Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, everyone knows that. Technophobia’s pretty simple to grasp, and even agoraphobia is something that most people have at least heard of. But trypophobia? Um… crippling fear of holes, right? Sort of, but not exactly. This phobia does involve holes, but more in clusters. And maybe it’s not a deathly fear of the appearance of, say, a honeycomb, but it is an aversion and can be quite stressful.
There are two groups here. One includes all the people who scoff at those with this bizarre-even-for-phobias aversion. The other is self-diagnosed sufferers. Many of them have formed support groups of sorts, where they lament incidents like accidentally viewing chia seeds in yogurt. Do you belong in either camp? Read on to find out, but beware. If you’re prone to adopting trending phobias and making them their own, you might want to skip the list of symptoms.
Psychiatrists aren’t on to this yet
You won’t find trypophobia in the Merck Medical Manual or the be-all-end-all listing for mental health disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. The term was definitely invented online, probably as the result of a Geo Cities article from “Louise in Ireland.” It alluded to a 2005 exchange with Margot Charlton of “Ask Oxford,” the advice column from the Oxford English Dictionary bunch. The upshot there was that the word wouldn’t be joining the dictionary any time soon, but Louise was allowed to name the phobia anything she wanted.
Do you have trypophobia?
Even without strict medical parameters, it may be helpful to note if you qualify as a trypophobic. First, you’ll want to discern if any clusters of holes make you uncomfortable, shivery, headachy, itchy, or downright queasy. You might even burst into tears at the sight. Usually, the holes that trigger this odd response are patterned or symmetrical, so looking at a honeycomb is sort of the key test. Brittany Anas has trypophobia triggers dating back to childhood and described them this way in Simplemost: “Aside from honeycombs, clusters and patterns of holes surprisingly pop up in a lot of places,” she said. “Sponges, pomegranates, chia seeds, all trigger it for me.”
Plenty of other people online and in lifestyle publications are also happy to share their experiences. “Once triggered, I feel nauseous [and] dizzy,” Estelle, 27, told SELF. “I usually have to pause whatever I’m doing and step away. It’s not something I can power through or ignore—it feels like all of my other senses are really overwhelmed with how freaked out I am, and I shut down until the stimuli is removed.”
Other trypophobia triggers could make Halloween annoying (think warty pumpkins and lotus seed pod heads) or even put stress on your work life, as they did for Anas. “I completely lose my appetite if someone at the table orders octopus,” she added. “I’m a food writer, and octopus started becoming popular in recent years at restaurant openings. The dimensional raised suction holes on the octopus tentacles set off my trypophobia more than anything else.”
Beware polka dots
Since trypophobia isn’t classified as a proper phobia, insurance won’t usually cover the treatment. Certain mental health professionals feel that it does deserve an official classification, mainly because it can trigger rapid heartbeat and other symptoms prevalent in recognized phobias. And research is ongoing, like a 2013 study published in Psychological Science that determined trypophobic responses are worse when the image contrast is most pronounced. Another study found that the trigger pattern could involve images that weren’t holes, as long as they were repetitive and high-contrast. Until some of these studies yield more information on how widespread trypophobia is and record the damage it does, though, it will probably remain just an Internet phenomenon.
And by the way, if you guessed “trypophobia” is a fear of tripping and falling, you are kind of funny, but way off base. That would be “bathmophobia” and there are no known support groups for it, not even online. Nor, sadly, does bathmophobia involve relaxing in warm bubbles.