Get them holes away from me!

Letter dice spelling out the word 'FEAR'

I thought I’d write something a bit more personal about myself this time. My phobia. It’s called trypophobia and it’s a fear of clusters of holes, particularly (though not exclusively) things in nature like honeycomb. It’s particularly disturbing if there are things coming out of the holes, like lotus flower seed pods – a while ago there was a spate of people Photoshopping images of lotus flower seed pods onto photos of people’s skin to look like they had a horrible disease, and those pictures are about as bad as it can get for a trypophobic. It’s not just holes though, it’s also certain textured patterns, like when glass shatters but stays in place, and things like clusters of seeds inside a melon or a pepper. It’s quite hard to define exactly which type of hole clusters or patterns are going to disturb me, because they don’t all, I just know it when I see it. Even the word ‘cluster’ sets me off a bit, as does the word ‘tubes’ for the same reason. Just thinking about it, and writing this piece is actually quite stressful.

So how does this fear manifest itself? Well, it makes me feel very stressed and angry ‘How dare that thing have holes in it like that!’. My heart starts racing and I tense up and feel this strong urge to destroy the thing I’m looking at. It’s also a bit like driving past an accident; you don’t want to look, but you feel compelled to do so.

I’ve had this for as long as I can remember, but I always thought it was just an odd quirk of mine. I only discovered a couple of years ago that it was a proper phobia with a name. Well I say that, it’s not yet been officially recognised as a phobia, but the fact that somebody recognised it enough to name it, is good enough for me.

It’s not a serious phobia, in that it doesn’t rule my life in any way, or prevent me from doing things, I can just turn away, but I would say that at least once a day I see a disturbing image somewhere, often on TV adverts; like toothpaste adverts that zoom right in to show the porousness of a tooth.

I tried to keep it from my children because I didn’t want to pass my fear onto them, but in the end I had to tell them a bit about it to explain some of my strange behaviour. Like the time my daughter brought home a present she had made for me at school; it was a beeswax candle made from rolled up honeycomb. I clutched it with slightly trembling hands, and whilst looking up at the ceiling, I proclaimed “It’s beautiful darling, thank you”.
“But you’re not even looking at it” she said, sounding a little bit hurt and bemused.
“Oh that’s ok” I said “I’ve already seen it”.

I think we can laugh a little bit at phobias when they’re not of the debilitating type. Like my friend’s husband who has a phobia of carrots. Apparently the most disturbing thing for him is carrot cake because he feels people are trying to hide the carrots from him. I always have this image of him pointing angrily at a piece of carrot cake and saying “I know you’re in there!”.

I was going to be brave and put a few offending images of holes on this page, but I don’t want to scare off any fellow trypophobics who may happen upon this page (yes, you’re quite correct, that is just my excuse). But if you’re interested, go to Google Images and search for ‘Trypophobia’, and you will see plenty of horrific images. Just don’t tell me about what you find ok?

Photograph of Fear word, courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski.

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38 responses to “Get them holes away from me!

  1. You know, Vanessa, this fear is so visual that I wonder if the sights of these holes and patterns isn’t triggering some automatic response in your brain. Of course, all phobias are in the brain, but that isn’t what I mean. For example, I can’t listen to jazz. I’m not “scared” of it, but it makes me physically nervous and twitchy.

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    • Yes, I often question whether it is actually fear I’m feeling; the physical symptoms are similar to fear reactions but I don’t think I actually feel afraid of the holes. One theory about this phobia is that it goes back to ancient fears of disease; that would certainly explain why the holes on skin images are particularly disturbing. I agree that it’s an automatic response in that it isn’t any logical thought process telling me that this is something I should be afraid of. Interesting what you said about your bridge phobia on your blog, there’s an understandable reason there as to how yours started. Thanks for stopping by!

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      • Well, I think that’s how it started. Interesting thing: my sister is very afraid of spiders, but I wouldn’t say she’s phobic because she doesn’t let it keep her from her normal life because of the possiblity she may encounter one. Mine does keep me from driving over bridges if I can help it. My sister goes riding very often, and spiders like almost nothing better than barns! The woman on the TV program had trouble even going in the kitchen, because there might be a spider behind the refrigerator. I can’t remember about her, but the other two knew exactly when they first started being afraid. Here’s another interesting thing–my sister was bitten by a brown recluse when she was about 5,and says she can’t remember the incident! But I think she has some sort of “emotjonal” memory of the incident–the rush to the hospital, the panic on everyone else’s face, the crying (me). And it was my pleasure to stop by!

