The mysophobia is the pathological fear of dirt, pollution and germs. This phobia, like all others, can seriously alter your life, but the good news is that it has a cure.
If you suffer from this phobia, you are afraid of getting sick because of a virus or bacteria, you wash your hands permanently or you bathe many times a day to get rid of dirt and microbes.
Many people with misophobia also wear gloves before touching things, permanently disinfecting the kitchen and bathroom, and some even avoid leaving their homes for fear of germs.
Experts believe that misophobia is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), since in misophobia compulsive behaviors (washing hands, showering, disinfecting everything permanently) as a result of pathological fear occur .
In other words, if you suffer from this phobia you have obsessive thoughts about dirt, pollution and germs, and then you act accordingly, having compulsive behaviors, which you can not avoid.
The difference between people who are overly concerned about pollution and misophobia is the ability to tolerate uncertainty.
For example, if you get on the subway and take the railing, there may be germs on the surface, which will be transferred to your hands. It is a doubt, an uncertainty, because you do not know if there really are dangerous germs there. But you can live with it. You get over it, and as soon as you get home, you wash your hands and that’s it.
But a misophobe is not able to tolerate this uncertainty. The feeling of insecurity causes extreme anxiety and the need to do something about it, immediately. Then he removes a disinfectant wipe from his pocket to clean the railing. Or directly, do not use the metro or other means of public transport.
Causes of misophobia
Although the causes may be several, many phobias have their origin in a traumatic event that occurred in childhood. Other times the phobia can be acquired by imitative behavior.
For example, if, when you were little, your mother was always obsessed with cleaning and disinfecting, this may have provoked in you the phobia towards germs and dirt.
Sometimes, in people predisposed by uncontrolled anxiety, misophobia can appear as a result of reading or watching on TV many news related to contagious diseases, or watching movies whose plot revolves around these issues.
Symptoms of misophobia
People with mild misophobia probably only feel tense when they think they are in a polluted environment, such as a public restroom or hospital.
Other people have more intense symptoms, such as sweating, tachycardia, desire to flee, weakness, dizziness, and may even have panic attacks if they think they are surrounded by germs without being able to do anything about it.
Many patients with misophobia are aware that they have a problem, although not all of them act in the same way. Some minimize their symptoms or try to hide them, while others seek professional help right away.
You probably have misophobia if:
The obsession with contamination and germs is invading your life and most of the things you do in the day have to do with your fear of microbes.
If you have cleaning or disinfection rituals that take you more than one hour per day.
If these actions are the only ones that alleviate (momentarily) your anxiety.
If you know that your fear is exaggerated but you can not avoid washing and cleaning everything over and over again anyway.
If you present these symptoms, there is no doubt, what you should do is consult a professional right away, because there are treatments that can help you to control this obsession and lead a more normal life.
If you have misophobia, you fear contamination with the germs of other people, and you will probably avoid social situations such as work meetings, outings with friends or family celebrations.
Or in the event that you attend such events, you will surely avoid physical contact or the proximity of other people and you will wash your hands much more frequently than usual.
Over time, these behaviors can isolate you socially.
Your friends and your family probably will not understand what is happening to you, maybe they think you are sullen or even that you are paranoid. Misophobia could then lead to social phobia or agoraphobia. In other words, you no longer want to leave the house or see anyone.
Treatment for misophobia
All specific phobias have treatments in common, the main ones being cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. Other treatments that can help are relaxation techniques and drugs.
But it is important to note that before starting any type of treatment, the patient must be evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, to arrive at a correct diagnosis and in this way, determine the appropriate treatment for each case.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
It is a kind of psychotherapy in which the therapist tries to modify the patient’s behaviors when faced with a stimulus; in the case of misophobia, when he thinks he is exposing himself to germs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the patient to control his anxiety and change the negative and irrational thoughts related to his phobia, for other more positive and realistic thoughts.
In most cases, exposure therapy is also included as part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
As the name indicates, in this treatment the patient is exposed to the stimulus that causes his symptoms. Gradual exposure is usually used, that is, treatment is started with short sessions and mild stimuli and the degree of exposure is gradually increased.
