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Tripophobia (fear of holes): causes, symptoms and treatment

Tripophobia (fear of holes): causes, symptoms and treatment

June 14, 2024

Phobias are irrational and persistent fears to objects, living beings or situations that provoke an intense desire to flee from them. In case of not being able to escape from what produces fear the person with phobia suffers intense anxiety and discomfort, even though he knows that they are irrational and disproportionate in relation to real danger.

Tripophobia is an example of fear irrational to which an innate origin is usually attributed. In fact, it is a case especially known among rare phobias because it has become a true Internet phenomenon. Let's see what it consists of.

What is tripophobia?

The word "tripphobia" literally means "fear of holes" in Greek. The term is very recent and it is even believed that it was coined in an Internet forum. More generally, it refers to the anxiety caused by repetitive patterns, mainly small agglomerated holes , but also of lumps, circles or rectangles.


Normally, the tripophobia is related to organic elements found in nature, such as the seeds of the lotus flower, honeycombs, skin pores, cells, mold, coral or pumice. Objects created by people can also generate a similar reaction; examples are sponges, aerated chocolate and soap bubbles.

What tripphobic images have in common is the irregular or asymmetric configuration of the elements that compose them . People who experience this phenomenon say that they feel disgust and discomfort when seeing images like these, and the greater the contrast between their elements, the more unpleasant it is to observe them.


Unlike most phobic stimuli (elements that produce pathological fear), those that induce the tripphobia in general can not be considered dangerous or threatening. David Barlow (1988) called "false alarms" to the phobic responses that occur without there being threatening external stimuli, as in tripphobia.

symptom

Some people with tripphobia describe extreme reactions similar to the physiological symptoms of panic attacks, such as tremors, tachycardia, nausea or shortness of breath . They may also feel headache and dermatological symptoms, such as itching and goose bumps. Of course, these symptoms also make the person try to move away from the phobic stimulus, either by looking away, covering his eyes or retreating to another place.

Unfortunately, the discomfort does not go away immediately, as the memory of the image continues to be "marked" in the consciousness, and this continues to feed the appearance of the different symptoms (although as time passes they weaken until the anxiety crisis passes completely).


This change in the activity pattern of the nervous system of people with tryptophobia usually appears when viewing images with color patterns reminiscent of a surface full of holes very close to each other , almost forming a mosaic of cracks. The contrast between the surface of these bodies and the darkness that indicates the degree of depth of the holes is usually the property of the image that has the most power to cause discomfort.

The context: specific phobias

The DSM-5 manual collects various types of phobias within the category "Specific phobias" : panic to animals, to the natural environment, such as phobia of storms, situational phobias (for example, claustrophobia) and fear of blood, wounds and injections. Agoraphobia and anxiety or social phobia have their own sections in the DSM because of their frequency and severity.

Although specific phobias are the most frequent anxiety disorder, they are also the least incapacitating, since many times the person can easily avoid the phobic stimulus or rarely find it in their usual context. The extreme fear of snakes, for example, does not usually affect those who live in large cities

Among the specific phobias we find some very peculiar ones, such as the fear of money or the fear of long words, called with some malice "hipopotomonstrosesquipedaliofobia" (we already mentioned these and other curious phobias in this article).

However, it must be borne in mind that in the case of tripophobia what generates discomfort is not a living being or object in particular , but a type of texture that can appear on virtually all types of surfaces.

Causes of tripphobia

Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins (2013), psychologists at the University of Essex, found in two studies that approximately 15% of participants seemed sensitive to tripphobic images, this percentage being slightly higher in women than in men.

The authors attribute the tripophobia to human evolution: the rejection of images similar to the tripphobic it would have been useful to reject poisonous animals , like different types of snakes, scorpions and spiders that have repetitive patterns in their bodies.

Similarly, tripphobic reactions could have been useful for avoid contaminants like those that could be found in mold, in open wounds or in corpses pierced by worms.

The explanation of Cole and Wilkins connects with the concept of biological preparation of Martin Seligman (1971), best known for the theory of learned helplessness with which he explained depression.

