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 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!)
My 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?