All the material on this website is provided for your information only and should not be used as medical advice or instruction. The purpose of this website is to promote knowledge, understanding and awareness about Emetophobia. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you think you might be suffering from this condition it is highly advised to seek professional medical assistance. 

© 2017 Emetophobia no more

If you are a family member or a close friend of someone who's suffering from Emetophobia you might have experienced a high level of frustration due to the fact that you maybe didn't know how to help your loved one. Your frustration is understandable as this fear is difficult to understand for someone who doesn't have it. The only way of understanding this fear is by learning more about the condition, which will inevitably help your loved one and reduce your frustration as you'll be better equipped to cope with it and to help when necessary. 

 

Very often, Emetophobes go on for years without voicing their true fear. Mostly, this is due to the fact that Emetophobia is not a very well-known or discussed condition, so the sufferers often feel embarrassed about their fears. They are mainly afraid others couldn't possibly understand something that most people see as a natural body reaction, unpleasant nonetheless, while the Emetophobes experience it as terrifying and potentially life threatening. At other times, they might not yet be aware of the exact thing they are so afraid of and that causes them such an intense anxiety. Coming across articles or literature about Emetophobia is not really a common thing therefore it might be difficult for many sufferers to even identify themselves as Emetophobes and it might take them years before they figure it out. In my case, I suffered several traumatic experiences with vomiting throughout my life, the earliest at the tender age of two. I started experiencing conscious avoidance symptoms at the age of 17 and yet it took me another 14 years before finding out the exact condition I was suffering from. I was 31 when I typed 'fear of vomiting' for the first time in a browser and I found myself reading about Emetophobia and realising that it was the story of my life. Only at that age did I voice for the first time my real fear to my family, my close friends and my therapist. Most of them were shocked, as they never realised it, even though my behaviour was clearly showing signs of severe anxiety around vomiting, illness and food. 

 

Emetophobia is a very difficult condition to live with, both for the sufferer and the people closest to them. Nobody likes to see their loved ones suffer without knowing what to do or how to help them. In order to help you in this difficult journey, I have compiled a list of things that you could do to help and support your loved one and make their life easier, and by doing so you'd be making your life easier as well. Considering the fact that I am an Emetophobe, in order to compile this list I have asked my husband for his feedback so that the list includes both the perspective of the sufferer and their family member or friend. I find this particularly important as I might not always be aware of the things my husband does in order to support me and he might not always be aware of the things I would need to feel better and supported. 

 

This list comes exclusively from my own and my family's life experience with Emetophobia, therefore it might be specific to my needs, which I do believe will be very similar to the needs of most Emetophobes, but definitely not the same as we all experience it in different ways and might need different things in order to feel supported and comforted. Therefore, if you think there are some additional tips that could be added to this list, please feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to add them on.

How to help a loved one suffering from Emetophobia: 

  • Listening: Emetophobes often suffer in silence mainly because they fear the judgement and embarrassment of suffering from something so rare that most people have never heard of and therefore aren't even aware that it's an actual condition. Listening to their fears and concerns will reassure the sufferer they are not alone, which might help reduce their anxiety. It will also help them open up about it and be more keen to seek professional help if they haven't done so yet.​

 

  • Talking about Emetophobia: As hard as it can sometimes be tackling this topic with an Emetophobe, stimulating conversation on this matter will be an initial exposure to the topic of vomiting. This might help the sufferer to get used to the idea of talking about it and they might subsequently find it easier in therapy to work on more progressive exposures. Talking about Emetophobia will also strip the stigma away which can only help the person feel more comfortable with who they are and it will help their confidence and self-esteem. Talking is also a very engaging activity and even though you might be talking about Emetophobia itself, the person will be mostly focusing on the conversation rather than monitoring their body for any signs of sickness. Therefore, talking can be one of the grounding techniques that will inevitably help the sufferer stay in the present moment rather than getting lost in their own mind, which is typically filled with fears and anxieties related to vomiting. 

  • Do NOT belittle: It is crucially important not to belittle the sufferer's fears and worries because this is one of the things society tends to do most of the time. Most people will say things like "Nobody likes to vomit", "Snap out of it", "Get out of your head" or even "Just stop thinking about it". If it were that simple, Emetophobia would not exist in the first place. You might not understand the sufferer's fear but you need to acknowledge that the fear they're experiencing is real. Simply by acknowledging it, you will make them feel less 'crazy' which is something they can often feel, especially when the environment belittles and dismisses their greatest and most terrifying fear so easily. 

