My Girlfriend is Scared of Seeds!?
October 16, 2010 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Does anybody have experience with someone who has a seed phobia?

Apparently, my girlfriend is scared to death of seeds. She gets all creeped out about thinks like watermelons and pumpkins (or, basically, anything else with seeds). (I know, I thought of the Maury "Pickle Girl" episode, too...).

We occasionally get into fights over it and she gets super offended if I somehow use the "S" word in any context. I am trying to not do it, but you would be surprised at how often the word "seed" comes up. What could this be linked to? She can't even talk about it with me.
posted by kakakakarl to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who suffers from a phobia (Entomophobia, the fear of insects), I understand where your girlfriend is coming from.

It's possible she choked on a seed when she was younger.. or was convinced that a watermellon really would grow in her stomach if she swallowed one. It's hard to say what it could be linked to or what's causing it. For instance, I stepped on a bee and got a stinger in my foot.. from that day forward I was done with insects. (Let's not talk about the acid green caterpillar that crawled onto my shoulder one day.. that was another traumatizing event)

I manage as well as I can. I get really upset with people who behave like I'm being irrational. I know I'm being irrational. It doesn't help. The fear comes out of nowhere and takes over. The instant thought is to flee. Get away. go go go.

Your girlfriend is probably very sensitive to being teased/questioned/riddiculed about her phobia.. so it's possible that even a mention of the thing that scares her sends her on the defensive.

You have to understand.. you might not have a Phobia.. nothing might scare you the way it does her. This fear is deep down, instinct takes over. It's not something that's controllable without a hell of a lot of willpower. You can't talk rational sense into a phobia. Your girlfriend knows seeds won't hurt her.. or very unlikely to. It does not matter. She seeds one/hears about one and the fear grips her.
posted by royalsong at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

she gets super offended if I somehow use the "S" word in any context

I don't think that's fair; why should you have to remove a perfectly innocuous word from your vocabulary or risk offense? What's she doing in return? If she's not seeking treatment for her phobia, she should be. And if I was in your shoes I'd tell her so.
posted by amro at 4:50 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

1/3 of phobias are linked to a traumatic event, 1/3 a learned from people we trust when we are younger (i.e. don't go near that snake or it will kill you), and 1/3 just come out of nowhere.

Understand that a full blown phobia looks, sounds, and feels ridiculous, even to the person with the problem. Do your best to avoid trivializing it. It's a big deal to the victim.
The good news is that almost all phobias can be cured permanently in just a few hours. If she's tired of letting this impact her life, help is quick but unfortunately not painless.
posted by WhiteWhale at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you need to give up on trying to figure out where it came from or what it's related to. It just is. Phobias defy all logic. You can't try to make it better by talking about it. That's the job for a therapist, not you.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, you need to give up on trying to figure out where it came from or what it's related to. It just is. Phobias defy all logic. You can't try to make it better by talking about it. That's the job for a therapist, not you.

This. I knew a burly football player who was scared of the corrugated part of cardboard (he called it "middle") and would physically assault anyone who touched him with it. Try to respect that it's not something that she chose for herself, and encourage her to seek therapy if she can. You are not equipped to help her yourself other than being a source of unconditional emotional support.
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:23 PM on October 16, 2010

I have a plant matter phobia as well: a fear of plants with big leaves. I know exactly where it came from, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

I ate a piece of philodendron while a toddler in a walker. My mother called poison control, and though they told her I was not in danger, they cautioned her to make sure I couldn't get to the plant again. She, remembers that prior to that event, she had tried not to use the word "no" to scold me, and that that my eating the plant was the first time she ever strongly scolded me. Soon after, when we were out in the garden, I refused to get near a broad-leafed weed, and I've had a phobia of plants with big leaves ever since. Sunflowers, bear's breeches, rhubarb, and all manner of tropical plants are my nightmare fuel - though I know it's irrational and totally impossible, I'm afraid they're going to wrap tendrils around me and eat me. I've managed to desensitize myself somewhat a couple times with some at-home exposure therapy, and there are some things (like collards) I can handle now that I didn't use to be able to, but the phobia never fully goes away.

Be sensitive to her fear. Just because it's irrational doesn't mean it's not painful. It can be really stressful to deal with phobia reactions - they can be very physical, with adrenaline rushes and racing heart. I think it's even more stressful to have a phobia of a normal, everyday item, because never knowing when the feared item may appear means you're always on guard in a certain way, and having that fight or flight response all the time is emotionally draining. (I have needle phobia too, but that one's way easier to deal with, simply because it's easier to avoid triggers, and because many people have that phobia and thus there's sympathy for the phobic!)

