Tripophobia: what is it, causes, symptoms, test, is it curable?

What is trypophobia?

Trypophobia comes from the Greek τρύπα trýpa “hole” and φόβος phóbos “fear”. It is characterized by fear or repulsion by solid holes or protrusions presented in clusters.

That is, people with this disorder feel uncomfortable when looking at surfaces with small circular openings placed side by side.

According to studies, approximately 15% of people experience discomfort when viewing pictures of holes and bumps.

The images that most arouse this type of reaction are those of strawberries, lotus seeds, honeycombs and even soap bubbles. In addition to fear, the person may be affected by malaise, itching and tremors.

Although many people claim to suffer from this condition, trypophobia is not officially accepted by the medical community. There are few surveys that address the issue – those that are available debate the need to recognize or not this condition.

Tripophobia is a real phobia?

Trypophobia is not considered a real phobia . Phobia is seen as one of the modalities of anxiety disorder , defined by marked feelings of worry, anxiety or fear, affecting daily activities.

The disorder may be due to a specific object or situation. Basically, the phobia causes the individual to flee in fear.

Phobias of cockroaches, spiders, height, needles or indoors provoke feelings more intense than those perceived in people who feel discomfort when looking at sets of holes.

The feeling of discomfort when observing images that generate disgust and aversion does not cause the same negative feeling that real phobias (specific phobias) cause. Self-diagnosed tripophobic people are not elated when they see the small holes.

Not being able to see the image for prolonged periods and even having an itchy skin does not characterize a phobia. Panic does not exist in most cases.

However, the person can feel a phobia for anything. It is likely that some people actually have a phobia of small holes gathered together. These unusual cases, however, fall within the so-called specific phobia , a psychiatric disorder recognized by professionals in the field.

Scientific studies

The expression tripophobia is considered to have been used for the first time by a participant in an online forum in 2005.

The analyzes about the theme are recent. Researchers Arnold Wilkins and Geoff Cole argue that they are the pioneers in seeking a scientific explanation for the disorder. Their research was published in 2013 by the journal Psychological Science .

As suggested by them, the aversion of holes is not related to cultural circumstances, but to an inheritance from our ancestors.

Still, according to Winkins and Cole, the images that cause reactions resemble worms that cause inflammation upon entering the human body. Therefore, repulsion would be a response based on an evolutionary adaptation, in order to avoid poisonous or dangerous animals.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers gathered 10 images of 10 species of animals considered the most poisonous in the world and with similar characteristics. These photos were shown to several people.

According to them, the idea for the experiment arose when one of the participants reported his disgust when faced with an image of the blue ringed octopus. The conclusion is that it would be an evolutionary response to defend our body against possible threats.

From the reactions of the experiment, it was found that these species have some patterns that cause discomfort in tripophobic people.

For Geoff Cole, there may be an alert in our brain saying that we are facing dangerous animals. This leads us to escape from dangerous situations unconsciously.

According to those responsible for the study, we all have tripophobic tendencies, even though we are not aware of it. This would explain why people who do not consider themselves with the problem feel uncomfortable when viewing images pointed out as causing trypophobia.

Another finding was in relation to the contrast of the image: those of low contrast, that is, when there is not much distinction of brightness between details, they tend to be less comfortable to see. However, there are photographs with this characteristic but that do not generate a negative feeling.

In addition, it was found that the junction of holes in itself is not the cause, since clumps of bumps also arouse fear. Some images do not have holes, but they trigger trypophobia. For this reason, for Arnold Wilkins and Geoff Cole, the fear of holes does not define trypophobia.

Another study by psychologists An Trong Dinh Le and Tom Kupfer suggests that trypophobia stems from an attempt to prevent parasites and infectious diseases.

The article published in 2017 by the magazine Cognition and Emotion  points out that the most virulent infectious diseases with high death rates generate skin lesions with pus or with rounded features.

The response to images with this content would be a defense reaction against possible trauma to the skin. For them, people’s feelings are not fear, but disgust.

The analysis produced by Le and Kupfer included 255 people who self-diagnosed themselves as tripophobic. 182 of them responded in a normal way to cheese grinders and hives.

Therefore, according to the researchers, trypophobia can be defined as an aversion established from the disgust of objects aligned side by side, with similar circular shapes.

In another study, published in January 2018 by the journal Brain and Cognition, the article produced by psychologist Stella Lourenco attests that trypophobia is not really a phobia. For her, the problem is not based on fear, but on disgust.

The finding was based on a test carried out with 85 participants, in which 60 images were shown sequentially, measuring the size of the pupils (pupillometry).

Pupil dilation is related to fear. In the experiment, this reaction was noticed when the volunteers observed images of dangerous animals, such as spiders or snakes.

For those with tripophobia, the pupils contracted, a sign of disgust and not fear. According to Stella, people who say they have tripophobia did not experience a phobia, but a very intense disgust.

Among the explanations for this feeling, is that the holes presented in an unusual way are related to the agglomeration of parasites, infections and decomposition of body tissue.

