About Emetophobia


I was recently alerted to the fact that emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, is the fifth most common phobia in America. Phobia, as a general category, is the most common disorder in America. There are lots and lots of phobias, hundreds and hundreds of them. Whatever conceivable behavior, emotion, situation, circumstance or event you can imagine, there is a fear about it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list of phobias.

Phobia is the old word for “fear.” But then, what is fear? A one-syllable word that represents a complex host of intense feelings and emotions…mental images and internal dialogues. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said it best when he uttered “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Fear is beyond bad, it’s the worst. And yet, that which we fear is made so by our thinking. At its extreme, fear is terror, a well-known concept in the political world today. At its best, fear is a moderate anxiety. Hundreds of millions of people experience anxieties and fears, and terrors. Some people are terrified of driving, others are deathly afraid of spiders. Social anxiety is a very common disorder as is the anxiety that comes from simply going to the dentist. We can be afraid of strangers, or of germs. There is even a fear of fear, which is actually called “phobophobia.”

Emetophobia is not just the fear of vomiting, which, though unpleasant, is not, in and of itself, anything to be afraid of – rationally. It’s actually a signal that the body is working correctly by ridding itself of toxin, poison or foreign material. Emetophobia, more generally, and symbolically, is the fear of throwing up, and out, stuff from the inside. Although we tend to think in terms of stomach contents, it could also refer to emotional content. Emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, can also be related to the fear of intensely emoting, of fully discharging, vomiting if you will, anger, rage, pain or sorrow; emetophobia, in addition to the fear of vomiting, can also be a fear of the cathartic wailing that can accompany intense emotional discharge, which is called ’emotophobia’ – as distinct from emetophobia.

Vomiting is generally preceded by feelings of nausea and just that alone can trigger a phobic response which then spirals out of control creating a debilitating terror of a physiological process that is though terribly uncomfortable, not in itself debilitating, or harmful, if done “properly.” The proper way to vomit is to let go and let it happen. The body knows what it needs to do and our thoughts about it often just get in the way. Attempts to not vomit only make the anxiety and discomfort more extreme and add to the fear. The intense, severe wrenching, heaving, spasms that accompany vomiting, is a purely cathartic, bodily response. If a person can adopt an attitude of trusting their body to do what it needs to do, the vomiting is completed without undue anxiety or fear.

In addition to the phobic response to nausea, and vomiting itself, there are additional thought patterns that are often attached. It’s not uncommon for people to view vomiting as meaning something is wrong with them, and the corresponding thoughts about that, when in fact, it may mean that something is right. As stated, vomiting is the body’s natural process to ridding itself of poisons, toxins or foreign material. There are times when it is actually advised to induce vomiting to help expel what has been ingested. Despite that intellectual understanding, fear of nausea and vomiting may persist for other reasons.

There are also issues of “control” about vomiting. With the exception of self-induced vomiting, it is something that is out of our control; it happens to us. Granted, we may have eaten bad food…. but, still, the nausea and vomiting come upon us unbid, even if it is to expel rotten food. We feel out of control, and that in itself can often cause high anxiety and panic attack, which can then lead to a phobic response. We may be less frightened of the actual vomiting than we are of being out of control.

The irony is that by letting go and letting it happen, one gains control. By choosing to stop fighting it and, so to speak, go with the flow, one takes command of the situation. By trying to control the situation, one is out of control because it cannot be controlled and the anxiety and panic only increases to phobic and debilitating levels.

Emetophobia may be an irrational fear, but it is nonetheless a palpable one and can, like any phobia, overrun one’s life. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt so astutely pointed out, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s not just the vomiting itself that we fear; we fear the fear of vomiting for it is that fear which translates a natural organic, albeit a very strenuous, process into a hideous monster to be frightened about.

Some of the common interventions for emetophobia are Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Systematic Desensitization, Exposure, Hypnotherapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. You can obtain more information, and support, at the International Emetophobia Society.


The Upside of Anxiety


Anxiety isn’t all bad; there is an upside to anxiety. Anxiety can be viewed to have a functional use. It is not arising out of nothing for no purpose. Anxiety is a kind of low-grade fear; an apprehension. It is a form of caution. It is an awareness of possible threat, of potential danger. This wariness of our environment goes way back and may, in fact, be at least in part, responsible for our survival. The issue with anxiety is not so much about having it as it is about having it in a particular context, a specific setting, a time and a place. In some settings, anxiety would be a sign of natural intelligence; in other settings a symptom of cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are those faulty chains of logic from which we build meanings about our experience. For example, if you were to see a coiled up rope but view it as a snake, you would be anxious, maybe even in panic. If in fact, it were a snake, the anxiety would be intelligent because historically, some snakes are a threat to health and well-being, they are dangerous. But, some snakes are not. One form of cognitive distortion is called ‘overgeneralization’ in which all snakes are interpreted as being dangerous. Another cognitive distortion is ‘illusion’ in which the perception is mis-interpreted, ie, we give it a false meaning. To see the coiled up rope as a snake is an illusion. A mis-interpretation of raw sensory data. But, the mind responds to the interpretation of sensory data, not the sensations themselves.

