Paul is an IT adviser who lives in Georgia. Some years ago, he agreed to accommodated a woman that a acquaintance of his anticipation would be absolute for him. They went on a date. She was nice, but Paul told his acquaintance it wasn’t activity to assignment out because she had been acid a shirt with ons. Lots of ons.
Since childhood, Paul has had an abhorrence to ons. Back his parents took him to abbey and he was affected to abrasion a dress shirt, he insisted on accoutrement the band of ons with a necktie so he wouldn’t accept to see them. As an adult, he leaves his assignment accoutrements oned about to the top, abrogation aloof one baffled so he can cull it over his head. That way, he won’t accept to blow the blow of them. “The ones I abhorrence best are the four-hole, irised ons,” Paul tells Mental Floss, anecdotic one of the best accepted types of artificial accouterment ons. “But they are all degrees of disgusting.”
Paul suffers from koumpounophobia, or a abhorrence of ons—a all-overs so attenuate that alone one analytic case has anytime been accurate in psychiatric literature. Unlike added accepted ailments like a abhorrence of snakes or heights, those afflicted with koumpounophobia acquisition it difficult to convenance avoidance. Buttons are everywhere. On clothes. In stores. Stuffed in closets. Lurking in laundry hampers. If sufferers can somehow abstain acid them, they’re still afflicted by the afterimage of them on others. A hug from a on-wearer can abet as abundant all-overs as the activity of a spider ample up an arachnophobe’s leg.
Despite his apprehensions, Paul agreed to see his date again. But afore their accord could continue, he had to sit her bottomward and explain his affliction. “This is weird,” he told her, “but if we accumulate seeing anniversary other, you charge to accomplish an accomplishment not to abrasion ons.”
Koumpounophobia had its moment in the spotlight in 2007, back The Wall Street Journal intimated that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs hated ons. The evidence, according to the paper, included Apple’s admission iPhone, a touchscreen-based accessory that would accommodate telecommunications, as able-bodied as Jobs’s wardrobe, which consisted mostly of atramentous turtlenecks. While not a appear phobia, the on-free preferences of Jobs (who died in 2011) has led some assemblage to brainstorm his abhorrence ability accept led to aitionist tech innovations that afflicted the advance of history.
For best koumpounophobes—which may cardinal aloof one in 75,000 people, a atom of the 9 percent of Americans who ache from specific phobias—their abhorrence for ons artlessly changes the advance of their day. They abstain attractive at, touching, wearing, or cerebration about ons, an abhorrence that idles at the circle amid alarm and repulsion, according to Wendy Silverman, Ph.D., the administrator of the Yale Adolescent Abstraction Center Program for All-overs Disorders.
“There is bond amid phobia, fear, and disgust,” Silverman tells Mental Floss. What bodies anticipate of as abhorrence may instead be a able loathing. Either way, it after-effects in abstention behavior. In 2002, Silverman co-authored and appear the alone analytic cardboard [PDF] chronicling a case abstraction of an boyish presenting with a on avoidance.
At the time, Silverman was in analytic convenance at Miami’s Florida International University and agreed to see a mother and her 9-year-old son. The mother said that her son had struggled with his academy uniform, which included a on-up shirt. He banned to blow the ons or attending at them. He didn’t like the aroma of them.
“He had the activity they were aloof gross,” Silverman says. “Because of the uniform, he was affected into constant them. They acquired acute distress.”
Silverman abstruse of a cogent adventure that happened back the adolescent was 5 years old: During a kindergarten art lesson, the boy had run out of ons to cement to his affiche board. Walking up to a behemothic basin of them on the teacher’s desk, he slipped. The basin angled over, drop ons everywhere.
It’s accessible to brainstorm the embarrassment of the boy, eyed by his classmates afterwards sending the accrue of ons flying. But Silverman says that such annoying incidents are adamantine to appear by. For best phobics, they can’t consistently bethink that cardinal moment back an banal article became a threat. Memory is unreliable, and therapists don’t about acquisition that acquirements the agent of a abhorrence aids in allowance to amusement it. “Typically, it’s not accepted for kids presenting with a all-overs to accept accomplished a absolute accident like this. Many times, it’s aloof them celebratory addition abroad or audition about it.”
According to Silverman, the adolescent had a bureaucracy of distaste. Small artificial ons affronted the arch reaction; large, jean-style assumption ons were alone minimally troubling. The Jobs access aside, electronic-style ons—like the affectionate acclimated on computer keyboards—don’t assume to be a trigger. “It’s a acclivity accepted in phobias,” she says. “If you accept a abhorrence of dogs and see a poodle, that’s altered from seeing a big dog that’s not on a leash.”
Silverman disqualified out obsessive-compulsive ataxia in the child’s case, as he didn’t affirmation any repetitive or assiduous thoughts about ons, and absitively to admit acknowledgment analysis by boring introducing him to concrete interactions with ons, a accepted access for phobias. Back he handled them, he accustomed absolute administration from his mother. Yet his all-overs increased: All he capital to do was anticipate anyone from advancing him with ons. For years, that was his arresting mechanism.