The attitudes are the same when in contact with signs of an infectious disease, which generates anxiety for wanting to avoid contagion. This behavior is considered normal and varies according to the person’s caution.

Despite studies and several people reporting on the disorder, trypophobia is not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), produced by the American Psychiatric Association, and is not recognized by the organization.

The manual is intended for professionals in the mental health field , discriminating categories of mental disorders and how to diagnose them. Its use is worldwide, being made by clinicians, researchers, insurance companies, pharmaceutical industries and political parliaments.

Among the justifications for the opposition is that everyone feels disgusted with holes in living tissue, but that this does not characterize a phobia.

Causes

Certain patterns, usually those contained in nature and which present clusters of holes, cause exacerbated reactions that cannot be controlled by individuals with trypophobia.

Images that contain figures similar to the holes or spots in the skin of animals, such as insects, amphibians and mammals, or with worms that cause skin problems, such as passion fruit heel (also known as bicheira, occurs when the blowfly larva enters skin or other tissues or body cavities), trigger the disorder.

Other stimuli include:

  • Lotus seed pods;
  • Plant leaf pores;
  • Honeycombs;
  • Strawberries;
  • Pomegranates;
  • Certain type of mushroom;
  • Set of insect eyes;
  • Soap bubbles;
  • Foam of aluminum metal;
  • Sponge;
  • Sea sponge;
  • Coral;
  • Crochet towel.

Symptoms

People who consider themselves with this condition, in addition to feeling disgust and fear, can be affected by:

  • Goosebumps;
  • Eye fatigue, distortions or illusions;
  • Feeling sick;
  • Tremors;
  • Sweat;
  • Itching and tingling throughout the body;
  • Damp hands;
  • Need to rub hands on the skin;
  • Tachycardia (acceleration of heartbeat);
  • Cry;
  • Repulsion;
  • Discomfort;
  • Anguish.

In more severe conditions, due to the high level of anxiety, people with trypophobia may experience panic attacks and fainting.

Pictures: test if you have tripophobia

Attention!

The following images cause negative reactions in people considered to be tripophobic. If you have some of the symptoms reported when you see them, you may have trypophobia.

How is the diagnosis made?

Fears and phobias can be diagnosed by any doctor, with psychiatrists being the most sought after.

Through a consultation, the symptoms reported by the patient will be analyzed. Other factors, such as medical, psychiatric and social history can be considered. The person in charge of the health area can also rely on DSM to make the diagnosis.

However, because it is a disease not officially recognized by the medical community, trypophobia cannot be diagnosed , and the person himself determines himself with the disorder.

Does Tripophobia have a cure?

There is controversy as to whether the phobia can be cured or not. Some believe so, others believe that it can only be controlled. However, there is no officially accepted treatment for trypophobia.

What is the treatment?

As a condition not recognized by the medical community, trypophobia does not have a specific treatment and studies that prove the effectiveness of the methods used to treat phobia.

When diagnosed, the phobia can be treated by the following procedures:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Created in 1960 by the American psychiatrist Aaron Temkin Beck, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) treats several mental disorders.

Among the disorders that can be worked on are depression , anxiety and phobias, in addition to situations experienced by anyone, such as mourning , separations or difficulties in relating.

In CBT, the specialist seeks to understand how the individual perceives and reacts to the episode, not paying attention to the episode itself. There are patterns of behavior, thinking, beliefs and habits, responsible for emotional disorder. Methods are applied to turn these ideas into something positive.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a CBT technique that is part of psychotherapy – a treatment process in which the intention is to resolve the individual’s emotional and psychological issues. The therapist makes use of relaxation techniques that contribute to a good outcome.

The professional will try to change the form of reaction in relation to the object or situation for which the patient is afraid.

This is done by exposing what causes the phobia. The behavior change must be gradual and cautious to avoid any kind of shock.

Medicines

The use of drugs such as beta-blockers and sedatives helps to reduce anxiety and panic symptoms.

Relaxation tactics

Some relaxation tactics, such as deep breathing and yoga, can be used to fight phobia.

Deep breath

Deep breathing is a great ally in combating agitation, stress and anxiety. Normally, breathing takes place 17 or 18 times a minute. In this technique, the institute wants this number to reach 10.

According to research, when breathing more slowly, oxygen is transported more efficiently to cells and the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) remains stable in the body.

Another discovery made by scientists was that diaphragmatic breathing is the most advantageous. In it, the air is inspired by the nose, lifting the lower abdomen, which causes the oxygen to reach the lungs.

The benefits range from improving blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, to controlling the body itself.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient method, created around 5,000 years ago in India. Its term comes from Sanskrit and means “to unite or to integrate”. The aim is to balance mind and body. For this, breathing exercises, postures and meditation are applied.

Physical activities

According to studies, regular physical activity helps to improve the mood and alleviates anxiety. It is worth mentioning that exercising is a complement to the treatment. They are not a substitute for medication and psychotherapy.

To obtain good results, it is necessary that the phobia be treated as soon as possible. Talking about it with family and friends or participating in a support group helps to overcome the problem.

