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Is this a phobia if I don't feel fear?

answered 12:02 AM EST, Wed February 22, 2012
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I think I may have mysophobia but I am not sure.
I have always been a very clean person and I do not like it when things get dirty or when people around me spread dirt into my area. I have also always taken care to avoid getting sick unnecessarily. I was quite worried about the last outbreak of H1N1 and although I have always been a regular hand washer I made sure to increase the frequency of my hand washing to minimize my exposure to any dangerous pathogens.

The H1N1 threat has declined for now but I am still very careful to wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water at least once an hour and of course after any physical contact with co-workers. When I am forced to enter into social situations I wear very discreet latex gloves, which I discard and change frequently, and a HEPPA face mask.

My friends and family have commented on my increasingly careful nature and my sister suggested that I research mysophobia and perhaps get some help. I do not think I have this disorder, however, because I do not get ‘panicky’ when inadvertently exposed to contaminants, I just make sure to sterilize myself as much as possible as soon as possible thereafter.

I consider my precautions similar to someone who stocks a cabin in the wood in preparation for some sort of end of the world scenario. A lot of people might find the behavior extreme, but it is rooted in a pragmatic concern to maximize my chances for a long and healthy life.

So my question is – If I do not have anxiety type reactions to exposure to ‘germs’ can I have a phobia condition?

Art Matthews Says...

Interesting question. The most basic response is more than likely a person such as you described does not have a phobia, because by definition a phobia involves a "marked and persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable"* and exposure to the stimulus will almost invariably cause an immediate anxiety response. "The diagnosis is appropriate only if the avoidance, fear, or anxious anticipation of encountering the phobic stimulus interferes significantly with the person's daily routine, occupational functioning, or social life, or if the person is markedly distressed about having the phobia."*

A professional doing an assessment would likely engage in differential diagnosis and explore other possibilities that could account for your behavior, but the main question here is whether or not engaging in these behaviors is creating problems for you. Without knowing the type of work you do, I can't say that washing your hands every hour is extreme or not.

As a former nurse if I only washed my hands every hour, I would have been derelict in my duties. I certainly washed my hands multiple times every hour. Just because other people find your habits peculiar or annoying, it doesn't mean you have a diagnosis that must be cured; however, if these behaviors are affecting your ability to function and interfere significantly with your occupation or relationships, you may want to seek an in-depth, professional evaluation. 

* From the DSM-IV

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Page last updated Feb 23, 2012

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