In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatments of Rupophobia.
Rupophobia is the irrational fear of dirt or defecation. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. Someone suffering from this type of specific phobia suffer from extreme anxiety when exposed to dirt or filth. They might even experience high levels of anxiety when thinking about dirt.
This extreme anxiety can lead to one suffering from full-blown panic attacks if the anxiety worsens.
To lower this anxiety, people suffering from Rupophobia will make exhaustive efforts to avoid any possible contact with dirt. This act of avoidance produces pleasant feelings in the person, encouraging him to continue his actions in order to avoid the unpleasant feelings of anxiety.
The person repeatedly avoids his fear stimuli which maintains his phobia. This is because the satisfactory feelings this act of avoidance induces proves to the sufferer that their fear is justified or the stimuli heir fearful of is potentially threatening to them. The measures they take in order to elude their anxiety are because they want to escape any situation where they might encounter dirt, which they see as potentially harmful to them.
However, one’s act of avoidance can transform into compulsions. Someone suffering from Rupophobia is very likely to develop Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) in the future.
As the DSM-V suggest, one’s anxiety, that gives rise to these acts of avoidance will affect their social and occupational functioning. For example, someone who has developed Rupophobia will avoid going to gardens or play areas because of the fear of encountering dirt.
They might not leave their homes, whether for educational purposes or jobs, for fear of getting exposed to dirt. Children suffering from Rupophobia will not be able to play with their friends in gardens or go on school trips because they are fearful of having an exposure with dirt or filth. They may even loose friends or not be able to make any.
Under these circumstances, someone suffering from Rupophobia will isolate themselves in their homes, so can protect themselves from their fear stimuli in every way possible. This self-isolation, along with less or no contact with the outside world/people can cause depression.
Rupophobia has a close connection with Mysophobia (fear of germs). This is because in both phobias, the fear is of being contaminated with pathogens or germs that dirt or other objects might contain. Thus, someone with Mysophobia will also avoid coming in contact with dirt and one suffering from Rupophobia will be fearful of getting infected by germs through dirt.
Rupophobia is the irrational fear of dirt, defecation or filth. The word originated from the Greek word ‘rupo’ meaning dirt/filth and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. It is also known as Rypophobia.
Symptoms of Rupophobia
Dirt and filth can be the reasons for a number of infections and disease. Normally, people feel disgusted or worried when they come in contact with dirt. However, unlike people suffering from Rupophobia they don’t take these feelings of disgust to be the reason of their anxiety.
People suffering from Rupophobia take their feelings of disgust and fear of contracting a disease to the next level of anxiousness.
In Rupophobia, the fear is not wholly irrational however, the exaggerated sense of threat and anxiety is what makes the sufferer unable to think logically or rationalize their thoughts and actions. The anxiety can be so extreme that one has panic attacks.
In Rupophobia, the sufferer goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations. They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint/experience panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)- control their anxiety in a more counterproductive way.
Physiological symptoms that one undergoes in Rupophobia are:
- Extreme anxiety when coming in contact with dirt
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about getting exposed to dirt
- Frequent washing or cleaning of objects or things that might come in contact with dirt
- Inability to control anxiety
- Full-blow panic attacks
- Avoiding going out of the house
- Indulging in time consuming activities to protect/prepare for getting exposed to dirt
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus).
- Feeling of restlessness
- Drying up of mouth
In order for someone to diagnosed with Rupophobia, one must experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms, including anxiety.
Causes of Rupophobia
Rupophobia, like all other specific phobias has no known cause. These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body. Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future. This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of ones’ parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship. According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Rupophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of dirt.
As mentioned earlier, one can develop Rupophobia as a result of Mysophobia (fear of germs). Another phobia which can cause this irrational fear of dirt is fear of Thanatophobia (fear of death).
This is because in many religions people are buried in graves, filled with dirt when they die. Someone suffering from Thanatophobia might associate death with being buried in dirt, thus causing Rupophobia.
An environmental trigger event can be for example, a traumatic childhood experience with dirt. As a child, someone might’ve developed a health problem by contracting germs or infections while playing in dirt. Or, maybe they heard someone else, in their family or outside, who suffered an illness because they were infected by or harmed in any way when exposed to dirt.
A child with a fear of insects can also develop Rupophobia because dirt is home to a number of bacteria and or insects. Some can be dangerous while others are not.
Thus, Rupophobia is caused by both a genetic predisposition and environmental trigger events.
Treatment of Rupophobia
Rupophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Rupophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Rupophobia is defined as the irrational fear of dirt. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about getting in contact with dirt. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Rupophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of dirt in a garden for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is walking on grass, a medium where dirt can be found. During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a dirt. For example, by telling him to sow a seed.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of dirt, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Rupophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Rupophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about dirt.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Rupophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Rupophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read from
- Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast
by Barry McDonagh and BMD Publishing
- The Anxiety Journal: Exercises to Soothe Stress and Eliminate Anxiety Wherever You Are: A Guided Journal
by Corinne Sweet
- Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now
by Jill Weber PhD
- Moving Beyond Anxiety: 12 Practical Strategies to Renew Your Mind
by David Chadwick
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How do I overcome my fear of dirt?
Consult a doctor (psychologist/psychiatrist). They will help one by a number of different therapies which include exposure therapy, CBT and yoga. These helps one get rid of their anxiety and phobia of dirt.
Q2) Do I have Rupophobia?
For someone to be diagnosed with Rupophobia, one must experience extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. An individual can also experience panic attacks along with other symptoms such as, anxiety when exposed to dirt, nausea, hyperventilation etc.
Q3) How is Rupophobia caused?
Like every other specific phobia, Rupophobia is caused either due to a genetic predisposition or an environmental trigger event.
Q4) Is Rupophobia similar to Mysophobia?
We can assume both phobias to be similar because both are specific phobias. Their etiologies and causes, to an extent are similar. One can cause the other to develop.