Coprophobia is the fear of feces or the act of defecation. It leads to fearing one’s own fecal matter, but many phobics may be more afraid of coming in contact with or viewing someone else’s excrement. The word Coprophobia is a combination of two Greek words, namely koprana/copro which is fecal matter and phobos meaning deep aversion or fear.
To some extent, tiny amounts of fear may actually help us. It tells the body to run or prepare itself to defend against danger. This is not the case with Coprophobia, which in extreme forms can cause a person to try to completely stop defecating. Needless to say, this can be very harmful.
Let us study the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for Coprophobia.
Causes of Coprophobia
Feces or waste matter is expelled from the body and is a necessary part of digestion. Excrement looks unsightly, has a bad odor and contains bacteria that can be harmful to the body. All these factors play an important role in the thought process of a Coprophobe.
The main difference between a normal fear and a phobia is that in a phobia, the individual has no control over the reactions he or she has towards the object of their fears, in this case, fecal matter. So, the loss of control makes the Coprophobe even more scared of and doubly uncomfortable about feces. A combination of genetic, biological, and psychological factors plays a role in this phobia.
- A child may have heard too many stories about how touching fecal matter can be detrimental to health. Parents and caregivers may be overcautious or overanxious during potty training. This sometimes causes the child to try to avoid defecation.
- Mental causes of the fear could be a traumatic event in the individual’s childhood/past. The phobic may have stepped in dog feces or fallen in it. As a result, they may have been ridiculed or laughed at. This causes the child to remain hyper-vigilant about avoiding feces and the behavior extends into adulthood. Their mind constantly tends to remember the ‘experience’ as being worse than it actually was.
- Often in death, the corpse empties out the bowels. A young person who witnesses that can have a lifelong fear of defecation and feces. The individual then develops certain ‘schemas’ which are basically a network of collections of thought patterns and beliefs about the dangers they may face upon encountering feces.
- Some Coprophobes are genetically wired to be ‘this way’. Overanxious parents can give rise to overanxious children. Certain chemical imbalances in the brain can also cause extreme anxieties and phobias. There is also a link between depression and phobias. About 20-40% of people with anxieties suffer from depression. Some people get better and recover from one condition but develop another.
Symptoms of Coprophobia
The symptoms of Coprophobia tend to vary from person to person. In varying degrees, one could suffer from the following physical and psychological symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness of chest
- Accelerated heart rate
- Hot or cold flashes
- Shivering or trembling
- Squealing, crying, screaming
- Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
- Fear of death or dying
- Feeling like running away, escaping, hiding
- Fearing total loss of control or embarrassing oneself
Some Coprophobes avoid public bathrooms and toilets. They may even try to avoid defecation, holding on for as far as possible. Many refuse to walk in dog parks where dog feces are common. Some phobics have difficulty cleaning their toilets or, conversely, try to obsessively clean them in order to avoid seeing feces. Having babies or keeping pets is often out of the question for these people. Even the thought of touching or seeing poop can be traumatic to the individual and could lead to a full-blown panic attack.
Children with Coprophobia may show the following signs:
- Excessive distress about defecation.
- Extreme worry about seeing, touching, flushing the toilet/feces.
- Persistent excess worry which could result in lack of appetite.
- Excess fear or reluctance to go to the bathroom.
- Recurring nightmares about feces.
- Physical complaints like headaches, vomiting, nausea, or stomach aches.
- Obsessive thoughts lead to obsessive behavior like excess-washing off hands to get rid of germs, after using the bathroom.
Treatment for fear of feces or defecation
Simple specific phobias are not that difficult to treat. Most people can eliminate or greatly reduce their anxiety symptoms using modern therapy methods. The good news is that many of these treatment methods are not complicated and you can take them step-by-step, in a short period of time, and sometimes even without the help of a therapist.
Minor cases of Coprophobia can be resolved using self-help techniques. You can listen to relaxation music, meditate, keep a journal, or try progressive muscle-relaxation and positive visualization. Regular exercise can also help. Studies have shown that exercise stimulates feel-good hormones or endorphins which dramatically improve the mood and relieve anxiety.
Biofeedback is a good way of ‘measuring stress’. A trained biofeedback technician will measure your heart-rate and other biological functions and feed it back to you in the form of light and sounds. You also learn how to control stress using relaxation and cognitive techniques.
Certain types of psychotherapy, mainly cognitive behavior therapy, are beneficial in treating anxiety disorders like Coprophobia. The approach requires a good mental health professional who can teach you how to control the symptoms.
Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT often combines other therapies like drug therapy and gradual exposure therapy, where the phobic learns to ‘desensitize’ him/herself from the object of their fear, in this case feces. With exposure therapy, 60-80% of patients improve and in most cases, the benefits last for 2-4 years.
CBT also teaches patients practical skills to help them feel more in control of the situation. Drugs can help control extreme anxiety. Studies have shown that patients who use a combination of CBT and medication have fewer symptoms and a lower chance of relapse. In the long run, many patients are often able to stop taking medication or lower the dose.