Why am I experiencing a phobia of emotions

Disgust: When aversion becomes extreme

Disgust is learned

Disgust is defined as a strong aversion that is often associated with physical symptoms as well. Nausea, sweating, and even fainting can occur with a disgust reaction.

The basis for being disgusted is innate in every person and is closely related to the gagging and vomiting reflexes. The facial expression is also universal: the nose is wrinkled, the upper lip pulled up, the corners of the mouth move downwards.

Charles Darwin saw it as a communicative gesture: it was designed to warn others of potential dangers. In the brain, the disgust reflex is created in the limbic system, where emotions and urges are processed.

The disgust reaction itself is not an innate instinct, it is learned. Babies and toddlers have no disgust and also put feces or worms in their mouths. It is only when they are two to four years old that they develop a feeling of disgust that is culturally shaped and looks different depending on the society.

However, a common denominator almost worldwide is feces, urine and pus as well as corpses and the sight or smell of spoiled food. A disgust reaction is supposed to reduce the risk of infection and, in extreme cases, use the vomiting reflex to quickly remove possibly or actually spoiled or poisonous food from the body.

Protection against infection

According to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, women are more disgusted than men and old people are less disgusted than young.

The explanation of the scientists: Since women usually take care of the offspring, they would have to be even more careful than men when dealing with possible sources of infection. And since people do not or hardly reproduce in old age, the protective function can therefore be shut down again.

The fact that one is less disgusted with the excretions of close relatives, such as the excrement of one's own children, than with the excretions of strangers, should also have to do with the risk of infection, according to the London study.

Strangers tend to carry foreign germs, while the body has usually already dealt with the pathogens from its own family.

Inheritance and Conditioning

The fact that some people feel more disgusted than others depends on many factors. The sensitivity to certain disgust triggers is a question of personality and is inherited to a certain extent.

Environmental influences also play a role. The role model function of the parents can play a role here, but also classic conditioning.

A famous example is the "Sauce Béarnaise Syndrome", which the psychologist Martin Seligman observed in himself. After eating a fillet with bearnaise sauce, he vomited.

The reason was not the food, but gastrointestinal flu. Even so, he developed a permanent disgust for the sauce, but not for the meat, which he had eaten with no problems for most of his life.

When food taboos are broken

What you are disgusted with and what you are not disgusted with varies in different cultures. This is particularly evident when it comes to food: in many national or regional kitchens there are dishes that are perceived as disgusting by members of other cultures.

In Sardinia, for example, there is a cheese in which live maggots cavort, while in Sweden the surstromming is a specialty: a fish that has been fermented for months, smells bad and attracts flies.

Disgust can also occur retrospectively: If you serve meat to a European in Vietnam and tell him afterwards that he has just eaten parts of a dog, the dog will likely react with disgust and discomfort.

Disgust reactions also depend heavily on associations. For example, participants in one study were disgusted with apple juice that they were supposed to drink from urine cups, even when they were told that the cups were sterile. For the psychologist Anne Schienle, the "law of similarity" comes into play here: "Anything that looks so similar to a primary trigger of disgust is disgusting."

Disgust triggers multiply with the degree of civilization

Within a culture, the boundaries of disgust shift over time. It was still widespread in Germany in the Middle Ages to blow your nose on your bare hand or to spit at the table next to you. Dealing with feces was also more relaxed and not as taboo as it is today.

It was still quite normal in the 19th century for udders, brains or innards to be on the table. Today many people are disgusted with these foods.

For the sociologist Norbert Elias, the advancement of the thresholds of shame and embarrassment has been one of the central results of the civilization process in Western Europe since the Middle Ages.

The psychologist Bernd Reuschenbach also believes that the number of increasing disgust triggers has something to do with it: "While it was normal in the Middle Ages to eat together on the thunder bar, it is disgusting today. The same applies to eating with hands."

Disgust extends to people and morals

Since our food supply is now very safe and rarely needs to be checked, the disgust reflex has shifted in modern society, according to some researchers. According to the emotion psychologist Paul Rozin, it no longer serves only to protect the body, but also the soul. According to Rozin, people can also experience "interpersonal" disgust.

Many people are disgusted with heated chairs or the idea of ​​eating from someone else's plate or wearing someone else's clothing. "Moral disgust" also exists when, for example, social taboos in the form of nudity or violence are broken.

This can also be seen with obviously staged violence in brutal films, where viewers sometimes show the same disgusting reactions as with real events.

The woman who is disgusted with buttons

It also happens that harmless objects or harmless body parts cause disgust. There are people who loathe their own feet, others cannot bear to touch wooden handles.

Or they are disgusted with buttons - like Mareile Kurtz. Her dislike has existed since childhood and is very pronounced: "If I were forced to rummage around in a box full of clicking buttons, I think I would throw up."

When there was no other way - for interviews or waiter jobs, for example - Kurtz wore blouses with subtle little buttons. But she felt uncomfortable and disguised and ashamed.

After keeping her disgust at buttons a secret for years, Kurtz found out in his early 20s on the Internet that she is not alone with her phobia and that there are methods to combat it.

A comforting feeling. However, she has never considered therapy against her knopfeel: "That would be an expense that is disproportionate to the income. Because one can really live very well with a knopfeel - at least in the form in which I have it."

Psychologist Anne Schienle explains Kurtz's phobia with the contaminating effect of disgust: "The button is initially neutral, but it can be assumed that it appeared in the woman in a disgusting context. Perhaps she injured herself as a toddler and blood came out to the button. " Mareile Kurtz cannot remember any occasion. She's been disgusted with buttons for as long as she can remember.