We’ve all heard the phrase “they’re more scared of you than you are of them”, but that does little to change the horror some of us experience at the sight of cockroaches. For some, cockroaches aren’t just insects but are a psychological gateway to a gargantuan list of traumatic experiences. Some say simply viewing an image of a cockroach renders them catatonic. I’ve seen my grandmother, in her old age, leap up like a spring chicken at the mere glimpse of a cockroach scuttling across the living room. Seeing my grandmother vexed by this fear for so many years has made me wonder why we humans fear these loathsome pests so much.
I was compelled to dig deeper and uncover the source of katsaridaphobia (a fear of cockroaches). In most cases this fear stems from a cockroach-related traumatic experience, like waking up to a cockroach hiking up your sleeping body. But why isn’t this the case when we are met with pests that are far more dangerous, like mosquitoes or fleas, who are vectors for disease and feed on our blood. So what makes the cockroach different from those pests?
A Nightmare on Roach Avenue
Upon further research I’ve noted that the fear inducing nature of the cockroach may lie with their behaviour; many people cry about how they sneak up on you. Much like many successful horror movies, cockroaches thrive in darkness and silence, and spotting one unexpectedly is akin to experiencing a jumpscare in a horror flick. The sudden, jerky movements they exhibit once the “jumpscare” has been triggered taps into the primal flight or fight response that all animals share.
Christian Grillon, PhD, a psychophysiologist who studies fear and anxiety at the National Institute of Mental Health, states that “an imminent threat evokes a phasic fear response, which is an active coping mechanism characterized by fight or flight”. He goes on to elaborate that “a more distal or uncertain threat generates a more persistent state of anxious apprehension and hypervigilance” and this then plays into a cockroach’s tormenting behaviour; they lurk in the shadows, peeking through crevices where we least expect them, and the constant worry that we may bump into one when we go to grab a late night glass of milk feeds into our anxiety, thus making the fear ever more prevalent.
How can we overcome our fear of cockroaches?
Well like any phobia, therapy may be your best bet, but for those who don’t wish to seek professional help I’d recommend doing a light reading on the critters, as gaining more information may help ease the exaggerated fear that may have been formulated over the years. I’d also recommend systematic desensitisation, whereby you gradually expose yourself to cockroaches. I’d say start small: ask a friend to select the least revolting image of a cockroach they can find and then slowly get used to viewing it. The gradual exposure should desensitise you to the pest… hopefully this helps.
Tips on how to get rid of cockroaches
Here are some helpful tips to – at the very least – help keep cockroaches out of your house:
- Eliminate food sources by ensuring that your food is stored in sealed containers,
- Clean up food debri
- Remove pet food
- Don’t leave dishes unwashed overnight
- Declutter your home
- Seal entry points into your home