Fear This, Freud
Thursday, November 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:04 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 24, 2008


Spiders, dead people and the dark sure can be scary, but watch out

for the weirdos who suffer from these 10 freaky phobias. Now they’re creepy.


Nothing is quite as entertaining as the pain and suffering of others — especially if it’s induced by Chardonnay, colors or chickens. Armed with our medical encyclopedia, Vox plays therapist and tracks down 10 of the most peculiar phobias to plague the human psyche. These are sure to bring out the hypochondriac in all of us.




the fear of string


Who’s up for a game of cat’s cradle? How ’bout a little kite flying? Perhaps some macramé?


Sorry, linonophobes — we’re just messing with your fear of string.


OK. We know there’s usually a trauma at the root of most fears and phobias. But with this one, we have no idea what the heck it could be. Maybe an unfortunate twine incident. Or an intense dislike for brown paper packages tied up with string. Or perhaps a mishap with string cheese.


We’re at a loss. Because it’s string.


Even if you are being held captive and you’re bound foot and wrist with heavy-duty thread, you can gnaw through that with no trouble and be home in time for your string support group.


Embroidery floss, thread, ribbon, yarn, raffia and other string stand-ins abound at JoAnn’s Fabrics and Crafts, but employee Rachel Grier says she doesn’t really see string as much of a menace. “I guess you could trip over string,” says Grier, who’s also a Stephens College fashion design major. She says that though string can be annoying, there’s really no reason to be afraid.




the fear of purple


We know that purple isn’t a great color for many people — it really doesn’t work with most skin tones — but is it truly worth fearing? Come on, the time spent cringing over the inoffensive hue would be better used fearing chartreuse, Pepto Bismol pink or some other hideous color in the Brady wardrobe. And while you’re at it, why don’t you just go ahead and fear madras plaid, stripes with polka dots and white after Labor Day? Heck, could you just cover all of the fashion faux pas? It saves the rest of us the trouble.


“Purple is better left to cartoon characters and royalty,” American Eagle employee Lindsey Mayfield says. “This season, pink is a better choice for girls, and guys should stick to reds and browns.”




the fear of garlic


We fear kissing someone with garlic breath, but most of us don’t flee from the actual cloves. What are you, a vampire? For people with alliumphobia, the sight, smell, touch and taste of garlic cloves are enough to have them kicking Buffy’s butt. “There’s really nothing to fear about garlic except for the bad breath,” Alex Hedges, Pasta Factory manager and cook, says. “But if you’re afraid of garlic, shallots are a good substitute.”


To alliumphobes, a stake to the heart seems like nothing compared to being confronted with an Italian dinner. Hey, at least they don’t have to worry about the good-night kiss.


Pteronophobia: the fear of


being tickled by feathers


Visions of supermodels pillow fighting in their underwear might make up the dreams of most men, but for those suffering from pteronophobia, it’s more of a nightmare. Pteronophobes fear being tickled by feathers, so we’re talking a life without chickens, down comforters and childhood crafts. But it’s not the pecking of the eyes or the pooping on cars that keeps pteronophobes away from birds. It’s those damned dirty feathers. There’ll be no feather dusting, fly fishing, quill pens or feather boas for you. Instead, you’ll be sitting in a boat with a stick and a worm, your plastic Bic and a dickie. Enjoy your filthy house and cotton-stuffed pillows, too.


This phobia is said to stem from childhood trauma involving feathers, but unless you were alive during the Boston Massacre and saw someone get tarred and feathered or Grandma cooked your pet turkey, Gobbles, for Thanksgiving, we can’t imagine what a feather trauma could be.




the fear of being left-handed


If the thought of holding a pen in your left hand makes you want to gnaw your arm off at the elbow and the notion of wearing an engagement ring induces night sweats, you could be suffering from sinistraphobia, the intense fear of being left-handed or of things on the left side of the body.


“I can’t imagine why anyone would be scared of left-handed people,” left-handed MU junior Ward Morris says. “Feel sorry for us. We’re the ones always bumping elbows and without proper desks, scissors and golf clubs.”


And don’t even think about using the digits on your left hand to slap a high five, give a thumbs up or flip the bird to a sinistraphobe — these people have an intense fear of their own left sides as well as the left regions of other people.


We’re sure these kids were a blast during playground games. Can you imagine when they’d be picked during games of Red Rover without the use of that left hand? And what about trying to play on the monkey bars?




the fear of poetry


Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of literary foil, with shame and fear and poppycock that’ll make your blood boil. Seems folks out there are scared as scared can be — not of knives or guns or bears but of poetry.