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  2. How funny that we both wrote about being trypophobic around the same time! It’s very different from my fear of spiders because seeing a spider triggers a physical and verbal response from me (ie- screaming and flailing about), but seeing clusters gets me feeling slightly anxious and nauseous. I think that mine started when I was younger. My cousin got sunburned so badly that her skin bubbled on her shoulders, and it really grossed/freaked me out.

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    • Thanks for coming by to read mine too! Interesting what you said about the sunburn – was it that incident that caused you to develop the phobia, or was it because you were predisposed to the phobia that the sunburn grossed you out so much? You’ll probably never know! I think my earliest memory of it was when I was about 7 and I saw some coral in a beach gift shop, and it has all those tiny holes in it, I remember wanting to throw it all on the ground to smash it up and get rid of it (I didn’t!).

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  3. That is just what I’m talking about! Fit’s comment is exactly like my reaction to jazz. I must say (and thank you, Vanessa), this conversation has been very therapeutic. Until I mentioned it on my blog, I had never before admitted to this phobia “in public”. My closest friends know it of course, because they are the ones who have to drive over bridges with me 🙂 Or figure out alternate routes for me to get where I’m going. It makes me feel so ashamed and weird. But I feel a little bit better now…maybe I will recover. I have hope.

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    • Yes, I was thinking about what Fit said. That’s one of the reasons why it isn’t recognised as a proper phobia, because it doesn’t really affect you going about your general life. Using the accident analogy that I used in the post, I could also relate this phobia to somebody having a horrible injury – most people would probably feel quite disturbed by seeing that, but they wouldn’t call it a phobia; I think it’s similar to that. Your jazz one is interesting and it would be a good experiment to find the tipping point, like how jazzy does a piece of music have to be for it to affect you!

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      • I can actually answer that question Vanessa. It has to be improv. I like Dixieland jazz for example, which has a regular beat and a melody. Improv makes me nervous because it has neither and doesn’t sound or feel like it has a direction it’s going in. I listen to NPR quite a lot on the car radio, and they play musical snippets between stories or segments of stories. If they play improv, I try to tolerate it for the short period of time it lasts, but usually can’t. I have to turn the radio off or switch to another station. But it’s just as you say. You can’t call it a phobia. It doesn’t prevent me from listening to NPR for fear they will play improv. I can just turn it off. I have control. Which is the difference with phobias. You have this feeling that you are not in control and can’t help yourself. Like I said, it’s so shameful and embarassing for me to have a phobia. In every other aspect of my life, I’m quite fearless, other than reasonable caution..and sometimes,not even that 🙂

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        • Isn’t it so strange that you never quite know when it’ll hit? I don’t know if my dislike came first or if the sunburn caused it. It’s annoying because some things set me off while others don’t, and some things only weird me out sometimes, but not all.

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          • Fit – Yes that’s true, reactions aren’t consistent. I think for myself, I’m probably more sensitive to it when I’m tired or otherwise anxious.

            fn2 – That’s interesting that you find it shameful and embarassing. Is that a male thing do you think? I think most people have at least one fear that could be seen as irrational, or at the very least disproportionate to the potential risk. Like when you get big strong macho men who fall to pieces at the sight of a needle or a drop of blood. Or when you get people who are perfectly intelligent and rational in most areas of their lives but then have funny little rituals or whatever to counter bad luck – not necessarily full OCD, but that type of thing on a smaller scale; I think that’s a similar comparison to phobias because it’s based around fear of something, often something unquantifiable. We all have our funny quirks whether we admit to them or not!

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          • Well, I’m female, so, no…But I think I have that fatal male flaw of thinking I’m in control of everything all the time, which clearly, I am not! That was very funny what you said about the needles and drops of blood 🙂 So true! And they can watch football all day long and see people injured badly–as long as no one bleeds 🙂 I have to laugh.

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  4. Damn. I hate it when WordPress makes me log back in.

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  5. Hi Vanessa!

    This was a really interesting read – I hadn’t realised there was a name for this but I have a form of this too. For e.g. whenever I make a smoothie, all the blackberries gather together at the bottom of the blender (in a group!) before they get liquidised and it really bothers me! I also find it really hard to look at certain skin problems – like on embarrassing bodies. I just google imaged Trypophobia – mm, not good but good to know I’m not crazy!

    Great to see your blog. 🙂

    Jen

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    • Hi Jen!

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, this is definitely one of those phobias that people come across by accident and then are relieved to find they’re not alone it in.

      I’ve just subscribed to your site 😉

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      • Hi Vanessa 🙂

        Yes, definitely. I just told my sister about it too as she has a similar thing- very interesting! Thank you! Looking forward to reading yours too.

