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

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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

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Robert Locke

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

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