Arithmophobia – no it is not a fear of arithmetic, but a fear of numbers. Arithmophobia is an exaggerated and often irrational fear of numbers. It is also known as numerophobia. It may take the form of a fear of odd numbers or a fear of solving mathematical equations.
This phobia can cause difficulties making the person feel embarrassed and socially withdrawn. The person may be able to use numbers, but feel deeply uncomfortable or anxious doing so. As a child, the person may avoid school, or later, avoid jobs that involve numbers. It can have a substantial impact on the person’s life and even result in panic attacks.
Many people have this unusual phobia to varying degrees.
For example, Terry recently had to go into hospital and was given room 13. She was nervous that this meant something bad would happen. A fear of the number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia. Ellie had to have an operation on Friday the 13th and again, dreaded it for fear that something terrible would happen during the operation.
666 is often associated with the sign of the devil, the sign of the beast. It is a number often used in films to represent evil. For example, in the Omen Films, Damien is thought to be the antichrist as he has a birthmark-like 666 on his head, hidden under his hair. In the Bible, Revelation 13:18 states "Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding, count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man and his number is 666." The fear of 666 is known as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
The fear of the number 8 is also common in some cultures. Number 8 is significant in some cultures as it is the number of days in Hanukkah. It is the number of angels that carry the Holy Throne of Allah in Islam. In Chinese Lore, it is the number of Immortals. It is also the sign of infinity.
We don’t know what exactly causes phobias in general. With arithmophobia, there are some suggestions that there is a genetic link or brain chemistry. However, other experts believe that phobias tend to have their route in traumatic experiences. For example, arithmophobia could be due to a negative experience at school, doing poorly at a maths test and being told off or bullied. Parents can also role model fear – Maths is so hard, you will fail. The fear of numbers like 8, 13 and 666 could be due to cultural and religious beliefs, but also the impact of TV shows and films, like Omen.
Arithmophobia can be overcome. Drugs can be used as a way to reduce anxiety, but they are habit forming and do have side effects, so should really not be the first step in treating arithmophobia.
Treatments such as Neurolinguistic Programming can help by reprogramming the person’s responses to numbers. A process of gradual exposure can also help. This would involve a counsellor or therapist gradually introducing the person to numbers, simple numerical problems and so on and would encourage them to relax while doing so. The combination of relaxation techniques and gradual exposure to number problems can help to reduce the fear of numbers.
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