According to Seligman, throughout evolution, living beings have not only adapted physically but also we have inherited predispositions to associate certain events because they increased the chances of survival of our ancestors. For example, people would be specially prepared to associate danger with darkness or insects. The irrationality of phobias would be explained because they have a biological origin, not cognitive.

Alternative explanations about this irrational fear

Other experts offer very different hypotheses about tripophobia. In an interview for NPR, anxiety psychiatrist Carol Matthews of the University of California, said that, while any object is susceptible to cause pathological fear, possibly the case of the tripphobia is due rather to the suggestion .

According to Matthews, people who read about the tripophobia are hyped by others who say they have felt reactions of anxiety to see the same images and pay attention to bodily sensations that otherwise mind would filter or ignore.

If they ask us if an image makes us feel disgusting or itchy we are more likely to feel those sensations that if they had not told us anything; This is known as the "priming effect" or primate.

Even in the case that we feel authentic disgust or anxiety when seeing tripphobic images, if they are not intense enough or frequent enough to interfere in our life we ​​could not consider that we have a "phobia of holes". It is important to keep this in mind, because so that fear is considered a phobia (pathological fear) it is necessary that it significantly harms the one who suffers it.

How to overcome this phobia of holes?

As we have seen, a certain degree of tripophobia is normal in most people; we seem to be "designed" to feel at least a little anxiety and discomfort when contemplating surfaces full of holes very close to each other.

However, in the same way in which individual differences in personal traits such as height or strength occur in different degrees among the members of our species, in certain cases the tripophobia can become so intense that it becomes an impediment to leading a normal life . As always with psychological phenomena, there are different degrees of intensity.

In these cases, it is advisable to go to psychological therapy, which will allow learning dynamics to better manage the symptoms and make their impact attenuated.

There are several ways to solve the anxiety caused by this type of phobia. Some patients may require only one of these treatments, or several of them. In any case, they should be placed in the hands of a mental health professional, preferably specialized in this class of disorders.

1. Psychological treatment

Specific phobias are mainly treated through exposure procedures , which consist of facing what causes us fear, anxiety or disgust and urges us to escape. For the treatment by exposure to be effective, the person must pay attention to the phobic stimulus while it is exposed to it, which will progressively reduce the discomfort that it provokes.

It is a procedure in which the person is gradually gaining autonomy, but especially during the early stages of this the role of the therapist is of utmost importance for it to progress properly.

In addition, it is important that to go through this process is very important the commitment of patients , since they must strive to progress and face situations of discomfort. Fortunately, motivation is also part of the role of therapists, who will also work on how patients perceive the tripophobia they experience.

2. Pharmacological treatment

Pharmacological treatment has proved ineffective in overcoming specific phobias; It is fundamentally recommended exposure and other variants of psychological intervention focused on the interaction with phobic stimuli. On the other hand, medication can be useful for agoraphobia and social phobia, in particular anxiolytics and antidepressants. Since the latter is not the case of tripophobia, psychotherapy concentrates most of the efforts, and only if the discomfort is extreme.

3. Exposure therapy

People with tripphobia, whether serious or irrelevant, can make the discomfort caused by this phenomenon be reduced by exposing yourself to the images tripphobic Exposure can be applied gradually, that is, starting with images that provoke moderate anxiety or disgust and progressively increasing the intensity of phobic stimuli.

The well-known youtuber Pewdiepie has recently recorded "healing his tripophobia" through a kind of computer-assisted self-exposure. Some of the images he uses are microbes, human skins with holes and worms coming out of the back of a dog. It does not seem that it is necessary to have tripphobia to feel disgust when seeing images as you are.

Bibliographic references:

  • Barlow, D. H. (1988). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and Panic. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Cole, G. G. & Wilkins, A. J. (2013). Fear of holes. Psychological Science, 24 (10), 1980-1985.
  • Doucleff, M. (February 13, 2013). Fear of cantaloupes and crumpets? A 'phobia' rises from the web. NPR Retrieved from //www.npr.org.
  • Le, A. T. D., Cole, G. G. & Wilkins, A. J. (2015). Assessment of trypophobia and analysis of its visual precipitation. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68 (11), 2304-2322.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1971). Phobias and preparedness. Behavior Therapy, 2 (3), 307-320.

What Causes Trypophobia? (June 2024).


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