased that the sessions had really helped.
Also see A-Z of phobias
Plus NHS take on phobias