Cindy Cavett can handle axe murderers, no problem. Bees are a different story. It's a phobia.
Watching scary movies like “The Exorcist” and “It” is child’s play to Cindy Cavett. Even the nightmarish Freddy Krueger is laughable to the 37-year-old.
“He just looks so ridiculous,” said Cavett, a freelance blogger who enjoys penning frightful tales. “I would laugh at him if he came up to me. He can stay in my dreams, I don’t care.”
Despite being an avid fan of chiller movies, there’s a horror film from the ‘90s the Smyrna resident doesn’t find funny. In fact, she’s never watched it and refuses to. It’s called “Candyman” and features a demonic spirit with a hook for a hand, who carries bees in his mouth.
Her aversion isn’t because the evil-doer sheds innocent blood, or that a dog gets decapitated, or that the antagonist commits domestic violence. Cavett’s aversion centers on Melissophobia, the fear of bees.
“It will definitely trigger [anxiety] if I see them in movies, TV, photos or even just think about them,” Cavett explained.
Ever since she can remember she’s been afraid of bees, yet doesn’t understand why.
“If they come up in conversation, I’ll start to feel uneasy and feel like the hair is standing up on the back of my neck,” said Cavett, who isn’t scared of snakes.
Her latest run-in with bees was Oct. 7. She was stung outside a hair salon.
“I panicked and actually asked a stranger to please look down the back of my shirt to make sure the bee’s stinger was not still in me,” Cavett said.
Cavett believes she inadvertently provoked the insect to madness.
“I was standing outside of a hair salon on the phone, waiting for my hair to set, because it was getting colored,” she said. “My [hair] cape is blowing around in the wind and I’m guessing the bee got stuck in the cape and did his damage, because he was angry he got stuck in the cape. I felt him sting me and I started yelling.”
Millions have a phobia
Psychologist Katherine Elder, owner of Delaware Psychological Services in Wilmington and Lewes, said Cavett is among the 7 to 9 percent of the nation (over 21 million people) who have some kind of phobia.
The psychologist explained some of her clients have had
bizarre phobias. One man, for instance, had trypophobia, the fear of seeing clusters of small holes. Oddly, a beehive is an example of that.
Trypophobia ranked as the country’s fourth most searched phobia on the internet, according to YourLocalSecurity.com. The top-ranked phobia online is triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13.
Elder said another peculiar phobia one of her patients had was emetophobia, the fear of vomiting.
“Because his phobia was vomiting, he would then become obsessive and compulsive about washing his hands repeatedly,” she said.
The veteran psychologist said common phobias her clients struggle with include the fear of snakes (ophiophobia) and spiders (arachnophobia).
Another prevalent phobia, Elder said, is agoraphobia, the fear of feeling helpless in a situation where anxiety or panic can develop, and escape might be difficult (or even embarrassing), such as being in crowded places.
Some phobias can be linked to childhood trauma, while others seemingly develop without rhyme or reason.
Elder said the origin of phobias and why they affect people differently is complicated.
For example, she said, two children could be introduced to clowns at a young age and develop a fear of them. As adults, one might be brave enough to face clowns, while the other might freak out if they saw one.
“Some people are more resilient in the face of adversity than others,” Elder said. “Everybody has a different degree of resiliency.”
***Finding the cure
The veteran psychologist said the root cause for someone’s phobia isn’t always the most important thing. Usually the key is finding the solution.
Elder said the most effective way to overcome a fear is through exposure therapy. In that process, people are tasked with confronting their fears head-on and long-term.
For example, she said, a person might have acrophobia, which is the fear of heights.
An acrophobe’s exposure therapy might be to with stand at the top of a 10-story building and “hanging out up there for an extended period of time repeatedly,” Elder said. “Then they would realize, ‘I don’t have anything to be afraid of.’”
According to YourLocalSecurity.com, acrophobia is the most searched phobia in Delaware.
In the case of Elder’s client who was afraid of vomiting, the psychologist intentionally designed an intervention program for him that was filthy.
“His exposure therapy was watching throwing-up videos on YouTube,” the psychologist said. “He had to put his hands on the floor and then put them on his face, as a way of saying, ‘germs are going to be around, it doesn’t mean you’re going to throw up.’”
For Cavett, who’s afraid of bees, Elder said if she were a client, “my exposure therapy for her would be we would go and visit a beehive.”
Cavett, however, said getting stung earlier this month has discouraged her from trying to go near bees.
Fears aren’t unbreakable
Cavett said she kind of began her own intervention in 2015, when she stopped killing the flying insects, after learning some species of bees were threatened with extinction.
Elder said an important piece of advice she wants to leave with people is they can break free of their fears.
The psychologist said she has a 100 percent success rate with clients who fully cooperate with her and want to overcome a phobia, although the process is usually uncomfortable for them.
The way people presently think, Elder said, doesn’t have to be permanent. The brain is constantly changing and adapting, based on people’s experiences. “Sometimes it adapts in unhealthy ways and sometimes it adapts in healthy ways,” Elder explained.
“I think people still need to realize that their brain and the parts of the brain and the way we process information can change.
“If people believe and know they have the power to be the author over these things, they’re going to be more likely to work on their phobias.”