Automatic Urinals (Anxiety)


I’m going to talk about something I’ve never shared with anyone before because it seems so weird, but I’m interested in the psychology behind it and how it affects my paruresis from the point of view of someone who is mildly autistic. Some might find it interesting, or even be able to relate.

Ever since I was at infant school I had a fixation with pressing buttons and pulling levers (anything that controlled something). For example, I could be amused for hours just switching a light on and off. I also had a fascination with flushing toilets. Easy to laugh now, but the child psychologist put it that I just liked to be in control apparently!

I started avoiding urinals because they took my control away (I couldn’t flush them). I used them reluctantly at school because all the other kids did and you want to blend in, but we had this massive slab which I found quite scary because it had a really loud and sudden flush that would go off without any warning so I always felt on edge using it.

As I grew older I came to see peeing as a totally private thing to be done in the safety of a WC. It’s just waste at the end of the day so this is obviously completely irrational, but I felt almost like my urine was part of me, it came from MY body and my toilet routine wasn't complete unless I flushed it away myself afterwards. When I was about 10 I remember once having the silliest falling out with my best mate because he flushed the toilet I was using from the next cubicle before I’d finished peeing for a prank (the old high tanks). I felt helpless watching it drain away unable to stop it, like he’d robbed me of something very personal - bit harsh looking back but I guess that’s how my mind was wired.

A few years ago I got fed up with holding it in every time I went out back in the days when we could, and with the help of a workshop (for which I’ll be forever grateful) I’ve gone from only being able to use the loo in private at home to now being fairly confident in most situations provided nobody gets too close. I found it helpful to turn the fear into a kind of challenge, so I’ll sometimes actively go out looking to avoid WCs and use as many urinals as I can to normalise it further (not that there’s anything wrong with WCs if that’s where you feel comfortable). Mostly I've been really happy with my progress.

Coming back to what I said above about a fear of urinals for reasons less obvious than lack of privacy, one place I keep coming unstuck lately that really bugs me is if I’m trying to pee at a urinal where I can hear the cistern filling up and I can’t start because subconsciously I’m expecting it to pull the chain on me or whatever it does, before I’m finished (like my school mate). Even just the sound of the running water is enough to somehow make me feel threatened or under time pressure, but I’m fine if I don’t think it’s about to flush. Trying to make sense of this the closest thing I can find is it’s a bit like the phobia many people have of the automatic sensor-flush WCs you often see in America, that can be quite unpredictable.

I’m getting by so not desperate for help as such, but I hope someone can tell me I’m not barking mad!


#954 by Anonymous

Hi Luke

You definitely are not barking mad. What you are experiencing is a normal example of the body’s self-preservation, honed by evolution over millennia. The prank played on you by your best mate when you were ten had a very strong impact on you: your helplessness meant you felt threatened. The subconscious stores threatening scenarios in order to recognise them in future; when it happens again, the subconscious reacts immediately, before you have a chance to consciously process it, by putting you on high alert. So at a urinal, hearing the flush fill up, your body feels under threat. You are consciously staying put, but your subconscious is not happy. When under threat the subconscious can go as far a disabling urination – hey presto paruresis.

I am no expert in how to deal with situations like that, and they are idiosyncratic. What may help is to change from dreading that the flush MAY happen, to saying to yourself that it WILL happen and that when it does you will wait it out and pee afterwards.

I do that myself: instead of worrying that someone may walk in, I say to myself that someone will walk in. Somehow it removes the dread of anticipation and helps me to relax.

Have a chew on this and tell me what you think.


#957 by andrew

Thanks, Andrew. I get exactly what you’re suggesting.

Often I find as if by magic I can pee as soon as the flush finishes, although if I wait it out five minutes for the cistern to fill I then fall into the old trap of standing there worrying that someone will come in and wonder what I’m doing.

Of course most times nothing happens and I can just pee and walk away. I know it’s going to flush eventually but I don’t think about it because when it does I won’t be there. When it has happened and I’ve been mid-flow, even now I still get that same momentary feeling of helplessness as the first of the water rushes down the pipes into the pan/trough and there’s nothing I can do about it. Consciously I don’t care, subconsciously I feel under threat at having my pee flushed down the loo by someone/something I can’t control. Maybe. It just seems so bizarre. We are all different I guess.

I think it’s fascinating how much of a subconscious impact a perfectly innocent prank over twenty years ago can have, and how something so simple and mundane can act as a trigger for those emotions over and over again all these years later.


#960 by Anonymous

Hi Andrew

Thanks for your thoughts, I really appreciate it. I replied a couple of days ago but I don’t think it worked.

Often I find I can pee as soon as the flush finishes so it’s definitely a case of the anticipation being worse than the event. If I wait it out five minutes while the cistern fills I then fall into the old trap of worrying that someone will walk in and wonder what I’m doing. I know I still have to work on not letting that bother me.

I think you’re right about the subconscious threat. The odd time it has caught me mid-flow, just the sound of the flush coming down the pipes still triggers that same momentary pit-of-the-stomach feeling of absolute helplessness but once I’ve started I can usually keep on peeing into the water without locking up. Rationally it’s silly, but subconsciously I fear having my pee flushed down the loo before I’m ready by someone/something I can’t control. It’s amazing how these emotions get triggered over and over by the simplest of things.

I know the quirk I’ve tried to describe is a very particular one to me and unlikely to be very common even among the AP community so hope you’ll bear with me, but it feels like an extra little mental hurdle I have to overcome on top of the self-consciousness thing.


#964 by Anonymous

Hi Luke

Another thought that may help. There are two Lukes in the toilet situation: the adult Luke who can rationalise, and the 10 year old Luke who cannot rationalise and is anxious due to feeling out of control. You may find it helpful to have an internal dialogue with the younger you: you can comfort him, and say that it's OK now to let the flush take it away. That you have given permission for the flush to do its thing.



#973 by andrew
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