I’ve had many clients over the years gingerly tell me that at least part of them is afraid to get over the emetophobia. I know their reasoning before I even ask. “You’re afraid that if you get better, you won’t be so careful, and you’ll end up getting sick.”
Most of them understand that this doesn’t make sense, but many do not. Either way, they’ve been embarrassed to tell me. I blame a lot of it on other therapists who have been judgmental of them in the past when they’ve come in for emetophobia treatment. In fact, many therapists who don’t understand emetophobia or how to treat it have told their clients that they just don’t want to get better. They usually conclude this when they can’t think of what to do with these clients that to help them.
Sometimes the refrain is picked up by parents who are also at their wits’ end about what to do with an emetophobic child who doesn’t want to eat, drink, go to school or go to therapy. They conclude that the child/teenager doesn’t want to get better or is afraid to get better so they’re not “trying.”
I do get it. I remember at least thinking that I might be afraid to get better when I had emetophobia. Yet I desperately wanted to get better. I knew it wasn’t logical – after all, if you get better that means you’re not afraid anymore, so whether you’re “careful” or not, it really doesn’t matter if you get sick because you’re not afraid of it anyway. That may have been too confusing a sentence. Sorry! Think of it this way: a person has a severe phobia of puppies. Especially those fluffy, bouncy, slobbery Golden Retriever puppies. Ya, these guys:
Yes, there are many people terrified of them. They have panic attacks just like you, and they do everything they can to avoid going anywhere where they might see one, and they never watch Disney movies and close their eyes during most TV commercials. If one of these phobics accidentally stumbled on this page they’d be crying right now from seeing that picture. Don’t even say in your head that you think it’s ridiculous!!!! These things aren’t logical, as you well know.
Okay, so now imagine that someone who has a phobia of puppies comes to me for treatment. On intake, they whisper gingerly that they’re afraid to get over the phobia because if they do, they might end up not caring any more and then they’ll just go get a puppy some day.
Did that make you scratch your head? But it’s the same thing, right? EVERYONE with a phobia is afraid to get better in case they stop being “careful” to avoid what they fear. What if someone gets over their spider phobia and just throws caution to the wind and starts gardening? What if someone with a clown phobia gets better and just starts going to kids’ birthday parties? You’re getting the idea, right? And yes, I know that if you’d rather be afraid of puppies or clowns or even spiders for that matter right about now.
So first of all, the obvious: if you don’t have emetophobia you won’t care if you get sick, or risk getting sick because you won’t be afraid of vomiting anyway. But secondly, and I speak from experience here, you’re not going to just let all hell break loose and start licking the bottom of your shoes or your fingers after shaking hands with sick people or whatever. I’m no longer afraid of vomiting but I sure as heck don’t like it. I might risk eating something that seems wonderful if I’m not sure about it or who cooked it, but I don’t want Norovirus – I had it ten years ago and it wasn’t very nice: the worst part for me was the fever, chills, exhaustion and body aches. So even though I don’t fear vomiting any more, I still wash my hands before I eat and I don’t put my fingers in my mouth or nose unless I’ve just washed my hands thoroughly for 20 seconds and not left my living room.
Get better, ok? Don’t be afraid of it! Getting better is awesome.