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Fear of Holes: Scientific Explanation of Why You Have Trypophobia (and How to Cope With It!)

Fear of Holes: Scientific Explanation of Why You Have Trypophobia (and How to Cope With It!)

If you have trypophobia you will certainly know all about the irrational and intense fear of clusters of holes which make you feel extremely uncomfortable. You may feel nauseous, have panic attacks, hot sweats, or have very itchy skin when you see these clusters of holes. Aerated chocolate, a cheese grater, a honeycomb, or even soap bubbles are likely to set you off. This post will attempt to explain the scientific background and also offer some ways to help you cope with it. If you have never heard of this phobia, read on.

“(I) can’t really face small, irregularly or asymmetrically placed holes, they make me like, throw up in my mouth, cry a little bit, and shake all over, deeply.” —Trypophobia sufferer.

Is trypophobia a real condition?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of all mental disorders, does not list trypophobia at all. All the other common phobias such as fear of spiders, heights, crowds are all there but not a fear of holes. Wikipedia refused to run a page on it until quite recently.

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It seems that an Irish blogger called Louise invented the term ten years ago by combining the word for “boring holes” and “fear.” Thus, trypophobia was born. In spite of this rather doubtful start, trypophobia has been the subject of a few research studies. If we look at some of these, we may come up with a possible explanation of what can be a very disturbing condition and some ways to cope with it. Look at this video to see if you are actually suffering from this disturbance. If you know you are trypophobic, don’t watch the video!

Scientific Research to Convince You

Before you dismiss any of the above as a fad, let me explain how researchers have shown that this is a real phobia although it is not recognized as such yet. We will be going into more depth than just acknowledging that a Facebook group for trypophobia has 12,000 members.

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Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins of the University of Essex (UK) have carried out an interesting study. As a result of their research, they are convinced that up to 17% of the population may suffer from trypophobia. They explain the phenomenon as a mental process whereby one part of the brain sees a seed pod but another part of the brain sees a poisonous animal. Fear and loathing are the reaction when the latter reaction predominates. It is an evolutionary survival response which we still possess. This is telling us that certain patterns could represent a dangerous animal and we need to escape!

“We argue that although sufferers are not conscious of the association, the phobia arises in part because the inducing stimuli share basic visual characteristics with dangerous organisms, characteristics that are low level and easily computed, and therefore facilitate a rapid nonconscious response.” —Cole and Wilkins, University of Essex.

Martin Antony a psychologist at Ryerson University, Toronto has done a lot of research on phobias and anxiety in general. He is convinced that trypophobia is easily explained by the fact that any visual image which is pockmarked is associated with disease and decay.

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We must not forget the power of suggestion. Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California is convinced that this is the more likely explanation. The role of social media should not be underestimated, she says.

A lot more research still needs to be done and the University of Essex team are moving ahead with trying to analyze and manipulate the characteristics of everyday objects which may lead to a deeper understanding of how ingrained trypophobic tendencies may be.

How to Cope With Trypophobia

The best way is to try to reduce the effects these objects and images have on you. A useful strategy is to examine the triggers and try to reduce exposure to these. If you happen to be in company when you are affected by trypophobia, try to explain it to the person with you. This will help you to come to terms with the phobia and its negative impact will be reduced.

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Some people will have a severe physical reaction which can be similar to a panic attack. You cannot control this at all but you can begin to control how you deal with it. Owning the experience without terrorizing yourself is a good first step.

Choose your images wisely! If you know that something is likely to have holes or pockmarks, you can choose not to go there. Why risk another negative and uncomfortable reaction?  Limit your exposure at all times.

Featured photo credit: items we carry/James Lee via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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