What is Omphalophobia? (A Summary)

In this blog post we will summarize the causes, symptoms and treatment of Omphalophobia.

Omphalophobia is an irrational fear of Belly Buttons.

People who suffer from this phobia find the belly buttons unpleasant and cannot even touch their own belly buttons.

It is derived from the Greek work ‘omphalo’ meaning ‘navel’ and ‘phobos’ meaning ‘fear’.

It is a specific phobia, which means that they are extreme fears of a particular thing or object and are persistent as well.

The focus of this fear is the navel or the belly button: own as well as those of others too. 

There are almost 12% of people in the U.S who suffer from specific phobias.

These phobias leave the sufferer overwhelmed and reeling for composure.

Omphalophobia is an intense fear of belly buttons that even if the sufferer thinks about them makes him undergo a full-blown panic attack.

These people may not even have any rational reason that they can provide for their fear, but to them it is very much present and they suffer.

Symptoms of Omphalophobia

  • dreading the thought of seeing a belly button.
  • avoiding pools, beaches, and changing rooms.
  • feelings of extreme panic and  horror.
  • Flight from the scene

Physical symptoms of phobias can include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • dry mouth
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • upset stomach, nausea
  • tightness in the chest

Causes of Omphalophobia

As with most phobias and anxieties, there is no clear consensus about what causes Omphalophobia..

The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have been exposed to a deformed belly button, thus leaving him with a perception that all navels may be this way.

There could also be pain related to his own belly button as well.

There are plenty of people with Omphalophobia who cannot even recall the traumatic incident.

Some degree of resistance to navels and belly buttons is common, but Omphalophobia is an exaggerated form of this reaction.

Many times, Omphalophobia can suddenly arise out of the blue.

Scientists believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental factors could cause such fears to develop.

As is common in specific phobias, the cause of Omphalophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.

Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Omphalophobia. 

Other causes can be as follow:

• Learned behavior

• Traumatic experiences

Etiological Models of Omphalophobia

1. Biological (Genetic) Model

Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels.

Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families. The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.

2. Psychodiagnostics Model

If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life. 

A childhood traumatic experience could be where children often see a movie of a child who is born and the umbilical cord can be seen attached to the baby as well.

This may leave a long lasting impression.

Reading books that have a detailed account of births and severing the umbilical cords and superstitions of black magic being carried out on these cords, can add to the fears.

3. Behavioral Model

According to this model, irrational fears  may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.

Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.

If a family member is already suffering from anxiety or is scared of one or another thing, then chances are higher that only by observing this, the child may develop fears

Treatments of Omphalophobia

Omphalophobia can be treated through different treatments.

These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.

This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.

The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to belly buttons and navels.

This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.

It changes the way a person thinks and feels.

CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation. 

Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.

Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior.

Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.

For the treatment of Omphalophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts. These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions. 

  1. What thought is invoked at the sight of belly buttons?
  2. How do you feel when you look at the belly buttons?
  3. What do you do when you look at the belly buttons? 
  4. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis. According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is. 

In Omphalophobia, the person sees the belly buttons as threatening, not because these are dangerous, but because he ‘views’ them as posing some kind of threat to his existence.

He may also find them disgusting.

2) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)

This is one of the most common therapies used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient. 

In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the stimulus (voids) gradually with varying durations of time.

Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.

In Omphalophobia the client is exposed to images of belly buttons first.

For the fear to be invoked during therapy, the patient must be exposed to an intense stimulus (one that is feared).

He is also asked to narrate any scene from a movie he has seen that involved such images or scenes that involved navels.

It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.

The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’

Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client.

Then the client is asked to present a list that has a hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most. 

The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:

a)     In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine

b)    In vivo – where the client visits the the feared place in reality

The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.

3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

 MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.

We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.

We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. 

In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!

In Omphalophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is in the presence of the void that he is afraid of. Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms. 

4. Meditation

For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.

The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.

The client will meditate during the exposure to the open space  and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus. 

5. Self-Help Groups

Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.

These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.

They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.

This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.

6. Changing Lifestyle

Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well. 

• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:

Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.

• Indulging in an exercise regime:

Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.

This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.

• Altering eating and drinking habits:

Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.

This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.

With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.

• Improving the sleep cycle:

When we get proper rest, our concentration improves.

When the mind is properly rested then only can it view the beauty of the open space like fields and prairies.

7.         Psychiatric Medication 

There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Omphalophobia are severe.

1. Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)

These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.

2. Antidepressants 

These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Omphalophobia as well as other phobias.

Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better. 

8.       Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.

A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.

Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.

Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Omphalophobia?

The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have been exposed to a deformed belly button, thus leaving him with a perception that all navels may be this way.

There could also be pain related to his own belly button as well.

Why does touching my belly button make me feel sick?

When we poke our finger into our belly button, it sends a signal from the deeper fibres that line our inner abdominal cavity to our spinal cord. 

Why do I hate touching my belly button?

Touching the belly button gives a funny and distasteful sensation due to the signal fibres present there.

Can you die from poking your belly button?

No one dies from only poking a belly button but yes, it feels as if one is being stabbed.

Can you open your belly button?

If we open the belly button, the abdominal cavity will be exposed, which is a serious medical issue involving high risks of dangerous infection.

Examples of other interesting phobias


Titles to Read


  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/self-help/
  2. www.nhs.uk
  3. www.apa.org
  4. www.verywellmind.com
  5. www.psychtimes.com