Omphalophobia is a type of specific phobia. Specific phobias, also called simple phobias, are extreme, persistent fears that focus on a particular thing.
In this case, the focus is on the human navel, or belly button. The phobia might involve touching or seeing your own belly button, other people’s, or both.
As with other specific phobias, you’re probably fully aware that it’s not rational, but you can’t help it. Your anxiety ramps up at the very thought of belly buttons, and you can even get physical symptoms.
Phobias fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. About 12.5 percent of adults in the United States have a specific phobia during their lifetime, and there’s a long list of common and unique fears. Some well-known phobias include fear of blood, spiders, and the dark.
Anyone of any age can develop a phobia, but they can be successfully treated.
Follow along as we explore fear of belly buttons, how to recognize a true phobia, and what you can do about it.
Can your belly button unravel?
No. The belly button is a remnant of the umbilical cord. Once a baby is born, the cord is no longer needed.
So, with a clamp placed on each end, the cord is cut near the baby’s abdomen, leaving about an inch of stump behind. Within 5 to 15 days, the stump dries out and falls off. About 7 to 10 days later, you have a fully healed belly button.
While many belly buttons look as though someone tied a knot in it, that’s not the case. It’s not a knot, and there’s nothing to unravel.
None of these things point to a belly button phobia, but to personal preference. If you’re not crazy about belly buttons, you can avoid them for the most part.
On the other hand, here are some signs that you may have omphalophobia:
- You absolutely dread the thought of seeing a belly button.
- You actively try to steer clear of them. That might mean avoiding pools, beaches, and changing rooms.
- When you do see a belly button, you’re overwhelmed. Feelings of panic, horror, or terror flood your brain.
- A belly button provokes a strong desire to get away.
- These thoughts are beyond your control, even if you recognize there’s no real reason or threat.
Physical symptoms of phobias can include:
- dry mouth
- breaking out in a sweat
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach, nausea
- chest tightness
- rapid heartbeat
Fear is a normal response to danger. When you’re in genuine danger, fear induces a fight-or-flight response that can save your life. A phobia goes well beyond this. It’s an excessive or irrational fear that causes problems in your life.
Phobias can develop after a bad experience. When that happens, it’s called experiential-specific phobia.
Then again, a bad experience isn’t necessary to develop a phobia. This is called nonexperiential or nonassociative specific phobia.
Children can also develop phobias from growing up around family members who have them.
Once you have a fear of belly buttons, you may start to associate them with the feeling of panic, so you start to avoid them. Avoiding them reinforces the fear and your response to it.
Genetic, developmental, and environmental factors may play a role in phobias.
Fear of belly buttons is irrational, so you may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause.
You may be able to manage your phobia on your own. If not, professional treatment is effective and does help most people with phobias.
These self-help techniques can help manage anxiety and stress related to phobias such as omphalophobia:
- deep breathing
- muscle relaxation exercises
- mindfulness techniques
- support groups for people with phobias
You can also try gradually exposing yourself to belly buttons to see if you can learn to tolerate them. If that doesn’t work, professional therapy can be quite beneficial.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
In CBT, a therapist can help you think about belly buttons differently so that you react differently. CBT is a short-term problem-solving therapy that will focus on the specific fear of belly buttons and give you the tools to manage it.
Exposure therapy, or systematic desensitization, is a specific type of CBT in which the therapist will slowly expose you to belly buttons while helping you take control. Over time, repeated exposure can reduce fear and increase confidence in your ability to manage it.
Exposure therapy and CBT are usually all it takes to control fear of belly buttons. In some instances, medications can be used to treat phobia-related anxiety. These may include beta blockers and sedatives but should be used with caution and only with medical supervision.
Omphalophobia is an overwhelming fear of seeing or touching a belly button, whether it’s your own or other people’s. This is a type of specific phobia that can be successfully treated.
If you’re having trouble dealing with a fear of belly buttons on your own, a therapist can help guide you through it.