The fear of pumpkins or Cucurbitophobia is an excessive, irrational and unreasonable fear of, well, pumpkins. The word Cucurbitophobia comes from Latin cucurbita which represents different members of the pumpkin family (Cucurbita maxima).
Cucurbitophobia is quite common. Now that Halloween is just round the corner, it is not surprising to see children bursting into tears at the sight of pumpkins and Jack O Lanterns. Let us study all about this phobia as well as its treatment.
Causes of fear of pumpkins phobia
Most phobias, including the fear of pumpkins, start in childhood. Sometimes, they can come on for no apparent reason. However, in case of Cucurbitophobia, the frightening significance of pumpkins during Halloween is the most common trigger. Pumpkins are more than tasty, nutritious fruits; they are the stuff of legends. We all know the use of pumpkins in carving Jack O’ Lanterns. The Celts, Irish and Scottish people who migrated to the United States started using pumpkins in place of potatoes and turnips to create these frightening displays. Pumpkins are soft and easy to carve; Halloween tricksters also find them fun to break and squash. It is due to these conveniences as well as their surplus availability during Halloween that people use these fruits to symbolize Halloween
So what is the story behind the ghastly Jack O Lantern- a scary dude having a fruit for a head?
The tale begins in Ireland where there once lived a mean man named Jack. Jack was foul mouthed, grumpy and , in general, made everyone’s life more miserable than it already was. When he died, he stood before the Pearly Gates to meet his maker. He was, as expected, denied entry into the Heavens, and sent on to the Devil instead. Here he was, at first, welcomed with open arms. However, soon, the residents of Hell started complaining about Jack, so mean were his ways. Now the Devil was in a fix: what could he do with a man who was neither allowed in heaven, nor in hell? After much thinking, the Devil found out a way and decided to condemn Jack to an eternity of doom wandering in the darkness between heaven and hell. After several decades (or centuries) of wandering, Jack got tired of the darkness and requested the Devil to allow him some light. The Devil relented and carved him a head using a rutabaga (turnip) with some lit candles in the place for the eyes for light. And thus Jack came to be known as Jack of the Lantern.
On a dark night, a display of pumpkins with carved, hideous faces and flickering candles inside can be a chilling vision for a person with an already sensitive disposition. A child who has been teased or scared by a friend or sibling with a scary pumpkin could easily develop Cucurbitophobia. The phobic’s mind tries to make sense of the unexpected sense of and intense anxiety or panic which, in turn, adds to the phobia. In most cases of childhood phobias, the phobic overcomes the fear with age.
Symptoms of Cucurbitophobia
Symptoms of Cucurbitophobia can vary from physical to emotional.
- The physical components could include: shaking, crying, screaming, racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling and abdominal discomfort.
- The emotional components include: fear of losing control, thoughts of death or dying, thoughts of embarrassing oneself by passing out etc.
The phobic might try to flee or escape using any measures to avoid the situation wherein s/he has to confront a pumpkin. This phobia may intensify in the days leading up to Halloween which could create limitations on one’s life. Trying to escape decorated yards of people’s homes during Halloween can make pumpkins seem even more frightening.
Treatment for fear of pumpkins phobia
Treatment for Cucurbitophobia can be divided into 2 parts: confronting the object of fear, in this case the pumpkin, and dealing with frightening thoughts associated with the anxiety.
It is especially important to stop avoiding Jack-O-lanterns or pumpkins. You can start by reading more about pumpkins, or even touching or looking at them. In case of children with the fear of pumpkins phobia, parents must help them deal with their frightening thoughts. If a child seems to be willing to talk about their fear, parents can help them rationalize it. For example, if the child says that s/he is going to be attacked by a Jack O Lantern then gently comfort her/him by stating it has not attacked them so far, nor will it in the future and that s/he is completely safe.
If the phobia is affecting you or your loved one’s life, you might want to seek therapy. A psychiatrist could counsel the phobic or suggest a treatment suitable to one’s needs. Cognitive behavior therapy, neuro-linguistic programming and hypnotism are some phobia therapies which may be used to cure Cucurbitophobia once and for all.