Rupophobia (or Misophobia): Fear Of Dirt And Its Causes

Human beings can become afraid of all types of stimuli, from harmless animals related to others that posed a threat to our ancestors to modern means of transportation and even water or feces. We speak of a phobia when the fear of any entity or situation is very intense and chronic.

The fear of dirt, which is known as “rupophobia” or “misophobia”, is one of the many phobias that have been identified. Although it is not one of the most frequent, it is interesting to analyze rupophobia due to its clinical characteristics, such as its relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the high degree of affectation it can cause.

Rupophobia or mysophobia: fear of dirt

At a diagnostic level, rupophobia It falls into the category “Specific phobia” described in the DSM and CIE manuals. Phobias are intense and irrational fears that cause significant discomfort and/or interfere with the normal functioning of the sufferer, in many cases through active avoidance of what is feared.

Specific phobias are considered anxiety disorders, such as social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) and agoraphobia. People with these problems feel very afraid of the presence or anticipation of the phobic stimulus; In agoraphobia and specific phobias, it is common for panic attacks to occur.

In the case of rupophobia, the phobic stimulus is dirt understood in a broad way.: while some people fear specific types of “dirt”, such as microbes (in which case we would talk about germophobia or bacillophobia), others are afraid of the possibility of coming into contact with anything they perceive as potentially contaminating.

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Relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, often abbreviated as “OCD”, is characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts or images that cause emotional tension, while compulsions are behavioral or cognitive rituals used to reduce this anxiety.

One of the most common types of obsessive-compulsive disorder is related to dirt: obsessive ideas have to do with the possibility of contaminating oneself or others, while compulsive rituals are associated with cleanliness. A typical example of a cleansing ritual is washing your hands a specific number of times in a row.

In cases where they coincide symptoms of OCD and specific phobia of dirt The diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder is usually imposed, since rupophobia is usually a secondary symptom. However, if the irrational fear is more significant than the obsessions or compulsions, a primary diagnosis of specific phobia would be justified.

Common symptoms

Rupophobic people experience intense feelings of anxiety and fear when they come into contact with the phobic stimulus. These lead them to want to “escape” from dirt, mainly by moving away from it or eliminating it from their body, as well as trying to avoid it; For this reason, they can isolate themselves in a practically pristine home.

Sometimes anxiety becomes so intense that symptoms appear. episodes known as panic attacks or panic attacks. According to the DSM-IV, the symptoms of these crises, which include both physiological and cognitive manifestations, are the following:

Rupophobia can cause significant difficulties since, unlike other phobic stimuli such as airplanes and big cats, dirt is omnipresent in everyday life. Therefore, in severe cases of mysophobia, anxiety can be practically constant, also depending on the breadth of the personal concept of dirt.

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Causes of fear of dirt

Research on anxiety disorders suggests that the degree of physiological reactivity has an important hereditary component; This would explain the greater biological predisposition that some people have to develop this type of alterations. However, the way in which this anxiety manifests varies depending on the specific case.

Most irrational fears are acquired as consequence of one or more traumatic experiences. In the case of rupophobia this may be less common than in other specific phobias, although it is technically possible for contact with dirt to cause problematic health changes.

Vicarious learning and modeling can be very influential in the fear of dirt. So, people whose parents were very concerned about cleanliness They would be more likely to develop this type of phobia rather than other anxiety disorders. Similarly, cleaning OCD usually occurs in people who have been raised this way.

If we conceive rupophobia from an evolutionary perspective, the most logical hypothesis is that the predisposition to feel fear of contamination, and therefore rejection of potentially polluting objects, would have been adaptive to prevent contagions and infections. Something similar happens with the fear of wounds or animals such as rats and worms.

Whatever the origin of the fear of dirt, it is important to keep in mind that avoidance of contact with the phobic stimulus It is usually the main maintenance factor in any type of fear. This avoidance is normally sustained by unrealistic expectations that should be refuted through non-anxious approaches to the stimulus.