Everyone feels anxious or fearful sometimes, and while those feelings are mostly normal, when a fear is irrational, intense, and persistent, it is considered a phobia. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from phobias. Only 10% of reported cases become lifelong illnesses in which the physical symptoms that accompany the feelings of anxiety – like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and sweating – become so severe that they limit daily activities and interfere with quality of life.
While the majority of phobias are relatively commonplace – a fear of crowds (agoraphobia), spiders (arachnophobia), public speaking – many others are decidedly more obscure. You probably haven’t you heard of venustraphobia (fear of beautiful women) or lutraphobia (fear of otters – yes, the animal).
We decided to take a look at some of the things that some people are pathologically scared of – most pretty rare conditions and some common ones that you just didn’t know there was a name for.
With the holidays behind us, it’s safe to talk about this fear of dining or dinner conversation. As a clinical disorder, deipnophobia is a very specific version of a social phobia or social anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, such phobias are diagnosed when “people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations” and affect about 15 million American adults.
People with this kind of fear might dread and actively avoid any situations that might cause them to engage in dinner conversation. Or, it might just serve as a good excuse to avoid dinner with the in-laws.
Defined as the fear of relatives, this is another social phobia that might be exacerbated during the holidays when getting together with family is pretty much unavoidable. As a common anxiety, it is the source of a whole class of jokes about in-laws (see previous slide) and mythologized in children’s stories about scary stepmothers. But serious sufferers will have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by their relatives and may experience blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty speaking when made to confront their fear.
A fear of animals is fairly common – spiders and snakes are pretty scary, after all – and is one of the most frequent fears among children. There are certainly sensible reasons to avoid and fear dangerous or threatening animals, but zemmiphobia is particularly irrational since it is a fear of the “great mole rat”, a creature that, as far as we know, doesn’t exist (there is a “greater mole rat
” that lives in Siberia, if that counts). There are several kinds of mole rat and judging by the naked mole rat pictured here, it is not too surprising that some people have an intense fear of them.
Photo Credit: Leithcote
A “specific phobia” is one of three general types of phobias recognized by the American Psychiatric Association
’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and defined as “a persistent and irrational fear in the presence of some specific stimulus which commonly elicits avoidance of that stimulus.”Pteridophobia refers to the irrational or obsessive fear of ferns, which is, indeed, very specific. The feeling of anxiety induced by the frond-y, spore-producing plant is not so common, although a fear of plants in general, Botanophobia, has been documented: The actress Christina Ricci admitted
in 2003 to British Esquire
that she is afraid of houseplants. “They are dirty,” she said. “If I have to touch one, after already being repulsed by the fact that there is a plant indoors, then it just freaks me out.”
Photo Credit: oskar karlin
The word genuphobia comes from the Latin genu, meaning “knee”. Yes, it refers to an overwhelming, irrational fear of knees. Genuphobes may fear their own knees and/or fear seeing other people’s knees. They tend to avoid the beach and other places where knees are prominently displayed, and probably hate summer.
Photo Credit: Khairil Zhafri
Aulophobia is the abnormal fear of flutes. Whether it is the sound or the physical form of this woodwind instrument that instills panic in the sufferer, the magic is certainly gone for the aulophobic.
Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano
Kyphophobia is a fear of stooping or becoming stooped or crooked. In our lazier moments, we all might dread having to crouch down to pick up something we dropped on the floor, a mild form of this affliction that true sufferers must deal with regularly.One might suspect origins of this fear lie in negative feelings about aging and becoming stooped. A person who develops kyphophobia may avoid any situation in which they would have to stoop and may view such a position repulsive. This phobia can eventually become difficult to manage and interfere with daily activities – like picking up after oneself, for example.
Photo Credit: Spider.Dog
This is one that might be more common, but perhaps you didn’t know there was a name for it: the fear of clowns. While the clown is meant to entertain and distract, research has shown that children are often quite frightened of painted-on smiling faces. Clown themes are generally avoided in hospitals and schools for this reason.To make matters worse, there are plenty of references in popular culture to creepy clowns and the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who performed as a party clown when not committing horrendous crimes. Clowns are definitely a mixed bag, and coulrophobes will be happy to know there is a name for their fear.
