Hate How This Looks? You May Have Trypophobia

Filled with disgust with small irregular patterns? You are not alone

By Evelyn
Hate How This Looks? You May Have Trypophobia

Cannot Take Small Irregular Patterns

Can you stand the sight of this lotus seed pod or this pomegranate? Does it provoke some kind of reaction, like fear or disgust? You may be suffering from Trypophobia. Have you heard of this phobia? Do you know what is causing it and what you can do to stop the reactions you have? Keep reading because, hopefully, you'll find this helpful.

According to Arnold Wilkins, professor emeritus of psychology from the University of Essex, Trypophobia is not new, it's been going on for some years, but people just didn't know or couldn't identify why they had these reactions (fear, disgust) when looking at certain patterns until they starting discussing it on the Internet.

What's a phobia? A phobia is usually described as "irrational and persistent fear of certain objects or situations, and in some cases, such causes of fear are difficult to identify". That's what you have with Trypophobia, but in this case, it is more complex because the cause is not as simple to pinpoint as other phobias like arachnophobia. 

So, what is Trypophobia? Trypophobia is an aversion or a fear of clusters of small holes, bumps or patterns. People that suffer this kind of phobia experience symptoms of disgust and even fear when they see this type of clusters. This condition was first discussed or described in an online forum in 2005, that's where a group of people found out that they had similar symptoms when they looked at this kind of pattern. Among researchers, there is still some discussion about whether the condition is genuine or not.  

The phobia is still not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, but a peer-review study published in March 2015 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology made an assessment where they developed and validated a symptom scale that can be used to identify Trypophobia. They also estimated that 15% of adults (18% females and 11% males), experience Trypophobia to some degree.

Is Trypophobia common?

The prevalence of this phobia is still unknown but according to researchers, it may be quite common. The range of symptoms produced by Trypophobia have varying degrees of intensity, It can go from mild aversion to an immediate, intense feeling of disgust, fear, and in some cases a full-blown panic attack, This is why researchers, like Renzo Lanfranco, have concluded that Trypophobia is likely a natural and widely share phenomenon that most people can experience to some degree.

Another researcher, Geoff Cole, who's a trypophob himself has studied  Trypophobia and he refers to this disorder in his research as the most common phobia you have never heard of.

What can trigger Trypophobia?

The research on Trypophobia is still rare, there are case report articles that have documented people that suffer from this phobia. Researchers have concluded that after reviewing and discussing many cases reports there are some common triggers objects that can cause trypophobia, such as the following:

  • Honeycombs
  • Strawberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Lotus seed pods
  • Insect eyes
  • Condensation
  • Bubbles
  • Bubble raps
  • Holes or bumps on flesh
  • Sea sponges
  • Fruit seeds
  • Holes in diseased or decayed flesh

As we described before, people who suffer Trpophobia experiment an intense and disproportionate fear toward holes and repetitive patterns or protrusions. Images that present high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies. Other triggers that can cause phobic reactions are man-made patterns and animals that have spotted or patterned coats. 

Source: @AHSFX Twitter

Photoshopped images can also trigger Trypophobia as was the case in 2017 when for the advertising of the seventh season of American Horror Story, the network released a series of photoshopped images featuring women with holes on their faces, heads, and hands. That triggered a set of latent Trypophobia in many people, judging by the tweetstorm of protests and warnings that followed.

The movie Black Panther was a huge success at the box office when it came out in 2018 but for those suffering from Trypophobia, it contained some scenes that could potentially trigger it. That's what some support groups warned about at the time. What scenes were potential Trypophobia triggers? The one where Killmonger, played by actor Michael B. Jordan, takes off his shirt to reveal rows of scars and dots on his chest in a panther pattern.

What Symptoms Are Common for Trypophobia?

When a person suffers from Trypophobia seeing a cluster of holes and related patterns provokes in them fear and sometimes disgust. Usually, these are the symptoms that accompanied their reactions and they are divided into three categories:

1. Cognitive-related reactions.which include: uneasiness, anxiety, helplessness, disgust, fear, panic attacks

2. Skin-related reactions like goosebumps, itchiness, and the feeling of your skin crawl.

3. Physiological reactions such as shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, nausea, vomiting, body shakes, racing heartbeat, headaches, and sweating.

There is also visual discomfort such as eyestrain, distortions or illusions.

Are There Any Risk Factors for Trypophobia?

The truth is that not much is know about what predisposes a person to suffer Trypophobia. According to some research, there's a strong and reasonable link to social anxiety disorder. This is characterized by a strong, persistent fear of being judged by others. A person who suffers from social anxiety disorder tends to avoid facial features, particularly the eyes (an important marker of this condition). So a cluster of holes or circles may make a person with social anxiety disorder feel as if all eyes are on her or him.

Another risk factor could be a familial link as is the case with a college student in Tampa, Florida. Her name is Marley Dodd and Trypophobia seems to run in her family, four of her six siblings, as well as a niece and two nephews, suffer this phobia. She says that not everyone has the same reaction to the same things and the degrees of what triggers it are different, but it's something that they share. Theoretically, this could be explained in what is called observational learning. Trypophobia could be acquired because a person could be conditioned to be irrationally afraid of some triggers by observing a negative reaction to said triggers by a close relative.

A third possible theory for being at risk of suffering from Trypophobia is the genetic pool. According to a study in 2017 conducted at the University of Bonn, there is a genetic link in social anxiety disorder and, this disorder is a close cousin to Trypophobia.

And a fourth possibility is a combination of genetic factors and your environment. A person could have a genetic makeup that predisposes him or her to suffer the phobia but it will only come to light when or if someone or something in their environment triggers it.

Is there an evolutionary cause for Trypophobia?

This seems to be the case according to one of the most popular theories. It says that Trypophobia is an evolutionary response to things that are associated with danger or disease. Usually, skin diseases, parasites or other infectious condition is characterized by holes or bumps and this is what suggests the evolutionary basis of Trypophobia.

This is confirmed by a study conducted in 2017. The study's participants tended to associate holes patterns with skin-transmitted pathogens, many of them reported feelings of skin-itching and skin-crawling when viewing the hole patterns. Disgust or fear of potential threats is an adaptive evolutionary response.

Are there any treatments for Trypophobia?

Phobias can be treated in many different ways. For Trypophobia there's no specific treatment proven really effective. Some treatments used for other phobias have been helpful in reducing some of the symptoms though. Still, there is a treatment that's recommended because it has proved some effectiveness for Trypophobia. It's called Exposure Therapy and it involves exposing a person to their fear object progressively. The focus of this psychotherapy is to change the response this person has to an object or situation that caused fear or disgust.

Over time, the hope is that by being exposed to the objects triggering his or her fears or disgust, the symptoms will lessen. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another common treatment for phobias. It's a combination of exposure therapy with other techniques that can help anxiety management and keeping the thoughts of someone suffering from any phobia from becoming overwhelming.

Relaxation techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation, can also be useful for reducing feelings of disgust, fear or anxiety. 

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Trypophobia is still not an officially recognized phobia but thanks to the online forums and some research, people who suffer the symptoms can now have an idea of why they have them and some way to reduce their reactions. If you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms we mentioned above when you look at hole patterns, speak with your doctor.