Scoleciphobia (So-leh-kee-pho-be-ah) is also known by other names like Vermiphobia and Helminthophobia. They all mean the persistent and irrational fear of worms. The word Scoleciphobia originates from Greek Scoleci meaning parasitic worms and phobos meaning deep dread or aversion. Helminthophobia is the secondary fear of one’s body being infested or attacked by worms (Helmintho is another Greek word for worms).
Many children dread worms, especially earthworms, and tend to scream or cry at their sight. Even adults are not spared from Scoleciphobia and there are hundreds of thousands of individuals around the globe suffering from this fairly common Zoophobia.
To Scoleciphobic individuals, the mere sight or thought of worms is enough to make their skin crawl. Often, they avoid stepping outdoors during the warm or rainy weather when earthworms wriggle out of their holes. Scoleciphobia is also associated with the fear of diseases or germs.
Causes of Scoleciphobia
Scoleciphobia, as stated above, is usually associated with the fear of unhygienic conditions. Many adult Scoleciphobes believe that the presence of worms means poor hygiene or diseases.
Worms are an essential part of our eco system and important components of many a food chain. However, they also eat away our produce. Finding a worm or worse, half a worm in an apple is a nightmarish experience. To top it, certain existing ideologies about health, diseases and their link to parasites can all lead to Scoleciphobia.
Being afflicted by intestinal worms like Tapeworm or ringworms is common in childhood, especially in many under developed or developing countries. A child might have been administered certain medicines to throw out these worms which might have been seen wriggling in the feces. This is enough to cause lifelong phobia or fear of worms.
Fear of worms can be evolutionary as well. Man has always feared reptiles, poisonous snakes etc. Worms resemble tiny versions of snakes and can evoke a disgust response owing to their ability to spread diseases.
Often the phobia may have unconscious causes such as, a person fearing worms in bed might have had a traumatic sexual experience which his/her mind might have repressed.
The old adage “Opening a can of worms” means to complicate existing matters or add to a problem. Thus, worms are directly/indirectly referred to as “unwanted/unpleasant or disgusting”.
Often, Biology classes in school require students to dissect earthworms in order to study their parts. This can be perceived as disgusting or unpleasant to anxious minded individuals. Other negative or traumatic experience related to worms can also trigger Vermiphobia. A child might have been teased or bullied by its siblings or friends into encountering worms in bed/closet. Likewise, an adult might have dug up or accidentally killed a worm while gardening. These incidents can “totally freak out” anxious minded people into developing Scoleciphobia.
TV shows like “Monsters inside Me” or Medical Mystery etc often depict worms causing deadly diseases in humans. Likewise, media reports or scientific shows related to viruses or parasites having a worm-like appearance can also lead to the fear of worms.
Symptoms of fear of worms phobia
The fear of worms often causes debilitating mental and physical symptoms.
- In Helminthophobia, the phobic believes that worms are crawling all over his/her body. As a result, s/he might shake, scratch or wash several times a day.
- Crying, screaming, trembling, feeling nauseated, having elevated heart rate, sweating are some other common symptoms of this phobia. The phobic might experience numbness or a detachment from reality in that; s/he is unable to express his thoughts clearly.
- The phobic might avoid using a shovel to dig up the soil or even refuse to use public restrooms.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is another symptom of Scoleciphobia. The phobic might wash or bathe several times a day or take extra precautions like cleaning his home and yard, or shutting doors and windows to prevent worms from accidently crawling inside the home.
- Often, Scoleciphobics fear they will see worms in their feces.
This persistent and irrational fear of worms can often lead to depression or being bullied or laughed at. Some phobics have actually quit college or given up certain jobs which involved encountering worms on a regular basis. Often the weather becomes a trigger factor to an extent that the phobic might insist on moving to cooler climate to avoid worms.
Overcoming the Vermiphobia
Talk therapy, Psychotherapy and Hypnosis are some of the common methods of treating this phobia. There are many online forums dedicated to Scoleciphobia and they can help one take comfort in the fact that there are hundreds of people suffering from such persistent fear of worms.
Gradually exposing oneself to worms can help desensitize the individual to his fear. For example, phobics can start by seeing pictures of worms, progressing to being in the presence of a worm or even touching and holding worms until they do not experience panic or anxiety.
These are some ways of treating and overcoming Scoleciphobia.