GeneralScience

4 obscure phobias people actually have

Fear is a normal part of being human. It’s an evolutionary process as natural to us as eating or sleeping.

Fear has plenty of value from a survival standpoint. When we sense danger, we avoid it, thus keeping ourselves alive. But sometimes, fear manifests itself in a more direct and unhealthy way. When a person’s fear of a particular thing grows out of control, they may experience anxiety, physical discomfort, and extreme emotional distress. When this happens, it’s known as a phobia. And while some phobias make sense from an evolutionary perspective (think fear of snakes, spiders, or heights), others make less sense.

In fact, some phobias sound downright silly when described out loud, but make no mistake: For plenty of people, the following phobias are no laughing matter.

Trypophobia

Photo of a green plant with small holes on it
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Trypophobia means a fear of small, clustered holes or bumps. Think honeycombs, strawberries, or lotus seed pods. These shapes typically make a trypophobic person feel disgusted or anxious. And while the American Psychological Association doesn’t officially recognize trypophobia in its manual of mental illnesses, there’s no arguing that it’s a real condition.

What causes this phobia? Well, researchers aren’t exactly sure. Research on the topic shows mixed findings. Some attribute it to a natural extension of our survival processes (believing that we unconsciously associate these shapes with dangerous animals or insects). Others state that it has more to do with the (gross) aesthetics of the object itself.

But regardless of the cause, researchers seem to agree that exposure therapy can be an effective way to manage symptoms.

Triskaidekaphobia

Photo of a hand circling the number 13 on a calendar with a marker
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You thought trypophobia was strange? Consider triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13.

Formed from the Greek roots “treiskaideka” (thirteen) and “phobia” (fear of), this is one of those phobias that really does sound made up. Sure, there’s plenty of superstition surrounding the number 13, much of which dates back hundreds of years with no clearly defined origin. But is this superstition the root cause of this irrational hatred?

Researchers aren’t sure. We all know that the number 13 has a rich history in numerology, but to be defined as a phobia, the object must create significant distress or anxiety in the patient. A mild superstition (worrying about Friday the 13th, for example) won’t cut it. A phobia diagnosis needs to be verified by a medical professional, and for true sufferers of the condition, the problems go way beyond these cultural curiosities.

Arachibutyrophobia

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What does this scary-sounding phobia entail? It’s the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. Seriously!

This is another one of those phobias that people have a hard time believing. What’s so nerve-wracking about getting peanut butter stuck to your mouth?

Well, the thing about phobias is that they aren’t based in reason. The phobia isn’t well understood, but the fact is that people with arachibutyrophobia experience genuine distress when presented with this situation, often resulting in anxiety, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and even panic attacks.

Researchers believe that this phobia is tied to some type of past trauma, or perhaps unconscious fears about peanut allergies, but no direct causes have been established.

Optophobia

Close up photo of a person's eye
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Optophobia is the fear of opening one’s eyes. This is not in a metaphorical sense — those with optophobia literally get anxious about viewing things through their own eyes. Depending on the person and the severity of the condition, this could be fear of viewing a specific thing, a person, or fear of viewing in general.

This is a rare phobia with dire implications for the patient’s quality of life. Those with optophobia may prefer to spend their time in dark spaces and will often get uncomfortable when forced into activity.

Again, researchers believe that this phobia is tied to a specific trauma from the past. It’s common for optophobia suffers to have other conditions too, such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Those suffering from optophobia must usually undergo a series of therapeutic treatments to find relief.

There’s a fear for everything

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Some fears — fires, guns, hurricanes — are easy to understand. It’s easy for us to empathize with people who are afraid of these types of things. It’s not quite as easy to empathize with someone who refuses to eat the peanut butter sandwich you gave them.

But remember, everyone’s afraid of something. Part of the reason these fears aren’t well understood is because they aren’t taken seriously. Even if the fear sounds irrational to you, it might be a serious concern for another, so put yourself in their shoes before cracking jokes.