What is Ablutophobia?
Ablutophobia is an unrealistic or irrational fear of bathing or washing, that is associated with a traumatic event or a negative stimulus. It hinders the normal function of a person’s life and exhausts his capacities of socialization and normal functioning.
Ablutophobia is an irrational fear of washing or bathing. People who suffer from this condition face social anxiety due to bad body odor and an unkempt physical appearance.
Ablutophobia falls under the category of specific phobias. It is more prevalent in women than in men. It is also commonly found in children who are aversive to baths and do not like to take them.
It can hinder the daily life activities of socialization, going to work, or even form new relations with people. These people avoid situations where bathing, swimming or similar activities are being entertained.
People who suffer from ablutophobia find it very hard to clean themselves and can go on for days without a shower or a wash. They would not even prefer being cleaned or washed with the aid of someone else.
There may be many reasons for Ablutophobia to develop. It could be due to a traumatic experience or hereditary as well.
Symptoms of Ablutophobia
The people suffering from Ablutophobia have a strong body odor due to lack of cleanliness and bathing, but they cover it with strong perfumes and deodorants. They can put on extra makeup to hide the dirt marks on their face and their overall appearance is ill kept and unclean.
The symptoms of Ablutophobia may exist with other disorders too, especially anxiety related disorders. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one such disorder. The person may have recurrent thoughts of fear and the associated anxiety when the word bath or even water might pop up. It can also exist with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
The symptoms may include
• Intense fear or anxiety
• Rapid heartbeat
• Difficulty in breathing
• Intense dread while bathing
• Intense dread near bath tubs
• Tantrums in children
• Obsessive thoughts
• Mood swings
These symptoms can physically be observed and monitored. They can even bring about a full-blown panic attack.
Causes of Ablutophobia
The most significant causes of Ablutophobia are genetics, psychological trauma and environmental factors.
The Genetic factor determines that if there is a psychological illness or a mental disorder in the family, chances are that the offspring/s might develop a form of either the same disorder or any other.
Similarly, is the case with phobias. If there is a family history of anxiety disorders, there is a high probability that the later generation might have one form or the other of anxiety disorders.
There is also a higher rate of imitation in children where developing fears are concerned. If the child sees his parents or an older sibling being scared of an object or animal then chances are that they too will develop the same fears in the future.
Mostly all phobias are triggered by a traumatic event in the past. The event is so debilitating that it leaves a profound impact on the mind of the sufferer. This impact develops intense feelings of fear and dread from a totally benign stimulus.
In case of Ablutophobia the sufferer may have been exposed to a distressing situation that involved water. There could be a near inevitable drowning event, either in the bathtub or near a water body.
It especially happens when parents leave their child near a bathtub unattended and the child falls into it, although being rescued on time, but still the trauma of those moments develops an intense fear for the future. Such an event leaves the person scared of bathtubs and taking baths for a long time to come.
There have been cases where a person has been sexually or physically harassed in the bathtub or swimming pool or in a place with water in the vicinity. Due to such drastically dreadful events the person develops intense anxiety related to bathing; either taking a bath themselves or even the thought of taking a bath can be extensively distressing.
If the traumatic event is left untreated or the symptoms of anxiety are not acknowledged then this phobia can reach to an alarming level. Therefore, people who see symptoms of any kind of fear related to bathing or cleaning with water in their children should seek help or guidance from a professional.
The cause of Ablutophobia can also be explained through the behavior model. When a neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditional stimulus, a new response is generated. This is classical conditioning. And phobias like Ablutophobia develops through this very easily.
When a person experiences harm (unconditional stimulus) while during a bath (neutral stimulus) or in a bathtub, then the two combine to form fear of bathing or washing.
When such irrational fears or behaviors are reinforced with positive reinforcers, they get permanent.
Treatment of Ablutophobia
There are various effective treatments for Ablutophobia that have proved beneficial for the patients and have enabled them to resume their normal activities.
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
This therapy enables the client to modify his thoughts to bring about a change in his behavior. This type of therapy works best, because if the thoughts or cognitions remain unchanged then there will be no lasting impact on behavior.
Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations. Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior. Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.
For the treatment of Ablutophobia the therapist segregates the problem into parts. These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions. Realistic and unrealistic thoughts are then determined, so that the unrealistic thoughts are taken over by the more realistic thoughts.
The goal of therapy is the application of the learnt strategies to everyday life. The duration of treatment is short and the effects are long lasting.
2. Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)
In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the phobic situation gradually with varying durations of time. Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.
In Ablutophobia the client is exposed to a bath or a bathtub filled with water. Initially the duration of exposure to the bath is short and subsequently it is increased, till the time the bathtub or the bathing per se does not pose any threat.
It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s. The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’
This type of therapy is most effective in treating phobias. Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client. Then the client is asked to present a list that has a hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most.
The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:
a) In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine
b) In vivo – where the client is taken to the feared stimulus in reality
The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.
This continues till the bath, as is the case in Ablutophobia no longer poses a threat.
3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.
It usually happens to the best of us that we glide through our days without focusing on how we feel, what we actually see, hear or even smell and touch. In short, we do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.
We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. Mindfulness means what goes on inside and outside of ourselves, moment by moment, says the former Director of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Professor Mark Williams.
In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!
In Ablutophobia treatment, the client is made aware to focus on his thoughts when he is in the presence of the phobic stimulus. Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms.
They are taught to ‘notice the daily’s’- this way they experience what material touches them, the taste and texture of what they are eating. Subsequently, they will notice the actual bathing scenario and their reaction to the fear.
They learn to watch or name their thoughts, how the thoughts unfold physically in front of them. Therefore, when the person suffering from Ablutophobia is taught to watch his thoughts, he is better able to see for himself what he is scared of.
In Mindfulness various techniques of Yoga can also be helpful.
Meditation is one of the effective ways of treating Ablutophobia through the deep breathing exercises. The client is taught to pay attention to his breathing – how the muscles contract during inhalation and the way they relax during exhalation.
For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts. The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.
The client will meditate during the exposure to his bath. His thought of drowning or being harmed will evade once he focuses on his body, the sensations the touch of water present in his body and how (harmless) the water is to his touch.
5. Self-Help Groups
These groups are comprised of individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias. They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.
The members of the groups assist one another in finding out the best possible technique to deal with their respective phobias. This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering. Thus, the chances of self-improvement and catering to own anxieties for ramifications becomes effective.
6. Changing Lifestyle
People suffering from Ablutophobia are encouraged to alter their lifestyles. Instead of following a monotony and being stuck in the same vicious cycle of fear and anxiety, the client is motivated to try new things out.
• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:
Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.
• Indulging in an exercise regime:
Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
• Altering eating and drinking habits:
Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem. This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum. With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.
• Improving the sleep cycle:
When we get proper rest, our concentration improves and indulging in negatives lessens. In Ablutophobia, the client is asked to alter his sleeping patterns so that improved sleep patterns can be developed.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that Ablutophobia is a distressing condition caused by a traumatic event that left the client fearful of one of the most integral parts of staying healthy, i.e., bathing.
The sufferer experiences physical as well as psychological symptoms of anxiety and should seek the various forms of therapies and life altering exercises to get rid of his phobic condition.
What mostly people want to know about Ablutophobia
1. What is Ablutophobia?
Ablutophobia is an unrealistic fear of bathing or getting cleaned with water.
2. What causes Ablutophobia?
Ablutophobia is caused by exposure to a trauma or is predisposed in the body genetically.
3. What is the fear of taking a bath?
The fear of taking a bath is called Ablutophobia.
4. Can I die of not showering?
One cannot die without a shower, but can smell really bad and the skin can develop rashes or break out can occur due to the unclean bacteria present on the skin.
5. Why do people avoid bathing?
People avoid bathing because either they suffer from Ablutophobia (fear of taking a bath) or they are too lazy to indulge in the act of bathing. It could also be that they have a sensitive skin issue that flares up with water.
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1. NICE. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/
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