Trypophobia: Fear of Holes

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

What is trypophobia?

Trypophobia is a specific phobia. It is an excessive and irrational aversion to seeing clusters of small holes or bumps. A person with this phobia can experience extreme disgust when looking at honeycombs, sponges, sunflowers, lotus flowers, sea coral, aerated chocolate, or any other object with clustered holes and raised bumps.

What causes this phobia?

The cause of trypophobia is unknown. However, clinicians theorize that it could be an evolutionary response in which the brain interprets holes as something dangerous. The visual of clustered holes or bumps can be found on a variety of poisonous animals including snakes, octopuses, dart frogs, puffer fish, and spiders.

Who is most at-risk of experiencing it?

Trypophobia is a relatively common condition found amongst children and adults. In fact, approximately 1 in 6 people have reported disgust as the predominant emotion they feel when looking at patterns of holes or bumps. Females struggle with this phobia more than males and the average age of onset is around 17 years old. People who have a history of anxiety are more likely to develop this phobia.

What are the symptoms of trypophobia?

People can experience tremors, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, nausea, cold flushes or hot flashes and feelings of dread.
For many, the emotion is more disgust than fear. Symptoms of revulsion cause people to cover their mouths or hold their stomach or hunch over due to feeling nauseated. Also, the bigger the holes are, the stronger the emotions experienced.

What are some treatment options for trypophobia ?

Trypophobia responds well to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Exposure therapy is an effective CBT method which helps people systematically desensitize to triggers using progressive steps. By starting with mildly triggering images and working up to more severe triggers, people can learn to manage their phobic symptoms and ultimately alleviate this fear.

How can someone with trypophobia cope with it in their daily life?

It is important to rid oneself of any shame that may be attached to the phobia. Acceptance is a crucial first step in finding the courage to face trypophobia. Having a phobia does not have to be considered a weakness. Instead, facing one’s phobia head on is considered an act of strength.

When is it time to see a doctor?

It is time to see a doctor when the trypophobia causes significant distress at work, in school or socially. People with this phobia may notice patterned holes and circles in their surroundings, and in turn, may grow more and more disgusted in everyday life. The vigilance can lead to avoidance of routine activities and can negatively impact the quality of life.

Interesting facts

Many infectious diseases around the world manifest as round blisters on the skin: chickenpox, measles, scarlet fever, and ringworm to name a few. This gives credibility to the theory that the intense negative reaction to clustered holes is somehow linked to our evolutionary need to avoid anything that can make us sick.

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