Friday, 26 February 2010

Emetophobia (Part 1)

Partly because I am so deeply ashamed of the sheer range of issues I have, and partly because I am so frightened of it that I find it hard to go near the subject, emetophobia is something I haven't particularly mentioned here before.
Or anywhere else for that matter.

I am aware as I type, that some of those who read what follows may have never heard of such a thing as emetophobia before. A few of those people may gain some insight into this fear and the impact it has on those who suffer with it.
Others will be completely unable to comprehend why some live their lives in fear and trembling of something which seems to be a relatively minor (and short lived) discomfort.
However, there may also be some people reading who know this fear only too well. People who have to carry the weight of uncertainty and fear day in, day out.
These unfortunate people are known as "emetophobes"; though, to use the term, 'known as' is somewhat ironic given that, due to the unprecedented sense of shame that surrounds this particular phobia, others are rarely aware of it.

What is it?

This is where it gets difficult because the strength of my phobia makes it hard to use the vocabulary associated with its definition.
For the purposes of this post however, I'll go against my instincts and attempt to use the 'words' (which often feel dangerous or overwhelmingly repulsive to an emetophobe) to define the phobia.

Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of v*miting.
(I thought I could face the words, but even spoiling them is difficult at the moment.)
Emetophobes may themselves be terrified of the act of v****ing, may be terrified of others doing so, or it may be that, like me, they have an equal fear of both.

Although it is relatively unheard of, emetophobia is actually thought to be between the fifth and seventh most common fear in the UK so if you are suffering from this, you may at least take a tiny bit of comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.
Emetophobia affects people differently but can be so severe that it will render the emetophobe incapable of managing to leave the house, maintain employment, attend any function where alcohol may be present, be in crowded places or have children /fall pregnant.

In my own case I have learned that at times when a bug is going around, it may appear that I am both agoraphobic or anorexic, but whilst partaking in the behaviours of these conditions, they are symptomatic of the real problem, which is the emetophobia.
As I have already pointed out, the fact that it is so deeply repulsive and shameful to the sufferer, often means that most phobics are unaware of just how many others share their fear and can often lead to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness in the pain and terror.

Trust me. I speak from experience.

I can't recall the time when it dawned on me that my panic attacks were mainly caused by the fear of myself or others being physically ill.
What I do remember very, very clearly, is the moment when, walking over the bridge to the house where I was living in Greenwich about four years ago, my old house mate and best friend for 15 years phoned and told me that there seemed to be a name for what I had.
Now; I'm not big into labels and names and all that stuff... but I looked it up and I will never, ever forget the absolute relief I experienced as I read through the emetophobic websites I found.
Don't get me wrong
Since that time, I have hardly been near any of those sites.

It puzzles me that anyone with emetophobia would want to be in a community where the main topic of conversation is the very thing that they are most plagued by and terrified of.

A lot of the time, I can hardly read the words without feeling nauseous .

I also find it puzzling that people who are suffering with this condition (and yes, I do believe "suffering" is the correct term in this instance) would want to turn to others who are in exactly the same situation as themselves! As if someone else who is drowning could be saved or rescued by another person who is drowning.

I find it anything but comforting to be told it's all going to be okay by someone who feels exactly the same terror as myself.

However, we are all different and some people no doubt, find it immensely comforting to know that they are part of something like this.

To be honest, it is such a desperate phobia, if something seems to help, it should be clung to as if it were a life raft.

Emetophobia, or 'emet' as it is often known amongst sufferers, is one of the most difficult phobias to work with clinically.

Although CBT is widely recognised to be the most effective treatment, emetophobia is thought to be one of the most difficult to shift.

Exposure therapy is also thought to have had some success, although I have read that any relief from this therapy is temporary.

Hypnotherapy... Well... Don't start me on that one. That is for another post. Suffice to say, if you are reading this and considering hypnotherapy for emetohobia... be very aware that despite the claims made by experienced hypnotherapists, it is often a very expensive waste of time.


Where does all this leave me?

I'm in therapy. Psychoanalytic.

Does this work for emetophobia?

Apparently not.

But then, nor does anything else.

I've said enough on this topic for one post.

It's absolute hell at the moment and I am terrified of breathing, but I will try to explain from a more personal perspective in another post.


  1. I have been a livelong sufferer of motion sickness so I can certainly understand your fear. I don't see that it's so far fetched or illogical. Although I haven't had a problem in cars for many years, I avoid long car trips (as the years have passed the length of the bothersome trips is much longer). I intensely dislike bus trips and will not go on a cruise.

    If you fear it, you might imagine my total horror of having to ask for a bucket and use it in front of at least 30 people on a snorkeling trip with the "captain" laughing at me.

  2. Hi there-

    well, I am stunned and in awe of your raw honesty and ability to explain the phobia in 'lay-mens' terms. I can absolutely see/feel how this is paralyzing. I feel so badly that this has it's hold on you. And yes, you are so very brave.

    Love Gail

  3. I never heard of this...but I think it's good you at least know what the fear is...Stay strong ok. Sarah

  4. I want to thank you for writing this post. I am stunned. I have had this phobia all my remembered life. This may sound unbelievable but I didn't know other people had this or that it even had a name. And this is the first time telling another person about it.

    I have an intense fear of both as well. It has always impacted my life tremendously.

    I not only have this problem with people and myself but also with animals.

