A couple months ago, I wrote a mini series of posts about calming down emetophobia, where I shared
I’m seeing that these posts are getting a steady trickle of traffic from Google, but I’ve also noticed that people have come across these posts asking Google questions more along the lines of: “How to support someone with emetophobia” or “How do I help someone with emetophobia” etc. As I often say, I like to know that when people come here looking for something, they can find it, as long as it is realistic and also in line with what I want my blog to be. And I thought this would be a very important topic to talk about as well, because despite it is a pretty common phobia, it is not very well understood and must be particularly difficult to understand for people who haven’t experienced any specific phobia.
In this post, I’m just going to do some brainstorming and list all sorts of things that come to my mind that you can do, or that you should not do, to help and support your a friend or your child or your partner or anyone else in your life with emetophobia. If you have any other ideas, strategies that you have used and that work well in your relationship with an emetophobic, or if you’re an emetophobic yourself and have something to add, feel free to share.
- Ask the person directly. This is a very obvious one, but I think it’s very important. While there are a lot of people with emetophobia and their experiences have a lot in common, we’re all different people, and if you’re helping a specific person, it’s always a good idea to ask them how you can help, especially if you have a strong and close relationship and can have a very honest, open discussion. Sometimes though, answering such a question can be very difficult, for example if the person in question is currently in a panic mode, has difficulty opening up, or is confused and unsure of what she would find most helpful, or if it’s a small child. In such cases, additional questions might help, for example: “Would you like to talk about your fear?” “Would you like to go out and do something fun?” “Would it be helpful if I gave you a hug?” etc.
- Educate yourself. Sometimes, for people with a phobia, even talking about it may be difficult and/or triggering. Therefore, while it is important that you know the nature of your loved one’s fear if you want to help effectively and are serious about it, it is not always the best idea to throw dozens of questions at them like what exactly they’re afraid of in vomiting and why. Yes, it is important to ask questions if and when the other person is comfortable with it, and talk about the problem, but this needs to be done in the right circumstances and both you and your loved one will find it a lot easier if you as the supporter do your homework and read possibly indepth about this phobia. Since you’re reading this, you’re clearly on the right track. 🙂 Learn about how and why phobias develop, what are the symptoms of emetophobia, what are possible therapies, common triggers for people with this fear, read personal accounts of people who have this condition etc. This way, once you start seriously talking about the problem with your loved one, you’ll be better equipped to help and have a much clearer idea of what you’re dealing with.
- Listen and ask questions. If a person themself wants to talk about their fear with you, it will surely mean a lot to them and show how much you care if you’ll listen carefully, ask questions and try not to judge. If the person doesn’t initiate such conversations themself, you could try doing it yourself at the right moment. By the right moment I mean that it would be best that you try to raise the topic while the person is doing reasonably well, so not necessarily right after their fear has been triggered by something. That will make it more likely that they’ll share more and be able to think a little more rationally about their fear than what they would be capable of in the midst of panic, I feel especially when it comes to children. Don’t press them too much if they’re reluctant, but gently try again after some time. If you’ll continue to show them care and patience, it’s very likely that at some point they will open up, because dealing with something like this alone is difficult, and they’ll see that they can trust you. Ask questions like when did the problem start for them, how does it affect them or how does it make them feel, so you can get a clear picture of their specific case of this phobia.
- Distract. Talking about our fears is a good thing, but because a phobic’s brain tends to spin around their fear all the time anyway, sometimes all that they need is the exact opposite. Often, when someone is being very anxious due to emetophobia, it’ll be more beneficial to talk to them about something that they find interesting or try to make them laugh or occupy them with something or get out of the house, rather than focus on the emetophobia together with them. With children and teenagers, make sure that they have things to do with their free time – interests they can develop, extracurricular activities to go to, friends to hang out with, things to look forward to each week. –
- Don’t minimise. If your loved one shares with you about their fear of vomit, take it seriously. If it’s a kid, don’t try to tell them or yourself that they’ll grow out of it or that it’s just a phase. Yes, it may well be the case, as emetophobia often gets better with age, but for now, it’s still there, causing the child a lot of suffering, and it needs to be taken care of appropriately. Children don’t have the same idea about the future that adults do, so telling them that at some point they won’t have emetophobia anymore (which you cannot know for sure anyway) doesn’t do much. Don’t try to make it seem normal, like: “Well, everyone is a little afraid of vomit, it’s not pleasant for anyone”. There’s a difference between being a little afraid or not liking something and having a phobia.
