Mysophobia is a fear that many people know about but few actually know by name. This fear, which is driven by an excessive fear response to germs or dirt, can cause a lot of distress for those who are impacted by it, but not too many people realize the reality behind this unusual phobia. Though most of us would agree that germs and dirt are more or less best left avoided, those who have mysophobia take it to a whole new level because they have a legitimate anxiety response to anything that could potentially be unclean. In this article, we will discuss the truth behind mysophobia and what it might mean for you.
Who Does Mysophobia Affect?
Mysophobia is a fear that knows no real boundaries. This means that it can impact people of all ages and backgrounds in any location, but manifests itself more easily in places that have access to popular hygiene products. It might look different from one person to the next, but at the end of the day, these individuals are known to experience this unique phobia regardless of their background. It is a fear that can come from a variety of origins including trauma as well as other conditions.
More severe cases of mysophobia have been linked in many instances to obsessive-compulsive disorder. This condition, which compels individuals to perform certain rituals in order to alleviate anxiety, can manifest itself quite well as mysophobia. In fact, mysophobia is one of the most popular focuses in Hollywood when it comes to creating characters with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This strong fear of germs often drives many of their compulsive actions.
What Does Mysophobia Look Like?
With phobias, the biggest factor to consider will always be the severity of the condition. People with mild mysophobia might have symptoms that can seem completely normal at a glance, but those with more severe cases might be so hindered that they avoid certain areas, processes, and more. Mild symptoms include increased heart rate, avoidance of visibly unclean items or spaces, and excessive hand washing. Though this might seem like a common response, the fact is that the impacted individuals feel distressed when presented with dirt and germs, not just inconvenienced or grossed out.
More severe cases of mysophobia are known to cause a variety of problems for the impacted individuals. These individuals are more likely to avoid common public spaces and are known for going to dramatic lengths to avoid dirt and germs. They will find themselves so preoccupied with the idea of dirt and germs being present that their biggest focus will always be avoiding them. It might mean refusing to hold a child, wearing gloves or masks everywhere, or even spending hours every single day chemically sanitizing their home. At the end of the day, these individuals are driven by their fear and it is nearly impossible for them to focus on anything else, which is why it is so important to seek treatment. When your fear comes first, it can force you to miss out on precious moments.
In media, the obsessive-compulsive representations of mysophobia can be based on some extreme cases. For example, an individual might wash their hands three times after touching a doorknob or use hand sanitizer every few minutes to keep their keyboard clean. With this fear, there is an on-going feeling of things being able to be “ruined” by germs, which can lead to what is externally very odd behavior that makes sense to the person with the condition.
The Price of Mysophobia
As far as fears go, this one can come at a higher price than most because it is well and truly unavoidable without severely limiting a person’s quality of life. Dirt and germs exist everywhere, so if you have mysophobia, you might feel a bit like you are walking into a haunted forest every time you leave your home. There is simply no rational way to avoid exposure to the trigger, which can make the person lead a very isolated life.
For people with mysophobia, many popular places can feel completely off-limits. Schools, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, grocery stores, and airplanes can all seem like dangerous places to go. This makes it difficult for those who suffer from mysophobia to handle important tasks like getting food or stopping in for a checkup. Some people will avoid certain spaces entirely, which can put them at fairly significant risk when it comes to managing their general health. Even if the person does go, it will likely cause them severe distress and anxiety that is simply unpleasant and sometimes even dangerous to deal with.
Another area where mysophobia can cause problems is in relationships. Individuals who have this condition might find it difficult to establish lasting connections because they will often avoid popular places that might be dirty or have more germs. This condition can be particularly problematic when it comes to intimacy because many intimate acts might seem unclean, which can cause distress. Even something as simple as kissing might be perceived as a way to spread germs and this can cause problems for the person. For some, it might also mean missing out on family events, like childbirths, and other important times.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Element
Considering the fact that it is incredibly difficult to avoid these triggers, mysophobia can put people under constant stress. An unfortunate side effect of consistent stress and anxiety is the fact that it can significantly impact a person’s immune system. When a person who is afraid of germs also finds themselves consistently getting sick, their concerns are validated. For them, it can truly seem like the germs are the problem when in reality it is their fear that is making germs such a significant risk.
Mysophobia is a less common condition with a highly recognizable face, and like any other phobia, it can be treated. Unfortunately, people who have this fear are consistently forced to face it every single day, which can make it seem more extreme than some other fears. If you or someone that you know is suffering from this fear, it is important to reach out to a therapist to begin working through it. Over time, many people have come to face their fear and learned to move past it.