Hemophobia, or fear of blood, is a common specific phobia. The fear is categorized by the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Ed.) as part of the subtype “blood-injection-injury” phobias. This subtype, which also includes needle phobia, can cause symptoms that are not frequently seen in other types of specific phobias.
Symptoms of Hemophobia
Most types of specific phobia cause the heart rate and blood pressure to rise. Hemophobia and other blood-injection-injury phobias frequently cause a drop in blood pressure and heart rate. The sudden drop can lead to fainting, a relatively common response to the sight of blood. Anticipatory anxiety, in which you may experience a racing heart, shaking, and gastrointestinal distress, is common in the hours and days before an upcoming encounter with blood.
Causes of Hemophobia
Hemophobia is often related to other phobias. Trypanophobia, or fear of medical needles, is sometimes associated with hemophobia. Some people with a fear of blood also have other medical phobias, such as fears of doctors and dentists. The field of medicine is popularly associated with gruesome images of spilled blood, particularly in television and movies, which may help to perpetuate such phobias.
Hemophobia may also be associated with health phobias including hypochondriasis and nosophobia. Bleeding is an indication that something is wrong with the body, and the sight of one’s own blood can be enough to trigger health anxiety. In those who suffer from mysophobia, or fear of germs, the sight of someone else’s blood can trigger fears of catching a disease. In some cases, the fear of blood may be related to the fear of death.
Hemophobia may be caused by a previous negative experience with blood. Those who have been through a traumatic injury or illness that caused a major loss of blood may be at increased risk. However, hemophobia may be inherited or even be rooted in evolutionary factors.
Hemophobia in Popular Culture
Because the fear of blood is extremely common, it is frequently exploited in popular culture. Horror movies and Halloween events prey on our natural aversion to blood, often featuring large quantities of fake blood in full Technicolor glory.
Of course, as the 1980s slasher genre proved, it is easy to become emotionally numb to such images, particularly for those who have a fear but not a full-blown phobia. Part of the reason that the shower scene in 1960s Psycho is still considered a masterpiece is the relative lack of gore. The scene was shot in black and white, and the knife never actually pierces the skin. Yet the mind fills in all of the details of a gruesome knife attack.
Spilled blood sometimes creates a paradox--we can’t bear to look, yet we can’t bring ourselves to look away. Consequently, reality television shows such as CBS’ Survivor often create water cooler buzz by zooming in on contestants’ injuries in High Definition slow motion.
Consequences of Hemophobia
Hemophobia can cause a wide range of difficulties that may prove life-limiting or even dangerous. If you are afraid of blood, you may be reluctant to seek medical treatment. You might postpone or avoid annual physicals and needed medical tests. You may refuse surgery or dental treatments.
Parents with hemophobia may find it difficult or impossible to bandage their children’s wounds. You might pass these tasks off to your spouse whenever possible. You may also overreact to minor injuries in your children as well as yourself, frequenting emergency rooms or walk-in clinics when home treatment would suffice.
A fear of blood may also cause you to limit activities that carry a risk of injury. You might be unable to participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping or running. You may avoid sports, carnival rides and other activities that you perceive as dangerous.
Over time, such avoidant behaviors can lead to isolation. You might develop social phobia or, in extreme cases, agoraphobia. Your relationships might suffer and, over time, you might find it difficult to participate in even the normal activities of daily living. Feeling depressed is not unusual.
Hemophobia responds very well to many treatment methods. One of the most common is cognitive-behavioral therapy. You will learn to replace your fearful self-talk with healthier responses to the sight of blood. You will also learn new behaviors and coping strategies.
If your phobia is severe, medications can help control the anxiety, allowing you to focus on treatment strategies. Other forms of talk therapy, hypnosis, and even alternative treatments may also be helpful. A skilled therapist can guide you through the process of recovery, which can be difficult or impossible on your own. With help, though, there is no reason for hemophobia to control your life.Source:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.