Koumpounophobia is a relatively rare phobia, but one that does exist. It is, simply explained, an irrational and persistent fear of buttons (standalone ones or those on clothing). People suffering from Koumpounophobia tend to avoid clothes with buttons. Just the thought, discussion or sight of buttons can trigger a full blown anxiety attack. Nearly 1 in 75,000 people are known to experience this phobia. The word Koumpounophobia is derived from Latin Koumpouno meaning buttons and Greek phobos meaning fear. It is closely related to the fear of round or circular objects or the fear of holes (trypophobia).
Causes of fear of buttons
There are many factors that can trigger the fear of buttons phobia.
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- Neil Gaiman’s horror novel ‘Coraline’ (which was later adapted in a movie of the same name), had the lead character discover a parallel world with sinister characters resembling her own parents but having buttons instead of eyes. The lead character then develops Koumpounophobia because, eyes, which are otherwise gateways to the soul, in this case, become black, blank and soulless pools.
- As is the case with other irrational fears and phobias, the fear of buttons may also be related to a traumatic or negative experience in the childhood. Certain incidents or events might have triggered the phobia early in one’s childhood; an event that one might not even remember. A British bartender, for example, remembers a bucket of buttons falling on his head at the age of two. Another phobic reports fearing buttons due to his inability to do them up on his own clothes as a result of which he was teased and bullied by kids in school. Some kids might have inhaled or choked on buttons leading to a lifelong fear of buttons.
- Childhood abuse or neglect by someone wearing clothes with buttons might also trigger the phobia.
- The phobia may be evolutionary just as the fear of all circular objects is. Scientists believe that man has always been afraid of circular objects like holes as they resemble skin rashes or pits containing the unknown.
Symptoms of Koumpounophobia
People with this phobia are unable to stand the sight, sound or texture of buttons. Some are afraid of all types of buttons, while some prefer metallic buttons to plastic ones. There are different signs and symptoms displayed by Koumpounophobic individuals:
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- Many refuse to attend formal events like weddings or proms as there are other guests wearing tuxedos or coats with buttons.
- They tend to freak out, or lose control at the sight of even a single button.
- Many report feeling nauseated, disgusted or sick due to an encounter with buttons.
- Some people are even afraid of pearls or, in general, all kinds of circular objects. Not only do they avoid clothing having these, they prefer square shapes as far as possible. Many dread shopping for clothes since it is difficult to get ones without buttons.
- Some individuals wash their hands repeatedly upon touching buttons unknowingly.
- In extreme cases, individuals are afraid of even writing down the word ‘buttons’ or saying it out loud. Discussion on buttons can make them hysterical or send them into a crying or screaming fit.
Overcoming the fear of buttons phobia
The sad part is that many Koumpounophobics are too embarrassed to discuss their phobia. However, there are many effective ways to overcome it:
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- Talk therapy is an important part of dealing with Koumpounophobia. It can help one rationalize one’s fearful thoughts and change them positively to confront the objects of their fear. Family members and friends must be supportive to the patient instead of bullying or teasing him/her about it.
- CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and behavior therapy are other effective means of changing negative responses to positive ones.
- Virtual reality exposure can help patients get desensitized to the objects of their fear, in this case buttons, to overcome Koumpounophobia for good.
- It is important to join self help groups (available online and offline) as these can help one realize that s/he is not alone.
- Hypnotherapy is another powerful therapy to get to the bottom of Koumpounophobia.
If Koumpounophobia is affecting your daily life, then you must consider anti depressant medication as per the guidance of a psychotherapist.