Rectophobia (or proctophobia): causes, symptoms and treatment
Phobias are very frequent anxiety disorders, and there are different types that are usually included in three groups. Specific phobias, social phobia and agoraphobia. Within specific phobias we can find arachnophobia (fear of spiders), cynophobia (fear of dogs) or rectophobia (fear of anorectal diseases).
In the following lines we will talk about the rectofobia , a strange phobia that also receives the name of proctophobia, and we will delve into what it is, what its symptoms are, its causes and its treatment.
What is the rectofobia
The rectofobia is a phobia, and therefore, an irrational fear towards a phobic stimulus; in this case, anorectal diseases. The human being, unconsciously, is capable of being afraid of situations, objects and even thoughts.
This fear causes great discomfort and great anxiety , and that is why this pathology is included within the anxiety disorders. A characteristic of phobic disorders is that the person suffering from this condition tends to avoid the feared stimulus. A person with cynophobia will avoid contact with dogs, in the case of arachnophobia contact with spiders and in the rectophobia any situation that can lead the person to suffer some kind of disease in that area of the body is avoided.
Phobias usually have their origin in associative learning known as Classical Conditioning. Ivan Pavlov was one of the key figures when it came to providing knowledge about this phenomenon for the first time. Classical Conditioning is a form of learning that involves automatic or reflex responses. This differentiates it from another form of learning known as Operant or Instrumental Conditioning.
It is called Classical Conditioning to create a connection between a new stimulus and an existing reflex (in the case of phobia, fear). If we attend to the formation of a phobia, the learning of this disorder would have its beginning in an originally neutral stimulus, which does not provoke a response (for example, spiders, thoughts about a disease of the rectum or getting on a plane).
Through a traumatic experience that would provoke a strong fear response, an associative connection of the originally neutral stimulus could occur with this negative experience. This would cause the patient with phobia to respond unconsciously with fear, anxiety and discomfort to the stimulus that previously did not cause this response. Learning is not always produced by direct experience, but it is also possible that it occurs through observation
Although Pavlov was the pioneer in the investigations of Classical Conditioning, John Watson made him popular in the West and was the first to contribute knowledge about the relationship between emotions and this type of associative learning.
- In our article "John B. Watson: Life and Work of the Behavioral Psychologist" we explain a little more about your research and contributions to the field of Psychology and Education.
What role does genetics play?
While there is some consensus in stating that Classical Conditioning has its origin in learning, other authors say that genetics makes some people more prone than others to suffer this type of disease. Furthermore, according to Seligman's theory of preparation, we are biologically predisposed to suffer phobias, since we may more easily associate some stimuli with fear.
The cause of this is that fear is an adaptive emotion and in this way it would favor the survival of our species . Phobias would occur through primitive and non-cognitive associations, which are not easily modified by logical arguments.
Symptoms of this phobic disorder
The different types of phobias usually have a very similar symptomatology caused by the presence of the phobic stimulus. Irrational anxiety and fear are undoubtedly characteristic symptoms of rectofobia. So is the desire to avoid the feared stimulus and the avoidance of it.
It is important to emphasize that this disorder has a strong relationship with other disorders such as Hypochondria or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and is usually a secondary symptom of these. Now, if irrational fear is more pronounced than obsessions or compulsions, the main diagnosis is rectophobia.
In summary, the symptoms of rectofobia are:
- Irrational fear of contracting anorectal diseases or fear of dying
- Anxiety and discomfort
- Avoidant behaviors
- Tingling (paresthesia)
- Palpitations and increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
- Thoracic oppression
- Nausea and abdominal discomfort
- Dizziness and fainting
Treatment and therapy
As I said, phobias originate from Classical Conditioning, and are characterized because the person who suffers them has an irrational fear of phobic stimulation. Scientific studies have shown that behavior therapies, both second and third generation, work very well and are very effective in treating this pathology.
When referring to second-generation therapies, I am referring to cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to modify those thoughts, beliefs or behaviors that cause discomfort in the patient . In the intervention for phobias, relaxation techniques and expository techniques are ideal to help the patient to control the negative symptoms of the phobia and make him understand that his fears and beliefs about the phobic stimulus are irrational.
An exposure technique widely used by cognitive behavioral therapists is systematic desensitization, which involves exposing the patient gradually to the phobic stimulus while learning different coping tools.
Regarding third-generation therapies, Cognitive Therapy Based on Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which consist of the acceptance of the phobic experience, among other principles, so that the patient relates in a different way to the events that They cause discomfort.
In extreme cases, the administration of drugs is necessary, but always together with psychological therapy.