Amber and Max walking along a pebble beach at the white cliffs of Dover

Kabourophobia, and the difference between a fear and a phobia

Kabourophobia: Fear of crabs (the sea-creature, not the disease). From the Greek root kabouros, meaning crab, and phobos, meaning fear.  – Urban Dictionary 

In one of my earliest memories, I’m running along a beach. I’m around 3 years old, maybe 4, so it’s probably North Berwick: I don’t recall. What I do remember of that day, however, is that, at some point I either stopped or fell… right in front of an old sandcastle, which was absolutely covered – covered – in dead crabs; their spindly legs and spiteful little claws all sticking up in the air like something from a horror movie.

In later years, I assumed I must have imagined this scene – or heavily embellished it, at the very least. When I asked my dad, though – who had been chasing me along the sand at the time, and who came to a stop on front of that same sandcastle – he confirmed that yes, it did happen, and, yes, it was a pretty horrible sight, really. 

But it did not give me my kabourophobia. 

No, my fear of crabs came later: I’m not sure quite how much later, because I have no memory of this one at all, but my parents tell me that, at some point after what I’ve come to think of as The Sandcastle Incident, we went back to the beach – this time with some family friends, who had children just a little bit older than I was at the time. 

We had a lovely day on the sand, by all accounts, and, in the evening, the adults decided to just throw all of the kids into the bath together, to wash us all down before bed. (So, yes, I was young enough to have fit into a tub with two other kids: I know that much, at least…)

All was going well, until suddenly – or so I’m told – I started screaming that crabs were in the water and they were pinching me. I was absolutely hysterical: so much so that I ended up getting a solid scolding from my parents, who were completely unable to convince me that the crabs from the beach could not, under any circumstances, have made it all the way to the house, much less climbed into the bath.

the beach at St Margaret's Bay, Kent

The next morning, though, my legs were black and blue: not from crab claws (Well, I mean, obviously…), but from the little fingers of the children with me, who, it transpired, had been pinching me under the water, and saying it was “crabs”. So, that was fun for me.

And that, I think, is where the kabourophobia came from: not just from the horrible sight on the beach, or from the pinching fingers of my little friends, but from both of these things, combined with the scolding I’d gotten for screaming so much. (Yes, my parents STILL feel guilty about that, don’t worry…) I’m no psychologist, of course, but I’d hazard a guess that my mind somehow formed an association between the scary looking crabs + pain + being in trouble, and it’s an association that has never, ever been broken. 

To this day, I am absolutely terrified of crabs: to an extent that’s actually pretty hard to explain to anyone who’s never experienced some kind of phobia. 

The thing is, phobias are something that aren’t really understood by a lot of people – probably because the term itself is often used interchangeably with “fear”. So, people say they have a “phobia” of spiders, say, when what they really mean is, “I don’t really like them.” 

I don’t much like spiders either, as it happens: I wouldn’t willingly hold or touch one, I get Terry to remove any that come too close to me, and, on the few occasions that one has actually landed on me, I’ve freaked the hell out.

I’m thinking here of that memorable time when, as a young teenager, I got out of the bath one evening and pulled on my dressing gown, only to realise there was a giant spider crawling up the inside of it : at which point I screamed my head off, and streaked naked down the hall to my bedroom, not even caring that our house was open plan, my parents were entertaining friends in the living room at the time, and anyone who’d happened to be standing at the bottom of the stairs would’ve been treated to… well, quite the sight, basically. 

But that’s not a phobia. 

No, you see, if it had been a crab rather than a spider inside my dressing gown (Yeah, I know it’s unlikely, but bear with me here…), I wouldn’t have just run into my bedroom: I’d have run right out of the house – in fact, I’d probably have jumped out of the window if I had to. 

I’m not joking about that, either. One of my favourite ways of trying to explain my phobia of crabs to people is by saying that I would probably jump out of a moving vehicle to get way from one if I had to. I wouldn’t do that for a spider, because, while I’m not keen on finding them crawling up my dressing gown, obviously, I’m not terrified of them, either.

I can be in a room with a spider (as long as it’s not actually ON me). 

I can get up close to a spider and have a look it. 

I can look at photos and videos of spiders, listen to people tell stories about them, remove dead (or very small) ones from the house, and, I’m pretty sure that if you offered me enough money, I’d probably be able to force myself to pick one up. If I had to.

I couldn’t do any of those things with crabs. (Or, indeed, their close cousins, lobsters, because while what I have would probably be best described as  kabourophobia – a fear of crabs, specifically – it turns out that ostraconophobia – fear of crustaceans in general – is also a thing, and, yup, I think I might be a strong candidate for that one, too. Fun!)

Kabourophobia : fear of crabs and other crustaceansMy fear of crabs is so intense that I can’t even look at photos of the things. Touching a photo of a crab would be out of the question. I used to regularly wake up screaming that there was a crab in my bed: sometimes I’d make it as far as the bedroom door – or even the bathroom – before I’d realise it was just a dream. I once tried to get through a fire door at Sea Life Loch Lomond when I spotted a member of staff holding a giant crab in the air (No, I shouldn’t have gone there in the first place: I DID warn my family…), and my mum still talks about the time I asked her to carry me off Gullane Beach when I realised I was surrounded by the things. I was in my 30s at the time. I wish I was joking.

(Oh, and don’t even get me started on all the times I’ve gone out to dinner with friends and had to shamefacedly explain that if they order the lobster, I’ll have to leave. Yes. )

Kabourophobia is a completely irrational fear, of course: many phobias are. I’m not scared of crabs because I think they’re going to hurt me: I’m scared of them because they’re FREAKING TERRIFYING. And that’s all there is to it, really. 

