Administrative phobia, a real syndrome

The “Public Treasury” header gave him chills. Four months of looking at the envelope without opening it! To imagine the worst. To wake up startled at one o’clock in the morning. It took an eternity for Yun Inada, a thirty-year-old Parisian, to resolve to unseal the letter buried under a pile of papers. 1,000 euros? 5,000 euros? How much did taxes demand from him? “The longer I waited, the more anxious I was. I was unable to open that damn mail,” he said. Until the day when taking his courage with both hands, he discovers – oh surprise! – a cheque for EUR 300 owed to him by the Directorate-General for Public Finance. “All those nights imagining myself in prison when in fact, it’s as if I had won the lottery!”, laughs the young man long “angry” with the paperwork.

The brown leaf gave by the doctor? Dustbin. Oops, that was the reimbursement form for the Sécu. EDF’s (unopen) invoices? Drowned under the (uns open) bills of the Internet. “When you are not even able to pay the rent, your partner sees you at worst as irresponsible, at best as a kid to be assisted,” continues Yun Inada, who healed himself by publishing J’y comprends rien (Éditions Hachette, 2019), a cathartic guide for freaks of the form.

The “Thévenoud syndrome”

The mere sight of a missive-marked CAF, Urssaf, or CPAM gives them cold sweats. Invoices and reminder letters pile up in a basket the size of a laundry basket, and on their desks, the Himalayan pile of “urgent” files threatens to collapse. Lazy people? Procrastinators? No, administrative phobics. These allergic to to-do lists suffer from the “Thomas Thévenoud syndrome”. Invoked by the former Secretary of State, exfiltrated in 2014 from the Hollande government, following the revelation of his troubles with the tax authorities, this panic fear of bureaucratic tasks is now cured by the shrink. “In this type of phobia, the administration is perceived as an entity likely to crush and persecute the person, to irreparably ruin his life, notes the psychiatrist Nicolas Neveux. In order not to confront the object of stress, patients have learned to arrange their lives in such a way as to avoid the object of their phobia. This strategy induces a vicious circle reinforcing it.”

At 50, Magali has passed the age of playing hide and seek. Yet his apartment is the scene of a childish cover-up. In the cupboards, the drawers, under the bed, in plastic bags, this sales representative hides everything that terrorizes her: “Out of sight, far from my fear,” she explains. The worst ordeal of opening your mailbox! The last time was eleven days ago: “I hate it, I force myself to go, if possible alone. Then I hide.” Working between France and Switzerland, she has not taken the necessary steps to regularize her tax situation. “I didn’t really understand how it worked, so I didn’t declare anything,” she says. Of course, I had my bank account seized. While I make a good living, I had to ask my boss to advance me money…”

False freedom

Why do these chronically disorganized suffer from ostrich syndrome? What is their relationship to freedom or money? “It affects all environments, with a specificity: the more responsibilities we have at work, the more phobic we are at home,” says Estelle Guillerm, founder of Family Zen, which accompanies the entangled of formalities. Her most extreme “case”: a brilliant lawyer who buries her papers in a supermarket cart like in a purse. “In general, we find in these phobics a trauma related to childhood – a father or a mother that the tax return plunged into a daze -, or a trigger – they had to fill out administrative papers in a painful context: death of a loved one, dismissal, divorce …”, continues Estelle Guillerm. The multiplication and complexity of the procedures do not help anything. “Neither does the Internet,” says Estelle Guillerm. When on the website of the Sécu or the school, you come across the message File not found 404 three times, you let it go.” When you have to reinvent your password with punctuation, capital letters, eight characters, too.

“The phobic thinks in the short term: for him, boring formalities are above all a waste of time,” says Christian Junod, author of All that money says about you (Ed. Eyrolles). This economist by training coaches many employees who stack the papers, like “teenagers a little immature”. “They want to enjoy life and believe themselves to be above material contingencies, but it’s not that simple,” he says. Are they really free when, in reality, they feel guilty and fear the consequences of their inertia? Their attitude generates more stress than if they faced reality. I explain to them that if they learn to swim, they will see that the water is not so cold.”

Administrative phobia, a real syndrome.

The big bath

How to get rid of an administrative phobia? “We work through CBT (cognitive and behavioral therapies) on the management of anxiety according to a graduated exposure ranging from the least distressing – paying the electricity bill – to the most stressful – declaring one’s income,” explains Nicolas Neveux. You can also get help from a personal assistant paid by the hour. What matters is to nurture the feeling of satisfaction felt when you do some of the work, to regain confidence.

Sébastien, a 47-year-old communicator, has learned to live on the edge of the precipice. His fact of arms: a declaration already completed who slept five months in his bag. “I had just been dumped by a tax controller,” he laughs. I took out my best pen to write to the taxes and tell them about this sentimental fiasco.” Its recovery has been reduced from 40% to 10%.

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