Dirt, dirt, rust, impurities, etc. There are countless words to describe poor hygiene and cleanliness and they all have one thing in common: they generate a whole host of feelings of dislike and disgust in people.
While these feelings are normal and justified, when they become fear or disproportionate fear. it is very possible that we are faced with a case of automisophobia, A specific type of phobia that we will describe throughout this article.
What is automisophobia?
Automisophobia is classified as a specific anxiety disorder or specific phobia. These psychological alterations are characterized by provocation in the person of an exacerbated and irrational fear towards a specific stimulus or object and in case of automisophobia. it is the fear of being dirty, of staining or getting dirty.
If we take into account the etymological roots of the term, we can separate the phrase into three different words of Greek origin. The first of these “autos” can be translated almost literally as this or clean, “mysos” refers to dirt and finally we find “phobos” meaning fear or fear. Based on this, we can define automisophobia as experimentation, an exaggerated fear of one’s own dirtiness, or the possibility of being dirty or stained oneself.
As with other phobic disorders, when people with automisophobia meet or think they encounter the dreaded stimulus, in this case get dirty, they experience a series of emotions and physical manifestations belonging to very high anxiety states.
While it makes sense to think that getting dirty or dirty can generate feelings of loathing and loathing, in the case of automisophobia, loathing becomes terror. This feeling of fear can lead the person to engage in all kinds of behaviors such as compulsive washing.
If the phobia occurs to a very high degree, it is possible that these behaviors around cleaning become compulsive, resulting in reactions and skin changes due to excessive washing behaviors.
When to consider it as a phobia?
In order to differentiate between a usual aversive or disgusting feeling and a specific pathological fear or phobia, we will have to determine the specific characteristics of this type of fear, As well as the consequences or direct effects that it has in the development of the daily life of the person.
It is necessary to take into account a whole series of requirements and qualities characteristic of fear disorders, which define a phobia and allow its diagnosis. These requirements are as follows:
1. It’s disproportionate
The main difference between a normal aversive reaction or sensation and a phobic fear is that in automisophobia the person experiences a completely exaggerated and disproportionate fear to the actual threat that the phobic stimulus, in this case, represents the dirt he or she is. -even.
2. It’s irrational
In a phobia, the fear felt has no logical basis, but is fueled by irrational ideas and beliefs. Lbecause people with automisophobia are unable to find a reasonable explanation to the fear they feel.
3. The person cannot control
In addition, the fear suffered by a person with automisophobia is totally out of control. This means that even if the person accepts that the phobic stimulus may be harmless, this he is unable to prevent the onset of symptoms of anxiety and fear.
4. Durable over time
Finally, for a fear to be considered phobic or pathological, the reactions and fear reactions must have occurred repeatedly and consistently and consistently throughout the situations involving the onset of the stimulus.
What are the symptoms?
In the views that automisophobia falls into the category of specific phobias, the clinical picture it presents is similar to that of other anxiety disorders of that type. These symptoms of an anxious nature appear whenever the person feels or perceives that they are or may become dirty.
This will generate strong anxiety in which physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms appear.
1. Physical symptoms
When the phobic stimulus appears, or just thinking about it, there is an overactivity of the nervous system which gives rise to all kinds of organic changes and alterations. The main physical symptoms of automisophobia include:
- Heart rate increased.
- Increased respiratory rate.
- Feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath.
- Increased muscle tension.
- Stomach upset such as stomach pain or diarrhea.
- Increased sweating.
- Dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Nausea and / or vomiting.
2. Cognitive symptoms
In addition to physical or organic symptoms, people with automisophobia are characterized by the possession of a number of distorted ideas, beliefs and speculations about fear of one’s own dirt.
These cognitive symptoms promote the development of automisophobia and can also include catastrophic mental images of the dangers or possible effects of the dirt on the person.
3. Behavioral symptoms
The third and final group of symptoms of automisophobia is the one that includes behavioral symptoms. These symptoms refer to a whole range of behaviors and behaviors in which the person engages. to prevent or escape the phobic stimulus.
The behaviors that the person performs with the intention of avoiding encountering the phobic stimulus are called avoidance behaviors. These can include obsessive washing or cleaning routines, which are performed to prevent experimentation. feelings of anguish, anxiety and fear.
As for the behaviors that allow the person to escape the feared situation, they are called escape behaviors. These appear when the subject has not been able to avoid encountering the phobic stimulus, in order to perform all kinds of behaviors and behaviors necessary to escape the situation in which he has been involved.
What are the causes?
As much in automisophobia as in the rest of specific phobias, it is hypothesized that it is an unconscious or involuntary reaction of the person caused by experiencing or experiencing a highly traumatic situation, Or with a high degree of emotional content, in which the phobic stimulus played an important role and which, in addition, appears as a protective response to it.
However, trying to determine the specific origin of a phobia is a complicated task, because in most cases even the person himself is not able to identify when it appears or what situation caused it.
Is there a treatment?
In all cases where automisophobia is a highly disabling fear or causes major interference in the daily life of the person, as well as in his health, psychological therapy stands out as one of the best treatment alternatives for this disorder.
The intervention or psychological treatment involves a series of techniques or tools that allow the remission of which symptoms, or even their complete disappearance. Through cognitive restructuring techniques, it is possible to change all of those distorted thoughts that a person has about their own bodily filth.
usually this it is accompanied by live exposure or systematic awareness techniques, Whereby the person is gradually exposed to the dreaded stimulus. Either directly or through exercises with mental images.
Finally, this is accompanied by training in relaxation techniques, which reduces the levels of excitement in the nervous system and helps the person to cope as well as possible with his fears.