If you’ve ever seen the horror movie with a doll named Chucky, you probably never looked at a dolls the same way again. While dolls can feel creepy to those who watch horror films like this, most people don’t worry that a doll is actually going to harm them.
However, a few people have an intense and irrational fear of dolls. This fear, called pediophobia, can be triggered by popular culture, horror movies, or another traumatic event even loosely related to dolls.
Pediophobia is a type of phobia known as a specific phobia, an irrational fear of something that poses no actual threat. Specific phobias affect more than 9 percent of adults in the United States. Thinking about or seeing a doll can cause severe anxiety symptoms to someone with pediophobia, even if they know that the fear is irrational.
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. For people with pediophobia, seeing or thinking about dolls can cause anxiety that is so intense they may become frozen with fear.
Specific phobias like pediophobia can be unrelenting and frightening, but they are also very treatable. Mental health professionals take phobias seriously and can offer counseling and prescribe medications to help treat the phobia.
For people with pediophobia, seeing or thinking about dolls may cause the following symptoms:
- feelings of intense fear
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or tightness
- fast heartbeat
- shaking or trembling
- panic attacks
- trying to flee
Children may cry, cling to their parents, or throw tantrums.
The fear experienced is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the object (dolls). If the phobia becomes severe, a person with pediophobia may even re-organize their entire life just to avoid dolls.
There are several treatment methods available for pediophobia such as different types of therapy and, in some cases, prescription medications.
The most common treatment method for phobias is called exposure therapy or systematic desensitization. This therapy consists of very gradually exposing a person with pediophobia to dolls. You’re also taught various techniques to deal with anxiety, such as breathing and relaxation exercises.
Exposure therapy usually starts off small. While your therapist is present, you may view a photograph of a doll and practice relaxation techniques. Later, with your therapist present, you may watch a short video about dolls, again working on breathing and relaxation. Eventually, you may be in the same room with your therapist with an actual doll as you perform your relaxation exercises.
Mental health professionals may also use the these other types of therapy to help you change your irrational fear into a more logical view of dolls:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- family therapy
- virtual therapy, where a patient can interact with dolls using a computer
Although there are no medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the specific treatment of phobias, some doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications to help with symptoms. Some examples of medications that may be prescribed include:
- benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium)
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluoxetine (Prozac)
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as isocarboxazid (Marplan) and phenelzine (Nardil)
Since benzodiazepines can be habit forming, they should only be used for a short period of time. Be sure to closely follow your doctor’s instructions when taking any anxiety medication.
The exact underlying cause of pediophobia isn’t yet understood. Pediophobia may be triggered by a traumatic event, such as watching a horror film with dolls or an incident that is remotely connected to dolls.
Perhaps an older sibling told you about dolls that came to life in the middle of the night.
Specific phobias can run in families, which means it’s possible there is a genetic component to them. However, it may also mean those fears may be learned by watching parents or other family members being afraid or avoiding things like dolls.
To diagnose pedophobia, a doctor or mental health professional will need to conduct a clinical interview. They will likely follow diagnostic guidelines published by the American Psychiatric Association known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The doctor will ask several questions about your symptoms and medical history or have you fill out questionnaires.
Your doctor may also want to rule out other underlying medical conditions that may be related to the development of a phobia, such as schizophrenia, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or personality disorders.
The outlook is very good for people with pediophobia who seek counseling for their phobia. To improve the outlook, a person with pediophobia needs to be fully committed to their treatment plan.
If your fear of dolls negatively affects your day-to-day functioning, schedule an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional. Most people can be helped with treatment such as therapy or medication.