Back in 2007, the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, announced to a leading journal that he has been suffering from fear of buttons or button phobia. He mentioned that his phobia for buttons was not only restricted to those on the clothing, but it had extended to several steps beyond that. Ironically, this phobia kindled an idea for a phone without buttons which revolutionized the digital world. We all know that Steve Jobs is a brilliant man, but just imagine, if it wasn’t for his fear, would the idea of touchscreen phones come into his mind? Maybe yes or maybe not! Now you want to know more about this phobia, right? Coming, right away!
What is Koumpounophobia?
The word koumpounophobia is derived from Latin word Koumpouno, which means buttons and Greek word phobos, which means fear. Thus, Koumpounophobia is nothing but an irrational but persistent fear of buttons. This includes both buttons on a clothing or otherwise. It is one among those rare or weird phobias. People suffering from Koumpounophobia feels a strong, intense disgust or fear when they are exposed to buttons. Even pictures or visual representations of buttons are bound to bring these intense feelings to the sufferers as with the physical representation.
Koumpounophobia is closely associated with the pathological fear of any round or circular objects in general or the fear of holes (trypophobia) (Olesen, 2020). Like other phobias, the experience of Koumpounophobia too differs from people to people.
Textures that trigger:
Some people have intense disgust for buttons rather than feelings of fear. Past theories have proved that disgust and fear are strongly linked. The reason simply deduces to the fact that, when one is disgusted about a particular thing or object, that reflects in their attitude towards that object. So, the basic feeling is to stay away from that object, and that is where the anticipatory anxiety kicks in. Slowly, this anxiety builds to not being able to withstand the thought or feel of the object, i.e., buttons in this case.
For those who are phobic to only certain texture of buttons, the one commonly found on shirts, for example, their fear may generalize to other types and textures of buttons as well, if left unattented. The plastic buttons with holes are one of the commonest texture feared in Koumpounophobia. As discussed earlier, this could be associated to trypophobia. Other types of buttons like those on the jeans or designer buttons on dresses are less feared textures of buttons. Some psychiatric disorders specifically have issues with texture as a symptom, like thar of Autism Spectrum disorders or psychotic disorders. However, this phobia can occur to anybody without these disorders as well (Fritscher, 2020). https://www.verywellmind.com/koumpounophobia-2671825
Germ phobia manifested through Koumpounophobia:
This is another type of Koumpounophobia wherein the feelings of disgust is a main feature of the disorder. Some people are specifically only afraid of old and dirty buttons as compared to others. Here, the main fear component of Koumpounophobia depends upon the underlying feature of cleaniless. Hence, it is said that this type of Koumpounophobia could actually be mysophobia, i.e.,fear or germs, manifested as fear of buttons or other things that are unclean. It is possible that people disgusted by unclean buttons are also disgusted by other unclean objects or not. Also, it is not necessary that people phobic to old buttons would not be afraid of new buttons (Fritscher, 2020). https://www.verywellmind.com/koumpounophobia-2671825
Fear of inhaling or swallowing buttons:
Some people fear buttons because they are afraid that they could accidentally swallow or inhale the tiny buttons. This is mostly common in children, since these accidents like swallowing buttons unknowingly, or having a button stuck in your nose, etc. commonly occur with them as compared to adults. However, if they have had this negative experience in the past, it could affect their present and future due to the trauma of that incident. It is not always necessary that the trauma has to be experienced first hand. We humans learn vicariously, and hence if this negative experience had occured to someone else in your presence, it is likely you could go through the same trauma too (Fritscher, 2020).
Although Koumpounophobia is specific to fear of buttons, in some cases it is likely that the individual may develop a chronic fear of other similar objects in similar shape or size such as, small coins, coins used in board games, beads, etc.
Causes for Koumpounophobia
- Traumatic or negative past experiences involving buttons.
- Childhood abuse or neglect by someone wearing clothes with buttons can also trigger Koumpounophobia.
- Fear of small or round objects generalizing into other objects of same size and shape, or building into fear of buttons, in an evolutionary way (Olesen, 2020). https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-buttons-phobia-koumpounophobia/
Signs & Symptoms
- Feeling nauseated or sick when exposed to buttons.
- Anxiety or panic attacks when they have to accidentally handle buttons.
- Avoiding events like formal gatherings, proms, etc. where people wear shirts or jackets with buttons.
- Shopping can be dreadful experience to them, as being exposed to clothes with buttons can trigger their phobia.
- Preferring shapes different from circle for sequences or designs on their clothing.
- In some cases, frequent hand washing is observed due to encounter with buttons, especially when touched accidentally (Olesen, 2020). https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-buttons-phobia-koumpounophobia/
Therapies are used and preferred more than medication for treatment of Koumpounophobia. Some of the most used therapies that shows significant improvement are:
Behaviour therapy combines behavioural techniques with relaxation techniques. It attempts to identify the faulty or unhealthy pattern of behaviours and tries to alter the thought process for meaningful reactions. It uses different kinds of techniques, out of which one technique specially effective for Koumpounophobia includes Flooding. Flooding is basically an exposure technique, where the individual is steadily exposed to their fear object in a controlled pattern. The therapist present with them then, guides them to relaxation (Mestrovic, 2018). https://www.news-medical.net/health/Help-for-Button-Phobia-(Koumpounophobia).aspx
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT aims to tap the self-destructive or distorted thinking patterns and helps to change them through meaningful communication and techniques. It helps you learn to unpair the anxiety response from the object feared. Cbt provides behavioural methods to help the individual face their fear in a systematic way. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy requires constant effort by the individual to see effect (Mestrovic, 2018). https://www.news-medical.net/health/Help-for-Button-Phobia-(Koumpounophobia).aspx
Virtual Reality Exposure therapy (VRE)
VRE is also known as computerized CBT. In this technique, computer simulation is used to expose the individual to the feared object in a systematic manner. The feared object is either exposed in reality digitally, or the individual is made to imagine it through talk therapy. The participant is exposed to a computer generated three-dimensional virtual world. It helps to de-sensitize the patient toward the objects causing fear (Mestrovic, 2018). https://www.news-medical.net/health/Help-for-Button-Phobia-(Koumpounophobia).aspx
Psychoanalytic therapy is a type of talk therapy that uses in-depth exploration in order to bring unconscious or deep underlying thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind. Psychoanalysis believes that mostly during childhood, specific trauma or emotions are repressed due to their nature or fear of shame or embarrassment , and the present difficulty would mostly be manifested due to the past experiences. Thus this therapy helps to uncovers irrational anxious problems toward buttons, which could have been attained during childhood due to certain negative experiences, trauma or abuse (Mestrovic, 2018).