There are probably lots of things I could do to overcome this, of course. My friend, for instance, who actually DOES – or did, rather – have an actual phobia of spiders, a lot like my kabourophobia, has had a lot of success with hypnotherapy, and was even able to hold a spider after one of her sessions. So that’s probably one option.

I say “probably”, though, because this is the part where I have to hold my hands up and admit that I haven’t actually done anything at all to combat my fear of crabs: mostly because I don’t WANT to. Confronting my fear would involve confronting crabs, you see – and I’m so scared of them that I don’t even want to imagine putting myself in scenario that might put me in contact with one. 

And the fact is, as I’m always telling myself, if you’re going to have a phobia of some kind, kabourophobia is a pretty good one to pick – assuming you live inland, of course.

For the most part, my phobia doesn’t really affect my life. Unlike spiders, say, crabs don’t tend to come crawling up the plughole (NOTE: if you have a story about a crab who did this, DO NOT TELL ME IT), or hang out in the bath uninvited. I have never discovered one inside my dressing gown (Which is a good thing, because I would LITERALLY DIE), and, as you can see from the photos in this post, I still take my child to the beach, and do my very best not to pass on my fear to him. He thinks crabs are “cute”. I’d really hate to see something he considers “ugly”…

These days, even the nightmares seem to have subsided somewhat:  I can’t actually remember the last time I woke up my husband with the hysterical news that there was a crab in the bed with us, although I know for sure that the next time I take a holiday near the beach, it’ll all come flooding back. So, it’s fine. I’m fine. Just… don’t try to show me any photos of crabs, I’m begging you…

Anyone else out there suffer from kabourophobia? Want to start a support group?

COMMENTS
  • mary

    REPLY

    I suffer from a worm/caterpillar/larvae phobia, I can’t recall where it started but since I was a small child, even before I even knew what a caterpillar was, I was disgusted by the mere sight of them lol. I had to cover their photos in my children books. I was so scared that when other kids would dig for worms I would put on a facade of indifference just in the chance that the bullies wouldn’t learn I had that phobia and wouldn’t use it to scare me by putting worms in my school bag or something. I don’t know if this means that it’s not a real phobia, or it just means I was so scared I entered into “surviving mode” and did the unthinkable (look at the worms being dug out and feign indifference) to avoid bigger “scares” in the future… Lol, anyways, I’m so glad it’s worms and not spiders for me, spiders are much more common and the other day I sfound a huge one crawling on my arm out of nowhere… I was just mildly amused and so glad I didn’t have aracnophobia lol.

    September 22, 2021
  • D

    REPLY

    The cruelest thing is when friends or family members use your fear for their amusement.
    For me, it’s animatronics. Just typing this out makes me nauseous.

    September 22, 2021
  • Myra+Boyle

    REPLY

    Darren had a fascination for all kinds of creepy crawly things as a kid, but that changed when in his first term at uni and living in a tiny student’s room . So 18, alone and away from home for the first time (apart from family visits). One night he woke to a monstrous spider crawling over his face – result arachnophobia. Liz’s uncle thought it was funny to give him a red-back spider (deadly) as a housewarming gift . He dropped the little jar it was in and they spent the rest of the day looking for it before it but and killed someone. Now however, he was able to move a child’s hand sized wolf spider from his stairwell as it was crawling nearer to his children’s height. Successful phobia treatment is to protect your kids

    September 22, 2021
  • Miss Kitty

    REPLY

    I have a fear of the underwater, shipwrecks in particular but anything in the sea generally. I can’t even swim in a pool that is painted a dark colour, it looks too much like the sea. And yes I do go paddling in the ocean, but you will never ever ever get me snorkelling. Like you I don’t really know when it started, I remember looking at books of the Titanic etc quite happily when I was a kid, now even the thought of it makes me want to scrub my brain. I can quite happily sit and listen to a movie about sharks or something like that, but I will sit there with my eyes shut. My family mocks me for it, I don’t think they completely realise just how terrifying it is for me. Just thinking about it now is making me feel a bit sick. But like you I have never had any inclination to do anything about the phobia, because it’s not really affecting my everyday life, thank goodness. If I had to get a phobia, I picked a fairly safe one. As long as I’m never on a sinking boat, because I will literally die of horror before I get to the water!

    September 23, 2021
  • Monikia

    REPLY

    @Miss Kitty I) suffer from thalassophobia – last time I thought it would be “safe” to enter a pool I had to leave it with a panic attack (the tiled/painted lines on the ground were to terrifiying) and looking at underwater pictures with divers e.g. makes my heart go funny. I blame Jaws for my fear/phobia of sharks. I also can’t cope with real/imaginary snakes – so a lot of problem there 🙂

    September 23, 2021
    • Miss Kitty

      REPLY

      Interesting to hear from someone else who has the same thing, I have never heard of anyone else having it! And also interesting to know it has a name, I have never bothered to look it up before 🙂 My family thinks I am completely crazy, so nice to know I’m not the only one! It’s a funny thing how even though it sounds like the same thing, it can manifest in different ways. I am not afraid of going to the beach at all, only of deep water. And I am not afraid of the animals in the water at all (mostly ????). I think maybe it’s more to do with the large dark areas of water where you can’t see what is there, and for some reason specifically shipwrecks are my big fears ???? I can swim in a pool alright, as long as it’s not painted a dark colour and I can see the bottom OK.

      September 25, 2021
  • Moni

    REPLY

    Saligarophobia here – phobia of snails and slugs. I KNOW they won’t attack me, they won’t follow me, and even if they did I could easily outrun or kill them. Still they give me the creeps.
    And I agree with the posters above, I can’t even look at pictures, and I’m not able to touch even the cutest plush snail – at least not at the belly.

    September 23, 2021
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