Ablutophobia is the excessive fear of bathing, washing or cleaning. People with this fear are afraid of taking a bath or sometimes even touching water. The word Ablutophobia comes from the Latin ablutere meaning ‘washing or cleaning off’ and Greek word phobos meaning deep aversion or fear.
Nearly 66% of Americans are known to take a bath every day. In Europe though, many people do not bathe daily. The fear of bathing is actually seen more in European individuals and it was also prevalent in the 16th century when people bathed only once a week. Today, bathing and washing every day is considered normal, although a daily shower may not be necessary.
Let us study some facts, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for Ablutophobia.
- Queen Elizabeth I of England once famously announced that she took a bath about once a month, ‘whether or not she needed it’. She wasn’t an Ablutophobe; in fact, she was one of the cleanest people in history. But bathing facilities just weren’t as commonplace then as they are today and in Europe many people still avoid bathing daily.
- There is a song by New Zealand artist, Sheep, Dog & Wolf, called Ablutophobia.
- In 2006, the play called ‘Mistakes Madeline Made’ depicted a character that developed Ablutophobia.
- Popular sitcom Friends featured the phobia in an episode titled ‘The One with Joey’s Dirty Day’.
- 24% Americans, in a 2014 survey, admitted to not washing their hands after using a public toilet.
- The fear of bathing or washing is more common in women and children than in adult men.
Causes of Ablutophobia
- The causes of Ablutophobia are varied: the fear may have arisen from the fear of water or a traumatic episode linked to bathing. An individual might have fallen or slipped in the bath which could lead to a fear of bathing. Other traumatic incidents in the past such as sexual abuse during bath time in one’s childhood can also instill a deep rooted fear of baths.
- Many scary bathroom-related movies and novels could also trigger the fear of washing. An example is the classic American film Psycho.
- Some phobias are a manifestation of a learned response. A child may see his/her caregiver, typically an older person, being afraid of bathing or water and could develop the fear.
- Heredity is often a cause; your genes are responsible for more than just your looks and they can also impact the way you think.
- Stress at work or in relationships can sometimes trigger a phobia. We all have different ways to coping with stress and for some people, stress is actually necessary to stay productive. But a sensitive or anxious person might handle stress differently which could manifest in the form of phobias and anxieties.
- One’s response to the situation can also trigger the phobia. If the individual reacts violently with panic at the thought of bathing or cleaning up, this may cause embarrassment, which then leads them to fear the situation even more. In short, the Ablutophobe’s reaction to his/her fear becomes a vicious cycle in triggering the very symptoms that he or she is afraid of displaying.
Symptoms of Ablutophobia
The very thought of bathing, washing, or cleaning can trigger breathless, nausea, and clouded thinking in the phobic. As a result, the individual cannot clean the house, wash clothes, or take a bath. In extreme cases, individuals live in very dirty and unhygienic circumstances due to which they can become susceptible to diseases. Some Ablutophobes are deeply afraid of water. They fear that harm will come to them if the water touches their skin. Most are anxious about hot or cold water touching their body. Ablutophobia also extends to showering and swimming. The individual avoids taps, swimming pools, oceans and other water bodies, baths, showers, and water in general.
Physical symptoms of this phobia include:
- Hot flashes or chills
- Numbness or tingling
- The sensation or fear of choking or nausea
Psychological symptoms include:
- Depersonalization or derealization where the phobic no longer understands what is going on. They lose touch with reality and literally gets an ‘out of body’ like sensation.
- Fear of fainting
- Thoughts of death or dying
- Loss of control or fear of losing one’s mind
Phobia-induced avoidance behavior is seen in Ablutophobes. Many lose their friends and family members owing to their unhygienic lifestyles. Thus, the individual suffers in many aspects of life.
Treatment for fear of bathing, washing or cleaning
In most phobias, exposure therapy helps. The phobic is gradually exposed to the object or situation he or she fears, in this case, water or bathing, in a safe and controlled manner. Naturally, Ablutophobes will not bathe while the therapist is present, so NLP and virtual reality exposure therapy can help.
NLP or neuro-linguistic programming requires little time and less spending, so it is an ideal form of therapy for most phobics. The therapy is based on recoding the way the individual’s brain responds to stimuli, in this case to washing/cleaning. It models successful patterns of behavior so that they can be replicated. NLP also gets rooted into the subject’s self-awareness and thought processes.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Another therapy for Ablutophobia is CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy aims at identifying and finding connections between the individuals thought patterns, the fear stimulus, his/her feelings and behaviors with the aim of giving him/her practical skills to manage patterns that may be causing the problems. The best part about CBT is it can be offered through computer programs or workbooks and one can also have sessions with a therapist. This form of therapy is highly beneficial since Ablutophobia is mostly experienced in the house when the therapist cannot be present, like during bath time.
Desensitization and exposure therapy
Desensitization/exposure therapy is another method of treating Ablutophobia. This is based on repeat exposure to the fearful situation, in this case washing and bathing, until the Ablutophobe feels in control over the fear.
Hypnosis is another way of treating Ablutophobia. It gets to the root cause of the fear and ‘reprograms’ the phobic’s mind to change the response to bathing or washing.
In severe cases, when Ablutophobia is greatly affecting the individual’s life, the doctor may supplement with medications to treat the fear.