Posted on February 13, 2015


It’s a mouthful for sure, this fear of Friday the 13th.  And it can be serious business, at least for those so affected by it that it disrupts their lives, or for those who provide the treatments for this phobia, whether that is serious psychological counseling or more lighthearted programs designed to help people reason their way past it.

Yet, the fear itself is a strangely manufactured one.  Apparently, there are few if any references to “unlucky” Friday the 13th before the late nineteenth century, and it didn’t really become popularized (at least in written records) until the 20th century.  The source of the day’s “unluckiness” has several theories, which you can check out at Wikipedia or Live Science.  My favorite note from Wikipedia:  in 1907, Thomas Lawson published a novel, Friday the Thirteenth (available for free download at Project Gutenberg), about a broker who takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic.  This does not explain the origin of the superstition (it already existed to be taken advantage of in the novel), but might explain why it has become so popular in the last century.

Popularity aside, I just don’t get this phobia.

Karl Albrecht, writing in Psychology Today, identifies just five basic fears that we share, and all else springs from these:

Extinction – fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist.

Mutilation – fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. For example, anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.

Loss of Autonomy – fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or controlled by circumstances.

Separation – fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness – of becoming a non-person – not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else.

Ego-death – fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.

That’s all – just those five.

So my question is: where does a superstitious phobia like friggatriskaidekaphobia fit in?  Or even of the number 13, without the Friday part (triskaidekaphobia)?  How is a date on the calendar going to kill or mutilate you?  How is one floor of a hotel any different from another, to the point that it will kill or mutilate you?  It’s not.

I can understand a phobia of, say, open spaces or enclosed spaces or bugs or fire.  Those are physical things.  In an open space, you might feel unprotected; in a closed space, you might feel trapped; bugs might be poisonous, and fire is a bona fide destructive force.  But numbers and weekdays are constructs of the human mind, not physical things that can threaten you.  If we used any number base other than 10, 13 would not be 13 (“13” in binary would be 1101, thanks to reader Dan S for that info).  And the world over, the weekdays have different names, and even the social rhythm of the week differs.

When you think about the theories on why 13 is “unlucky,” they are a bit of a reach, even convoluted.  It’s like people are thinking awfully hard and going to a lot of trouble to make it scary.  This is why I don’t understand friggatriskaidekaphobia, and why I refer to it as a “manufactured” phobia.

Do you know anyone who has a serious case of friggatriskaidekaphobia?  Does Friday the Thirteenth give you pause?