  • Educate yourself: Educating yourself on the topic of Emetophobia is very important as this will give you a much better understanding of what your loved one goes through on a daily basis. This will make you more compassionate and understanding, and it might take away some of that frustration as you'd start understanding the facts and the different ways in which you could be helpful in the recovery. Most of the time what you will read and learn might be far more detailed and better explained than the information you may get from the sufferer, as they can often be overwhelmed when talking about it and might not find the right words to explain exactly what they're feeling. Once you know the facts about Emetophobia, you will probably feel more in control and you might lose the feeling of helplessness, which is often perceived by the sufferer and typically makes them feel even worse, especially due to the guilt for afflicting you with their problems. 

  • Encourage treatment: Once you educate yourself on Emetophobia, you will become aware of the possible treatment options and if your loved one hasn't yet reached out for some professional help, you should strongly encourage them to do so because this condition does need treatment and without it, it might get worse in time. Therefore, it's very important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Sometimes the sufferer will not be able to look for help themselves so you might need to take initiative and look for possible treatment options. After discussing it with your loved one, you could contact the therapist yourself for the first time and get all the information you need to understand whether it would be a suitable treatment for them. Sometimes they will need that first push, as they might very likely feel depressed and hopeless, therefore your help could be vital for them to make their first steps towards treatment and eventually towards recovery.

  • Get involved in the therapies and the recovery: Getting involved in the therapies in some manner might be a good way of being an active participant in your loved one's recovery. This will not only make you feel that things are moving forwards, preventing you from feeling frustrated, but it will also probably bring you closer to your loved one. By being an active participant in their recovery plan, you might participate in some of their challenges and show them your full support and encourage them to sometimes push themselves a little further than they thought they could.

  • Understand when to push them or when to leave them in their comfort zone: Being an active participant in their recovery will give you a good idea of when it's the moment to push your loved one to face a more challenging task. They might not be ready, but they never will be, therefore it is important to have someone who will encourage them from time to time to push their limits and gain more freedom from the condition. However, it's important to gauge when that's not the case. Sometimes it might not be the case to push them out of their comfort zone as they might not be in the right frame of mind to face a challenge which would very likely end up creating a strong disappointment in them and an overwhelming feeling of failure. All this could be a setback in their recovery, as even the smallest misstep can be perceived as a total failure. If you are not sure how to do this on your own, it might be a good idea to ask advice from the therapist they are working with as they might give you tips on how to understand when it’s the case to push them and when instead it’s the case to simply be understanding and respectful of their current limitations. 

  • Do NOT push them to vomit in order to 'face the fear': As this is not part of any Emetophobia treatment it shouldn't be part of your approach either. Eventually the sufferer might come to the point of being ready to cope with vomiting if this occurs for natural reasons, however, this should not be encouraged or induced in any way. 

  • Preparing food if necessary: Many Emetophobes will have a very restricted diet. Some will literally reduce themselves to eating the same two or three dishes over and over again as all other foods will be perceived as unsafe. Once they start treatment, or even out of their own free will, they might come to the point of being ready to expand their food repertoire. However, they might not be ready to spend a long time around food so the time leading up to the meal, which is usually the duration of preparing and cooking the food, can be anxiety inducing. In this case, you might offer to prepare the food and call them when it's ready. They might not want to hang around the table after eating either as they might need a distraction from the thoughts of food so they should feel free to get up and leave as soon as they've finished eating. Over time, by getting used to the new dishes and the meals altogether, the anxiety might start loosening up and they will probably start extending the time spent around the dining table by chatting, socialising and eventually getting involved in the cooking process as well. My husband has done this for me, which has been extremely helpful in my recovery.

