I have two phobias: Trypohobia and blood phobia. What follows is a description of my first and most severe phobia.
Trypophobia is relatively unknown peculiar phenomenon that affects thousands of people. The term ‘trypophobia’ itself was only coined in 2005. It is not recognised as a phobia technically, but it does seem to be a uncontrolled reaction or response (typically fear, anxiety, revulsion and/or self-defense) of a kind of pattern of holes or bumps. It seems to affect all kinds of people young and old and across different cultural barriers which suggests it is not a culturally learned response. Often, a trypophobe will not know that anyone else suffers from the same experiences that they do.
For a long time I wondered why do certain patterns give me goosebumps? As long as I can remember since I was a kid I had this reaction, and there was very little information about it on the Internet that I could find. I wanted to add my knowledge on it.
What triggers it and what doesn’t?
The effect of a triggering image on any individual trypophobe can vary from no response to a severe reaction, but many trypophobes will agree that certain images are triggering. Generally speaking, any kind of cluster (of say at least 7) of holes or bumps (and in some cases, lesions) may cause discomfort. For me, asymmetric/non-uniform patterns are worse. Others have said that the texture of the holes (in the sense of touch) matters. Some repetitive patterns like honeycomb, clusters of bubbles on the surface of water, the texture of crumpets and the bumps in your skin on your knees when you kneel in carpet for too long can also be triggering.
You can do a Google search for “trypophobia” and many of the images that turn up will illustrate the concept.
To know more about triggers, we must explore why trypophobes have this reaction.
Why do trypophobes have this reaction?
There is not much research data on trypophobia to conclusively explain this reaction. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve experienced, my best guess is that certain kinds of clusters are similar in nature (visually) to some degenerative diseases, pox, infections/infestations, swarms, etc., which one would do well to avoid. You could bring some kind of evolutionary hypothesis into this, the revulsion and therefore aversion of anything that looks like this would be beneficial for survival.
For most, when the clusters/pattern is on something natural/biological such as skin, the reaction is worse. Perfectly symmetrical patterns like the holes in a cheese grater may not be triggering at all (like in my case) due to its visual uniformity (man-made appearance.) But again, different people are sensitive to different things.
As it is, trypophobes are not generally aware of any particular reason they have a reaction. It is like getting goosebumps when it gets cold; it is a reaction one cannot typically prevent.
I have done some small experimentation with this since I am affected by trypophobia, and it is very interesting to me (I’m sort of a scientist at heart.) In my case, the visual scale of holes makes a big difference. For example, looking at something from a certain distance may have no affect on me, but viewing it from further back may trigger a response. It doesn’t seem to depend so much on the “understood” scale (compared relative to other objects around it) as the visual scale – how many of the holes can be seen, how much detail, how big they are, the spaces in between them, etc.
What are the reactions to triggering images?
Reactions vary from person to person. Speaking only from my own experience, the first and most noticeable reaction I get is goosebumps. I always get goosebumps when I am triggered, and my hairs stand on end. It will continue until I am no longer triggered. I believe this is part of some kind of overall self-defense/self-preservation mechanism. At the same time, I feel anxious. I feel as though there is possibly some kind of danger. My mind starts analysing the image and for long exposure, it is all I can think about. Heart rate increases. It can have such a strong presence in the mind that it affects your ability to focus on a task. To that extreme level, it is a little bit debilitating.
The worst, though, is having the triggering images flash into your head. Continuously, more and more, until you start to feel panicky and feverish. In my opinion it is a very unpleasant experience to have a war with your mind, in trying “not” to think about something, which is slowly driving you crazy. After extended exposure, I got more sensitive to trypo triggers. I started to get reactions from simple everyday things like the shower head, bubbles of oil in the frying pan, and even the texture of toilet paper.
Others have said their reactions include things like anger (possibly aggression which can be linked to self-preservation), a desire to destroy the clusters, as well as wanting to cry (a natural reaction after being scared.) One thing that trypophobes all have in common is a very strong revulsion. Most will physically move further away (subconsciously) or look away from the image with disgust. Other common reactions include itching, skin crawling, and being sick to the stomach.
How can I get rid of it?
It takes a lot of mental solidarity to reduce your sensitivity to trypophobic triggers. I don’t believe you will be able to get rid of any reaction altogether, especially to the more severe triggers, but being able to control your reaction and curb the effect it has on you is a good start.
Firstly, I don’t recommend take the exposure/desensitizing route if you already experience any of the reactions above. Being exposed to a lot of triggers in a short amount of time can make you panicky. A lot of the images aren’t real and just created for shock value. Some people have said desensitizing works, and it can, depending on how you do it. Don’t go on a binge looking at triggers until you’re sick. If you’re out and about and see a trigger you can take the time to share your phobia with someone close to you. Being able to explain it and share it can turn it into a good experience and help condition you to associate less negativity with triggers.
Accept that you are not in control of the physical reaction your body has, and know that it is natural. Just like goosebumps, or getting hungry, these are natural feelings and it isn’t something to worry about. What you are in control of is how you deal with it.
If you need to, remind yourself that you are not in any danger.
Do not reinforce yourself into a corner of fear. The more you label trypophobia as something scary, the more it is scary, to you. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but do not encourage it by saying things like “This is going to give me nightmares,” and “I’m so afraid to click on this link.” Just forget those thoughts. Own it, don’t be a prisoner to it.
Finally, do not expose yourself more than you have to. I know there is a deathly curiosity that comes along with trypophobia. It takes a lot of willpower to pass up an opportunity to freak yourself out. But once you are able to say, “No, I don’t want to see that,” and go on to do other things, you will be one step closer to feeling more at ease.
By doing these, over time, your reactions to trypo images should decrease.
What are some of the worst triggers?
Here is a list of well-known trypophobia triggers. You will know immediately if you have trypophobia if you experience anxiety in response to these stimuli.
- Lotus seed pod, lotus breast, lotus seeds photoshopped onto skin (there are many of these), etc.,
- Surinam toad giving birth
- Botfly removal
- Tafoni (rock formation)
- The “frozen peas” image, most likely also photoshopped
- Googly eyes on face