phobia is defined by science as an irrational fear – in other words, fear directed toward something which does not typically pose a personal threat, but nevertheless triggers the instinctive “fight-or-flight” emotional response. Not in a fun way, like we get from horror movies, roller-coaster rides or haunted houses, but in ways that can sometimes prevent us from living normal, healthy lives.
We all know about the most common phobias, and most of us have suffered from at least one or two of them: I’ll bet you know someone with
arachnophobia (fear of spiders), acrophobia (fear of heights), or claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and I’ll bet you experienced nyctophobia (fear of the dark) when you were younger… or still do. But today we’re going to explore the outer fringes of fear by examining some of the strangest phobias known to the field of psychology.
As bizarre as some may sound, every one of these fears has at least one documented case, most are listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and some have impaired their sufferers’ ability to function normally, even to the point of being unable to leave their homes (unless they have
domatophobia, which is a fear of houses).
Bear in mind I’m not making light of these fears – and you shouldn’t either, as there are people out there who may be tormented by them right now, and a few are even life-threatening. But I have to admit some of the entries below are weird as hell, and I can imagine some wicked horror stories stemming from most of them (if they haven’t already). So crawl under your favorite security blanket (unless you suffer from
textophobia, which is the fear of touching certain fabrics), and read on!
Spectrophobia: Fear of Mirrors
Not to be confused with eisoptrophobia, which is a fear of one’s reflected image, this phobia is less focused on distortions of the body or face and more on the idea that mirrors themselves contain haunting apparitions, or might be portals to an alternate universe. This concept has been exploited by everything from Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale Through the Looking Glass to modern horror movies like MIRRORS and OCULUS.
Sitophobia: Fear of Eating
This phobia is closely tied to eating disorders like anorexia, and is often treated by psychiatrists with similar methods. However, it’s distinct from most of these conditions in that it may not involve a body-image disorder, but a fear of the act of eating, or of food itself, regardless of how hungry you might be. It’s often tied to trauma caused by pain or nausea among people with digestive illnesses, and even after the symptoms of the illness are gone, the trauma may remain.
Sinistrophobia: Fear of Objects to Your Left
If this sounds like a pretty specific fear, that’s because it is. While it’s been documented by physicians, the causes are not very clearly defined – though some theories have connected it to agoraphobia (fear of a threatening environment) and those suffering from it might feel that objects too close to their bodies trigger a similar anxiety response. Naturally, the counterpart to sinistrophobia is dextrophobia – which involves fear of objects to your right.
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: Fear of Long Words
I’m sorry, but in my opinion, whoever named this phobia is a bastard. I mean, how are you supposed to diagnose and treat someone who is afraid of long words (and yes, it’s a legit clinical phobia) when you can’t even tell them what they suffer from? Seriously, that name is 36 letters long. In all fairness, the long version is more of a cruel joke, and doctors more commonly apply the term sesquipedalophobia to this condition… still, even that is way too long.
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia: Fear of the Number 666
Horns up for the most metal of the phobias! Closely related to triskaidekaphobia, which is a fear of Friday the 13th (the day itself, not the movies), this one shares a similar connotation of curses or bad luck. It’s usually tied to the subject’s religious upbringing, as for many Christians 666 is considered the “Number of the Beast” from Revelations (although some biblical scholars claim Greek translations indicate the number 616), and mere mention of this number could trigger a sense of doom and dread.
Barophobia: Fear of Gravity
You might think this phobia is just part of the fear of falling, or fear of heights, but actually it’s a bit stranger than that: barophobics are afraid that Earth’s gravity itself will pull them to the ground or even crush them; or the opposite case, wherein they fear that gravity might suddenly vanish, with everyone and everything on the planet’s surface suddenly floating into the sky.
Pogonophobia: Fear of Beards
Attention hipsters: that creative statement on your face might be a source of terror. In reality, it’s often less of a fear issue than a social aversion to facial hair, but there have been cases wherein memories of a personal trauma can be triggered by anyone sporting whiskers. One famous experiment by psychologist John B. Watson involved causing an infant to fear a rat, after which the child became scared of nearly anything fuzzy and white – including a white beard. Yes, this jerk made a little kid terrified of Santa Claus.
Nomophobia: Fearing the Loss of Phone Signal
At last, a phobia just for us! It’s not classified in the DSM yet, but it meets the criteria, and is just one of many social fears unique to our wired world. When a person’s smartphone becomes their main social connection, some instinctive needs can be deprived as a result. Remember that scene in MAGIC when Anthony Hopkins couldn’t last five minutes without his ventriloquist dummy? It’s like that. If a phone is lost, broken, out of range, or out of power, some people immediately begin to display withdrawal-like symptoms. While it may be an obvious statement about modern culture, it’s also being studied as a legitimate disorder.
Cardiophobia: Fear of Your Heart
I imagine this phobia could start a particularly vicious cycle; it mostly involves a fear of heart illness, or the fear that one’s heart might suddenly stop beating, and since states of fear and anxiety can include increased or erratic heartbeat and tightness in the chest, then cardiophobia might seem like a self-fulfilling condition. While this fear can be completely rational among people with real heart ailments, it also may involve fear of the heart itself – or even images of hearts, which would make Valentine’s Day the scariest time of year.
Phobophobia: The Fear of Fear
This one’s kinda complicated; it may seem redundant, but the fear of being afraid has been directly connected by psychologists to other disorders – particularly generalized anxiety disorder – and is best described as being afraid of the symptoms of fear, rather than the object of fear. For example, a person with a fear of clowns ( coulrophobia) might become fearful or anxious upon hearing that the circus is coming to town, even if they don’t see a clown itself. This would then aggravate the symptoms of their clown-fear, basically feeding their own phobia.