Taphophobia: The Fear of Being Buried Alive

Taphophobia The Fear of Being Buried Alive

A phobia can be defined as an unrealistic or unreasonable fear of a particular object, place or thing and this can lead to the patient desperately trying to avoid that which they fear.

In most cases, people who have phobia experience unnecessary panic and anxiety attacks.

According to the American Psychological Association(APA), a phobia can be classified as an anxiety disorder.

Taphophobia falls under the category of a specific anxiety disorder. Taphophobia can be defined as the irrational fear of graves.

Taphophobia comes two Greek words; “taphos” meaning “grave” and phobia meaning “fear”.

Most people who have taphophobia often avoid anything that has to do with burials or having to be near any hole dug in the ground.

Taphophobia can also be called taphephobia. Most people who have taphophobia have been discovered to have developed some other forms of phobia such as thanatophobia (which the fear of death), placophobia (which is the fear of tombstones), coimetrophobia (which is the fear of burial grounds), and claustrophobia (which is the fear of closed and tight spaces).

Taphophobia is quite a common phobia as research has shown that certain celebrities have developed this anxiety disorder.

Among such celebrities includes Poet Edgar, Allen Poe, George Washington, Composer F. Chopin, Christian Hans Anderson who is a writer and so on.

Allen Poe who is a famous writer was alleged to be so obsessed with this fear of graves that it began to take reality in some of his books such as the premature burial, the fall of the house of usher, and so on.

Causes of Taphophobia

In ancient history, there had been several cases that have been documented of people who were mistaken to be dead and have been buried alive due to the lack of adequate medical facilities, types of equipment and medicines to check if these people were actually dead before burial was done.

Sometimes, people who are in a coma or those suffering from certain dangerous diseases such as cholera that probably had no pulse or simply had passed out were buried alive. Some who were not buried alive found out after they regained consciousness that they had been pronounced dead.

Series of these incidences were predominantly prevalent during the 19th and 20th century and as such this phobia was recorded to have begun in people during that time. At a point in that era, coffins were made with bells so that if anyone was mistakenly buried alive, he or he could ring the bell and be dug up.

This birthed the phrase “saved by the bell”. Asides the invention of the bell in the coffin, other techniques were put in place to “help” a person who was previously presumed to be dead to alert outsiders.

Some of such inventions include the use of oxygen tanks, the application of air pipes which was passed into the coffin, the use of glass doors in place of wooden doors amongst others. Death is one terrifying word. To many, it is strange, unknown and unexplored.

There is no one who knows what actually goes on after death or if there is any truth to the reality of life after death. The anxiety to know what happens after death can lead to the development of thanatophobia as well as taphophobia.

Most people who have suffered or are suffering from taphophobia have been seen to be suffering from other phobias too. Often, they develop taphophobia as the secondary phobia while another phobia, for example, thanatophobia presents as the primary phobia.

According to research, 70% of people who have taphophobia are miners. Most miners have seen or had negative experiences of people who have mistakenly been trapped underground, and these experiences often account for the cause of their phobia.

Asides miners, people who have had other traumatic experiences such as being buried in the sand on the beach and left there for hours in a bid to have fun or make fun of the individual buried, can result in the development of taphophobia.

Likewise, parents can unknowingly instil the fear of being buried alive into their children. Another example of things that can result in the development of taphophobia is the type of things people see. Books and movies are one of the top contributing development factors in a person’s life.

Hence, it is entirely possible for a person to develop taphophobia following a series of books, t.v. shows or movies he or she may have seen.

Symptoms of Taphophobia

Our thoughts can play a significant role in how we react to things and situations around us. Thoughts of being buried alive can produce so many physical and psychological symptoms.

A person who suffers from taphophobia may experience the following symptoms;

Physical symptoms

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Trembling and tremors.
  • Intense sweating
  • Severe headaches
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Rapid pulse rates
  • Uneasiness
  • Lack of bowel control
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of coordination
  • Restlessness
  • Outbursts of emotions (mostly anger)
  • In children; incessant crying
  • Screaming

Psychological Symptoms

Most people who have taphophobia often experience one significant symptom which is Avoidance.

