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Automophobia (fear of getting dirty): symptoms and treatment

Automophobia (fear of getting dirty): symptoms and treatment

May 23, 2022

Dirt, dirt, scab, impurities, etc. There are countless words to describe the lack of hygiene and cleanliness and they all have something in common: they generate a whole series of feelings of aversion and disgust in people.

Even though these feelings are normal and justified, when they become a fear or disproportionate fear it is very possible that we are facing a case of automisophobia , a specific type of phobia that we will describe throughout this article.

  • Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"

What is automisophobia?

The autoisophobia is classified within the specific anxiety disorders or specific phobias. These psychological alterations are characterized by provoking in the person an exacerbated and irrational fear towards a stimulus or specific object and in case of self-pity it's about the fear of being dirty, getting dirty or getting dirty .


If we take into account the etymological roots of the term we can separate the phrase in three different words of Greek origin. The first of them "autós" can be translated almost literally as same or own, "mysos" refers to dirt and finally we find "phobos" which means fear or fear. On the basis of this we can define self-phobia as experimentation an exaggerated fear of dirt itself or the possibility that one is dirty or stained.

As is the case with the rest of phobic disorders, when people with autosophobia meet or think they will find themselves facing the feared stimulus, in this case going dirty, they will experience a series of emotions and physical manifestations belonging to very high anxiety states .


Although it is logical to think that the fact of going dirty or stained can generate feelings of repulsion and disgust, in the case of self-pity the disgust turns into terror. This feeling of fear can lead the person to perform all kinds of behaviors such as compulsive washing.

If the phobia occurs to a very high degree, it is possible that these behaviors around cleaning become compulsions, generating reactions and cutaneous alterations due to excess washing behaviors.

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When to consider it a phobia?

With the aim of differences between an aversive feeling or habitual disgust and a pathological fear or specific phobia, we must determine the specific characteristics of this type of fear , as well as the consequences or direct effects that this has on the development of the person's daily life.


It is necessary to take into account a whole series of requirements and characteristic qualities of fear disorders, which define a phobia and make possible its diagnosis. These requirements are the following:

1. It results in a disproportionate fear

The main difference between a normal reaction or aversive sensation and a phobic fear, is that in the self-psobia the person experiences a completely exaggerated and disproportionate fear in comparison with the real threat that the phobic stimulus, is in this case the dirt itself, represents.

2. It is irrational

In a phobia fear experienced has no logical basis, but feeds on irrational ideas and beliefs. Las own people with automisophobias are unable to find a reasonable explanation to the fear they are experiencing.

3. The person can not control it

In addition, the fear that a person with autoisophobia suffers is completely uncontrollable. This means that, although the person accepts that the phobic stimulus may be harmless, it is is unable to prevent the onset of symptoms of anxiety and fear .

4. It lasts over time

Finally, for a fear to be considered as phobic or pathological, the reactions and responses of fear must have been presented on more than one occasion and in a constant and consistent manner throughout the situations that imply the appearance of the feared stimulus.

What are the symptoms?

In view of the fact that autoisophobia is classified within the category of specific phobias, the clinical picture presented is similar to the rest of anxiety disorders of this type. These symptoms of an anxious nature appear every time the person feels or perceives that they are dirty or that they may be dirty.

This will generate a high anxiety response in which physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms appear.

1. Physical symptoms

Before the appearance of the phobic stimulus, or only when thinking about it, there is a hyperactivity of the nervous system that leads to all kinds of changes and organic alterations. Among the main physical symptoms of automisophobia are:

  • Increase in the cardiac rate
  • Increase in the respiratory rate .
  • Feeling of breathlessness or shortness of breath
  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Headache .
  • Gastric alterations such as stomach pains or diarrhea.
  • Increased sweating
  • Vertigo and dizziness .
  • Nausea and / or vomiting ..

2. Cognitive symptoms

In addition to the physical or organic symptoms, people with automisophobia are characterized by having a series of distorted ideas, beliefs and speculations in relation to the fear of dirt itself .

These cognitive symptoms favor the development of self-phobia and may also include mental images of catastrophic content about the possible dangers or effects of dirt on the person.

3. Behavioral symptoms

The third and final group of symptoms of self-phobia is that which includes behavioral symptoms. These symptoms refer to a whole range of behaviors and behaviors that the person performs to avoid or escape the phobic stimulus .

Those behaviors that the person performs with the intention of avoiding encountering the phobic stimulus are known as avoidance behaviors. These can include obsessive washing or cleaning routines, which are done to avoid experimentation feelings of anguish, anxiety and fear .

As for the behaviors that allow the person to escape from the feared situation they are called escape behaviors. These appear when the subject has not been able to avoid encountering the phobic stimulus, which is why he carries out all kinds of behaviors and behaviors necessary to escape from the situation in which he has been involved.

What causes does it have?

Both in the auto-isophobia and in the rest of specific phobias it is hypothesized that it is an unconscious or involuntary reaction of the person caused by the experimentation or experience of a highly traumatic situation , or with a high degree of emotional content, in which the phobic stimulus played an important role and which, moreover, appears as a protective response to it.

However, trying to determine the specific origin of a phobia is a complicated task, since in most cases not only the person himself is able to identify when it appears or what situation caused it.

Is there a treatment?

In all those cases in which the autoisophobia supposes a highly disabling fear or causes great interferences in the daily life of the person, as well as in his health, psychological therapy stands out as one of the best treatment alternatives for this disorder.

The intervention or psychological treatment implies a series of techniques or tools that allow the remission of the symptoms, and even their complete disappearance. Through cognitive restructuring techniques are able to modify all those distorted thoughts that the person possesses with respect to own body filth.

Usually this it is accompanied by techniques of live exposure or systematic desensitization , through which the person is exposed gradually to the feared stimulus. Well directly or through exercises with mental images.

Finally, this is accompanied by a training in relaxation skills, which can reduce the levels of nervous system excitement and help the person to face their fears in the best possible way.

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