- Don’t make jokes about it. It sounds like an obvious thing that would only require some basic empathy and emotional maturity to figure out, but that’s something that surprisingly many people that I have come across with all sorts of phobias have to deal with from those who have no phobias and consider it funny how trivial some people’s fears are. Do not make pretend gagging noises around an emetophobic, joke that you have poisoned their food, say the words of which you know that freak them out on purpose, show them videos featuring vomit, vomiting or vomiting sounds, joke that you’re going to vomit etc. etc. etc. to see their reactions. Imagine such a thing: you’re abducted by aliens, and they find you particularly interesting because you have the ability to feel pain, which they do not. So they test all sorts of things on you whether they’ll cause you pain and how much, which obviously causes you a lot of pain and fear and torture, but they don’t really know what pain is like so they don’t know how much suffering the things they’re doing are causing you. That’s very similar to what’s going on when you’re making fun of someone who has a phobia that you don’t have.
- Help them learn various coping skills they could use. This is particularly relevant if you’re helping a child/teenager. I’m talking about both coping skills specifically for emetophobia, as well as anxiety in general. For example you could help them learn to observe their body and differentiate between what might be anxiety vs. physical sickness, or give them a comfort item like a blanket or a stuffed animal that they could snuggle into when feeling anxious. Make sure that they know they’re not aloone, that this is a common fear, that it has a name and that there are known ways to overcome it.
- Don’t draw too much unnecessary attention to the fear. When you see that the person is very anxious and you know or suspect it might be due to emetophobia, don’t ask things like “Do you think you’re going to be sick?” “Do you have nausea?” “Did you vomit?!” Don’t share stories with them about people you know who vomited in such and such circumstances. I am absolutely sure your intentions are the best, but things like this really aren’t helpful. For many emetophobics, the mere word vomit is a huge trigger and it scares them when they hear it, and when someone asks something like “Are you going to be sick?” it might feel like after this it’s inevitable for them to be sick. It’s irrational, but that’s the nature of phobias, after all. If you ask: “Do you have nausea?” that’s pretty much bound to make an emetophobic nauseated right this very minute if they weren’t before. Also, despite it may seem like a paradox, there are a lot of emetophobics who very rarely, if ever, vomit, so it’s not like they’re scared of it because they’re so unlucky that they do it ultra frequently, therefore you don’t really need to worry all the time that they will, because they worry about it more than enough.
- Respect their quirks, even if they don’t make sense. Like I just said, people with emetophobia might have a fear not only around vomiting alone, but also some or all words relating to it. They might be very reluctant to use it themselves and use acronyms like v* or n* or some code words. They may also feel very anxious if those words are used around them by others. They may also have a lot of foods that they don’t eat for fear that they will make them vomit, wash their hands gazillion times a day, have some compulsions that they believe will prevent them from vomiting, avoid you when you’ve had a stomach bug etc. All this may seem very silly and strange to you, but I’m sure it will affect your relationship very well if you try to be accepting of this, rather than making comments about how irrational and nonsensical this is or purposefully using their trigger words around them or serving them food that you know they do not eat. Of course what they’re doing isn’t healthy, but it will have to be their choice to decide when they want to face their fears and start healing, rather than yours or anyone else’s, and it’s definitely not an easy one, so it might take a LOT of time sometimes until they make this decision.
So, there you have it! I hope you’ll find this list helpful and that it gave you some ideas as for what to do.
What else do you think should be on it? 🙂