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Are Phobias Genetic? My Family's Struggle with Trypophobia.

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The Fear of Clusters and Holes

My nuclear family suffers from what some may call an irrational fear that causes hives, itching, panic attacks, crying, nausea, heart palpitations, crawling skin, and shortness of breath. Though born 19 years apart in different households, my 2 younger brothers and I suffer from an extreme physical reaction to seeing clusters or holes.

This recently coined phobia stems from the Greek word "trypho" which translates into "boring holes." The phobia can be triggered by things such as:

  • honeycombs and wasp nests
  • coral reef
  • pomegranates
  • bone marrow
  • tripe
  • strainers
  • shower heads
  • macaroni noodles
  • soap bubbles
  • frogs that hatch eggs on their backs
  • swiss cheese
  • And my most terrifying site.. a Lotus Pod

The cause of trypophobia is unknown. Many mental health professionals believe that this condition arises from childhood from traumatic events, such as a "conditioning" effect. Because twins can have this disorder and not grow up in the same home or share the same experiences, there is mounting evidence that phobias may have a genetic basis.

There are 19 between my youngest brother and myself. Though we were raised by the same parents, we were raised in different homes in different parts of the country. I have had this phobia for as long as I can remember. When I was 21 years old, my baby brother was 2 years old. While visiting, I held up a picture of hippopatomuses in a standard coloring book. My toddler brother became very upset and tried to knock the book from my hand. He pointed to the hippos and said "no.. nose holes!" He was referring to the nostrils on the hippos. He demanded the book be removed and would not go anywhere near the book. Because he could not grasp the idea of "suggestibility" that holes were to be feared at the age of two, I strongly believe the roots of this phobia are genetic.

Currently there is no cure for this phobia. Many experts recommend prolonged exposure therapy to lessen the physical and emotional reactions to trypophobia. I can personally say this approach has not worked for me and my family.

If you suffer from this phobia, it is important to not mention it to others. Since most people do not understand this disorder, they often try to present the sufferer with examples of clusters and holes just to see a reaction. Others find the phobia amusing. If you know someone with this phobia, try to be sensitive. It can take hours to recover after seeing these images.


Other Uncommon Phobias:

Alektorophobia- The fear of chickens

Bibliophobia- An irrational fear of books

Chionophobia- The fear of snow

Gephyrophobia- A fear of bridges

Ichthyophobia- An irrational fear of fish

Litchphobia- A fear of law suits

Nebulaphobia- The fear of fog

Selenophobia- Fear of the moon

Thalassophobia- Fear of the Sea


Mitch on December 15, 2019:

Wow, me my mother and sister have it, yet my brother and father don't. So yes I would for sure agree that it is hereditary. For the longest time I thought it was just us nice to know we are not alone in this.

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Someone jokingly showed my sister a pic of a bunch of lines on a guy's hands (coused be his hand going through a paper shredder) to see if he could get a reaction out of her. She went two days with out any sleep it mest her up that bad. So it can also be straight or eregular lines.

People also have it in different ways. I don't get grossed out at some things my sister or mother do and vice versa.

Nona C on March 29, 2015:

It is hereditary. My father, sister, and son have it. I do to. We can't even talk about it because we get itchy.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 17, 2013:

Wow Lisa! It is surprising that there are so many people who have this as a family issue. It is the same way in my family. I too can't tell anyone about it. Some people think it is funny to make me cry by showing me pictures of lotus pods. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your story.

Lisa D on November 16, 2013:

I have this too! So does my sister and ironically, both of my daughters. We all have different levels of trypophobia for expample I get the hives, heart palpitations and have to destroy what ever kind of cluster it is. I can't rest if I dont. My daughters itch and one has nightmares about certain things. I even had to write letters to their 9th grade biology teachers because there were certain pictures of cells that literally made them sick and cry. So you are not alone and I believe it is hereditary. I don't share this at all with people because they like to point out things and in order to maintain friendships I keep it secret.

DREAM ON on August 28, 2013:

I want to thank you for sharing as I think of the way the world looks through your eyes.Hoping one day you may only see the beauty.My prayers are with all of you.

