What Are You Afraid Of?

May 7, 2015

In the scariest moment of her life, Amanda Sanderfelt ‘15 found herself crying and nauseous, ready to do anything to escape. The situation? Someone had thrown a packet of hot dogs onto her. Sanderfelt suffers from an unusual phobia: the fear of hot dogs.

“It started when I was three years old,” she said. “I had watched a video of how they make hot dogs, and after that I’ve just been grossed out about it. I can’t be in the same room as a hot dog. I get freaked out.”

What Sanderfelt feels is closer to disgust than fear, but it is so extreme that she will avoid interacting with hot dogs if at all possible.

“Once, I remember that someone threw a packet of hot dogs on me and I freaked out,” she said. “I started crying. It’s hard to explain because it’s a weird thing to have a phobia of, but I just can’t handle hot dogs.”

Though Sanderfelt is more repulsed by hot dogs than actually scared, when she encounters them, she feels the same sense of anxiety and discomfort that is connected to phobias.

“They’re gross, in general,” she said. “The taste and the shape and everything and how they’re hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Everything about them. I think they smell bad.”

Although Sanderfelt is not alone in disliking hot dogs, her level of disgust elevates the condition to the status of a phobia.

“I’ve heard of people who think hot dogs are disgusting, but not anyone who is this extreme about it,” she said. “I feel like the difference between [having] a phobia and just thinking something is gross is that you can’t… I feel sick when I’m around [hot dogs], and if I’m getting close to a hot dog place my stomach is like [cringe noise]. I’d walk around rather than walk through a hot dog place.”

“When I see it, I will feel chills and stuff, and I don’t want to look at it, but then I kind of force myself to in a way,” Danielle Tang ‘17 said. “And then there’s like a seizing in my chest, almost like a tightness. And it’s just uncomfortable, and then afterwards you just feel sick, not to the point where you wanna throw up but just really grossed out.”

Tang has a fear of objects with irregular or unusual patterns of holes. Beehives, ant hills, and lotus seed heads are a few examples. Although this phobia has yet to be recognized by the psychological community, it is often referred to by the name “trypophobia,” from the Greek words for “boring holes” and “fear.”

“It’s less of a fear or phobia than it is like you’re just repulsed. You’re grossed out by a lot of little patterns, not just a big thing that is scary,” Tang said. “There are specific patterns that you’ll see in nature and it just grosses you out. That’s more what it is.”
Her first memories of her phobia stem from when she was younger.

“I first remembered it when I was in fourth grade,” Tang said. “During the summer there would be a bunch of mole holes in the ground, and I would just look at them and for some reason I just think it was the most disgusting thing ever. After that I started noticing it in my life more and more.”

After this experience, Tang believes that her trypophobia began to play a more prominent role in her life. She has also found that these small holes bother her more in some cases than others.

“I wouldn’t consider myself someone who is easily scared, but the pattern itself is just gross,” she said. “I can kind of deal with honeycomb because it’s more of a normal pattern, but that’s about it.”

Kierra Zapf ‘15 has been afraid of spoons for almost her whole life.

“Ever since I was little, my mom used to feed me with baby spoons,” she said. “But when I started getting older and using spoons on my own, I just started refusing to. I just wouldn’t do it.”

As she got older, Zapf figured out ways to avoid the need for a spoon, even if it meant not eating certain foods.

“I don’t eat soup,” she said. “I use a fork to eat a cereal or apple sauce. I would rather use my hands than use a spoon.”

Like Tang and Sanderfelt, Zapf also experiences a sense of disgust when she comes into contact with the object of her phobia.

“[Spoons] really gross me out. I feel gross and the back of my throat starts to itch,” she said. “The fact that they aren’t straight and that they’re curved — it just really bothers me. I think the bigger the spoon, the more it disgusts me.”

Unlike Tang, whose phobia is common enough to have a Facebook page followed by thousands, Zapf is more alone in her fear.

“I’ve never heard of anyone else who is afraid of spoons,” she said. “I don’t even know if it’s a real phobia. It might just be me.”

For Emma Arp ‘17, the textures of flour and sand are unpleasant enough to constitute a phobia. For as long as she can remember, she has avoided coming in contact with powdery substances.

“When I was younger, I was always really tactile, and dry stuff would really bother me,” Arp said. “I would always be washing my hands, especially if I touched flour or had been at the beach. It just felt so wrong and strange.”

Arp, like Zapf, has not found other people who share her fear. Nevertheless, her aversion is strong.

“It makes me feel dirty, I guess,” she said. “It’s just not right. It doesn’t feel like it’s okay, or like it should be happening.”

For Arp, the textures that she hates can at times be overwhelming

“One time when I was younger, we had gone to the beach and I was sliding down sand dunes. I just remember getting sand absolutely everywhere, all in my mouth and my eyes,” she said. “It just felt so wrong. It was terrible.”

Trypophobia (the fear of small holes) was first named through an Internet community of sufferers. Since then, the phobia has gained much recognition than it ever had before. Along with that recognition has come an increase in the number of people claiming to have the phobia, which raises a question: Can phobias be contagious? Although there is not definitive research on the subject, phobia sufferers at City have noticed the effect themselves.

“I think that if someone is scared of something there’s sort of a bandwagon effect, or maybe it’ll help someone notice it like it did for me,” Tang said. “I didn’t really notice it until I knew what it was called. But after that you see it more around you.”

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