Have you ever heard of omphalophobia? It is the irrational and disproportionate fear of touching or seeing navels . It is a very rare and uncommon specific phobia.
This fear can be extrapolated to one’s own navel or that of others. In this article we will know the symptoms of the omphalophobia, its causes and possible treatments.
- We recommend reading: “The 15 rarest phobias that exist”
Omphalophobia: phobia of navels
Thus, omphalophobia is a specific phobia, which is diagnosed as such when there is an actual deterioration in the patient’s life (or significant discomfort). As we said before, there is always an intense fear of seeing or touching navels (one’s own or another’s).
Specific phobias are anxiety disorders, considered as such in the different diagnostic manuals (DSM-5). So omphalophobia is an anxiety disorder.
Navel is a word that comes from the Latin “umbiculus” and the Greek “omphalos”. The navel consists of a scar that remains in our belly after the umbilical cord is broken when we are born. This scar implies a depression of the skin, like a kind of “hole” with a rounded shape.
There are many types of navel, in terms of shape, size, etc. The vast majority of people have a belly button.
The symptoms of omphalophobia are the symptoms of any other simple phobia . Let’s remember that these are mainly the following.
1. Disproportionate and irrational fear
The main symptom of omphalophobia is an intense, disproportionate and irrational fear of navels . This extends to the possibility of touching them, seeing them, etc., either one’s own navel or the navel of another person.
This fear is intense because it is high, disproportionate because its intensity is too high considering the stimulus that elicits this response (the navels, which are harmless and cannot cause any damage), and irrational because it does not respond to a logical reaction to this stimulus.
The second symptom of phobia is avoidance. That is, the person with this phobia avoids seeing or touching navels at all costs. In the event that he or she must necessarily see or touch one, he or she resists such a situation with great anxiety.
Thus, these people may resist going to places where people go shirtless (e.g. beaches, swimming pools, etc.)
The third symptom of omphalophobia, and any specific phobia, is interference in daily life. That is, the above symptoms interfere with the patient’s daily life, causing significant discomfort or impairment in functioning.
This translates into: difficulties in going to places where people go without a T-shirt , or places where the individual must remain without one, etc. In other words, the functioning of the patient’s life is altered.
4. It lasts at least 6 months
The symptoms of omphalophobia last for at least 6 months. This criterion, like the previous ones, corresponds to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders).
The causes of specific phobias can be of different types . In the specific case of omphalophobia, we can find causes such as the following.
1. Traumatic situations
The fact of having experienced a traumatic situation related to a navel can lead to the appearance of omphalophobia. An example of this could be having suffered from a navel infection (omphalitis), having experienced intense navel pain from some other cause, having injured the navel, etc.
2. Vicar conditioning
Vicarious conditioning is another possible cause of specific phobias; it refers to a type of learning where the person observes what consequences a particular behavior has for another person (these consequences generally being negative).
In the case of iphalophobia, the person suffering from it may have observed other people suffering from a condition related to the navel . For example, an infection, an injury, navel pain. It also includes the fact of having seen damaged or deformed navels, etc.
Vicar conditioning can occur “live” (by seeing other people) or “symbolically” (through movies, for example).
3. Predisposition to anxiety
Another possible cause of omphalophobia is the predisposition or vulnerability (genetic and biological) to anxiety disorders . This vulnerability has been observed in some people, and has been proven in different studies.
4. Family pattern
We can also talk about family patterns in the case of omphalophobia; it is a reality that the risk of suffering from a specific phobia increases if there are members of our family who also suffer from it.
That is, in a way, phobias can also be “inherited”, either by genetics or by the fact of having heard negative ideas about navels , from relatives.
There are different treatments for specific phobias, as well as for omphalophobia in particular. The main ones are the following.
1. Exposure therapy
In exposure therapy, it is a matter of progressively exposing the patient to the situation of seeing and touching navels. This is done through a hierarchy, i.e. the first items on the list will be stimuli that cause less intensity of anxiety, and as the list progresses the items will cause more anxiety.
The patient will be exposed to these items, which will be situations related to seeing or touching a belly button. For example, the first item on the list may be to spend “X” minutes watching people without a shirt from a distance. The second, seeing those same people a little closer. The third, getting closer to a belly button, etc., and at the end of the list, situations that involve touching a belly button.
2. Cognitive therapy
Cognitive therapy is a type of psychological therapy that includes cognitive restructuring as its main technique. This will be based, in the case of phobia, on teaching the patient to identify his dysfunctional and irrational thoughts related to his phobia (i.e., with the navels).
After the identification of these thoughts (also called cognitive distortions), the patient will be taught to look for alternative thoughts to them, these being more realistic and adjusted to reality and the “non-dangerousness” of the navels.
The goal is for these navel-related thoughts to disappear and be replaced by more positive, realistic and adaptive thoughts.
Drugs have also been used in cases of specific phobias (mainly, anxiolytics and antidepressants), although it is true that pharmacological treatment should always be punctual and/or temporary, and as an adjunct or complement to psychological treatment.
In other words, psychopharmaceuticals can be used to “calm” the patient’s anxiety so that work can begin with the patient through psychotherapy.
The reality is that if the underlying problem is not treated (the irrational thoughts associated with the phobia, the intense fear of exposure, etc.), the drugs will have very limited action on this disorder (or any other specific phobia).
American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of Psychopathology. Volume I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
Pérez, M., Fernández, J.R., Fernándes, C. and Amigo, I. (2010). Guide to effective psychological treatments I and II:. Madrid: Pirámide.
International Anatomical Terminology. “Navel.” (2001). Page 4. Editorial Médica Panamericana.