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Rupofobia (or misophobia): fear of dirt and its causes

Rupofobia (or misophobia): fear of dirt and its causes

July 19, 2024

Human beings can become afraid of all kinds of stimuli, from inoffensive animals related to others that posed a threat to our ancestors, to modern means of transport and even to water or feces. We speak of phobia when the fear of any entity or situation is very intense and chronic.

Fear of dirt, which is known as "rupophobia" or "misophobia" , is one of the multiple phobias that have been identified. Although it is not one of the most frequent, it is interesting to analyze rupophobia because of its clinical characteristics, such as its relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the high degree of involvement that it may involve.

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

Rupofobia or misophobia: fear of dirt

On a diagnostic level, rupophobia is part of the category "Specific Phobia" described in the DSM and CIE manuals. Phobias are intense and irrational fears that cause significant discomfort and / or interfere with the normal functioning of the sufferer, in many cases by actively avoiding what is feared.


Specific phobias are considered anxiety disorders, such as social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) and agoraphobia. People with these problems feel very afraid of the presence or anticipation of the phobic stimulus; in agoraphobia and in specific phobias, it is common for them to become distressed.

In the case of rupophobia, the phobic stimulus is the dirt understood in a broad way : while some people fear concrete types of "dirt", such as microbes (in this case we would speak of germophobia or bacilofobia), others feel afraid of the possibility of coming into contact with anything they perceive as potentially contaminating.


Relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, often abbreviated as "OCD" , is characterized by the presence of obsessions and / or compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts or images that provoke emotional tension, while compulsions are behavioral or cognitive rituals that are used to reduce this anxiety.

One of the most common types of obsessive-compulsive disorder is related to filth: obsessive ideas have to do with the possibility of becoming contaminated or contaminating others, while compulsive rituals are associated with cleanliness. A typical example of a cleansing ritual is to wash your hands a specific number of times in a row.

In cases where they coincide symptoms of OCD and dirt-specific phobia The diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder is usually imposed, since rupophobia is usually a secondary symptom. However, if irrational fear is more significant than obsessions or compulsions, a primary diagnosis of a specific phobia would be justified.


  • Related article: "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): what is it and how does it manifest?"

Common symptoms

Ruphophobic people experience intense feelings of anxiety and fear when they come into contact with the phobic stimulus. These lead them to want to "escape" from the dirt, mainly by moving away from it or eliminating it from their body, as well as trying to avoid it; for that reason they can get isolated in a practically unpolluted house.

Sometimes the anxiety becomes so intense that the episodes known as panic attacks or panic attacks . According to the DSM-IV, the symptoms of these crises, which include both physiological and cognitive manifestations, are the following:

  • Palpitations and increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty breathing and choking sensation
  • Choking sensation
  • Discomfort in the chest, for example chest tightness
  • Nausea and abdominal discomfort
  • Lack of balance, dizziness and fainting
  • Derealization and depersonalization
  • Fear of losing control or sanity
  • Affraid to die
  • Numbness or tingling (paraesthesia)
  • Chills and hot flashes

Ruphophobia can pose significant difficulties since, unlike other phobic stimuli such as airplanes and big cats, dirt is omnipresent in everyday life. Therefore, in severe cases of misophobia, anxiety can be practically constant, depending also on the extent of the personal concept of dirtiness.

Causes of fear of dirt

Research on anxiety disorders suggests that the degree of physiological reactivity has an important hereditary component; This would explain the greater biological predisposition that some people have to develop this type of alterations. However, the way in which this anxiety manifests varies depending on the specific case.

Most irrational fears are acquired as consequence of one or more traumatic experiences . In the case of rupophobia this may be less common than in other specific phobias, although technically it is possible that contact with dirt causes problematic health alterations.

In the fear of dirt, vicarious learning and modeling can be very influential. A) Yes, people whose parents were very concerned about cleanliness They would have more chances of developing this type of phobia instead of other anxiety disorders. Similarly, cleaning OCD often occurs in people who have been educated in this way.

If we think of rupophobia from an evolutionary perspective, the most logical hypothesis is that the predisposition to feel fear of contamination, and therefore rejection of potentially pollutive objects, would have been adaptive to prevent infections and infections. Something similar happens with fear of wounds or animals like rats and worms.

Whatever the source of the fear of dirt, it is important to keep in mind that the avoidance of contact with the phobic stimulus It is usually the main maintenance factor in any kind of fear. This avoidance is usually supported by unrealistic expectations that should be refuted by non-anxiety approaches to the stimulus.


DIRT PHOBIA! (July 2024).


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