People who have taphophobia always have an intense desire to avoid their fears. To them, it is an effective coping mechanism that has worked so well so far for them. As such, as one of their symptoms, a person who suffers from taphophobia tends to avoid enclosed spaces such as underground places, caves, basements, and so on.

Also, places such as the cemeteries, tombstones or underground caves are a no-go area for people who suffer from taphophobia. Some wealthy patients may go the extra mile to make elaborate arrangements for the designs of their coffins.

Some may require the use of air pipes, placing of oxygen tanks or heart stimulator into their coffin when they are buried, just to ensure that if for any reason, they were mistakenly buried alive, they can always survive the harshness of the grave before help comes.

According to research, some patients have asked not to be buried immediately after they are dead in order to ensure that they are ‘properly’ dead before they are buried.

Most patients who suffer from taphophobia generally love to sometimes be on their own. Because of their fears, they may appear weird to others around them, and this can lead to them being constantly made fun of and bullied.

It is essential to understand that people who have taphophobia are not strange people. They are normal humans like us who have an exaggerated fear of graves. As such, it is unfair to start bullying them as these further increases their anxiety and might cause them to slip into depression.


Having known their fears and how disruptive it can be to their everyday lives, it is often recommended that patients who suffer from taphophobia should seek professional and medical help in order to help them understand the false realities that they live in and also provide ways for them to come out of it.

It is always advised that if you are experiencing phobias of any kind, it is important to visit your doctor. Your doctor will ask a series of questions to help determine what is wrong. After this, your doctor may refer you to a therapist who will further evaluate you to determine the type of fear you have.

Treatment often comes in three ways:


Therapy often includes your doctor asking you questions. It often is best that you answer these questions as truthfully as you can as it helps him/her to determine what is wrong with you. There are so many types of therapy sessions you may be asked to undergo.

However, according to research, two of these therapy methods have been seen to be very effective:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most common therapies that is used to treat phobias, and it has been seen to be most effective. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, mostly known as CBT, is a therapy that is carried out based on the speculation that our behaviours are constantly being influenced by the things we see and perceive.

This is the reason why most times, the things you see and perceive to be true can become your new reality even though, in some cases, they are false. Whenever we experience anxiety and phobias, it causes a disruption in our brain patterns, our perceptions as well as our thought processes. As such, most times, the realities our brains offer us isn’t the actual reality.

It is this distortion in our thought processes that CBT seeks to correct. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy aims to help a patient realise that their fears aren’t the actual reality. CBT involves the use of strategies to improve their patient to identify their false realities as well as new methods to seek the actual truth.

For example, for a person who has taphophobia, through the aid of CBT, your therapist will help you identify your fears and show you contrast in reality. Doing this can make you realise that what you initially perceived to be true isn’t the reality of things and as such, you can now see the reason why you need a change of perception.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a common form of treatment by which the patient is gradually exposed to his/her fears; however, it must be in a controlled environment.

For patients who have Thaphophobia, your therapist may begin to introduce you to the ideas of tombstones and graves. He or she may start by showing you pictures of several monuments.

Depending on the response of the patient, your therapist may go ahead to introduce the patient to a higher level of fear. This method is done to help desensitise the patient by showing the patient that his or her fears are nothing more than fears.


Hypnotherapy is not a usual form of treatment for phobias. However, records have shown that the use of hypnosis has been very effective in treating specific phobias, including taphophobia.

Often, hypnosis is combined with NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming), and it is mostly used to know the root cause of the problem.

These forms of therapy are helping to reprogram the mind of the patient such that he or she has a more positive attitude and response to their phobia. Another benefit of these forms of therapy is that it also helps the patient to overcome depression and stress which may be the initial trigger of this phobia.

The use of Medications

For some people who are suffering from taphophobia, therapy may not be enough, and as such, your doctor may need to prescribe that you use certain medications. These drugs may include benzodiazepine, antidepressants, as well as anti-anxiety medications.

Self- help

Self-help processes refer to some methods that you can use in the comfort of your homes that can help relieve your anxiety. Examples include yoga and meditations. It is said that Yoga and meditations helps to refocus the mind and also, help the body relax as such, getting rid of anxiety and panic attacks.

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