In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Pupaphobia.
Pupaphobia is an intense fear of puppets. It is a type of ‘automatono’ phobia, which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this type of phobia will experience high levels of anxiety when they see puppets.
Puppets are toys or objects with which a child plays and or are used as a source of entertainment.
They were mostly used to entertain people in olden times, when TVs were not invented.
Their humanoid figure is what can lead to a child becoming fearful of them. People suffering from Pupaphobia are afraid of all types of puppets
Puppets are very harmless objects, used for the purpose of playing or engaging children in some kind of activity.
But, films/shows like Saw 0.5 (2003) have portrayed them as evil objects. In it, a puppet named Billy was shown to be evil and scary.
But because children are unable to interpret the difference between reality and imagination, they develop Pupaphobia.
They believe puppets to be ‘real’ and potentially harmful to them.
Someone suffering from Pupaphobia will not only be extremely anxious and terrified at the sight of puppets, but just the thought of them can instigate full-blown panic attacks as the anxiety worsens.
This phobia mostly develops during childhood and fades when one grows.
Though, this depends on the severity of their phobia. One might even carry their fear of puppets into adulthood which worsens their anxiety and makes life difficult.
A sufferer will take all the efforts they can in order to avoid any contact with puppets.
In Pupaphobia, a child will start crying or screaming as soon as they see a puppet.
They will avoid going into a room where they are present, for example their own toy room or a toy shop.
In school, sufferers of Pupaphobia will avoid taking part in activities which involve puppets, for example annual stage shows.
These repeated acts of avoidance, which produce pleasant feelings in the sufferer will help in maintaining their fear, as it assures the child that puppets are to be afraid of because their presence causes anxiety and their absence doesn’t.
This is why someone suffering from Pupaphobia can also develop Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.
As the DSM-V suggests, this evading behavior of the sufferer is fueled by their anxiety, which affects one’s social and occupational functioning. This is because children are unable to play with their friends, they don’t participate in school functions like other kids, they cannot visit toy stores and choose their own toys.
Pupaphobia, if carried into adulthood can also result in one developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Pupaphobia is an irrational fear of puppets. The word originates from a Latin word ‘pupillo’ and Greek word ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Pupaphobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Pupaphobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of puppets suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heartbeat or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around puppets, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Pupaphobia, being the fear of puppets is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might be scared of all puppets whereas others will be afraid of specific ones.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Pupaphobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to puppets
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about puppets
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter a puppet
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
- Crying/screaming (in children)
For one to be diagnosed with Pupaphobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Pupaphobia
Pupahobia, like all other specific phobias, has no known cause.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Pupaphobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of puppets.
Movies can be a source for the development of Pupaphobia.
The ways puppets are portrayed in horror films plays a substantial role in a child developing fear of puppets.
The impact of movies can very likely be the reason for one to develop this phobia because of the way films show possessed puppets being a potential threat to humans, especially children.
Because puppets are otherwise inanimate and harmless objects, films that are based on them mostly showcase them as a threat to one’s safety by displaying them as possessed.
Children who see or hear such things believe them to be real incidents because of the special effects films have and the inability of a child to differentiate between a film and real life.
Other than this, one can also develop Pupaphobia if, for example, their elder siblings or family members tell them stories of how puppets can walk/talk at night.
Because children are naive, these false stories are perceived real by them and induce fear and anxiety.
Someone suffering from Ommetaphobia (fear of eyes) can also develop Pupaphobia because the eyes of puppets, which are different in every doll can be intimidating to one.
Eyes of some puppets are made of buttons which seem lifeless, some seem very real.
Therefore, someone with a fear of eyes will generalize their fear to the whole puppet.
Also, puppets are intentionally made scary.
This can fear one because of the fact that an inanimate thing appears live, talking and walking.
Because they have an uncanny resemblance to humans, one can fear them.
Additionally, people develop Pupaphobia because they fear being controlled by people.
They associate the control of humans over puppets with control of someone over them.
They fear the way one produces/makes a puppet and then makes it appear unrealistically real.
Thus, Pupaphobia has no real cause as to why one develops it.
Some suffer from it due to genetics, while others are terrified of dolls due to the experiences they’ve had.
Treatment of Pupaphobia
Pupaphobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Pupaphobia is treated by a number of different therapies including,
Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Pupaphobia is defined as the irrational fear of puppets.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about getting exposed to puppets.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Pupaphobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a puppet, for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is watching a puppet show.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a real puppet.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of puppets, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Pupaphobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about puppets.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Pupaphobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Pupaphobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and … (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)
by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, et al.
- DBT Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (The New Harbinger Made Simple Series)
by Sheri Van Dijk
- Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic
by Reneau Peurifoy
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Automatonophobia?
Automatonophobia is the fear of humanoid, wax objects. It is a very rare phobia.
Q2) What does Pediophobia mean?
It is an irrational fear of dolls.
Q3) How common is Pediophobia?
Pediophobia is the irrational fear of dolls. It is a type of specific phobia and not very common. However, 9% of the population of the United States is affected by some type of specific phobia.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.