Scoleciphobia (Fear Of Worms)

Scoleciphobia is the name given to the severe and irrational fear of worms. The name derives from the Greek words scoleci, which means parasitic worms and phobos which means an aversion.

Overview

Worms are vital to the ecosystem in which we live, and are essential parts of the food chain. They are a vital part of regenerating the soil we use to grow food and crops and are therefore essential to our survival. A common earthworm has no capacity to harm us, with no ability to bite or sting. They are essential and harmless creatures, but scoleciphobia is an irrational condition, and no matter how many times these facts are repeated, it will not be enough to eradicate someone’s fear.

There are many people who do not like worms, but a mild dislike would not be enough to define someone as being scoleciphobic. As children, many of us scream or cry at the sight or touch of a worm. There are plenty of people who would not like to pick one up with their own hands, and most of us would recoil if we saw one wriggling in a piece of food we were about to eat. However, scoleciphobia is much more severe. For scoleciphobes, the thought, sight or touch of an earthworm will make their skin crawl and provoke a number of panic-like symptoms.

Symptoms

For some of the most severe cases of scoleciphobia (fear of worms), just the thought or mention of a worm can be enough to trigger symptoms. For others, it takes the sight or a picture of a worm or video footage to provoke symptoms. In less extreme, but still serious, cases of scoleciphobia, the sufferer will start to experience symptoms only when they see a real worm. Potential symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Feeling like worms are crawling on the skin
  • Shaking
  • Scratching
  • Obsessive washing
  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Nausea
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Refusal to use public bathrooms
  • Seeing, or thinking they are seeing, worms in their feces
  • Avoidance of gardens, parks or large expanses of grass or soil

These symptoms can be the root of more serious medical conditions. In the most extreme cases, an irrational fear of worms could lead to bullying and/or ridicule by family, friends and peers. Repetitive and obsessive behaviours as a result of this phobia can worsen this situation, and make the sufferer more of a target for bullying. The repetitive behaviours and the bullying could both be factors leading to anxiety and/or depression.

Causes

Every person who suffers from scoleciphobia will have a slightly different reason for the fear. However, there are a few common causes. Any combination of the following could cause a irrational fear of worms:

  • An association between worms and germs
  • A bad experience as a child
  • Previous experience of intestinal worms
  • Evolutionary fear of snakes

Scoleciphobia most commonly stems from a severe fear of disease or germs. It can begin with a thought that worms carry germs and diseases, or are parasitic. Those who are phobic of germs and bacteria are more likely to also suffer from scoleciphobia.

Scoleciphobia does not have to be linked to other fears and phobias. It could, instead, have stemmed from a traumatic childhood memory. The classic cartoon image of a worm inside an apple or other piece of fruit would be the absolute worst nightmare for a scoleciphobic person. The experience of finding a worm, or much worse, half a worm, after biting into an apple as a child, could easily form the seed of a severe phobia.

Other traumatic experiences could include suffering from parasitic worms during childhood. Intestinal worms, such as tapeworms or ringworms, are common conditions for children to develop. A bad experience of having intestinal worms in childhood could be enough to associate them with disease and illness, and subsequently the start of a phobia. Furthermore, anti-worm medication can have an unpleasant taste, and often have to be taken over the course of several days. The medication can cause the live worms to be expelled in the feces, and it is often possible to see them wriggling. The combination of these experiences would certainly be enough to provoke a fear of worms which might last a lifetime.

Early childhood experiences do not have to seem traumatic for them to have a severe impact on a person’s psychology. For example, the dissection of an earthworm is a classic biology lesson at school, where students must cut open the earthworm to study their organs. For someone who already has an aversion to worms, this can tip the balance from dislike to phobia.

There are plenty of other ordinary encounters with earthworms which could lead to an irrational fear of worms. These instances could include:

  • Digging one up in the garden
  • Accidentally cutting a worm in half with a spade
  • Stepping on a worm by accident
  • Seeing worms on the pavement after a rainstorm
  • Being the victim of a worm-related prank
  • Seeing a documentary featuring worms

Some experts believe that a fear of worms is perfectly natural and does not have to have been triggered by an early experience. There is an argument which suggests that a fear of worms stems from evolutionary fears which are hard-wired into our brains. For tens of thousands of years humans have feared snakes because of their ability to hurt us. Worms resemble small snakes, so some psychologists have argued that an instinctive fear of worms is part of our evolutionary make-up.

Treatment

No matter what the initial cause, scoleciphobia is a psychological condition, and must therefore be treated as such. The most common ways of treating the phobia include:

  • CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy)
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Regular and repeated exposure
  • Specialist classes

The most common treatment for scoleciphobia is a form of talking therapy or CBT. Visiting a therapist could be the first step in overcoming your fear of worms.

There are many forums online for people who suffer with the same condition, where those who are scared of worms can offer each other tips and advice about how to deal with and overcome their fears.

Gradual exposure to worms can help those whose fear is not too severe. Getting used to seeing worms more often can be a way of desensitising the individual, making the reaction less severe each time they see a worm. This is not recommended as the first method of treatment for someone who is severely scoleciphobic, as they are likely to need a great deal of support to make it to this stage.

Hypnotherapy works for some people to help them to get over their fear. It can be used to uncover the deep-seated and unconscious reasons behind the fear, of which the sufferer themselves may not even be aware.

Prevention

The best ways to prevent scoleciphobia from occurring or from worsening include the following:

  • Do not visit parks or gardens with people who will make fun of your phobia
  • Avoid watching documentaries about worms, parasites or “real-life monsters”
  • Cut fruit with a knife rather than biting into it direct
  • Do not take part in activities which involve close encounters with worms or similar creatures