Anon on August 28, 2013:

Sorry for the late comment, but I have this phobia too! I try to find out more information about it, but I'm scared to google it because I'm scared of the images that might pop up. Even some articles have pictures of anthills or loctus seed pods and it's just... UGH. Do you mind linking me to that Facebook page (with no pictures, please) about Trypophobia? Thanks!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on May 04, 2013:

I'm so sorry you and your brother battle trypophobia! I also have family members with phobias and it's definitely no laughing matter. Thank you for sharing with us.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on January 24, 2013:

Wow Unknown Spy. I haven't heard of the fear of freedom. I do get the fear of chickens though. :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Life Under Construction from Neverland on January 24, 2013:

Can you believe that I have a fear of freedom..but its true. not to mention my fear of chickens..

anyway, thank you for sharing this, i know there are people out there with the same phobia as you.i kinda find it "sucks"..these fears..i don't want it.....

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 01, 2012:

I am so sorry Tiffany, but I can relate to what you are saying 100%. There are some mean people out there making some horrible images. I try not to think of the images on my own body, but I do. If I ever contracted anything like that, I know I could not live. I try the benadryl too but it makes me sleep instantly so it isn't always an option. We are not alone, there is a HUGE Facebook group with this problem. Unless someone has this, they have no idea what we deal with. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

Tiffany on November 01, 2012:

I have this phobia as well and it makes me feel mentally and physically ill. My mind takes the images and applies them to my body and that drives me nuts. I could kill the people who photoshop all of the gross images that are on the net!!!! Prior to the internet, my triggers lasted only for hours...since the internet, my symptoms last for weeks!!!!!! I consume BENADRYL like crazy now. Thank God for the dollar tree because this would

be an expensive fix. Off to drink some dollar tree Benadryl now!! God Bless all the sufferers!!!!!!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on September 19, 2012:

Thanks denisemai. There is a group for this condition on Facebook and there are over 7000 in the group with the same problem so I think there are many that have it. Most of the time I think people just don't believe that anyone could be afraid of such things and they want to see for themselves. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on September 19, 2012:

Wow daisydayz. I haven't heard of that fear before. That could be difficult if you need any kind of medical treatment. I knew of someone once who had a similar phobia like yours about getting stuck, but theirs was anything with tenacles because they were afraid they would get wrapped up in them. Phobias are so strange and the more we learn, the less we know. Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your story.

Denise Mai from Idaho on September 19, 2012:

This is very interesting. This is a phobia that I've never heard of. I can't imagine someone trying to expose a phobic to their fear for kicks or even to help them. What are they thinking? The power of our brains is fascinating. With the shortness of breath and hives it sounds like you go into full-blown panic attack mode. So sorry you have to deal with that. Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm sure there are folks who have the same condition and reading about other's experiences is soothing.

Chantele Cross-Jones from Cardiff on September 19, 2012:

That is a pretty strange phobia, you poor thing. I only really have a proper phobia of drawing bloody, as in having blood drawn or seeing blood being withdrawn with a needle, not blood in general. But I know it stems from a bad experience in my childhood with blood tests, even thinking about it while writing it now, is making me feel sick and dizzy - so ill stop! I also have a thing about being trapped in something. Not necissarily a confined space as I am happy to get in lifts (or boxes as a joke) just getting stuck in something - this was only really reaslised when I got my apron so tightly knotted at work I couldn't undo it and I started to panic! Stupid I know, but my hubby had to undo it before I freaked out. I had never really thought much about it before that, although I would never go pot holing no matter how much you paid me!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on September 19, 2012:

LOL Lord de Cross. Zeros and photos like that don't bother me. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Joseph De Cross from New York on September 19, 2012:

So you got LordPhobia, by reading my Area of a Circle tutorial, or when I was writing about planes and balloons? How about my original avatari with binary zeros around my pic? How cruel mind can be, and we take for granted "pinky and the brain." Thanks for sharing this personal issue dear friend!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on September 11, 2012:

I understand exactly what you mean gambino!

gambino on September 10, 2012:

for me i have it only when seeing the holes on skin, its terrible, i just discovered it and even thinking about it makes me very sick

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on August 13, 2012:

Shiver... wasp nests! I didn't put any images on this page, but Google is probably running ads according to the key words so I am sorry for that. My immediate family that does not have this problem thought this phobia was hilarious and presented a lotus pod photo unexpectedly. After I broke out in hives they realized it wasn't a joke. There is a great Facebook group with no pictures. You would be amazed how many people are in there. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story!

