I'm hiding the images in this post behind the "More" link because they can cause serious problems for some people. Really.
Trypophobia isn't an officially recognized problem; even the name was coined by a layman. That's the primary reason I'm writing this article: I'm tired of reading online that it's a made-up condition, mass hysteria spread via the Internet.
Because I have had a variant of this condition for as long as I can remember.
My first conscious memory of my odd reaction to some images goes back to seeing a certain pattern of mushrooms on a woodland hike, sometime in early childhood. It was only very recently that some random Internet reading revealed that my experience was not unique.
Trypophobia, according to Wikipedia, "is an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps." Weird, I know. Apparently it's not uncommon, possibly affecting some sixteen percent of the population. But not much is known about the condition, and scientists, even those who are convinced it is real, are still arguing about whether the reaction is one of fear or of disgust, whether it evokes a response from the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, and whether the root cause is evolutionary or something else.
My favorite, more precise, definition of trypophobia is "an intense and disproportionate fear towards holes, repetitive patterns, protrusions, etc., and, in general, images that present high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies." That high-contrast energy at midrange frequencies will get you every time. It certainly makes more sense to me than the theories that trypophobia evolved from a fear of snakes or a disgust toward skin diseases.
In fact, I think they are barking up the wrong trees with their emphasis on fear and disgust reactions. In me, at least, the reaction includes elements of both, but also more. I can feel both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic systems kicking in. If I had to give it a one-word label, I think that would be "awe," or maybe "fascination." I seem to feel heightened awareness in every cell of my body. I had the same reaction when I looked up at the Brazilian night sky and saw familiar Orion—but upside down! And again, when snorkeling in crystal-clear water and floating over a steep drop-off in the land, looking down, down, down into unfathomable depths. Perhaps you know what it's like to feel "weak in the knees" when seeing someone perched precariously in a high place, or when reading about some particularly harrowing situation. That's what I feel—only it's not limited to my knees. There are elements of fear there, but much, much more.
For a long time I simply looked away from what are now called trypophobic images, but at some point I decided not to let them "win." I started staring them down, recognizing my physical reactions and learning—not to control, but to handle them, as a surfer rides a wave. I didn't encounter them all that often, anyway. I was still curious as to what in my nature or nurture could have caused such a situation, but hardly ever gave it a thought.
Enter the Internet. Having discovered a name for my condition, I naturally took to research. It was fascinating. There's a lot out there and I don't particularly recommend reading it. I found natural images I'd never seen before, like the lotus seed pod, that clearly and immediately set off the reaction. I found images that supposedly induced the reaction in others that had no effect on me. I found a whole slew of artificial images where trypophobia-inducing patterns were photoshopped onto human skin—and for the first time understood the "disgust" reaction. I tried to find references to something like my own neither-fear-nor-disgust reaction, but didn't go too far there. Just take my word for it that you do not want to google "trypophilia."
Finally, I stopped. This post is my official summing up and closing of the door on that research. Oh, the subject is still fascinating. Especially the pictures. But all that staring at trypophobic images is not healthy, I have concluded. The frequent over-stimulation of both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic nervous systems cannot be good. An occasional thrill ride is fun, but there's such a thing as roller-coaster overdose. Plus, even though I know that some use "exposure therapy" to lessen their responses to trypophobic triggers, I've discovered that all my recent exposure has made me notice them more than ever.
I know what it is to live with hypersensitivities. Noise levels that other people don't mind are painful to me. (I maintain they've mostly gone deaf from listening to too much loud music, but maybe it's just me.) I can detect levels of certain odors that no one else can (though I'm also "blind" to some that others can sense). I'm more sensitive than most to clothing discomfort. I suppose trypophobia is just another hypersensitivity—to that infamous "high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies"!
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, below are some images that I react to. I'm curious, of course, if anyone else has the experience, but don't actually recommend that you look at them....
The top two are lotus seed heads, the next morel mushrooms, and the last a natural (unconstrained) honeycomb. Only natural images—those photoshopped ones are just plain sick.