Autodisomophobia (fear of stinking): symptoms, causes and treatment

It is likely that at some point, while traveling by public transport, some of the people reading these lines noticed that some of the passengers were releasing an aroma that was deemed unpleasant, such as the smell of sweat, humidity or food or of drink.

And the truth is that the idea that one can generate this type of smell is aversive, because hardly anyone likes to stink (which can testify to the fact that there is an entire industry that makes perfumes, perfumes and deodorants).

But while the thought of stinking can be unpleasant, most people just take care of their hygiene and try not to smell bad, not really worrying about it, although on some occasions they are the ones saying goodbye. However, some people can develop a real stinky panic, to the point of developing a phobia which can become so severe that it greatly invalidates their daily activity. It’s autodisomophobia. Let’s see what it is.

    What is autodisomophobia?

    It’s called autodisomophobia phobia or fear of listening or stinking, While sometimes also includes fear of bad smell in general even if it comes from others. It is a specific phobia of the situational type, although it is strongly linked to social phobia since in this case the fear would be largely linked to the social judgment derived from a bad body odor.

    And is bad body odor usually associated with poor hygiene (although there are other factors that can explain it, such as playing sports, wearing too warm clothes or suffering from certain illnesses), which is generally social. Badly taken into account and generates rejection.

    How phobic we are a very intense reaction of fear or apprehension towards a certain stimulus, Which is generally recognized as irrational and excessive in relation to the real risk incurred. This fear triggers an anxious response to exposure to the stimulus, which in turn can lead to the onset of physiological symptoms such as tachycardia, sweating, tremors, hyperventilation, pain or chest pain among others and even trigger an anxiety attack.

    Likewise, the anxiety generated by the exposure or the idea of ​​being close to the stimulus in question causes the person to avoid the stimulus or any of those contexts or stimuli that may be associated with what the fear generates. In this case, the fear would be stinking and / or stinking.


    The fact that smelling or the idea of ​​being able to emit a bad smell generates so much panic and anxiety may seem trivial, but the truth is that it can become very limiting on all levels for the person with this phobia. .

    And it is that those who suffer from autodisomophobia can suffer from it to a large extent. It should be noted that the person can be hyper alert to the slightest body odor which can be considered aversive, can even develop obsessive controlling behaviors or even show a tendency to consider that they stink when they do not, or to consider that any comments concerning odors are addressed to him.

    Moreover, paradoxically, the anxiety felt itself favors exposure to the reason for his discomfort: increased activation could make us sweatSomething that could make us feel bad, which in turn would generate more anxiety.

    This phobia affects all levels, both to keep others from smelling our bad smell and to keep us from smelling the stink of others. It is common to avoid large crowds and group gatherings. Public transport or small places such as nightclubs and bars are also often avoided. Personally this phobia this can cause difficulties in interacting with other people and even at the level of the couple, And complications can also arise in the workplace if the job requires contact with others.

    They can use massive and excessive applications of perfumes or deodorants, which in turn can paradoxically generate an excessively strong and unpleasant odor and even cause skin irritation or even prevent it from coming out.

    They also tend to avoid things and actions that can make you feel bad. In this sense, you can stop physical activity and exercise, avoid having sex and, depending on the case, even avoid cooking or eating foods that can cause gas and gas. .

    Possible causes

    The causes of this phobia are not fully known, but there are some hypotheses in this regard. It should also be borne in mind that there is no single cause, but that it is considered a product of the interaction of several factors that predispose us to suffer.

    One of the main hypotheses that could serve as an explanation is the existence of a traumatic or painful experience of rejection of modesty, either about oneself or to another loved one, who has been judged, criticized or rejected. for this reason. It is also possible that you have had a traumatic experience that a bad smell and suffering has been associated with, such as seeing or experiencing murder, rape or abuse by someone with a disability. bad body odor. or someone else’s stench would be a very aversive element when paired with trauma).

    Another possible reason could be modeling and learning of parental models or an environment in which the stench is always judged. It is also possible that a person with a previous social phobia ends up linking possible social rejection to body odor. This would create a cognitive model in which the stench equates to something painful or extremely embarrassing that, over time, could reactivate a stressor or triggering event.

    There would also be predisposing factors on a personal level, and it is common for such people to be based on low self-esteem and insecurity, often hungry for approval and social reinforcement, and with high sensitivity both to rejection and disgust.


    As with other phobias, autodisomophobia can be successfully treated with psychotherapy. And among the most successful techniques is the exposure technique, which mainly consists of getting the subject to face situations that generate anxiety and fear in a progressive way so that this anxiety eventually diminishes on its own. and eventually become controllable. In this sense, it is necessary to develop an exposure hierarchy that makes it possible to note the level of anxiety that each situation generates, so that the subject begins to face situations of average level and gradually increase.

    Exposures may relate to odors or activities likely to generate them, or situations in which there may be such stimuli. After therapy is advanced, the subject may have to do some activity that causes them to stink and expose themselves in public, although it is also advisable to work on the cognitive elements first.

    And this is it it will be necessary to work in depth at the cognitive level, Valuing what the bad smell implies for the subject, when the problem has started as he associates it, to what extent the phobia generates an incapacity or harms his daily life and the beliefs, emotions and thoughts that can contain the problem. It would also be useful to help relativize the importance of smell through cognitive restructuring techniques, helping to modify the subject’s beliefs and thoughts to make them more functional.

    Since this is a phobia closely linked to the social and that behind this type of phobia there may be a deficit of social skills, it may be advisable to conduct training in this type of skills, as well as to stress management. Relaxation techniques can be beneficial in fighting anticipation and starting with a lower anxiety level, but should never be used as an active anxiety avoidance method (as this could negatively reinforce others. anxiety behaviors). In extreme cases, you can use anti-anxiety medications to decrease anxiety levels and be able to function properly.

    bibliographical references

    • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.

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