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What is a Phobia of Holes Called? Down the Rabbit Hole of Trypophobia

Have you ever gazed at an aerated chocolate bar and felt, not hunger, but dread? Have you ever snorkeled in a beautiful coral reef but been too distracted by the pocketed appearance of the coral to appreciate the diversity of reef life?

If so, you may be experiencing trypophobia, also known as the phobia of holes. Unlike other phobias, such as the fear of heights or insects, the fear of holes is not officially recognized as a disorder but a even quick glance at Reddit communities and Instagram hashtags tells us this fear can’t be ignored.

So why are so many people scared of or disgusted by holes? Where does the fear of holes come from, and can you treat it? Let’s go down the rabbit hole of trypophobia and find out.

What is Phobia of Holes Called?

Trypophobia is a term used to describe the fear or aversion to clusters of small holes, bumps, or irregular patterns. While not officially recognized as a specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many individuals report experiencing significant distress when exposed to such stimuli. The word "trypophobia" itself is derived from the Greek words "trypo," meaning holes, and "phobos," meaning fear.

Around 10 - 15% of people report feeling discomfort and unease when presented with images of clustered holes, and while this discomfort may rarely tip into a genuinely phobic reaction, the fear of holes is clearly widespread. It has been observed, and studied, by psychologists and psychiatrists and may one day be officially classified. 

Whether it’s an iPhone’s cluster of cameras or a lotus seed pod, many of the triggers of trypophobia are harmless (or even delicious, in the case of bubbly chocolate). So what makes people feel an aversion to these items? Why do we feel fear and disgust at the sight of bubbles and holes? 

What Triggers Trypophobia?

Trypophobia is triggered when individuals encounter patterns of holes, either in real life, such as with certain types of coral or the inside of a pomegranate, or in images.

People with trypophobia may experience a range of symptoms when confronted with triggering stimuli. These symptoms can include anxiety, disgust, nausea, goosebumps, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and even panic attacks. The severity of these reactions can vary from mild discomfort to overwhelming fear and avoidance behaviors.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between feeling discomfort or uneasiness in the presence of stimuli — whether that’s dogs, deep water, or holes — and a phobia. Phobias are characterized by severe reactions and have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Why is trypophobia so disgusting?

Psychologist Sella Lourenco suspects that despite the seemingly harmless sources of trypophobia — swiss cheese, honeycomb — there is an evolutionary basis for the fear of holes. A trypophobic reaction may stem from an inbuilt disgust for decomposition and disease symptoms like sores and scars.

Trypophobic reactions may, therefore, be a fear of infectious disease and an excessive aversion to the symptoms of plague could have protected people from infection at a time when there was no understanding of how diseases were passed from person to person.

Trypophobia Treatment

Treatment options for trypophobia and phobias in general typically involve a combination of therapeutic approaches aimed at reducing fear and anxiety responses to specific triggers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely recognized as an effective treatment for phobias. In CBT, individuals work to identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs related to their phobia. Through gradual exposure to feared stimuli, individuals learn to develop coping strategies and change their behavioral responses.

Exposure therapy is often paired with CBT to challenge and treat phobias. It involves gradually exposing individuals to their feared objects or situations in a controlled and systematic manner. By repeatedly confronting their fears in a safe environment, individuals can desensitize themselves to the trigger and reduce their anxiety over time.

oVRcome’s Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy combines CBT with exposure therapy and allows you to undertake the gold standard treatment for phobias in the safety and comfort of your own home. While there’s no course for trypophobia, we have a range of options for tackling the most common, and disruptive phobias.

Additionally, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can help individuals manage anxiety symptoms associated with phobias. These techniques can be used both during exposure exercises and in everyday life to promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

Trypophobia Examples

While there may be an evolutionary, and rational, basis for trypophobia traced back to a repulsion for sores and open wounds, for many people trypophobia is more often encountered with benign stimuli in a flowery field or on a supermarket shelf. Here are some trypophobia examples:

  • Bubble wrap

  • Coral

  • Aerated chocolate bars

  • Honeycomb

  • Seeded fruit such as a pomegranate

  • Sunflowers

  • Sponges

  • Lotus seeds

  • Wallpaper or tile patterns

  • Open wounds and sores

Exposure to these triggers may give you a “skin scrawling” feeling — or they may trigger a full-on panic attack. The severity of the reaction will determine whether you’re trypophobic, or just experiencing the shadow of an ancient evolutionary reaction.

Wrapping Up

Trypophobia is more commonly self-diagnosed on social networks, forums, and blogs and has even been described as a meme phobia. But this unique phobia, characterized by an intense fear or aversion to clusters of small holes or irregular patterns, feels very real to some people. If your experience of trypophobia is disrupting your life, or you find yourself learning avoidance behaviors,  don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for support and guidance.

While the exact causes and mechanisms behind trypophobia remain subject to ongoing research, effective treatments, and coping strategies are available for those who struggle with this condition.

If you’re interested in learning more about how oVRcome’s unique combination of app-based cognitive behavioral therapy and virtual reality exposure therapy can help you tackle your fears, take a free phobia test today.

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