  • Be ready to change plans (be flexible): Emetophobes can sometimes find making plans extremely anxiety inducing as it gives them plenty of time to create all the worst case scenarios in their mind. They might agree to a plan but change their mind at the very last moment as they might lose courage and faith in their own abilities to cope in that situation. This can be very frustrating to the people around them. It does require a very flexible person to cope well with this unfortunate side effect of a life with Emetophobia. But please do keep in mind that most of the time the Emetophobe will feel far worse than anybody else involved in that plan as they'll feel responsible for ruining everyone's day or outing. Compassion is crucial in this case as this is something Emetophobes cannot always control and running back to their comfort zone might be the only place where they find some feeling of safety. In the same way, sometimes they might unexpectedly decide to do something challenging and face a situation they fear. It's important to encourage them and seize the moment before they overthink it and change their minds. 

  • Change of lifestyle: As much as Emetophobia impacts the sufferer more than anybody else, it does also have a significant impact on their close environment. Their routines might affect and change their family's routines. Emetophobes can have extremely restricted lifestyles and can get very isolated from society, which can obviously have a strong impact on their relationships especially. If you are a partner of an Emetophobe, your life has probably already been impacted and altered by your partner's condition. Some people might see it as a sacrifice but any relationship requires a certain degree of sacrifices. However, when you love a person, you love them for who they are and not for what they can or can't do. Emetophobia is a big part of an Emetophobe's life but it does NOT define them. And remember that this condition is not a permanent state and therefore can be, and should be, treated. Finding a suitable treatment will help you and your loved one lead a lifestyle of your choice and not one you are forced into by this condition.  

  • Validation and positive affirmations: When your loved one is in an anxious state they will be flooded with emotion, which will significantly reduce their ability to think rationally. In such situations, fear and anxiety can be extremely powerful and automatic, to the point that instead of hearing the logic or reasoning that you might be offering, they might find it hard to connect which might lead to them pushing others away in an effort to get control of the emotions. This in turn can leave both, you and your loved one, feeling misunderstood and alone. In this moment validation is key. Using validating and positive affirmations in such situations might help the person to feel loved, understood and to reduce a feeling of shame about what they are struggling with. Here are some things you might say to your loved one to make them feel supported in such situations of high anxiety:

       “I can see this is extremely uncomfortable for you, but I do know you have handled discomfort in a lot of different                            scenarios in your life, and I have every confidence that you can do this." 

 

        "It makes sense that you are frightened; you have had some bad experiences of vomit. I know you can keep going. You                      are stronger than you think you are right now. The feelings will go and I am here to support you through this." 

 

       When you are struggling with finding the right words in order to make your loved one feel validated, loved and cared           for do not feel scared of asking them for guidance. You can do so in the following way:

 

       "I can see you have been battling a lot of anxiety this morning and I want to support you. Please could you help me to                      understand better the words that would best help you when you are struggling?"

  • Take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of them: Even though Emetophobe's families often do have a significant change in their lifestyle, it's important for them to continue to participate in activities they enjoy, eat things they love and experience things they wish to experience despite their loved one's inability to participate in them. It's important for the sufferer to accept that their condition cannot take over their relationships, as that would mean forcing the condition upon their family members, which is unfair and more importantly unhealthy. The Emetophobes need to learn to give their loved ones the freedom they need in order to experience things they cannot yet experience themselves due to their phobia. This will bring a healthier balance to the relationship, take away some of the sufferer's guilt and also, reduce the frustrations of their partners or loved ones may experience due to the limited lifestyle that Emetophobia forces onto the Emetophobe and their close environment. When their partners experience some of life's joys without them, the sufferers might feel this as a positive stimulus to fight the condition in order to come to the point of being able to enjoy those things together. As a family member of a person suffering from such a debilitating condition, it's important not to forget that as much as the sufferer needs a lot of attention and care, their family members need it too. Family members should take care of their own needs and desires as this will make them feel fulfilled and recharged which will give them more energy to support their loved ones through this rough journey. 

  • Be there for them even when they're pushing you away: When they are isolating themselves, and pushing everybody away, that's the moment when they need you the most as that's when they're giving into the condition and disconnecting from the world and sometimes from reality. When a person is in a state of high anxiety, the amount of emotions they feel can be overwhelming and in such occasions they might push away others in the intent of controlling the flood of emotions they are experiencing. Be there to ground them, to remind them of the world outside their head and to simply make them feel that they are not alone. You could try to engage them in some activities in order to bring them back into the present moment and out of their obsessive and terrifying thoughts. 

