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Are ‘Formophobias’ Legitimate Phobias?

That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger - Friedrich Nietzsche

The Rumour: Some people didn’t file their tax forms online because they have a phobia of filling out forms.

Does the very thought of filling out forms stress you out, make you want to curl up in the fetal position, suck your thumb and time-travel back to an age before paperwork existed? If so, you probably dreaded that time of year tax forms needed to be filled in and submitted to the taxman. Someone may even have suggested that you suffer from something called “formophobia,” aka the fear of filling out forms. Sure, formophobia sounds like it’s made up, a convenient excuse to try for a tax extension or miss the deadline altogether. But is it a real thing?

As I write this piece, The Chancellor George Osborne has just announced the death of the online tax return

….hooray! but beware there are still many more forms out there to fill in!

The Verdict: ‘Formophobias’ are real — but very treatable

“You can be phobic about anything — including filling out forms. Phobias are a specific fear of a situation, circumstance, object, living creature… anything that arouses considerable fear and anxiety inside you, which you know is irrational and you manage by avoidance — or, when delay is involved, procrastination. The National Health Service estimates that 10  million U.K. adults aged 18 and over suffer from some type of specific phobia, which “involves marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation.” And a tax form might be one of those objects.

“Somebody may avoid or be phobic of completing a form because they’re afraid that they’ll be overwhelmed by the process, [or it] may be revealed they’ve done something that’s improper and they may be afraid of the consequences. “So they manage it by avoidance.” An inciting incident or triggering event can sometimes create a phobia, . For example, a stressful audit could lead to a phobia that lasts years.

Luckily, phobias are quite treatable with something called systematic desensitization. This involves learning a relaxation or body-quieting technique, and then, when you’re in a more relaxed state, incrementally approaching the feared object. “As far as tax returns or the like are concerned, maybe you need to have somebody you trust help you do them. What you don’t want to do is send your returns in late, because there is liable to be a penalty — and then the next time you’re going to be even more phobic.”

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.