“Avoidance behavior, over time, aloof makes it worse,” Silverman says. “The mother was affairs appropriate clothes and he was accustomed to abstain them.” Left untreated, koumpounophobes can appear to acquisition that ons will activate to exact accretion access over their lives.
In adjustment to get Ronald, about 4, to abrasion ons, his mother Viv tries to accomplish a d out of it, oning her own shirt as he ons his. Sometimes this works; added times, he becomes so afflicted that she gives up. What apropos her best is that Ronald spends his time in preschool actuality acutely alert of accouchement acid ons.
“The way we see it accident is that he aloof avoids any adolescent with ons and has a addiction to comedy by himself at school,” Viv tells Mental Floss. “The agents apparently aloof don’t see the arrangement because who would anticipate to tie whether he brand a kid or not to what the kid is wearing? They apparently anticipate of him as a bit antisocial.”
To abhorrence ons is to abstain bodies acid ons, article that can accept cogent amusing implications for both accouchement and adults. Paul is, in a sense, one accessible approaching for Ronald. His all-overs dictates his moods, his relationships, and his accent levels. Affected to abrasion ons, he likens it to addition with all-overs over flying. “You sit on the even but you don’t like it,” Paul says. “It’s not comfortable. You’re acquainted of it the accomplished time.”
He has little access over how others apply ons. If a being acid ons comes in for a hug, he’ll accomplish alone the bald minimum in return. “A ancillary hug, maybe,” he says. His wife—the aforementioned woman to whom he accepted his all-overs 10 years ago—will sometimes put a on in her aperture to abrade him. Bodies acquisition his ache over accouterments funny.
“I’ve had bodies at assignment leave ons on my desk,” Paul says. “I don’t like it. A box of accidental ons is gross. It’s not there for any reason.” Gratuitous shots of ons in movies or on television abrade him. “It’s like, why are you assuming this in close-up?” If he’s affected to blow a on, he’ll ablution his hands. “It’s like, ‘I gotta get this on off of me.’”
Contamination ability be one accessible account for why on phobics acknowledge the way they do. Paul remembers chewing on his collar as a child. Maybe, he says, a foul-tasting on fabricated him attention all ons as article black and dirty. It’s abundant to abet unease, but not absolutely on the akin of phobias that can attenuate a person’s activities.
“Most bodies with a on all-overs don’t accommodated analytic belief in agreement of ache and disability,” Graham Davey, a assistant of attitude at the University of Sus, tells Mental Floss. “So in this sense, on all-overs will usually be alone a balmy all-overs and can usually be addressed by artlessly acid off all the ons from accouterment afore acid those clothes … But I accept accepted bodies whose ache with ons is about bottomward to activity attenuated by them, so it may represent a actual abnormal anatomy of claustrophobia.”
Cognitive behavioral analysis (CBT), which suggests modulating anticipation processes abroad from the annoying behavior, is one way to abode an abstention of ons. Acknowledgment therapy, a accepted address acclimated in CBT, capacity patients to an ascent alternation of encounters with the affair that causes them distress. If addition has a abhorrence of flying, they ability alpha with attractive at a account of an aeroplane afore sitting in a ashore aircraft and then, ultimately, demography off. In the case of the 9-year-old boy in Miami who was brought in antisocial ons, acknowledgment wasn’t enough.
“He was still accepting ache reactions,” Silverman says. So she switched to absorption on the abhorrence allocation of his aversion. She instructed him to brainstorm ons falling on him and to accede how they felt, looked, and smelled, banishment him to assay his own animosity and attention them as asymmetric to the cold harmlessness of the objects. His distress, abstinent verbally by the boy on a one-to-nine scale, began to decrease.
At aftereffect at six and 12 months, the boy appear alone basal ache back apparent to ons. The bright artificial kind, already the best troubling, were beat after adventure on a circadian basis.
While Viv has not pursued able advice for her son, she has apparent Ronald videos on on-making that didn’t assume to aftermath abundant anxiety. They additionally fabricated ons out of Play-Doh. “Maybe we’ll try again,” she says, “after we get through absurd training.”
A faculty of embarrassment can generally asphyxiate such attempts to cope. Paul has apparent a therapist for accepted issues apropos to looming average age but has abhorred the on topic, fearing it will complete ridiculous. Sufferers acquisition it easier to convenance avoidance, customizing tasks in an accomplishment to abate exposure. While cerebral analysis and acknowledgment may work, the dead has to appetite it to work.
Paul has abstruse to adamant shirts that are already oned up so he doesn’t accept to blow them. Added cutting than that is the actuality his adolescent babe is alpha to display signs of koumpounophobia. “She’s started to accept the aforementioned abhorrence to ons which has acquired a bit of affair for me,” he says. “I’m aggravating to acquaint ons into her apple so she doesn’t accept to accord with the constraint.” But Paul additionally admits he’s best adequate back his family’s closets are on-free, or aing to it. “I can’t bethink a time back I didn’t abhorrence ons wholeheartedly,” he says.
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