  • Do fun activities together: Due to the limited lifestyle many Emetophobes live, it can be very difficult for them to have fun, not only because of all the negative and scary thoughts that inhabit their minds at all times, but also because of the physical limitations this condition brings into their lives. Many Emetophobes will rarely go out and might be scared of attending social events and gatherings. Therefore, doing fun things together can be a challenge. So, the best way to start introducing fun activities is from inside their comfort zone, which is usually their home. Playing board games, playing cards, doing a DIY project in the house, reorganising, redecorating or gardening are all great ways of keeping them engaged and spending some quality time together while staying in their comfort zone. Once they feel more comfortable about going out, you might think of organising other fun things that would keep them active, engaged and possibly make them smile. Going for bicycle rides, swimming, playing any kind of sport or even just going for walks in nature can all be fun ways of expanding their comfort zone and challenging their fears, while doing something fun and engaging. Fun activities will inevitably positively impact their mood and promote the secretion of happy hormones, which will recharge their batteries and give them more courage and strength to keep fighting their daily battles. 

  • Be their spokesperson when needed: Sometimes it might be very difficult for Emetophobes to explain to extended family or friends why they cannot attend some social gatherings, family meals or parties. Most people will find it hard to understand their limitations and will often perceive them as weak or simply difficult. Most of the time, the Emetophobes will feel embarrassed and frustrated by their own limitations and also, by the lack of understanding from people in their life. They might not be capable of opening up with people regarding their condition due to the stigma around mental health and especially because it can be exhausting explaining a condition that most people have never heard of. In this case their partner, close family member or friends should be their spokesperson and explain the situation to the people involved for them to better understand what the person is going through and possibly be more supportive and understanding when a similar occasion arises again. However, before discussing these matters with anybody, always make sure the Emetophobe is comfortable with the information being shared. In order to prevent the person from getting isolated from the family and friends you might try to encourage meetings and gatherings that initially do not involve meals. This might be a good way for Emetophobes to still feel they're participating in their family and their community.

  • Perseverance: If your loved one has been suffering from Emetophobia for a long time you might be already aware this is not a battle to win in a day, but rather a war to be faced, by sometimes winning and sometimes losing the daily battles. For the sufferer, it's easy to get discouraged as most of the time they already feel like a failure. Some days will nearly be unbearable, both for them and for you, but other days will give you a glimpse of the person you love and it will remind you how they look when they're smiling. Let that be your fuel and motivation to keep fighting with them and alongside them. The journey to recovery is a long wavy path rather than a straight line. The important thing is to always let them know you believe in them, even in the darkest days. Don't give up on them. You might be the only person who still hasn't. 

  • Understanding and compassion: This seems like a given, as it's been mentioned in every point above, however, it's important to keep in mind that Emetophobes need to feel understood as it is likely that they have spent most of their life being misunderstood. Trying to understand the condition might be difficult as you might see vomiting as a natural and instinctive body response,  however just by being there, listening to them when they are willing to open up about it and not judging them for their irrational fears will be more than enough. You might still not understand their fears, but only by believing in their feelings, you will be offering them compassion while making them feel heard and acknowledged. Compassion, understanding and acknowledgement are things one rarely gets to experience when suffering from invisible conditions such as Emetophobia. 

  • PATIENCE: I strongly believe this is the most important and sometimes the most difficult thing to achieve. It can be very difficult not to lose patience in the long and rocky journey that Emetophobia is. The limitations it creates in the lives of the sufferers and their families can be so severe to make even a saint lose patience. However, remember that these limitations are not a choice but a mere consequence of the most terrifying battle that the sufferer is going through at every waking moment. They're afraid they might be faced with their greatest fear at any given moment and they believe this might cause them to die. Please remember this and I am sure this only will be enough for you to have patience with them, as they need it, and they need you.

  • Love and care: Again, this might seem like a given but believe me it's not. People suffering from mental conditions very often have an extremely low self-esteem and no self-worth whatsoever. They tend to dislike themselves or even go as far as to hate themselves on a daily basis, so please remember that the love and care you give them might be the only love they get to experience. Make them feel worthy of love and affection, so that maybe one day they might start believing it and start loving themselves. 

Support for families and friends