Okay, that’s enough of that. Whitman and Williams aren’t for everyone, but metrophobes take it to the limit with an actual fear of poetry. “I think people could say they were afraid of poetry because they didn’t want to read The Iliad or The Odyssey,” says Marilyn Vernon, a partner at Bluestem Missouri Crafts, who has read both. Most often, it’s the basic elements of poetry that irk sufferers. They generally find rhyme and other poetic elements distracting. Poetry often contains words, allusions or obscure thoughts, and the apprehension of not getting the poet’s meaning is another big fear factor.


Anyway, poetry is hard to write. We had to rip off the Gilligan’s Island theme just to pull together two rhyming lines. We’re better at Haiku: Metrophobes have cause / poetry hurts head badly /


we search for Advil. Get it? We thought you would.




the fear of wine


For oenophobes, it probably wasn’t the mention of cannibalism — you know, liver with some fava beans — in Silence of the Lambs that made their skin crawl. It was the nice Chianti. Chardonnay, Riesling, sherry, merlot, rosé.


Doesn’t matter if it comes in a 5-gallon jug or if it’s been aged for 40 years; the fear of wine keeps oenophobes from imbibing.


It’s a wine-filled world at Top Ten Wines, Columbia’s newest wine shop, and owner Paul Vernon says he doesn’t know why someone would shy away from wine. “It must be because someone had a bad experience,” he says.


The root of the fear varies but might emerge from childhood experiences with alcoholic relatives or friends. Bad hangover experiences — and anyone who has ever had a red wine hangover knows it’s like the 10th level of hell — can also bring on the fear.


And because phobias often extend to items associated with the original fear, oenophobia could eventually mean no corks, no bottles, no grapes, no Grape-Nuts and no raisins.


Beauty is only skin deep. But for people who fear beautiful women, that 16th of an inch makes all the difference. Unease or anxiety around extremely attractive members of the opposite sex is common. It usually leads to boneheaded pickup lines (“If I were in charge of the alphabet, I’d put you and me together. I mean I and me. No, you and I! You and I!”), but caligynephobia makes interactions nerve-racking to the point of immobilization.


“I’m scared outs of me gourd,” Robert Bailey, a 19-year-old MU music student, says with a Scottish brogue. “They’re incredibly intimidating.” The fear is most common in older boys and young men. It usually stems from a bad experience such as rejection, public humiliation and other painful adolescent happenings.


“That’s the main idea right there — just simple rejection,” Bailey says. Acute shyness might also play a role, and sufferers can have a general fear of women. Worrying about the big M (marriage) might also provoke the phobia. Some men fear settling down with a loving supermodel might suffocate their playboy lifestyles.




the fear of the Northern Lights


To an auroraphobe, the only things that should be lighting the night sky are streetlights. And maybe those huge spotlights, if there’s really a good freakin’ reason, such as the grand opening of Stan’s Tastee Chicken Shack or a sale at Crazy Al’s Used Cars. But aurora borealis — known to most as the Northern Lights — takes lighting to the extreme.


The phenomenon twists colored lights in constantly changing formations across the sky, and although it seems like a bizarre thing to fear, an Alaska resident says it can be pretty damn spooky. “I can see why it might disturb someone,” says Diann Pearson, events coordinator for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. “Some nights, the sky just comes alive. You never know what it’s going to do, literally from one second to the next.”


Okay. But we still think sufferers could cure their whole problem by living in Florida. It might create another set of phobias — fear of voting, fear of tans — but the Northern Lights won’t be tagging along.


10 Automatonophobia:


the fear of pseudohumans


This one, we get. Fearing pseudohumans such as ventriloquist’s dummies, animatronic creatures and wax statues might seem irrational, but we’re right there with automatonophobes.


Imagine the terror a wax museum curator might feel at work one morning if all the statues were suddenly in different positions. Or a ventriloquist’s horror if the dummy winked by itself. What if a psycho killer took his dying breath in a toy store and used voodoo to transfer his soul into a doll? All right, that last one is the plot of the movie Child’s Play. But anything could happen. Anything!


Training mannequins are everywhere in The Captain’s Quarters hair salon, and although the staff sometimes jokes about what the mannequins do when everyone goes home for the day, salon owner Susan Haines says no one’s really afraid they’ll move. “After you’ve been around them for so long, you know they’re not going to,” she says.


We’ll try to be reasonable about this. Inanimate objects can’t come to life. Or can they? The brain says no, but the heart says keep the

defibrillator close by.


A related fear is pediophobia, fear of dolls. Seems the fixed, staring eyes disturb some people.


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