If you can spare her some of that stress and fear by being thoughtful about your vocabulary, please do. It may not be necessary or even reasonable, but it's the loving thing to do.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2010

I should add that specific phobia is one of the most treatable psychological conditions known. There are very few conditions for which we have a treatment that's been really widely backed by research evidence, and specific phobia is one of them. If she seeks therapy, she should look for someone who offers exposure and response prevention therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapists typically are trained in this.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:38 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

"What's she doing in return?"

Scorekeeping in a relationship is never a healthy or successful strategy. Please do not take this attitude toward her. She doesn't need to be pressured into therapy; she has to go for it on her terms and of her own volition. Otherwise, you would just be drawing more attention she already understands is pointless and irrational.

Have some empathy for her and respect her wishes.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:00 PM on October 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

More attention to a phobia, I meant.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:01 PM on October 16, 2010

I once met a woman with a fish phobia. She was a friend of a friend. Aside from her phobia she was a completely rational, normal person. But any mention of fish or any evidence of fish in the vicinity made her intensely and irrationally uncomfortable.

We were in Falmouth, of all places, and walked down to Woods Hole one morning to get coffee. All fine so far. But then as we were sitting by a dock drinking our coffee, there was a blip in the water, such as would happen if a fish ate a bug or something. She got all pale, said something about there maybe being a fish there, and she got up and asked if we could go home. We did. It was very strange.

I don't know that you're going to be able to get an explanation or reason for your girlfriend's seed phobia. It doesn't make sense for you to have to avoid talking about seeds, but it could still be the case that you need to do it if you want to stay with her.
posted by alms at 7:25 PM on October 16, 2010

I have a wee bit of an irrational fear... of bunnies. My irrational evil bunny fear isn't quite to the level of phobic but it is, uh, definitely real. Because I wanted to work on um, having a better response to my rabbit neighbors, I started trying to find new ways to think about them. Rabbit eyes in particular I think might be the source of all evil (hello, have you seen the way those things glow back at you in the dark?), I decided I might be less disturbed by them if I could think about them anatomically and break down the mechanics of bunny bits. Treading carefully around the fear, I have been trying to approach the rodents more analytically -- finding some acceptable traits that allow rabbits to fit into and play a role in the ecosystem.

Which is I guess to say that there might be a way to think of seeds in a way that doesn't bring up an immediate knee jerk phobic reaction. I would, however, suggest that your GF needs to express an interest in the finding that route to rationalization. You definitely can't change her thinking but if she decides to explore, non-judgmentally thinking of alternate contexts for seeds might help.
posted by countrymod at 8:01 PM on October 16, 2010

I have a fear of pinecones. The thought of what could be hiding in those nooks and crannies scares me, and just the texture or them skeeves me out. Writing this is giving me the chills. I try to avoid them.

Thinking about seeds makes me slightly uncomfortable. I don’t like the word “sprout” either. A seed sprouting? Ughhh. I think it’s like, you might never know where a small seed is, and then bam, it all of a sudden sprouts, and you’ve got something growing that you might not have wanted growing. It’s like evil magic. This sounds silly but it’s how my twisted mind works.

I think if she sought therapy and really delved into why she has this phobia (what exactly she is thinking when she sees/thinks of/hears “seed”) and then is shown that these fears are unfounded in real life it might help.

This makes me have empathy for one of my coworkers who has a fear of goats (one attacked him when he was little). I sometimes tease him about it but in the future I will be more respectful.
posted by batonthefueltank at 3:24 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please try harder to avoid the S word in your conversations. Respect this quirk about her (nothing says you have to like it.)
I have an irrational fear of webs. Although the word doesn't bother me, being face-to-face with the actual thing makes me want to puke my guts out. I assure you, I don't choose that reaction.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:16 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is insight for the poster and for others who are in this woman's shoes. I used to suffer form terrible OCD, still have it but years ago it was much worse. I had a fear to anything that was associated with my themes, be it sexual ocd or relationship ocd. Any word associated with it would send me into a spiral of panic. I NEVER, ever made my boyfriend stop talking about things he wanted to talk about due to my disorder. I got help for it. He, on the other end, made me talk on eggshells because so many words or stories seem to trigger images in his mind. It was turning abusive. I'm sorry but I don't care what mental issues you have. It is not your SO's job to avoid it. It's your job as the sufferer to get help.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:42 AM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd agree with the others here that you really should try to respect the fact that she has an intense, uncontrollable phobia.

But, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't have a discussion at some point (preferably before you get into another argument about it), that if you're going out of your way to accommodate her phobia (I assume you're not doing any pumpkin carving this Halloween, or enjoyed any watermelons over the summer, or are making sure you're buying seedless grapes and oranges, etc.), then the least she can do is try to overcome some of the manifestations of it (like hearing the word).