Piesmarts on August 13, 2012:

My sister and I both have this phobia, and we are 9 years apart. We're not close at all and we discovered it on our own separately. So yes, it's not just you! I'm slowly getting better with this phobia, but I still react to many things. For example there was a picture on an ad on this very page that made me gasp and look away immediately! And yes you are so right about the need to be sensitive when someone mentions this phobia to you. It's a horrible feeling when you react to something. Luckily my boyfriend is very understanding. There was a huge wasp nest in my car's side mirror recently and he took care of removing it because he knew I would have gotten sick. Thanks for sharing your experience and teaching others what is a very unusual phobia!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on August 13, 2012:

Thanks for your sympathy Dream On. I think a phobia like that would really have a bad effect on a person's life. Mine is a little easier to avoid but it will catch you unexpectedly. They Olympics were hard to watch with those terrifying bicylcle helmets and the runner's shirts. But, at least it is something I can get away from most of the time. Thank you so much for your kind comment. It is really a pleasure to meet you here.

DREAM ON on August 13, 2012:

My mother has a fear of closed in spaces.I know how real and terrifying it is for her.I couldn't imagine what life would be like with more than one phobias.A constant struggle day to day.I can see an end to all phobias with the sharing of knowledge and the wonderful insight from the people who are dealing with them.In the meantime you have great support and understanding for your courage dealing with such issues.Thank you for teaching me about problems people have I never knew.Have a good day.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on August 11, 2012:

Thanks so much Gypsy Rose Lee. We never know who is reading our hubs! It is meaniful that some of these issues may get some attention and perhaps some study. I appreciate your kind comment.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on August 11, 2012:

Wow thanks for sharing this very informative and interesting hub. Never heard of this and the other phobias mentioned. I have a fear of heights which I know comes from my grandma - my mother's mom. She had this too. Congrats on your interview! Passing this on.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on August 10, 2012:

Thanks Curiad. I appreciate that!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on August 10, 2012:

Thanks billybuc. This is the 2nd hub I ever wrote. I have deleted the first one. As you could see I had a lot to learn. I wish I didn't have the inspiration to write this.

Curiad on August 10, 2012:

Interesting, I never heard of this one either. Congrats on the interview!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 10, 2012:

Never in my life heard of bizarre! So this was you when you first started at HubPages, huh? Very interesting read; thanks for the info and as always, great job!

Erin on May 15, 2012:

I have this phobia and my father and brother have it to a slight degree.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on May 10, 2012:

Hi Graycat,

For as long as I can remember I have had this too. When I was about 4 or 5 my parents took me to a park and there was a giant swiss cheese statue to play in. I remember it making my skin crawl and I started crying. I hate sunflowers too.. YUCK! There is a great facebook group you can join with hundreds of people with this condition. Just don't look at the photo gallery. Thanks for sharing your story!

graycat on May 10, 2012:

I have this! For as long as I can remember, clumps/clusters have given me a horrible, icky feeling and I just had to destroy them if I could. I'm in my 30s now, but I remember being about 5 and seeing sunflower seed heads, with the dried seeds, and one day a pile of dirt full of beetles all burrowed into it... and then more recently I discovered lotus pods, which I agree are the absolute worst. Googling trypophobia isn't very helpful either, because in addition to finding useful information, there are those awful pictures that pop up :( Glad I'm not alone but I so wish there was a cure! I have this recurring fantasy of obtaining a lotus pod, breaking it open and smashing all the seeds, and crushing all the cells so there are no holes left, lol

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2012:

Thanks for your kind comment Lyn.Stewart. It can be very difficult, but there are many worse phobias one could have.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2012:

Thanks for commenting Kelleyward. I would bet the biggest fear is spiders. :)

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2012:

Thanks so much for reading and commenting Homesteadbound! :)

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting molometer. I would guess everyone has had phobias but we are hearing about them more since it isn't such a taboo to talk about them. Who knows.. There is so much to be phobic about now that wasn't available long, computers..etc. I appreciate you stopping by.

