MAKING SENSE OF NONSENSICAL PHOBIAS

I am not great with spiders. I am not just talking about the bird-eating, size-of-your-dinner-plate varieties, but also the harmless, size-of-your-fingernail types and everything in-between. I have nightmares in which they crawl about on the insides of my legs and around my neck while I lie paralysed, and wake up in a sweat. Once, I ran away from a friend who was holding a spider, stepping on a wine glass in the process and needing six stitches. Now that I have gone some way to describe my cowardice, let me try to justify my fear.

I have worked out three reasons why I cannot stand them. Firstly, their appearance: eight spindly legs covered in small hairs surround a squat abdomen, and on top of the head, eight deadened, emotionless black eyes. Lets face it – they look like they just crawled out of a cave on Mars. Secondly, the way they move: they can walk on walls, on ceilings, they can drop from above on a string of silk. Those multiple legs move up and down in an awful coordination; I can feel the furry tapping on my skin just imagining them. Thirdly, way they eat: like some kind of Francis Bacon terror, they anesthetise their victims, wrap them in silk and suck out their juices later, at their leisure.

My arachnophobia is largely irrational, but at least I can go some way to explain it. Furthermore, I’m not alone. Spiders are often used by authors and film-makers when they want to score high on the creep-o-meter. From Shelob in Lord of The Rings to the tarantula scene in the 1960s exposition of creepiness This Night I will Possess Your Corpse, where dozens of tarantulas are released into a room full of sleeping women and crawl all over their bodies,to Buzz’s spider in Home Alone, when Kevin puts the beast on the burglar’s face (although maybe that’s just funny). It seems that Arachnophobia is a common affliction, and spiders crouch in a dark corner of the collective human consciousness. There are, however, some phobias out there that boggle the mind. They are a testament to the variety and downright peculiarity of the human race. I took a look at a few of the more left field conditions.

GLOBOPHOBIA

balloooooons

An affliction that might put you off parties altogether, this is the fear of balloons. On globophobia.web.com, a website set up to connect fellow balloon-fearers, sufferers discuss their fear:

“My ex housemate is terrified of balloons. Every party or event with balloons is a nightmare; she literally runs out of the room. I guess it’s because she expects them to pop every second, she also hates the feeling and the sound of rubbing one.”

“I’m scared they will pop near my face and somehow destroy my eyeballs. I even demanded glasses as a child to help shield my eyes from balloons (latex).”

Some sufferers claim to have memories of balloons bursting near them when they were children, but Reddit member beingaverage describes another reason for Globophobia:

“My friend at Uni had a similar phobia. Although it wasn’t the balloon itself, it was if it wasn’t attached to anything. He would panic if a balloon could be ‘freed’ – he stated that he didn’t like the lack of control of a floating balloon…”

Definitely don’t watch Up, then, and hope that no one tries to treat you to a hot air balloon ride.

KOUMPOUNOPHOBIA

balloons

Unless the Velcro revolution happens any time soon, clothes shopping will always prove challenging for someone with Koumpounophobia, a fear of buttons. Reddit member eskalation says:

“They just gross me out so much… they’re vile, dirty things. Loose ones that you see in the street are the worst, closely followed by those clear plastic ones, then really big ones and really small ones together. I dislike sewing boxes, even though I sew, because they’re always there at the bottom and just the thought is starting to make me feel a bit sick. I’m going.”

I would suggest avoiding the 2009 animated film Coraline, in which ghostly doppelgangers of a child’s parents have buttons for eyes. It’s creepy enough for viewers without Koumpounophobia.

VESTIPHOBIA

clothes

Now, don’t confuse Koumpounophobia with Vestiphobia, the fear of clothes:

“I once knew a guy who would ardently avoid wearing clothes whenever he could because he was convinced that they might suddenly tighten and swallow his body” (Reddit member bceagle).

LACTAPHOBIA

milk

You can probably guess the subject matter involved with this one. Some people just cannot stand the white stuff.

“My ex was deathly afraid of touching or drinking milk. She once had a small bit of milk splash on her while putting some dishes into the dishwasher and she literally fainted on the spot, landing on top of the open dishwasher door… My biggest question for her was always “How are you going to handle getting pregnant, and lactating? You are going to be carrying around two warm bags of milk with you all of the time, and will most likely get a lot on you, all of the time” (LOLinternetLOL on Reddit).

Some sufferers claim to have drunk a glass of sour milk by mistake when they were younger, and many have to take calcium pills to stay healthy.

WHY?

So how can these irrational fears develop? Can they be explained from a scientific point of view? I spoke to Marie Chellingsworth, the programme director of the Applied Psychology course at the University of Exeter:

“In terms of how phobias are developed, there is not one particular cause; we know several factors may influence this. A phobia can be a learned response – by that I mean that a person learns in early life that something may be harmful in some way from someone else. For example, if someone you knew as a child displayed fear in relation to a spider, you may learn to respond in the same way. For some people, however, phobias may be linked to an incident or traumatic event.”

This fits with the psychoanalytic view that phobias are largely based on repression and displacement; the object of a phobia is not the source, but the object is associated with a traumatic event. So perhaps LOLinternetlOL’s ex-girlfriend had an accident after drinking a glass of milk. Maybe she choked on her cereal when she was younger, or did what I did and used a manky Jay cloth to mop up spilt milk and squeezed it back into a cereal bowl and ate it all and felt weird and sick all the while. Marie suggests that phobia sufferers undergo cognitive behavioural therapy.

“The treatment is supported by a trained practitioner or therapist who will help the individual gradually confront the feared object or thing in a graded way”

For me, that means looking at pictures of spiders and then hanging around near real life ones, and then…holding some. Shudder. For all these other strange sufferers, the process is exactly the same. All the lactophobes out there should start getting comfortable around cows; globophobes, you start handling deflated balloons; and the koumpounophobes… start experimenting with clasps?