When the patient manages to face what causes his fear, the anxiety begins to diminish, because the dreaded consequences do not appear, and the body begins to “understand” that in reality there is no danger.
In the therapy of exposure is very important the therapist’s support, which will guide the patient during this long journey, helping him to control his anxiety and continue with the treatment.
All techniques that help control anxiety, as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing techniques, yoga and the meditation can be helpful in relieving symptoms of mysophobia.
The anti – anxiety medications also help control mysophobia.
The dose and the period during which the patient can use this type of medication will be defined by the psychiatrist in conjunction with the psychotherapist, so that the medication does not prevent the patient from learning to naturally control their anxiety, which is what is sought with exposure therapy .
The important role of the family
Family members play a fundamental role in the treatment of patients with misophobia, so as not to reinforce the disorder and help it to get ahead.
For example, if a misphobic woman does not want to drink in a glass because she supposes that it is contaminated and her husband washes it for her, she is harming the patient. It is a difficult situation to cope with in some cases, because the person with misophobia is very distressed and family members can give in.
In any case, the family can be a support to help the phobic to control his anxiety and overcome his fears. The people who overcome this type of disorders more easily are those who have good family support, according to experts.
Those who live alone or in isolation will hardly find the right way out of their problem. So if someone in your family suffers misophobia, do not hesitate to accompany him in his consultations with health professionals.
If your family member still does not recognize that washing their hands 30 times a day is not normal, your role will be to calmly and affectionately signal them whenever you have the chance, at some point you will become aware of your misophobia and probably ask for your help.
As you can see, misophobia is a problem that can be overcome. Do not hesitate to ask if you have symptoms. And if it’s someone from your family, the attitude you take is also important.
Some real cases
Did you know that the phobia of germs affects thousands of Spaniards? According to the President of the Association of Patients with OCD , 0.8% of the Spanish population suffers from OCD and of these, 50% have misophobia.
Some of these people get to wash their hands 40 times in 20 minutes and burn the clothes after a single use, if they think it could have been contaminated with some type of germ.
This comments the husband of a lady with misophobia
My wife does not even let her family get close to her, because of her irrational fear of being contaminated. His obsession with germs is so intense that he often throws away the clothes he has worn only once, he does not go to crowded places, like a shopping center for example, and he does not visit his mother either.
Her misophobia affects all of us who live with her. We must take precautions when entering the bathroom or bedroom, we must enter naked and leave the clothes in specific places, so as not to “spread germs all over the house”.
She believes that viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through the air or on clothing, and associates contamination to certain places or people.
The misophobes feel, think and act by focusing primarily on their fear. Your whole life revolves around eliminating germs. They believe that what they do is never enough to avoid contagion or contamination.
This is what happens to Lola
His hands are damaged from using too much bleach, which he uses all the time, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. Her husband and children must take off their shoes and undress when they enter the house, because otherwise, she suffers enormous anguish. His activity focuses on cleaning, rubbing and starting over. She always lacks hours a day to complete the disinfection, and is never satisfied.
As you can see, this is a case of severe misophobia. However, there are even worse cases.
Like Samantha, a girl from England who died because of her misophobia and OCD; her parents did not know how to help her.
She was a law student when the symptoms began, and she left the career. His obsession with germs was so intense that his parents had to wear gloves to touch anything in the house.
He forced them to take off their street clothes when they entered the home, leaving only their underwear. Of course, when the symptoms intensified Samantha did not leave her house, nor did she let anyone in, except her parents.
He spent long hours in the shower and his skin was damaged, probably by excessive washing.
Her parents, both septuagenarians with health problems, tried to help her, but Samantha refused to leave the house to go to therapy, nor did she allow any therapist to enter the home.
At a certain moment she accepted to enter the hospital, but once admitted there, she did not receive the help she really needed, because her health insurance did not cover psychotherapy.
Samantha died at the age of 40, due to an infection in her skin that worsened and ended with her condition.
Of course, these cases are really extreme, but nobody has to get to this point to seek help. You do not have to live the rest of your life with this fear. Consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist (or both), as they will surely tell you the way to go to get out of this situation and have a better life.