Photo Credit: craig Cloutier
Phagophobia, the fear of swallowing, is a serious condition that can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. It may follow a bout of actual dysphagia – the medical term for difficulty swallowing – but even as a psychosomatic condition it can become extremely debilitating. In some cases, the phagophobe eats only soft and liquid foods or might have an almost obsessive need for water while eating. Gulp.
Photo Credit: JoséMa Orsini
Cathisophobia is the fear of sitting down, and just imagining it is exhausting. Imagine being offered a seat and panicking over the prospect of getting off your poor tired feet. As with many phobias, treatments vary from case to case. Treatment methods include talking cures (psychoanalysis), behavioral therapy, hypnosis, progressive desensitization, and medication.
Photo Credit: Martin Sillaots
Walloonphobia is not a clinical phobia, but rather a form of prejudice like xenophobia or homophobia. The term refers to the fear, dislike, or discrimination against Walloons – the French-speaking people who live predominantly in the southern half of Belgium known as Wallonia.Walloon culture contrasts with that of the Flemings, who inhabit the northern part of the country and speak Flemish, a language similar to Dutch. And while Walloons have been the object of Walloonphobia (presumably from their Flemish neighbors to the north), there are plenty of famous Walloons in history: Peter Minuit famously purchased the island of Manhattan from Native Americans in 1626 for goods valued at today’s equivalent of some pocket change.
Photo Credit: Flavio@Flickr
Another typically non-clinical type of phobia that has its roots social and cultural prejudice, ephebiphobia refers to the irrational fear of teenagers or youth. So when the grumpy curmudgeon on your block yells at you when your soccer ball rolls into his yard, you can call him an ephebiphobe and suggest he get treatment for his condition.
Photo Credit: Max Braun
Fear of the color red – the color of blood – might be a more common phobia than porphyrophobia, the fear of the color purple. There are many people who simply don’t like the color, and there are those rare cases of individuals who actually panic at the mere sight of it. Surely they are not Baltimore Ravens fans.
Photo Credit: Dr. Stephen Dann
If you are desperately afraid of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth, you have arachibutyrophobia. Indeed, sufferers can easily avoid confronting their fear and voila, problem solved. The word was used by Charles M. Schulz in a 1982 installment of his “Peanuts” comic strip, and it certainly doesn’t apply to dogs, who entertain tens of thousands of people a day
by eating peanut butter.
Photo Credit: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha
Blennophobia, the fear of slime, does not seem so strange. Granted, it’s not something one regularly has to deal with, but some people are downright freaked out by it. No telling how an individual would develop such an irrational fear. Watching too many sci-fi movies perhaps? An incident involving snails?
Photo Credit: Morning theft
Unless you are Amish, you may be at risk for koumpounophobia, the fear of buttons on clothing. Mild to severe feelings of disgust or panic affect sufferers when they touch or, for some, just look at buttons.In 2009, popular author Neil Gaiman released a promotional teaser trailer for the film Coraline, based on his novella of the same name. The trailer
featured Gaiman warning koumpounophobes about the content of the film, which features characters with buttons in place of eyes.
Photo Credit: the Italian voice
Nomophobia, an abbreviation of “no-mobile-phone phobia”, was coined during a study by the UK Post Office, which commissioned a study to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users
. The study found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.” The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on par with those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist.
Photo Credit: Orderlyschism
Unsurprisingly, sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words, and it’s more of an ironic joke than an actual reported condition. Even more anxiety producing is the other word for the fear, antidisestablishmentarianismophobia. If you are actually afflicted by this condition, our apologies for freaking you out. Supercalafragilisticexpialidociousophobia. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
Photo Credit: Thomas Tiernan
Pteronophobia is the fear of feathers or being tickled by feathers. If you are allergic, don’t worry, your problem is probably not mental. But if you break into a sweat just thinking of downy plumage, you are indeed pteronophobic.
Photo Credit: Jaredmoo
Optophobia is the fear of opening one’s eyes. If you are reading this right now, you are not optophobic. The condition could be related to a vampire-like phobia, photophobia, which is the fear of light or the condition of being overly-sensitive to light. For the poor optophobe, waking up in the morning is just that much more of a drag.