What is trypophobia?

Trypophobia normally involves an intense fear of images with patterned holes.

What is trypophobia?

The fear of small holes or repetitive patterns, trypophobia has become popular in social media for the past years. Nonetheless, many netizens have claimed that they have experienced or have been suffering from trypophobia long before the internet came about. Their experiences usually involve the dread of looking at those often photoshopped pictures of closely-packed holes on human skin. This even includes empty honeycomb cells, a lotus seed pod or the body of a strawberry (anything with holes, bumps, or circles really).

What is currently known about trypophobia?

A certain online forum member in 2005 may have coined the term trypophobia. The term is a combination of the Greek words for hole and fear.

Note that trypophobia has not been officially acknowledged as a phobia. There are many questions about its legitimacy, whether it is a phobia or a mere feeling of disgust or simple fear as a 2013 study has claimed.

To better understand this, it is important to know that fear, by scientific definition, is the normal response to danger. Phobias, meanwhile, are the unreasonable, insentient, and relentless fear that sparks off anxiety.

But trypophobia has limited studies and references in scientific literature. Identifying the full scope and the causes of the condition would require more research. As scientific researches disagree with each other, keeping the idea of trypophobia still rather vague.

Theories

Some studies say that the pattern of holes makes the brain think of the parasites or some poisonous animals which may come out of the holes. The researchers believe that people who suffer from trypophobia were associating harmless holes patterns to dangerous things in their subconscious. With this, researchers theorize that trypophobia is an evolutionary response to alert a person to the presence of impending dangers or diseases.

But later studies negate this idea. Findings show that the visual feature of the pattern of holes resulted in ‘discomfort’ and not ‘alertness to danger’ among preschoolers. Notably, researches said that the discomfort might worsen when a person gets more exposure to these patterns. The appearance of these patterns contributes to the fear. The study showed the participants didn’t have a nonconscious fear of the parasites, poisonous animals, and diseases – proving that trypophobia is not based on the fear of danger.

On the other hand, some scientists believe that humans naturally have the revulsion to tightly packed shapes. Nonetheless, some argue that it is learned behavior.

What are the common triggers of trypophobia?

Trypophobia normally involves an intense fear towards images of patterned holes, or anything which demonstrates ‘high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies.’ The images or things that may trigger this condition include:

  • Honeycombs
  • Hair follicles
  • Sponges
  • Swiss cheese
  • Skin Pores
  • Showerheads
  • Strawberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Coral reefs
  • Lotus seed pods
  • Poppy-seed bagels
  • Surinam toad giving birth
  • Aluminum metal foam
  • Condensation
  • Soap bubbles
  • Cantaloupe

Notably, photoshopped images also trigger trypophobia. Some sufferers have described that they feel unwell and unnerved at the sight of the holes or bumps that are closely grouped together.

What are the risk factors for trypophobia?

Even the risk factors for trypophobia are quite vague for their variety. A study claimed that trypophobia may be connected with social anxiety, a major depressive disorder characterized by a strong dread of being judged by other people. Also, close relationships are considered responsible for this phobia as well, as some researchers believe that it is acquired through observational learning – a condition in which a person develops fear over something when a close family member reacts to that thing with fear.

What are the symptoms of trypophobia?

There are three categories for the symptoms of trypophobia, according to a study based on accounts by 200 members of a trypophobia Facebook support group, which consist of: (1) cognitive-related reactions; (2) skin-related reactions; and (3) physiological reactions.

The cognitive-related reactions include anxiety, queasiness, weakness, disgust or fear. The skin-related reactions include goosebumps, skin itchiness, and skin crawling. The physiological reactions include trembling, panic attacks, shortness of breath, body shakes, sweating, racing heartbeat, headaches, nausea or vomiting.

It is important to know that the degree or level of fear lays out on a case to case basis. Some individuals claim that clusters of bumps and holes just make them feel ill or disgusted. But some individuals claim that the sight of the images fills them with so much fear to the point of shaking.

How to deal with trypophobia

Note that there are no specific or specialized treatments for trypophobia as science has not acknowledged it as a real phobia yet. However, there are some treatments available for general phobias like some self-help treatments and varied therapy sessions.  One of the treatments is exposure therapy, which is a type of psychotherapy. It aims to change a person’s reaction to the situation or object that trigger fear.

In addition, lifestyle changes may also help with the condition. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and keeping away from caffeine (or other substances that can worsen anxiety) may help. These also include talking to friends and family and connecting with people who are dealing with the same issues.

It is highly important to consult with a doctor or a counselor if you think you may have trypophobia. This helps you identify the root of the fear, which is a precursor to overcoming it. A licensed medical practitioner may then prescribe medication, if needed.

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