Some precautions also help to improve symptoms:

  • Rest;
  • Have a healthy diet;
  • Do not ingest caffeine and other substances that intensify anxiety.

Medicines

In addition to psychological treatment, the patient diagnosed with phobia may undergo pharmacological treatment. The most common medications are:

  • Clomipramine Hydrochloride ( Anafranil , Clo , Clomipran , Fenatil );
  • Cloxazolam (Anoxolan, Eutonis , Olcadil ).

Attention!

NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained in this website is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Living together

Identifying the conditions and times when fear arises and knowing what to do in these cases helps to improve the problem. Here are some tips on what can be done:

Abstraction

In situations that can trigger fear, an alternative is to use abstraction. In it, the individual mentally separates himself from the element that awakens fear in order to judge him in another context. He becomes the observer of the event.

Facing the situation from another point of view helps to decrease fear.

Mindfulness

Also known as mindfulness, this technique can help the emotional state of people who have a phobia. Mindfulness proposes to focus on what happens during the “here and now”, that is, in the present moment.

Detaching yourself from the past and the future, focusing on the experience lived at that moment is a way to combat symptoms related to stress and anxiety. All of this is directly related to the following item, self-control.

Self control

Fears and phobias are linked to anxiety, which affects the command over actions and emotions. In addition to meditation, some techniques such as breathing control and physical activities help with mental well-being.

Practicing at times when fear is not present helps to prepare and to deal with when the crisis comes.

Talk to other people

Exposing your fear to others, such as family and friends, can promote mental unblocking and get rid of internal worries.

Support groups are also an option. Other people’s experiences can serve as lessons, helping to deal with their own fears.

Professional help

Professional help is indicated for both chronic and simple fear. Usually this feeling is related to a more complex situation or feeling. The psychologist will help you understand the source of the fear and how to end it.

What is it like to live with trypophobia?

Student Amanda Trevisani Marangon, 20, tells a little more about the difficulties she faced after self-diagnosing herself with trypophobia:

“I discovered the problem about 2 years ago. When I came across the word ‘tripophobia’, I didn’t know what it was and I went to research about it.

Most likely, I already suffered from the problem before I knew your name, but of course finding out for sure was good (and bad). After all, the images I saw when I did the research were not pleasant.

Among them, I can mention several that had holes of all sizes and in all types of locations, be they on the skin or any surface.

Usually, these holes, circles, objects and even pets are too close, which causes certain discomfort.

However, it is worth remembering that there is certainly no specific type of image that will trigger this discomfort in me, being something quite unexpected. What can cause discomfort in you may not cause me, and vice versa.

The reactions I usually have are chills, itchiness in the head, malaise and, at times, a kind of heat.

It all depends on the intensity of the image that I observed. However, just talking about it and remembering images I have seen can also trigger these symptoms.

Some people recognize the problem and others do not even know what it is about or consider “freshness”.

I didn’t think about seeking help, because, in my view, trypophobia is recognized only as a simple discomfort.

In addition, just the fact that I need to research the subject to go deeper, would be the initial step to come across unwanted images again, making me not go after help.

In fact, there were no changes in my routine, I did not stop doing anything. Especially because the episodes are unpredictable.

I know people who have just complained about the discomfort that images related to tripophobia bring and others who really don’t know how to deal with the problem, just like me.

Having to live with tripophobia is quite unpleasant, after all, I never know at what time or place I will come across something that triggers it again.

For those who have the problem, I suggest that you do not look for images on the subject on the internet, among other means. If you encounter any situation, avoid looking further. Try to be distracted, try to forget that you saw that. ”

Complications

According to the studies presented so far, people with tripophobia may develop other conditions, such as major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression, as it is also called, occurs when the individual has a long-lasting and intense feeling of sadness.

This state can directly influence mood and behavior and even appetite and sleep. Lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities and difficulty in performing day-to-day occupations are also very common.

Some people with the disorder do not seek treatment. However, most of them have an improvement in their condition when using medications, psychotherapy and other means that aim to treat DDM and relieve symptoms.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

People who are afflicted with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or chronic anxiety neurosis, as it is also known, have an exaggerated and imaginary concern with daily and common events.

This feeling of heightened stress can interfere with relationships and everyday activities. The problem can be controlled through therapy, medication and a healthier lifestyle.

Social phobia

The social phobia or social anxiety disorder, occurs when social interactions cause an excessive anxiety and shame.

Common everyday situations, such as having a meal in public places or talking to strangers, can become issues of extreme discomfort for people with social anxiety.

For most patients, the problem continues throughout their lives. Symptoms vary depending on the circumstances. In general, treatments include the use of medication and psychotherapy.

How to prevent trypophobia?

Because there are not enough studies to reveal exactly why or when it will appear, it is not possible to prevent trypophobia .


Trypophobia is a disorder in which the individual feels fear and aversion for holes or bumps placed together. Although it is not a disease recognized by scientific experts, many people believe it has it.

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