Nicole Kidman and I Share a Rare Phobia, We Fear Butterflies
I had never met or heard of anyone with butterfly phobia.
Growing up, the phrase that I most despised was, “I have butterflies in my stomach.”
Most people use the phrase to express excitement or nervousness. To my mind, however, it brings images of those horrifying winged creatures. To think of them inside my body instantly makes me want to hurl.
I have a rare phobia of butterflies. It’s called Lepidopterophobia. I can’t even pronounce the word, so I simply call it ‘butterfly phobia’. Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman has it too.
If you are thinking, “Wait... someone cannot possibly be afraid of butterflies!”, read on.
Butterflies are Scary: The Backstory
I grew up pretty much indoors until my teenage years, partly because of my temperament as a kid and partly because of the lack of children my age in the locality where my parents lived.
I am undecided on whether my butterfly phobia is a cause or an effect of this. Maybe it had nothing to do with staying indoors. The phobia did, however, hamper my outdoor activities as a teenager.
Let’s just say parks were not my favourite places and my teenage self had more reasons than ‘just being a rebel’ for being averse to the idea of family picnics.
In my early teens, my parents bought me a Science kit. Amidst its many peculiar constituents, was a curious transparent cylindrical box with a magnifying glass for a lid. It was meant for observing insects. It had tiny holes on the sides to allow the bug to breathe while you observed it.
A friend — my only friend at the time — managed to catch a butterfly in it. I gave the colourful creature one look, screamed, and ran home.
These scattered incidences and the fact that neither my friend nor my parents could gauge the degree of my fear meant it was something that affected only me. Until then I had never met or heard of anyone with butterfly phobia.
Marquez’ Yellow Butterflies: Phobia in Full Force
Fast forward from early teens to early twenties. Besides minor incidences — involving hyperventilation and a few screams — those years were quite uneventful as far as my butterfly phobia was concerned. I had managed to tame it or at least ignore it.
This was before I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. Up till then I had managed to steer clear of books about butterflies, including books that had pictures of the insects on their covers. I had also managed to steer clear of butterfly wallpapers, prints, decor and so on.
One Hundred Years of Solitude came with no obvious trigger warnings. It brought out my butterfly phobia in full force. Here’s a sampler.
One night while Meme was in the bathroom, Fernanda went into her bedroom by chance and there were so many butterflies that she could scarcely breathe... That night the guard brought down Mauricio Babilonia... [He died] tormented by memories and by yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment’s peace...
The yellow butterflies gave me sleepless nights. I couldn’t get them out of my head.
Me Vs. Lepido-whatever
From then onwards it has been me versus Lepido-whatever. I wanted to know more about the phobia, so I turned to my trusted companion, the internet.
Surprisingly, there are a number of “Weird and Absurd Phobias That People Have”, “Why Do People Fear Butterflies?”, and “Is It Normal to be Afraid of Butterflies?” threads on the internet, but very little information about the phobia. It takes a few clicks to unearth the relevant bits.
Here’s what I found out.
- Lepidopterophobia is closely linked to Entomophobia — phobia of insects — or Mottephobia — phobia of moths. People with butterfly phobia are usually also afraid of most winged creatures, sometimes even birds.
- Among the causes of Lepidopterophobia are traumatic experiences with insects in childhood, extreme stress, or undiagnosed depression or anxiety.
- Common reactions among sufferers include shivering, screaming, crying, heart palpitation, panic attacks, etc. accompanied sometimes by a feeling of disgust or nausea.
- In extreme cases, the phobia can lead to delusional parasitosis — a mental condition where the sufferer experiences insects crawling onto their skin. The sufferer might be prone to scratching their skin as a result.
Among the suggested ways of overcoming the phobia are slowly exposing oneself to butterflies beginning with pictures on the internet or drawing butterflies on paper. Talking about it helps and people with severe phobia are advised professional therapy.
I have never needed therapy. It has taken some effort, however, to overcome the fear. I haven’t completely gotten rid of it, of course, but the effects have successively reduced over the years.
There is no sure-shot solution, I believe, no matter what the internet says, as phobias affect different people in different ways. In some ways, phobias are entirely one’s own.
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