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Fear of Throwing Up

14 Jul

From Your Anxious Child: Emails to Parents by Edward H. Plimpton, PhD

 

The Fear of Throwing Up

 

Vomiting has got to make the list of one of the most unpleasant experiences that can happen. Your body is momentarily out of your control and what comes out is just disgusting. Seeing someone else throw up, which happens to children in school, is equally unpleasant and can induce a nauseous feeling that can make you wonder whether you are going to throw up. A fear of throwing up is not uncommon. The folk singer Joan Baez from the 60’s described in her autobiography and more recently, Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, has stated that she has had a fear of throwing up.  For some children, either throwing up or seeing someone throw up can have a traumatizing effect and they will go to great lengths to avoid anything that might give them germs. This fear can be part of many worries a child has or can be a stand alone fear.

 The fact that most people vomit infrequency is not actually a very helpful fact for those struggling with this fear. It certainly deserves to be mentioned, but that fact by itself does little to dislodge the fear. Likewise, the fact that vomiting is relatively unusual also makes it harder to allow experience teach the child that they can survive such an occurrence, however unpleasant it may be. The sense of not being in control and the violent aspect of vomiting all create that dramatic memory of the event that is a feature of psychological trauma. But there is also another powerful factor having to do with the experience of disgust, an emotion has not always been sufficiently appreciated. Disgust is an important self-protective emotion, wired into us from years of evolutions, that protects us from food poisoning and getting too close to something that could make us sick.

So what to do? First, in the moment and aftermath of a vomiting incident, the child needs big time reassurance and comfort. Later, providing some information about the facts of vomiting to your child is important because in the absence clear information, the child will invent their own explanations about what is happening and that will most likely make the situation worse.  However, “the facts” by themselves will not dislodge this powerful fear.  Practical nauseous prevention strategies should be reviewed, so in the car looking down will more likely lead to nausea than picking a spot of the horizon to focus on.  Then look for ways to desensitize this topic by activities such as making fake vomit at home. Just getting used to seeing fake vomit around that you either make or buy from a joke/novelty store can help desensitize this issue.  The two-part sentence referred to elsewhere can help as in “yes it is awful to barf, but you survived” “yes it is disgusting, but your stomach just had to do it”. Because of the very wired in nature of this fear, it can require some patience to deal with it effectively.