Koumpounophobia: n. A surprisingly common, irrational fear of buttons. Sufferers dislike the sight and feel of buttons and in severe cases avoid saying or hearing the word.
For as long as I can remember I have hated buttons. Whilst the word phobia provokes ideas of fear I am completely aware of the fact that a button will never hurt me. I can wholly accept the idea that the chances of an evil button lodging itself in my throat in an attempt to choke me to death is near impossible.
However, the sight and feel of these harmless inanimate objects repulses me. I cannot stomach the smooth texture of them touching any part of my body. Buttons unattached to an item of clothing are particularly distressing; the loose string gleefully waving in the wind, as if overjoyed to be free from the captivity of clothing, genuinely makes me want to throw up there and then. I should point out that this only applies to plastic and wooden buttons, whilst – in utter irrationality – metal ones are acceptable. In my defence, metal buttons don’t have the two holes in the centre and the string passing through the middle, which is a real saving grace in my eyes. Poppers are again acceptable, but to be honest unnecessary fastenings for purely decorative purposes really grind my gears.
My family had always been pretty understanding, but naturally labelled me a bit of a fruit-loop. All this changed at the age of about ten, when a newly-married couple moved into the house next to mine. The woman told us that she was expecting a baby and so was currently on the hunt for baby clothes. My Mum kindly offered her some of our old baby cardigans and coats, but she politely declined explaining that her husband Nick couldn’t have buttons on his baby due to an irrational phobia of his. Suddenly everything was easier; a sensible, sane, full grown man had a similar problem and from that day my family no longer laughed it off so easily.
My first attempt at therapy was in a dark and dingy room above a pub in my hometown. The woman was a five-foot, nervous wreck who spoke in little more than a whisper. I lay down on the clichéd leather sofa whilst she informed me that when she got dressed that morning she had been tempted to wear her new button-embellished shoes. Already a bad start. She then asked how my mother responded to the fear. I told her she’d always been supportive, purchasing a lifetime supply of Velcro and using it to replace any buttons I came across; my school skirts, for example, were fastened with Velcro strips. A new duvet cover I’d chosen (a poor judgement on my behalf) was fastened with ten horrendously large, purple buttons. I spent weeks curled up in a tiny ball in bed trying to keep my feet as far away from the end of the duvet as possible until eventually she created a Velcro haven at the foot of my bed.
When she asked me how my father responded to the fear, I explained that he’d lightly teased me when I was young. The remainder of the £60 session was spent trying to construct a theory in which Dad was held responsible for the entire phobia. It was all a bit too Freudian for my liking.
The next logical step was hypnotherapy. Whilst I have heard cases of it revolutionising people’s lives, it just didn’t happen for me. I remember lying on a bed whilst the therapist played typically ‘relaxing’ music, spoke to me in a ‘relaxing’ voice, and described scenes such as lying on the ground in a forest looking at the sky whilst sinking into the soil and falling “deeper and deeper into relaxation”. I may have been in a boat according to her, but in my cynical mind there was no hiding from the fact that actually I was still lying on a bed in a room, fighting the urge to fall asleep.
In an article about a student who suffers badly from Koumpounophobia, The Sun estimates that 1 in 75, 000 people suffer from the phobia, a surprisingly high figure considering the irrationality of it. The article also cites other bizarre phobias, such as Arachibutyrophobia, a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth, Symmetrophobia, a fear of symmetry, and Aulophobia, the fear of flutes. Although several attempts at therapy have failed, at least I can take comfort in the fact that there is always someone out there who is a little more unusual than me.