        Jen X

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        • I think phobias can run in families, but whether that is partly learned behaviour from each other I don’t know. I remember my gran used to say how she couldn’t eat Aero chocolate bars because she couldn’t stand the texture and she used to shudder when she said it, so that was probably the same sort of thing.
          x

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  6. Wow, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one! It’s hard for me to look at rocks with lots of holes in them or sponges. Also can’t eat certain Asian desserts that have a million of those little round jelly things in them. Blegh :S

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  7. Oh Vanessa, I know this is bad but I laughed really loudly when I read that part about your friend’s husband’s carrot phobia – that is fantastic!

    I knew nothing of trypophobia… until I was reading a story over at showmeyourlits.com and the story said, “Whatever you do, don’t google ‘fear of holes’.” Well of course I was going to go and do that… my god, I felt so fricking uncomfortable looking at the photo-shopped pictures that were there. I don’t have a problem with honeycomb or any manmade structures… but those weird flower things, yeeshk! I ended up having to watch a really awful, awful video of a guy who had been bitten by some weird fly, over in South America… That’s all the detail I’m giving you but I just want you to know that I share your pain!

    Although I’m pretty much over the fear… I did just have to pause typing to give my head a vigorous scratch!!!

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    • I just found this comment of yours in my Spam folder! I don’t know how it dared to think you were Spam! Yes, it’s funny how there are variations amongst what types of things we can and can’t stand between all of us “sufferers” – the lotus flower pods seem to be quite universally detested though!

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      • Robin’s passed her curse to me! 😉 SPAM? 😥 He he, I’m glad you found me. It is a weird phobia, I find it hard not to notice things which could fall into that category… I of course shouldn’t be saying this; however, I think bubbles (soap bubbles for washing up etc) can look pretty trypophobic when they’re all clustered up. Weird!

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  8. Wow. Never heard of it. Sounds scary. There are holes everywhere.

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  9. Pingback: Sugar Alternatives, Part 3 – Honey | Sugarness…for everything sweet

  10. This is hilarious–not only do we have almost the same title, we basically wrote the same things. You’re a brave woman to not throw that candle away like a hot potato, I would have freaked out. The word “tubes” grosses me out too, as does “holes”. Although “clusters” doesn’t bother me so much. There’s a commercial on now for some sort of sensitive teeth toothpaste that I can’t watch because they zoom in and it makes me sick.

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    • It is really funny, most of us “sufferers” thought it was just us, before stumbling across other trypophobics by chance! Oh gosh yes, the sensitive teeth toothpaste ads are the worst! There’s a particular design of cycle helmet that really gets me at the moment, I know a lot of them have holes in, but there’s one design where there is a kind of raised lip around each of the holes, and I just want to punch the cyclist’s head if they’re wearing one of those!

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  11. until my sister sent me a text 2 days ago, saying “you know that freaky thing you have about holes..” and told me about the google search, I thought this was just another weird quirk of mine. But since googling it seems to be everywhere. I remember as a child hating the tube things in meat, and in my twenties climbing onto a surface in a kitchen surface to scrape bubbling paint with a fork. I feel the need to gnash my teeth and my neck and arms get goosebumps. Talking about ads – there’s a skincare one, where all the naked bodies make the pattern of skin. Yoikes by cheeks are tingling. The description i found best was that of both transfixed and repulsed. I need to keep looking. Wow. So much on net about this now I think rather than thinking it weird, there’ll be thousands claiming to have it too!

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    • I read an article recently that said about 1 in 10 people have it! There’s a facebook group for it that I’m in, and some people seem to have it much worse than I do, really extreme reactions, throwing up, and crying, and can’t get images out of their head for days. So I count myself lucky that I’m not THAT bad. You sound about the same as me with it. There are several adverts actually that are quite bad aren’t there, for skincare and tooth products, yuck!

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  12. Pingback: 21 Things I Hate or Just Don’t Like Very Much Which May or May Not be Irrational | Vanessa-Jane Chapman

  13. I have this too!! People think I’m crazy BUT NOW I HAVE A WORD FOR THIS.

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  14. I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!

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  15. Boost our cause. Our own friend was just told they have
    this. We need to provide our help support!

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  16. Hahaha 🙂 I didn’t even realize this was a thing until a day or two ago when a friend bought it up… this is definitely me…

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  17. I’ve been feeling uneasy and queasy and retched for days since I was triggered. I turned off images in my browser and looked for information. I wished I could find a video of holes being destroyed, feeling this would relieve me. No such a thing found.

    I remembered I have some clay I received for physical therapy (squeezing the clay strengthens your hands). I took the smooth clay smooshed it around and created holes in it and… of course it was revolting BUT since I was able to immediately destroy them, I felt better. I mean all together better. I may do it again if I need to but don’t want to develop an obsession with doing it, so I did it just once and it helped me.

    Hope this helps someone.

    Liked by 1 person

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