If she can't talk about it, try writing a letter expressing this as thoughtfully as possible. Make sure however you communicate with her that you provide lots of positive reinforcement; many others here have talked about how a person with a phobia knows they're being irrational and feels very defensive about it -- she shouldn't think that you think she's crazy, or broken, and that you're trying to 'fix' her.
posted by ElfWord at 6:50 AM on October 17, 2010

Scorekeeping in a relationship is never a healthy or successful strategy. Please do not take this attitude toward her. She doesn't need to be pressured into therapy; she has to go for it on her terms and of her own volition. Otherwise, you would just be drawing more attention she already understands is pointless and irrational.

Have some empathy for her and respect her wishes.

I don't think this is scorekeeping though.

We can't know from here, of course, but if the person here is using her phobia to tease her or get under her skin, yes, he should quit being a dick and respect her wishes.

But if his use of the word is truly accidental and incidental to general conversation, she is being unreasonable. Note the language the poster used: the girlfriend doesn't turn pale or vomit or run or hit or do any of the fear-type behaviors. She gets offended and they get in arguments. That suggests that the phobia is not as upsetting as his "misbehavior" and that she may *not* understand that her phobia is pointless and irrational. She has the right to suffer from phobias, but if she has the capacity to get angry about it, she has the capacity to get some therapy. If he has to try to not use a normal word, she has to try to get help for her reaction to it.

That's not scorekeeping, that's just part of the compromise that human relationships have. They have a problem to work out, and they both need to try to work on it. What they are doing NOW is scorekeeping: if there is a transgression, he pays for it by being put on the defensive.
posted by gjc at 7:39 AM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

A phobia is, by definition, an irrational fear. You have to just kind of accept it as a fact and move on.
posted by ErikaB at 8:01 AM on October 17, 2010

I'd really strongly recommend your GF looks at hypnotherapy.

I had a terrible fear of doctors and needles.

To get blood from me:
Pre-hypnotherapy - me and BF. Panic attacks beforehand. Two 45 mins appointments. Him holding me down so I didn't hit the nurse. Me screaming, crying, total panic. Prescription each time for that stuff they put on children so it doesn't hurt.

Post-hypnotherapy - me. 15 min appt. I don't like it and I OOh when the needle goes in, but there I am, all fine. No panic attacks beforehand.

So it really really does work, and has made my life SO much easier. Please - if your GF wants to know more about it, just drop me an email through here.
posted by LyzzyBee at 10:23 AM on October 17, 2010

Blueskying here, but what if you found a single simple go-to word that is synonymous with all the metaphorical senses of "seed", and trained yourself to substitute that word?

Say, "root" or "embryo". "It planted the seeds of doubt in my mind" becomes "it planted an embryonic doubt in my mind". "The seeds of the Civil War were in the very structure of the Constitution" becomes "The roots of the Civil War were in the very structure of the Constitution", etc.
posted by foursentences at 10:28 AM on October 17, 2010

I have a fear of socks. Yeah, socks. Only other people's socks though, I can wear my own and touch my own, though I don't do it very often. I can buy them and touch them in a store. Once they become the property of another person I get pale looking at them and if they touch me I want to vomit.

Do I know this is stupid and irrational? Absolutely.

I once had a boyfriend who thought this was HILARIOUS. Sometimes I would pull back the covers and find a bunch of socks on my side of the bed. Notice I said "had."

My current boyfriend found out about it and always removes his socks in another room and puts them in the laundry so I never have to look at them.

The main difference is that he ignores it entirely. He never brings it up, never teases me about it, never tries to "fix" me or figure out where it comes from (even I don't know). Basically I guess I'm trying to say is if you love her and want to be with with it.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

if she has the capacity to get angry about it, she has the capacity to get some therapy

I don't see how this logically follows. She may be getting angry because she feels disrespected and as though the OP is making light of something that is out of her control (but of course, I can't speak for her). As a person with a particularly stupid phobia, I have to say that her reaction to seeds should be respected. I agree with magnetsphere; the best course of action is not to bring it up.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2010

Yes - seconding all of the above. Phobias are not rational in any way/shape/form.

Personally, it's dentists for me. Any mention of teeth or dentistry starts my palms sweating and my heart racing. I'm feeling it now even as I type this. I know that the dentist won't do any permanent damage, and I know that it's in my best interests to go regularly, but it's a fight every time. I actually have to be pre-sedated just to get in the door, and I definitely need the gas to continue. Still, I actually cry and feel like I'm about to die at any moment when in the chair getting the work done. Yet, I know for a fact that the dentist is in my best interest and will be good for me in the long run, and I've come out unscathed from every encounter. My performance at each appointment is embarrassing as it could possibly be. This doesn't lessen The Fear.

Anyway, my point is that she may not be able to control her reactions to her topic of phobia. Maybe cut some slack here unless it's really a hindrance to your lives together? Yes, it's somewhat unusual, but perhaps it's also workable?
posted by owls at 2:00 AM on October 24, 2010

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