Christmas is one of the most joyous times of the year, spent surrounded by family, giving and receiving presents and eating hearty food.
But for a small section of the population, it can be the most miserable and frightening. We’re not talking about Grinches here — some people have legitimate phobias of Christmas traditions.
Santaphobiais is the fear of Santa Claus and usually starts after a bad childhood experience with a fake Father Christmas.
Meanwhile, selaphobics are afraid of flashing Christmas lights, while those with cyssanophobia cannot stand the thought of kissing someone under the mistletoe.
Malcolm Struthers, a hypnotherapist in Scotland, told DailyMail.com the phobias are ‘absolutely real’ and can be ‘deeply debilitating’.
Santaphobiais is the fear of Santa Claus and usually starts after a bad childhood experience with a fake Father Christmas. Meanwhile, selaphobics are afraid of flashing Christmas lights, while those with cyssanophobia cannot stand the thought of kissing someone under the mistletoe
It is difficult to know how exactly many people have a specific phobia, but according to the Cleveland Clinic, around one in 10 adults and one in five teenagers in America will deal with a specific phobic disorder at some point in their lives.
Specific phobias can be easily and quickly treated with therapy. A hypnotherapist can guide you through exposure therapy.
Struther’s techniques include getting someone to replay the first time they remember experiencing the phobia on an imaginary cinema screen, where they are watching it from a distance.
You then talk through the experience and change it. You might imagine watching it alongside the Benny Hill theme tune, so that it makes it silly, and takes away the power of the experience.
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Christougenniatikophobia – the fear of Christmas in general
Believe it or not, a fear of Christmas does exist.
‘Christmas isn’t always a pleasant time for people,’ Struthers said.
‘If Christmas wasn’t a particularly happy time as a child, there’s definitely going to be associations with that.’
He said things like bereavement, family breakups and arguments around Christmas can leave someone feeling uneasy about that time of year.
‘If you’re quite young and you’re seeing family members at each others’ throats, you could easily see how that could then become a negative association.
‘Christmas isn’t always a pleasant time for people. It’s easy to see how you could take that into adulthood, and for it then to become more of an irrational phobia, where there is an association at an unconscious level, even at a conscious level, between Christmas and negative things from the past.
‘Although you could tell yourself consciously that the two things aren’t connected — it doesn’t mean that negative bad things happen at Christmas — part of you at the back of your mind still might be making that association.’
‘You can break it very quickly and easily, but it’s easy for [a phobia of Christmas] to form and that to become a very strong association.’
People may not even remember the event that set off their Christougenniatikophobia.
Struthers added: ‘That negative thing that your parents were arguing or the bereavement, that might be processed, dealt with or just not even remembered. Yet, you’re still having this reaction to Christmas.
‘That’s when people would look for some additional help and support to deal with that.’
Syngenesophobia – the fear of relatives
Many may lament small talk with distant relatives during the holiday period, but people will feel extremely uncomfortable and may suffer anxiety attacks around certain relatives, even ones they have a close relationship with.
The fear could even extend to other people’s relatives, Struthers said.
‘That kind of association can become quite nebulous. Our brains are funny things. They make strange associations. It doesn’t need to always make sense to other people — it doesn’t even make sense to ourselves.
‘It could be other people’s relatives or other situations that are completely unrelated to the inciting incident, but it’s [still] causing that fear, that panic.’
A phobia may trace back to childhood from an abusive relationship with a relative.
If the childhood incident is something as severe as sexual abuse, this would probably go beyond a phobia and into PTSD, Struthers said.
Selaphobia – the fear of flashing lights
When there is a Christmas tree around every corner and house fronts covered in twinkling fairy lights, selaphobia — a phobia of flashing lights — will wreak havoc for its sufferers.
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People with epilepsy are prone to suffering the fear, but not all selaphobia sufferers have seizures.
Struthers had a client in their 30s who had been afraid of flashing lights their entire life. Despite undergoing hypnotherapy with Struthers, the pair never found out the root cause of the phobia.
Struthers said: ‘The client was very aware that it wasn’t the flashing lights they were afraid of.
‘They knew that, but they were still having that reaction to those funfair or Christmas or illumination, spectacle type of lights.
‘They knew it was irrational, but at the same time, they were still having that reaction. We worked around that reaction, changing how they perceived [the lights] at an unconscious level, because that’s where the trigger was hardwired.
‘Very quickly, they moved beyond that, and [the flashing lights] didn’t elicit a response at all. It was just in the background.’
‘What a lot of people do is try and avoid the situations that would cause fear. But it’s very difficult to do that at Christmas time when [flashing lights] are everywhere.
‘It could get to a point where you are completely avoiding social interaction, going to the shops, all the things that other people would treat as normal to try and avoid being in that situation where you do have that response.’
