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Fear of bathing or washing (ablutofobia): causes, symptoms and treatment

Fear of bathing or washing (ablutofobia): causes, symptoms and treatment

May 5, 2024

There are different types of phobias, one of the most documented, although not very frequent, is ablutofobia .

The ablutofobia is the irrational fear that a person feels to bathe or wash. Therefore, it can bring serious unhygienic consequences for the person suffering from this pathology. In this article we will delve into this mental disorder and know what its causes, symptoms and consequences are.

What is ablutofobia

Ablutofobia is a phobic disorder commonly known as fear of bathing or washing . Phobias are anxiety disorders that cause great discomfort to the person who suffers. In an attempt to reduce its negative symptoms, it makes an effort to avoid the stimulus that causes it and, therefore, something as daily as showering or washing can trigger a severe and persistent fear in these individuals.

The negative consequences of this fear go further, and can affect people's lives, because it can cause bad smell, dirt and poor personal hygiene of the affected. Something that, without a doubt, has an effect on your social life, not only in terms of your friendships or family, but also regarding your employment and working life.

Research suggests that it is more common in common in women and children, although at early ages there are many children who feel a certain fear of bathing. However, it is more likely that this fear is due to extreme aversion to bathing and, in fact, this problem is generally not considered a phobia unless it lasts more than six months or continues into adolescence and adulthood.

Like any phobia, if left untreated, it can worsen and cause other physical illnesses due to poor hygiene . Rejection by other people can also occur.

Causes of this disorder

Irrational fears are usually learned and occur after a traumatic event . For example, although many children are afraid of water, which usually disappears when they realize that nothing terrible happens in the bathtub, others can develop this phobia if parents obligatorily force themselves to bathe, because they can associate the bathtub with unhappiness and the aggressiveness of the parents.

The mechanism by which this fear develops is what is known as classical conditioning, which is a type of associative learning in which the person associates a stimulus that was originally neutral to another that provokes a fear response. This association causes the fear response to occur simply with the presence of the previously neutral stimulus.

The following video illustrates how we learn to have irrational fears.

Phobias, therefore, tend to develop in childhood; however, they can appear at any time in a person's life.

Other possible causes

But the traumatic events experienced by the person are not the only way to develop phobic disorders. It may happen that people learn a phobia by observation, or rather by vicarious conditioning . For example, when they are children, when observing an adult who panics at the time of bathing.

Experts also say that people are predisposed to suffer this type of fear, since this emotion is adaptive and has been very useful for human survival. Therefore, phobias have to do with the primitive part of the brain, which is known as the emotional brain, and that is why they do not usually respond well to logical arguments. In other words, phobias are developed by associations that are not cognitive, but primitive.

Symptoms of fear of bathing

People with ablutofobia may experience a variety of symptoms when they are in situations where the phobic stimulus presents itself. They may feel some physical and physiological symptoms such as nausea, sweating, fear, tremors, headache or dizziness. Some experience panic attacks, which may include shortness of breath, high blood pressure and an accelerated heart rate.

Psychological symptoms include anxiety and anguish, irrational fear, thoughts of death, lack of concentration. Also, people with phobia to bathe try to avoid this situation at all costs, in order to reduce the discomfort they feel.

Feelings of shame are frequent , since many cultures lack of cleanliness creates rejection or ridicule.


Although some people suffer from this phobia, it is not cause for shame. In most cases it has to do with an event of the past and a psychologist can help the patient to deal with the problem.

Thus, people with ablutofobia can get help from a psychology professional, and studies show that psychological therapy is very effective. Generally, cognitive behavioral therapy is used, which uses different techniques . The most frequent and useful in these cases are relaxation techniques and exposure techniques.

In fact, the most used technique includes the two previous ones and is called systematic desensitization, which consists of exposing the patient gradually to the phobic stimulus, but first he must learn a series of resources that allow him to face the feared situations.

In severe cases, some patients benefit from anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. but they should always be used in combination with psychotherapy.

Other possible treatments

Currently, other therapeutic methods that have proved to be effective are also commonly used, such as hypnosis, cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy that you can learn more about in our articles.

You can know more about them in our articles:

  • Hypnotherapy: what it is and what are its benefits
  • Cognitive Therapy based on Mindfulness: what is it?
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): principles and characteristics

Ablutophobia - Dr Will (May 2024).

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