Brandt and Mackenzie

The Bizarre Rat Germ Phobia

This case refers to a 26-year-old woman who developed an intrusive fear of contamination from rat germs. After she discovered that her husband engaged in an extramarital affair, she began to compulsively wash her hands. The symptoms were exacerbated during her pregnancy and she "would not allow her husband or daughter to touch her" (p. 362). These behaviors intensively occupied her and thereby significantly reduced the accessibility of stress-related thoughts. They also increased her controllability over the stressor by transferring all her household duties to her husband. The effect of availability is associated with the fact that as a child she saw a rat in her family's garage while being sexually abused by her brother. Years later, at age twenty-six, when she found the extramarital relationships of her husband, she chose to alienate herself from the painful situation by directing her feelings of disgust toward the available symbolic representation of her past abuse—the rat. These behaviors intensively occupied her and thereby significantly reduced the accessibility of stress-related thoughts. They also increased her controllability over the stressor by transferring all her household duties to her husband.