Cyssanophobia – the fear of kissing under the mistletoe
The thought of puckering up to someone under the mistletoe causes a fair few to run in the opposite direction.
But for some people, it can give them painfully crippling anxiety.
The tradition began in ancient Greece, and during the Roman era, even enemies at war who met under mistletoe would call a truce and reconcile.
Phobias can develop when an embarrassing event happens.
Struthers said: ‘I can imagine as a child, an auntie or someone embarrassing you, and then you’re left with that into adulthood, and then you become afraid of it.
‘People get a bit embarrassed about things like that, especially children. An embarrassing event like that as a child can easily create a phobia.’
The thought of puckering up to someone under the mistletoe causes a fair few to run in the opposite direction. But for some people, it can give them painfully crippling anxiety
He added: ‘I’m not sure how impactful it would be later in life. It’s not something that would crop up that often, kissing beneath the mistletoe, but I would imagine there would be other associated fears go alongside that as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s other things [going on].’
‘I wouldn’t like [kissing beneath the mistletoe] particularly,’ Struthers admitted, ‘but it’s not an irrational fear, it’s not going to have that extreme reaction.’
People’s anxieties around mistletoe could relate to a fear of intimacy more generally, he said, which is quite common. A fear of intimacy is slightly different and in most cases probably more than a phobia, he added.
Santaphobia – the fear of Santa Claus
You’ve heard of people who are scared of clowns, but did you know that there are people out there who are scared of Santa Claus?
It probably stemmed from an interaction as a child.
‘Young children being taken along, plonked on Santa’s knee, when it’s all quite new, and probably quite overwhelming, could quite create that association,’ Struthers said.
‘Everybody looking at them, waiting for a response, expecting it to be a happy one. We’ve all seen those pictures of young children on Santa’s knee crying,’ he added.
A meet-and-greet with Santa at a young age could leave you with Santaphobia
He said: ‘Some of those old school Santa Clauses, there weren’t the best. They were quite scary-looking.
‘It is quite a potentially quite scary event for a young child, and easy to see then how you could put an association together between a traumatic event and Santa being the trigger for the event.
‘And then you know [later in life] that actually that’s not particularly a scary thing, but you’re still carrying that [phobia] forward, you still had that hardwired.’
Struthers said the phobia could ‘absolutely’ translate onto imagery of Santa.
‘A fear of Santa is probably a little bit less common than, for example, fear of clowns, but I imagine for many people, it’d be a very similar reason behind the very similar reaction,’ he said.
‘For people with fear of clowns, the image of a clown can be very scary. Clowns and Santa Claus, interestingly, are both used [to scare people] nowadays. These previously joyful images have been subverted for horror films and whatnot to play on these themes.’
Ecclesiophobia – the fear of churches
A phobia of churches relates to two distinct fears — a fear of the building itself or the fear of what the church represents.
It could be down to a negative experience in a church or unease associated with the notion of being punished for not leading a religiously moral life.
Typically, phobias come from experiences and places, and strong associations can be quickly made between the two.
Struthers said: ‘Then it becomes disproportionate… so that if you’ve had a negative experience in a church, then you could easily become afraid of churches.
‘It kind of makes sense. But at the same time, rationally, it doesn’t make sense.’
He added: ‘The thing that happened doesn’t even have to be anything particularly overwhelmingly traumatic. It could even be a Christening and the baby’s getting water thrown over it, or a really boring wedding that they’ve been to. And all of a sudden fear of churches develops over time.’
Churches can be unnerving places for children. There is the expectation of staying quiet, which does not come naturally to many toddlers.
‘If a child isn’t [quiet] and then gets scolded for that and told off, then they’re taking that emotion and associating it with that place,’ Struthers said.
Children may also be expected to participate in singing and speaking performances in churches at Christmas time.
Struthers said: ‘Singing in a choir might cause you anxiety at the time, but actually what you then have an association with is the church rather than the singing.
‘Public performance at any age is quite anxiety-inducing for a lot of people. And at a young age, if they’re doing their nativity in a church, or whatever it might be, and actually it’s not a particularly pleasant experience, then it’s quite easy to see how that association can be made.’
For some less religious families, Christmas is one of the few times of year they will go.
‘You could easily avoid going to church for a significant part of your life, but then you go to a wedding or a funeral or at Christmas time, and then you realize that you may not even have even noticed [the phobia] until you’re back in that place,’ Struthers said.
Meleagrisphobia – the fear of turkeys
A large roasted turkey is center stage on many Christmas dinner tables, but a person with meleagrisphobia may struggle to eat it.
Some are fine with cooked turkey but will not go near a live one.
‘I’m yet to work with someone with a fear of turkeys,’ Struthers admitted. ‘It is very specific. But again, animals do elicit a lot of phobias. Birds generally is quite common.’
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