Lyn.Stewart from Auckland, New Zealand on May 07, 2012:

I never knew this phobia existed. This is another fear that would be hard to live with and I take my hat off to you and everyone who has to deal with this in their everyday life. Thanks for opening my eyes. voted up etc

kelleyward on May 07, 2012:

I've never hear of this. I think most of us have some type of fear or phobia or at least know someone that does. Thanks for sharing this interesting hub and your story! Take care, Kelley

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on May 07, 2012:

This is something that I have never heard of. There are things that I fear and people ask me why and I often do not have a good explanation, so I know what you mean. Thanks for educating me on something I have never heard of!

Micheal from United Kingdom on May 07, 2012:

What an interesting read. I learned quite a lot from this Tammy thank you.

These phobias seem to be on the increase or maybe we are just recognizing them better.

Thanks for sharing your insights.

Voted up and sharing.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on February 24, 2012:

It is a strange occurance that doesn't seem to have any answers. Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 24, 2012:

I have never heard of this unusual phobia. I've observed though, that most phobias tend to strike only one member of a family. (i.e., I'm the only one with a fear of heights.) That fact that you and your bros have trypophobia seems unusual. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on February 10, 2012:

Hi Einax17,

I wish there was a cure also. Hopefully... one day! Thanks for reading!

einax17 on February 10, 2012:

This has been bothering me for some time now and I really need a cure for this :(

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on January 26, 2012:

Thanks for reading Stephanie,

It is validating to know we are not alone or as crazy as people think we are. I never liked the word because it reminds me of tripe if that makes any sense. Welcome to the group.. DON'T look in the gallery! There is a name for this affliction and you are among friends!

stephanie garcia on January 26, 2012:

wow....i can't believe after all these years that i have discovered there is a name for this and i'm not alone. i also have trouble reading the word, saying the word and seeing it. Is this true in your case? I think it cuz I get a visual in my mind.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on January 23, 2012:

Thanks Sunshine!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on January 23, 2012:

Wow!! Thanks for sharing again Tammy! I needed a refresher course! Voted awesome!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on January 19, 2012:

Hi Liz,

Oh my yes! This happends to me on my feet. Looking at it makes makes me scratch more. I do this a lot too in the summer when I get bug bites. I can't stand to look at it and I scratch it till it doesn't look like a cluster any more. I can't deal with it. We have a lot of the same issues. It is good to know we are not alone or crazy!

Liz on January 19, 2012:

Do you have any physical manifestations from your phobia? I too consider myself trypophobia and it makes me so uncontrollably itchy that I scratch lesions into my arms, neck and stomach. Which if you examine lesions they tend to appear in clusters too...ugh it's a never ending cycle for me. Oh well, I'll go buy more turtle necks and long sleeve shirts.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 07, 2011:

Thank you Goldie. Pain IS a terrible burden!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on November 04, 2011:


Fascinating and great advise. Very well done. My grandfather suffered with too many sensitivities - sharing those with others is not needed. And yes, we must be kinder and more sensitive.

Any one in pain deserves our empathy. I feel for those with disease and illness. Pain is a terrible burden.

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 04, 2011:

You are right Carrie. At times it is unescapable!

carriethomson from United Kingdom on November 04, 2011:

Oh me too never heard of the tryophobia before!! that's interesting that people can be so paranoid about things like the lotus pod, or the shower and soap bubbles just because it has holes in it!! life can be difficult with this phobia


Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 03, 2011:

Thanks Sunshine! It could be worse.. I could have a fear of pens. Some people even have a fear of buttons.. Who knows.. but I thank you for the welcome.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on November 03, 2011:

First time I ever heard of this phobia also. I don't believe phobia's are genetic probably because I never witnessed it BUT one never knows. Welcome to HubPages!

Tammy (author) from North Carolina on November 03, 2011:

Thank you! I appreciate the welcome!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 03, 2011:

I'd never heard of trypophobia before reading your hub. Thanks for sharing this and Welcome to HubPages.

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