Anxiety arises from a perceived threat. That interpretation of that perception may be accurate, or it may be inaccurate. That perceived threat, whether factual or fabricated, may also depend upon context, ie, place, time, situation. Anxiety may arise when with certain people, but not with others, at certain places, but not at others. Anxiety becomes panic when this perceived threat is accompanied by further cognitive distortions of extreme danger such as ‘I’m going to die’ or ‘I’m going to fail.’ Of course, ‘dying’ and ‘failing’ must be associated with meanings which are extra-ordinarily frightful. So, a person who finds themselves in a situation which is perceived to be a significant threat, is rightly going to feel anxious. That anxiety is generally dissipated from the action which ensues from a threat, often fight or flight. But, if there is nothing to fight, and nowhere to run, that psychological, and biological, energy we call ‘anxiety’ tends to remain and run in circles.

Anxiety needs to be approached as having a functional role in our lives. We need to be wary, a bit cautious, somewhat skeptical. Interestingly, the phrase ‘be aware’ is just about identical to ‘beware.’ If we can be aware, and a bit beware, our critical thinking is employed and we make distinctions between factual and fabricated threats or dangers. We can begin to see that some of our anxieties are arising from memories, or imaginations, which are not realistic; some are far-fetched and outlandish, some are projections of our own subconscious insecurities and totally unfounded beliefs. We can become frightened of just about anything or anybody. We can become paranoid. Or, we can look at the object of our anxieties and question it, seek evidence of its validity, factuality or accuracy. Going way back, this was a rather spontaneous survival instinct. But, in today’s world of mass advertising, industrialized education and a proclivity towards emotionalism, there can be dozens of perceived threats to our sense of self, including our often overly conditioned beliefs, imprinted upon us from a very early age, by a culture and society in which conflict is all too common.

Certainly, conflict can be anxiety producing. But, it doesn’t have to be. Conflict need not be viewed as a threat or a dangerous situation, though it certainly can be. A person who knows how to interact well with conflict will be far less anxious about it than somebody who believes it is the worst thing in the world. But, what if there is no real conflict? What if the conflict is a fabrication of the mind? What if the threat or danger doesn’t really exist? There is no snake, its just a rope. Then, there would be no functional purpose of the anxiety, and there would be no anxiety.

If you are having experiences of anxiety, it is in your interest to examine the validity, accuracy and evidence of exactly how you are interpreting your experience, either within your environment, or within your mind. Are these experiences, which are being interpreted as dangerous, whether objective or subjective, a genuine, authentic threat? Once the factuality is determined, appropriate action can be taken, and then the anxiety will subside. Or, perhaps it will be discovered that there is no real threat, there is no real danger, and there is, then, no anxiety.

Look around. Look inside. Is there a real and immediate threat or danger? If so, do something about it. The anxiety is there to prompt you towards action which will increase your safety, and thereby free you from the anxiety. If there is no real or immediate threat or danger, the anxiety is based on illusion, and you can choose to dis-illusion yourself, and be freed from your anxiety.

for additional posts about anxiety, view A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety and Dialing Down Anxiety


A Brief Love Language Primer

Love language is a term used to convey the idea that we communicate our love, and receive love messages from others, in particular ways. Whereas one person may show love by words of affection, another may show it by acts of service. It’s a good idea to know not only our own primary love language, but that of our partner as well. It helps when both parties in a relationship speak the same language, or at least can speak the language of the other. The diagram below depicts each major love language in terms of behavior.


love language

This concept of love languages is based on the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Wikipedia explains it as such: “to discover another person’s love language, one must observe the way they express love to others, and analyze what they complain about most often and what they request from their significant other most often. He theorizes that people tend to naturally give love in the way that they prefer to receive love, and better communication between couples can be accomplished when one can demonstrate caring to the other person in the love language the recipient understands. An example would be if a husband’s love language is acts of service, he may be confused when he does the laundry for his wife and she doesn’t perceive that as an act of love, viewing it as simply performing household duties, because the love language she comprehends is words of affirmation (verbal affirmation that he loves her). She may try to use what she values, words of affirmation, to express her love to him, which he would not value as much as she does. If she understands his love language and mows the lawn for him, he perceives it in his love language as an act of expressing her love for him; likewise, if he tells her he loves her, she values that as an act of love”


Healing a Broken Heart

Guy Winch is a licensed psychologist specializing in emotional health. He has written several books on the subject as well as some around the topic of healing a broken heart. In this short video, Dr. Winch outlines the salient points in healing a broken heart, an experience that just about everybody experiences at some time in their lives.


The 7 Cardinal Sins of Thinking