Well a good start is to know what exactly emetophobia is. Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. Sounds quite simple doesn’t it, most of us hate being sick, so a fear of it is pretty easy to understand. But people with emetophobia go to some amazing lengths to avoid being sick; they restrict their diets, some refuse to become pregnant, they avoid many social situations and develop obsessive compulsive habits when it comes to food. To put it into perspective for you, many people living with emetophobia say that they would rather die than be sick; it is not unusual for an emetophobic to have trained their body to not be sick for a decade or more.
As with most people with a fear that reaches phobia levels, people living with emetophobia are really, really good at hiding their fear and it is only through close observation of their behavior that you could tell they are emetophobic. They will have really great, plausible excuses for not going to this event, or that event, or why they check expiration dates obsessively at the supermarket.
What makes it harder for them is that emetophobia is not known on the level of disorders like anorexia or bulimia which means that this what emetophobics strange behavior regarding food is often mistaken for. In fact emetophobia is the 5th most common phobia, but you would not know this by the general awareness of it. This often makes it difficult for people to get help with emetophobia.
The reason it is so important for you to recognize if someone around you is suffering from emetophobia, is that unless they can find some way to share their secret, they are unlikely to be brave enough to seek treatment or make the first steps on the road to recovery. By recognizing that someone around you has the characteristics of emetophobia, you could offer them a lifeline; giving them the space to share their fear.
There is a quick exercise which may help in confirming whether the person you suspect has emetophobia actually suffers from it.
- Sit with the person you suspect has emetophobia and eat a yoghurt or ice cream; something that would not be unusual to share
- Eat some of the food (whatever it is)
- After you have eaten a small amount offer them the same spoon you have been eating from and watch their reaction.
Although many people would refuse the offer, perhaps wrinkle their nose or give you a ‘you are kidding’ look, the reaction of an emetophobic person would be pretty obvious. They would have a look on their face like you had threatened to kill a member of their family or maybe had just run over their pet. A look of shocked, disgusted disbelief; they would literally look like it was the most disgusting thing they had ever heard. They might even try to leave where you are sitting, or look really uncomfortable to remain. Either way their reaction will be completely out of proportion and that is because it is based on an irrational fear.
If you try this and the person you know does have this reaction, do not freak out. Try and get them to share with you, maybe introduce the topic of fears and share some of your fears with them, convince them you will not reject or be disgusted by them. Also, check out my site for more information about how you help get treatment for emetophobia, there are simple exercises which could help them get over some of the symptoms.