If you have a loved one who is struggling with a fear of vomit, it can be really hard to know what to do. As much as you want to help, the situation can be hard to understand, and you might worry that your words or actions could make things worse.
In this article, EmetoGo will give you 6 things you can do to help someone with emetophobia. Let’s get started.
Take it seriously
If a friend or family member shares with you that they have a phobia, the worst thing you can do is brush it off. Particularly when it comes to emetophobia, some people feel the urge to say things like, “Well nobody likes vomit!” This is not helpful.
A phobia goes way beyond simply not liking something—it is an anxiety disorder that can completely take over a person’s life. You might think that a bit of tough love or rationalisation will reduce the intensity of a person’s fear, but this type of response minimises their struggle and can make them feel ashamed and isolated.
Even if you don’t understand (more on this later) the best thing you can do is take your loved one’s feelings seriously. Express sympathy, offer your support and ask how you can help them.
Respect their space
Sometimes helping someone includes knowing when to take a step back. If a loved one with emetophobia asks you to give them some space, you should respect this. Similarly, if they turn down your event invitations via text or skip on a social engagement, try not to take it personally. They may have certain triggers that you are not aware of and that they are not ready to talk about.
In order to protect their mental wellbeing, it’s important for people with emetophobia to establish boundaries in their connections with others. Of course, you will have your own boundaries that are just as valid as theirs.
If you start to feel that a loved one with emetophobia is no longer invested in the relationship, it’s up to you how far you go to sustain it. Just keep in mind that living with emetophobia can be incredibly difficult, so it’s worth giving these people some leeway and accepting that they won’t always be in a position to show up for you.
Don’t coddle them
While you should never force a person with emetophobia to face their fears, it’s also important not to be overprotective of them. People with anxiety disorders will often seek reassurance from others. For example, a person with emetophobia may ask you to confirm that it is very unlikely that they will get sick.
Offering reassurance may seem harmless, but in actual fact this behaviour can become addictive for the emetophobe, as they rely on your assurances to feel safe. The relief they experience is only temporary, which means they will require more and more reassurance as their phobia intensifies.
The best approach to take is to be empathetic and confirm that they have your support should they need it, but avoid providing the specific reassurance they are looking for.
Understand that you don’t understand
If you don’t have a phobia yourself, it can be quite hard to get your head around how anxiety-inducing they can be. Phobias are irrational fears, so there’s not much point in trying to make sense of them as an outsider.
At times you may find it quite frustrating dealing with a loved one who has emetophobia. Their behaviour may seem rude, silly or attention-seeking in nature. During these moments, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are experiencing a lot of unpleasant symptoms.
You might not understand it, but you can still be understanding. Try to think about issues or events in your own life that cause you discomfort but that others may not appreciate the gravity of—this will help you to build empathy.
Learn what you can
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already taking this piece of advice! While you can’t fully understand what a person with emetophobia is going through unless you have a serious phobia yourself, you can improve your knowledge of how phobias work.
A great place to start is with our article: What is Emetophobia?
Helping someone with emetophobia can be tricky, but try not to overthink it to the point that it starts to cause you stress. Even if you don’t always know what to say, you can listen, learn and comfort them. Simply being there and offering a friendly ear means you are providing a vital source of support.
For more information and advice about emetophobia, have a browse of the EmetoGo blog.