Pediophobia is the perpetual fear or worry of dolls, such as walking/talking dolls or porcelain and china dolls. Despite being safe, seeing a doll makes the phobic person believe that he or she is in some sort of danger.
Dolls have been a source of entertainment for children for many years. They often talk to their dolls, name them, sleep with them, groom them, play with them, and some children even share secrets with these imaginary friends. Some children are scared of dolls, so much that they run away at the sight of one. While most childhood cases of pediophobia dissipate as the child grows up, this fear can persist into adulthood.
Pediophobia originates from the Greek ‘Paidion’ meaning little child, and ‘Phobos’ which means fear or deep dread. The phobia is related to ‘automatonophobia,’ the fear of all mannequins, marionettes, ventriloquist’s dummies, wax figures, animatronics or robotic figures, etc., that mimic a living being’s characteristics. Pediophobia is also related to ‘pupaphobia,’ the fear of puppets.
Dolls are often portrayed in a negative light in many pop-culture settings, especially movies such as Annabelle, Child’s Play, Puppet Master, and The Boy. These movies portray dolls as wicked or evil, possessed objects intent on destroying all around them. Whether this happens through magical spells, hauntings or random chance, the end result is always the same; a child’s plaything becomes deadly. These movies tap into a primordial fear that could be one of the phobia’s origins, the fear of a silent killer.
If you suffer from pediophobia and like to travel, stay away from an island south of Mexico City – located among the canals of Xochimilco – a creepy tourist attraction named Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls. The island has a tragic background and was never intended to be a tourist destination. However, travelers flock here to see old, dilapidated dolls hanging from trees to appease the spirit of a local girl who lost her life in a drowning accident. The man who originally spearheaded this strange decorating project, Don Julian Santana Barrera, firmly believed that the dolls were possessed.
Causes of Pediophobia
Pediophobia is triggered by an intensely negative or traumatic incident connected to dolls in the phobic’s past, or childhood. That person will have been surprised or shocked while in the presence of a mannequin, dummy, or doll.
The incident may have been forgotten by the conscious mind, but is being retained by the subconscious, which is attempting to forbid the phobic from putting his or herself at risk again by establishing fear as a method of protection.
A psychological reason to explain this irrational fear is the phobic believing the non-living doll will come alive. It is this ominous thought that makes them worry and feel anxious. Malicious older siblings or friends, etc. can unknowingly instill pediophobia into the minds of younger children by telling stories of dolls coming to life at night.
To a person already suffering from anxiety disorders or nervousness, all dolls symbolize evil. They have fixed staring eyes or emotionless buttons for eyes making them look like corpses.
In folk magic and witchcraft, a poppet is a doll made to represent a person, for casting spells on that person or to aid that person through magic. The dolls may be made from carved roots, grains or corn shafts, fruit, paper, wax, a potato, clay, branches, or cloth stuffed with herbs with the intent that any actions performed upon the effigy will be transferred to the subject based on sympathetic magic. It was from these European dolls that the myth of voodoo dolls arose. Burning or sticking pins into voodoo dolls to bring misfortune to an individual was a common practice in the past.
Symptoms of Pediophobia
Whatever the cause of the pediophobia, there can be acute emotional disruption and unrest in the sufferer’s mind. The phobic would usually hide any dolls they confront or refuse to go near it/them. In a worst-case scenario, the sufferer would have a loss of control, experience anger, heart palpitations, or a sense of detachment from reality.
Some people might experience a full-blown panic attack in the presence of dolls; others live in a constant state of fear. No matter the cause of the phobia, powerful emotional disturbances, psychological and physical symptoms may occur:
- Dry mouth
- A feeling of being choked to death
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- A feeling of being freezing cold, shivering
- Crying and screaming, trying to flee, etc.
An individual who has the phobia can find his or herself turning down opportunities to visit family and friends who are mystified and hurt by their behavior. This can be embarrassing as well as debilitating enough to affect that person’s normal functioning.
Left untreated, pediophobia can affect and impact on a person’s life in considerable and sometimes overwhelming ways. The fear of dolls can assume such devastating proportions that it seriously interferes with the person’s ability to function normally.
Usually, the phobic is well aware that it is ridiculous but feels utterly defenseless to be able to do anything about it. Self-discipline and attempting to “grin and bear it”does little to decrease the phobia’s daunting grasp. This is because fear is generated in the subconscious, so it is the subconscious that must be studied for any real solution.
Treatment of Pediophobia
There are many treatments for pediophobia. In lesser instances, sufferers can “cure” themselves by using relaxation and meditation strategies. Learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and muscle relaxation can assist in alleviating pediophobic anxiety. Other techniques, such as visualization, in which the phobic envisions a reassuring scene or place, can also help treat the phobia. Meditations to treat anxiety could also be tried.
In severe cases, consulting with a physician is necessary for:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Desensitization
- Anti-anxiety medicine
- Exposure therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or desensitization – these are clinically proven methods utilized in the treatment of various phobias. Their aim is to reprogram the phobic to help him or her rationalize fearful thoughts about dolls and turn them into positive thoughts. Shunning negative thoughts that can be linked to pediophobia can be a helpful way to manage the phobia.
Desensitization – this consists of slowly confronting the phobic with dolls. The treatment can begin by looking at photographs, watching movies and reading books about dolls, etc. (until the phobic is able to stay calm in the existence of dolls without having a panic/anxiety attack). This treatment is usually performed in the presence of a therapist or it can be done in the home environment with the assistance of family members or close friends.
Anti-Anxiety Medications – this is applicable only to adults who have not yet overcome their pediophobia. The person may be advised to take anti-anxiety medications to relieve the feelings associated with dolls. However, there is no research to suggest that anti-anxiety medicines are effective in the treatment of pediophobia. The person must consult a doctor before using anti-anxiety pills.
Psychotherapy – utilizing the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist to discuss issues connected to your phobia, can help identify the underlying cause. With regular counseling, the phobic will have better control over his or her feelings, moods, and behavior. This may then help in coping with the phobia.
Exposure Therapy – this is a type of behavior therapy where the feared object is deliberately brought in front of the patient. Initially, the phobic will feel anxiety. However, upon repeated exposure, the person may have better control over his or her uncomfortable feelings, which may help in reducing the phobia.
Sadly, these methods only try to eliminate the phobia by working on the symptom itself – the fear of dolls. This is often a temporary fix and could possibly complicate matters. A phobia has an origin and may carry with it a lot of raw subconscious emotion. By eliminating the fear, the phobic is left defenseless to this unprocessed emotion surfacing later in another and possibly more damaging manner. This is known as “symptom substitution” or “symptom displacement.”
In order for pediophobia to be completely treated, it is vital that the dominant subconscious emotion linked to the phobia also be correctly handled and comprehensively treated, together with the anxiety and fear itself. Once the subconscious accepts that dolls or mannequins, etc. do not pose a threat or a danger, then the person is released from the grips of this harmful and restrictive phobia.