If you search any dictionary for trypophobia you are likely to come up blank, meaning the word apparently has no official recognition. To establish it’s meaning therefore, we have to dissect the word into its component parts and hopefully gain some kind of clue.
Starting at the end and working backwards to the beginning is sometimes a good idea, and as trypophobia has a familiar looking ending, that would be a good place to start. So what is a phobia? A phobia is an irrational fear of an object, or activity – that leads to an overwhelming compulsion to avoid it. The key definition to make note of here is “irrational”. A phobia is an irrational fear, where irrational means “without reason”, or unsubstantiated.
Now we know trypophobia is an unsubstantiated fear of, something, so now we have to look toward the remainder of the word to find out the full meaning. Greek is always a good place to start for definitions, and if we look towards ancient Greece we discover that “Trypo” means punching, drilling, or boring holes. The definition we arrive at therefore is
“Trypophobia : an irrational fear of holes”
There is however more to it than that. We are surrounded by holes in our daily lives, holes in clothes, holes in shoes, holes in equipment, and holes in our bodies. However, to find the true meaning of trypophobia we have to realise that this phobia is quite specific about the type of hole.
Therefore is specifically about clusters of holes, groups of holes regardless of whether they are found in nature or in manufacture. Also known as repetitive pattern phobia, it is know to cause repulsion in suffers who so much as see a tight regular pattern consisting of holes. Known as trypophobes, these individuals find solace in knowing, thanks to Facebook, that there are others, just like them, who cannot stand the sight of sea sponges or seed pods.
More sinister than simply sea sponges however, holes in the skin cause even more repulsion for trypophobes. Thanks to the many species of one unusual fly, trypophobes have another 150 reasons to be scared -
the bot fly. Bot flies are the only family of flies whose larvae live within the bodies of host mammals. For trypophobes however it is the human botfly, the only species of botfly known to use humans as the host to its larvae, that is the real cause for concern.
Once the bot fly invades the skin, it uses a tiny breathing hole to survive. This tiny hole alone is enough to set off trypophobia. In fact it is this tiny hole that can be the end of the bot fly larvae. Unless the larvae is killed, it will survive and grow inside its host for up to six weeks. The solution is to form an air tight seal over the hole and deny the larvae breathable air. Another solution is to tape over the hole with cotton soaked with camphorated oil, which draws the larvae out, allowing the hole to heal over naturally.
So whether it is the human botfly creating a hole in the human skin, simple small symmetrical shapes formed with holes by mother nature, or indeed any other repetitive pattern, trypophobia is a fear that most people probably cannot understand, but for a minority is a very real fear that catches them unawares at the most unexpected of turns.