Taphophobia (or Taphephobia) is the irrational fear of being buried alive. It is closely related to other phobias such as: fear of death (Thanatophobia), fear of tombstones (Placophobia), fear of cemeteries (coimetrophobia), fear of tight and enclosed spaces (Claustrophobia) etc. The word Taphophobia originates from Greek taphos meaning “tombs or graves” and phobos which stands for “deep dread or fear”.
Among the many celebrities and famous people suffering from this phobia, poet Edgar Allen Poe, George Washington, Composer F. Chopin and writer Hans Christian Anderson are the well known ones. It is believed that Poe was so obsessed with this fear, that he often used it as a topic of his books (The Premature Burial and The Cask of Amontillado as well as The Fall Of House of Usher etc).
Causes of Taphophobia
Throughout history, there are several hundred documented cases of people mistaken to be dead and buried alive, more due to the lack of availability of modern medicines and equipment.
Often people in coma (or those suffering from diseases like cholera etc) had no pulse or had simply passed out and were buried alive. Some of these would wake up on the dissection or mortician’s table while still others would be discovered upon opening the family tomb. Hence the fear of graves or the fear of being buried alive was more predominant in the late 19th and early 20th century and it was no wonder that many tombs and graves were actually provided with bells to help detect such “mistakes”. This even led to the famous phrase “Saved by the Bell’. Other more modern techniques provided to help the “presumed dead person” alert outsiders included the addition of air pipes, oxygen tanks and glass doors inside coffins.
Death is as such very frightening. It is unknown and unexplored. No one knows what awaits us in the afterlife. Therefore, people already suffering from anxieties or depression are more prone to developing Taphophobia.
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Miners who have had a negative experience of being trapped hundreds of feet below the earth could also develop this phobia. Other negative or traumatic events like being buried in sand on the beach for fun and left for hours could cause the fear of being buried alive phobia.
Parents or other adults can unknowingly instill this fear in children by talking about it to the point that is develops genuine phobic response in the listener.
As stated above, many books, movies, TV shows have explored this topic. People already having the fear of closed and restricted spaces might also suffer from Taphophobia.
Symptoms of fear of being buried alive
The thought of being buried alive produces several physical and emotional symptoms in the sufferer including:
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- Breathing hard, having elevated heart beat, shaking, sweating profusely etc.
- Avoidance behavior is another symptom: the phobic avoids closed spaces such as basements, caves or other underground spaces. One might also refuse to visit cemeteries, or tombstones.
- The phobic might have a full blown panic attack such as crying, screaming or having the intense desire to flee etc.
- Some who could afford it tend to make elaborate arrangements for their funerals in their will including placing air pipes, oxygen tanks, heart stimulators and so on in the coffins. Many ask not to be buried for at least 3 days after their passing away.
Most ‘normal’ people would not understand what the Taphophobe goes through and this often leads to teasing or bullying, to the point that the phobic becomes socially withdrawn. Constant movie-like images might play through his mind about death and dying. The phobia could get so severe at a point that it might need medical intervention.
Treating the fear of graves phobia
If the phobia is severely affecting one’s day-today life, it is best to seek professional help for it. This includes talk therapy, psychiatric counseling and Hypnotherapy etc.
Hypnosis and NLP or Neuro-Linguistic programming are especially beneficial in getting to the bottom of the phobia. Both these therapies help reprogram the phobic’s mind so that he has a more positive response to the object of his dread, in this case- graves or cemeteries.
The phobic is also encouraged to adopt some lifestyle changes including daily physical activity, engaging in charity/voluntary work, opting for Yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing and meditation etc. These mind-body practices are known to overcome stress and depression that may be triggering the phobia. They can also help one accept death as the ultimate reality and as part of the natural life processes so that one stops fighting it and learns to accept it.
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Other means of overcoming fear of being buried alive is to gradually expose oneself to cemeteries and graves. One can start by seeing pictures, movies etc related to graves and then visiting one until they experience no anxiety.
These are some of the proven ways of overcoming Taphophobia.