Pediophobia is the unwarranted, irrational and persistent fear or worry of dolls. It is a specific phobia belonging to the category of ‘automatonphobia’. This is a type of phobia where the individual is afraid of all humanoid or “human-like-but-not-quite” objects including mannequins, marionettes, ventriloquist’s dummies, wax figures, animatrix or robotic figures etc. The word Pediophobia originates from ‘Paidion’ which means ‘little child’ in Greek and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear or deep dread. Many adult sufferers of Pediophobia are also known to fear little children.
Some Pediophobes are afraid of all kinds of dolls while others are known to be afraid of only specific kinds like the talking/walking dolls, Chinese porcelain dolls, stuffed dolls etc.
Dolls are, in reality, child’s playthings. Little girls are especially known to love dolls and pretend play with them which can help in fostering imagination and creativity. Naturally, it is a matter of great worry for parents when their little daughter starts screaming at the sight of dolls. While most childhood cases of Pediophobia disappear once the child has grown, in some cases though, this fear can persist even in adulthood.
Causes of Pediophobia or fear of dolls
Like any other phobia, Pediophobia is also possibly triggered by an intensely negative or traumatic incident in one’s past/childhood that is remotely connected to dolls. The young mind then forever associates dolls with the trauma and recalls the negative feelings experienced then.
Dolls, especially voodoo dolls are associated with witch craft. Burning voodoo dolls to bring misfortune to an individual was a common practice in the past. To an individual already suffering from nervous or anxiety disorders, all dolls represent evil.
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Dolls have fixed staring eyes. Some dolls also have button eyes that appear “soulless pools devoid of any emotion akin to those of a corpse”. This can make younger children especially afraid of them.
Dolls have been shown in a negative light in pop culture. Many horror movies (Chucky in Child’s Play) and novels (Althea, Stone Dead etc) have portrayed dolls as evil or villainous characters that come to life to cause harm to humans. This can induce fear in young or overly-nervous minds.
Mischievous older siblings or friends etc can also unknowingly instill a fear of dolls in the minds of younger kids by telling stories of dolls coming to life at night.
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Symptoms of Pediophobia
Whatever the cause of fear of dolls phobia, there can be intense emotional upheaval and turmoil in the mind of the sufferer. Some people might experience a full blown panic attack upon sighting a doll. Still others live in constant fear of dolls. The following physical and psychological symptoms may be present in the phobic:
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated heartbeat
- Dry mouth. Feeling like being choked to death
- Shivering, trembling
- Freezing on the spot
- Crying, screaming, trying to flee etc.
Some phobics experience a full blown anxiety attack in the presence of dolls including store mannequins. This can be quite embarrassing as well as debilitating enough to affect normal functioning of the individual.
Treating and overcoming the fear of dolls
Hypnosis and desensitization therapies are the two most popular ways of overcoming the fear of dolls phobia.
Desensitization or gradual exposure therapy consists of slowly exposing the phobic to dolls. They can begin by looking at photographs of dolls, reading books or watching movies about dolls etc until they are able to remain calm in the presence of dolls without having an anxiety attack. This is usually done in the presence of a therapist or can be done at home with the help of close friends and loved ones.
Hypnosis, Cognitive behavior therapy and behavior therapy also aim to reprogram the Pediophobic to help him/her rationalize fearful thoughts about dolls and change them into positive ones.
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These are a few ways of overcoming Pediophobia or the fear of dolls.