My child suffers from Emetophobia: Am I a Bad Parent?

“My daughter has emetophobia. She gets panicky whenever her friends ask her to come out for a meal with them. If she goes to a restaurant with them – or us – she only orders a peppermint tea or a coffee. Each day before she goes to work, she has to specially prepare her own food as she doesn’t trust the canteen at her work. She is terrified of using the tube, in case someone is sick on her. Basically, her life is ruled by this condition. And I don’t know what to do to help her. God, I feel like I should be able to do something.”

Parents of children with emetophobia often feel powerless and guilty like this parent. Am I a bad parent? Is the emetophobia a result of something that I’ve done? And how can I help my child get better?

Let’s get something straight: if your child has emetophobia, it doesn’t make you a “bad” parent! The only bad parents are those who don’t care about their children. If you are reading this, then that label certainly doesn’t apply to you!

Having put that worry to bed, let’s turn to how emetophobia happens. Children develop it because in very early childhood they have – unknowingly – learned negative thinking styles. These will include:

Catastrophic thinking (exaggerating or blowing everything out of proportion)

Black and White thinking (everything is either fantastic or a failure)

Perfectionist thinking (fighting feelings of worthlessness and failure by setting striving to achieve impossibly high standards)

Brooding (tending to worry and think about every experience in intricate detail. Very common with intelligent children)

High Social Anxiety (a fear of being judged and evaluated by others)

Because of these thinking styles, the most awful things emetophobes can imagine happening to them are to be sick in public or for someone to be sick on them.

Why? They tell themselves that vomiting is deeply embarrassing because it smells and “makes a mess”. Vomiting will horrify their peers, and lead to them being judged, losing social standing and experiencing a giant loss of self-esteem. Vomiting becomes a social catastrophe.

Worse, Emetophobes realise that they will never be 100% able to stop it ever happening to them. People with phobias of flying live with the phobia by simply never flying. But how can anyone guarantee that they will never vomit? Emetophobes realise that they are not in complete control; at any moment they could be subjected to the intense embarrassment they fear. This realisation ratchets up the stress even more. This leads to them brooding on about how to control every situation involving food and hygiene. Their perfectionism kicks in, their desire for control kicks in, and they rigorously plan to avoid all risk of vomit. The brooding and the perfectionism reinforce the initial belief that vomiting is the worst embarrassment a person can endure.

And so a vicious circle is born. Very quickly, the condition has snowballed, and the emetophobe’s brain has connected up thousands of thoughts about the fear of vomit, avoiding vomiting and the fear of not being in control.

Now, it is true that your child may have learned some of these negative thinking styles from you as parents. If you find yourself attacking yourself for “failing your child” this is probably a sign that you are a perfectionist or brooder yourself! But that doesn’t make you bad parents – it’s simply the case that no one has ever taught you how to recognise or manage your negative thinking styles.

Can emetophobia be reversed? Of course. It is not genetic. You will have noticed that the process described above is very cognitive: emetophobia usually happens with intelligent children who have overthought things and got themselves into a mental tangle. Because your child has learned to become emetophobic they can unlearned it! The tried and tested process for this is:

(1) teaching the child how they are thinking (this will be a revelation to them)
(2) working with a skilled Thrive consultant who will challenge their negative self-talk and show them through numerous examples how to reframe their beliefs.

With practice, and in a short space of time, your child will understand that it is their thoughts which are creating their beliefs. And once they change their beliefs, their physical symptoms disappear and their mental health sky rockets.

Of course deciding to undertake the Thrive process is challenging. Habits embedded over the course of even a young lifetime will take some time to reverse. Your child will have to be 100% committed to wanting to change their lives. But emetophobes are being successfully treated all the time by Thrive.

No child today needs to suffer from emetophobia. And parents can stop feeling powerless and guilty. Emetophobia is entirely curable and the powerful lessons which parent and child learn in overcoming it will stick with them their whole lives.