    I am sorry that you have this as well but I certainly understand. I think it is very courageous of you to write about this. I hope I can someday.

  5. I had no idea there was a name for this. I have had this fear since I became carsick on a favorite stuffed animal (which destroyed it) when I was three. When my children are ill I can't even go in the room. when you talk about shame, you're not kidding. Of all the things I ahve told my therapist - things many people would think were much worse - I have managed to keep this one secret.

  6. Sending you much love my friend, I want you to know you are still in my thoughts every day xxx

  7. You overcoming your fear and writing about this is humbling me - chapeau. The rawness of your feelings your authenicity touches me deeply. Whilst I have never heard of this fear and never experienced it - I can relate certainly for the relief you have felt when this fear finally had a name and you could grasp it somewhat better. I was always bubbly and lively and quite good in small talk however when I recently got diagnosed with socialphobia I was stunned. By now I understand that active seeking the interactiosn was my way of dealing with it however deeply exhausted and trembling it made me afterwards. Now I have to learn from scratch to interact different with myself and others. Currently I am rather introvert and tending to isloate. I am thinking of you. Safe hugs

  8. I wrote a long reply to most of you the other night but my computer crashed as I posted it and so I lostthe whole thing.
    I could have cried.
    I might have done, if I'm being honest.

    This is take two.

    Thank you so much for your input. I know how awful travel can be as I struggled with nausea when I did long journeys as a kid.
    I guess we learn to associate horrible feelings with particular places / situtions and so avoidance is our natural instinct...
    I can't really imagine the complete horror of your experience in the boat, surrounded by people. It is possibly one of my absolute worst nightmares and if that captain had laughed, I think I would have been very tempted to throw the bucket over him. (!)

    Thank you for always being here.
    Thank you for understanding so much. Yes. It does have "a hold on me". At times, (like recently) it completely takes over and renders most ordinary things almost impossible.
    Brave though?
    I would say that isn't a great choice of word for me.
    I am anything but when it comes to this kind of thing.

    Yes, it does help to know what the fear is.

    If reading this post has honestly helped you identify and understand something a little more then you have made the agony worth something.
    It doesn't sound in the least bit unbelievable that you didn't know that this was a recognied 'condition'/ phobia... As I said, the shame and disgust associated with it, makes us desperate to keep it hidden.
    A person who suffers badly with emetophobia will be terrified of animals being s**k too. Anything associated with that type of illness becomes horrible. (I find buckets difficult)
    You are brave to write here about it.
    Thanks for saying.

    Shen, Anon, Paula... I will respond a little later.


    Thank you so much for sharing what you have here.
    I cant imagine how frightening it must be when your children are ill.. or the guilt that must follow not being able to go and help them / be with them.
    I do understand and admire you hugely for even HAVING children, given the nature of this articular fear.
    I also know, as I said to Jeannie, that the shame attached to emetophobia is huge and invariably keeps emetophobes silent, afraid that their fear is just too shameful and disgusting to talk about.
    Whilst not wanting to create a pot calling kettle scenario, I do want to as you if you think it may be worth talking to yout therapist about this one... It is big and it is important. I doubt it can be overcome, but it might lead to other insights.
    I find it interesting that you knw what started the phobia. Many other emetophobes understand what triggered their initial fear and I imagine it must be quite good to be able to inoint something...?
    Thanks for being rave enough to say, Shen.

    I just cannot understand for the life of me how it is you are still here and still sending me love.
    I think of you almost everyday and wonder how you are but you are not to know that. How is it that you are not fuming at me?
    I have been on the forum a couple of times but only to see how people are. I can't say anything there.
    Mean to email you but just can't find words.
    Much love to you.

    Social phobia is awful and yes, I understand that sometimes we overcompensate in the areas where we are most afraid and so it may not LOOK as though we have a problem.
    I overcompensate for my feelings of hopelessness and despair and so, as a result, nobody would ever guess that I am anything but the very happy, lively, positive and fun person that I appear to be.
    It sounds very hard to learn everything from scratch and I wish you co much strength as you set about doing this.
    Thank you for your words here and take care.

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  11. Dear LR,

    I have deleted your post but only because you used my initial in it and although I realise it is next to impossible that anyone who knows me in 'real life' would ever find this blog, having a 'name' is just too risky... I really hope that that makes sense...

    Thank you so much for your words.

    I was upset to read that you feel 'ashamed' about not offering more support. Please, please... feelanything but that.
    I removed myself from the forum partly to escape the whole sense of obligation thing people (and I too) had around the issue of support. I didn't realise that blogs had 'followers' and that I would be supported here. It's not my aimandit's not my need.
    I guess I write here as a way of trying to make it more real maybe... As if in writing it, something will make more sense... something will be justifed.
    I don't know.

    So much love to you.
    I'm so sorry to delete your comment. Having my intial there just worried me...
    Hope you understand.

    Please know that you are so often in my thoughts.
    Hoping you are surviving the battle.

  12. Iv`e always been scared of vting, & I can relate to the story about being laughed at for being sick,because I can recall that happening to me on several occasions as a kid. I really don`t understand what people find so funny about someone getting sick!

  13. Hi Catherine. Glad you found things you could relate to. It always helps to know you're not the only one...
    How anyone finds it funny is WAY beyond me... So many people film it and put it on youtube. I just don't get it!
    Thanks for leaving a comment. Hope you can cope okay and that emetophobia isn't something that rules or dominates too much...