Perhaps you had a cousin, sister, or grandmother who, for whatever reason, had a single room or area which was lined with dolls. Their perfect hair, clothes, and fake smiles a shell of what is meant to be an adorable girl frozen in time. Whether they were porcelain, cloth, or even just plastic barbies, the sight of them staring blankly out into the space was just plain unsettling. I would like to say, for anyone, this sight is simply creepy although for some it is their worst nightmare and something that causes them incredible stress due to a debilitating fear.
The immense and irrational fear of dolls is called Pediophobia. As with any other phobia, Pediophobia is a type of anxiety disorder that includes having immense fear and anxiety due to the exposure of dolls or even the idea of being with/seeing them.
Not to be confused with Pedophobia, the fear of children, Pediophobia is classified as a Specific Phobia in the DSM-5 and is recognized when symptoms are severe and have persisted for a long period of time (typically a minimum of six months).
What are the symptoms of Pediophobia?
Symptoms of Pediophobia are similar to those experienced by other phobias and are tied closely to the symptoms of other anxiety disorders. You may be familiar with some symptoms related to phobias in general, or perhaps those for Pediophobia, but there is a range of symptoms individuals can experience and psychologists and clinicians have categorized them into three areas: psychological, physiological, and behavioral. In this section we will discuss these areas and what they may look like specifically for those suffering with Pediophobia.
Firstly, psychological symptoms are mostly tied to the experience of anxiety as this disorder is categorized as an anxiety disorder. Experienced symptoms can include feelings of being trapped or being overwhelmed by the stimuli. Additionally, psychological symptoms don’t just include emotions or feelings, but also include cognitions or irrational thoughts. These thoughts are a symptom because they typically are a perception or belief that the dolls, in this case, could lead to something detrimental and/or are dangerous. The horror movies really milked this idea; we should be warry of them due to supernatural forces such as dolls being vessels for our souls or the souls of demons.
Another category of symptoms are the physical reactions to the stimuli, in this case dolls. Like the experience of getting scared, although this can be more distressing, individuals can experience sweating, increased heart rate, and nausea. Additionally, physical symptoms related to panic attacks can also be present such as blacking out or fainting, stomach aches, and hyperventilating.
Lastly, individuals can demonstrate symptoms related to behavior such that as a result of being exposed to dolls or the negative stimuli they react. Usually, reactions to dolls or even perceiving there to be a possible exposure, individuals will partake in avoidant behaviors. These behaviors are just a method of escaping to avoid further distress from being exposed. Thus, individuals who know of people with dolls, even if they are in a particular room, may not even attempt to visit them to avoid any possibility.
What are the causes of Pediophobia?
A question that you may have is, how does one get Pediophobia and the answer is there are a few reasons. Although these causes will be discussed separately, it is important to understand that these factors for the most part make someone more likely to develop a phobia and can work together to also increase the likelihood of having the fear of dolls. In this section we will talk about genetics, psychology, and environmental factors and how they play a part in developing a phobia like Pediophobia.
Family history is one reason why someone may develop or have Pediophobia. Specifically, having genes in one’s DNA related to anxiety are seen in individuals with phobias such as Bathophobia and can be passed down from parent to child. It is important to emphasize, that there is no single gene tied to phobias or Pediophobia rather a number of genes are found to be associated with anxiety. Thus, if present in an individual, the possibility of developing Pediophobia is more likely.
A second cause to consider, are psychological factors or factors related to our mental being. Particularly, having experienced a traumatic event thus resulting in some form of lasting impact can be enough reason for someone developing a phobia like Pediophobia. While it may not seem plausible to have a traumatic experience with dolls, we did mention early the number of horror movies with terrifying dolls, Chucky, Annabelle, and Brahms to name a few. If these movies were watched at a very young age, you can image the reaction or effect these stories/movies could have had.
A third possible cause for developing phobias like Pediophobia include environmental factors. By this we mean the places and people in our everyday lives that in a number of ways influence us into becoming the people we are today. Common places and people that typically have a lasting impact on us as individuals are our homes and family. If our parents or family member demonstrated anxious behaviors or even overly cautious these could possibly bleed into an individual’s own beliefs and behaviors. While this factor may not specifically lead to the development of Pediophobia, if could in general lead a child to become an anxious individual then making it more likely to develop more specific fears.
How to cope and overcome Pediophobia?
Having a phobia, like having any diagnosis, can be a incredibly challenging experience that can result in decreased well-being and quality of life. Thus, how is it treated? How can one overcome a phobia? Similarly to other phobias and psychological disorders, there are a few different methods and treatments used to help with coping and even overcoming a phobia like Pediophobia. In this article we will discuss two: Exposure Therapy and Medications.
This type of therapy is as stated by the name, a treatment which exposes individuals to the negative stimuli like dolls in increments. Done with a licensed clinician, therapist and client work together to define hierarchical stages that progressively get more distressing. Once established, exposure to the stimuli in a number of forms from least distressing to the most distressing begins and only once the exposure at one level is successfully overcome (i.e., does not result in an intense reaction) will the pair move on to the next stage. Like any therapist-client relationship pair, for this treatment to be successful and not harmful to the individual much trust and solid communication is required.
Another form of treatment for Pediophobia is medication such as anti-anxiety and/or antidepressant medications. Due to phobias being classified as a type of anxiety disorder, medications used for other anxiety disorders are common treatments here as well that lessen anxiety related symptoms and behaviors. Antidepressants or SSRIs are also other types of medications that could be prescribed because of the experience with depression commonly seen in individuals with phobias. While not a truly outlandish phobia or fear, individuals still may experience low self-esteem or even self-hate due to their phobia which would lead to experienced depression. Both of these medications allow for individuals to lower distress and these experiences so that they can go about their daily lives without as much difficulty.