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Trypophobia: Hell Is Holes

Updated on January 27, 2022
Queasy on the eye
Queasy on the eye

I took advantage of the fine weather recently by embarking on a walk around a small local lake with my girlfriend. As we strolled, we wandered along a side path that led down to the lake’s edge. This path had been strengthened with a cellular ground reinforcement system, this being a toughened plastic honeycombed grid laid in sections along the footpath. The pockets of the honeycomb are then filled with earth, which is compressed into the grid to give a firm walking surface.

As I glanced down I noticed that one, just one, of the segments was hollow, and I recoiled physically. It may have been that the earth beneath that segment contained an air pocket which had collapsed, or, for some reason, someone had picked out the earth, but my reaction was quite animated.

I felt an unpleasant pang of queasiness. While this soon passed, for the rest of the walk, and indeed for the following day, the image of that single hollow cell kept intruding into my thoughts with its attendant, though gradually diminishing, queasiness. The cause of the reaction was that I suffer from trypophobia.

Do YOU suffer from trypophobia? Take the test (WARNING: contains trypophobic images)

A common phobia, but not a real one

Although I only came across this word a few years ago (indeed, the word was only coined in 2005), I have suffered from it for many years. Trypophobia can be described as a fear of clusters of holes, although other images can trigger an attack. The word comes from the Greek trypo, which means to drill. The condition is also known as repetitive pattern phobia.

Trypophobia is a common, and unpleasant torment. Reactions to trypophobic images can include nausea, disorientation and a tightening of the scalp, none of which are desirable to someone about to overtake a lorry carrying scaffolding poles, the head-on view of which can trigger a reaction in some people.

I first became aware that I suffered a bad reaction to certain images when I was inspecting a dried floral display my mother had in a vase. The selection contained several lotus pods, with their deep, random holes. I recoiled in a way that I would repeat many times, as new and unexpected sights triggered a trypophobic reaction.

I squirmed at TV footage as the gills on the underside of a stingray opened up. My skin crawled at the sight of the Surinam toad giving birth to live young through holes in its back. More recently, I shuddered at TV advert for a certain deodorant, which featured a human armpit that appeared to be riddled with holes, until the camera zoomed in and we saw that the holes were, in fact, human heads. Needless to say, said product was boycotted by sufferers the world over.

Man-made images

Things are not made any easier by the efforts of a small but dedicated band of cruel Photoshoppers, who deliberately produce images that are aimed at triggering those with thypophobia, although I have to say that their penchant for superimposing lotus seed pods onto photos of various parts of the anatomy (human and animal) has been done to death: it no longer has an effect.

One unusual trait of trypophobia is that it is not a one-size-fits-all affliction. There are some images, the surface of a crumpet, or the bubbles in aerated chocolate for example, that have no affect on me, but other people are fazed by them. Another curious factor of trypophobia is that, despite the name, it is not only holes that can set the pointer of the nauseo-meter twitching; clusters of objects, such as eggs or seeds, can trigger a reaction too. I still sometimes shudder when I cut into a pepper and see groups of seeds clinging to the pith.

But whatever crumbs of comfort I can find in not being affected by crumpets, Mother Nature has designed all manner of plants and animals that have trypophobic features. These include tafoni, a naturally occurring phenomenon, in which clusters of holes are formed in rock, the wolf spider, which carries hundreds of its babies on its back, and raw tripe (this stuff is so awful, it should have its own category: tripe-o-phobia).

Do you suffer from any of these unusual phobias?

Will desensitization work?

So how can I free myself from this torment?

As I indicated above, the more an image enters my consciousness, the more I become used to it and its impact fades. Could it be that if I were to go ‘cold trypo turkey’, and view hundreds of trypophobic images, I would become desensitized and immune to their spell? After all, I became inured to those ‘shopped’ lotus pod photos.

It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it would work, because while viewing established images might get my mind used to them, there are always those never seen before sights that will jump out and surprise me – like that empty cell on the footpath.


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