What is Triskaidekaphobia?

Triskaidekaphobia is the persistent, irrational, and unwarranted fear of the number 13. Throughout much of recorded history, the number 13 has been associated with evil. The famed Last Supper of Jesus had 13 guests, the 13th being the turncoat Judas, and many tall buildings are still built with floor numbers skipping from 12 to 14. This is similar to the Japanese avoidance of the number four, since in Japanese the word for “four” is also the word for death.

A more common variant is the superstitious fear of Friday the 13th, Paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Superstitions surrounding the number 13 apparently date as far back as 1770 B.C., due to an apparent clerical error in the Code of Hammurabi, in which the 13th law was skipped. The same superstition is repeated in Norse legends, in which Loki (the god of mischief) is the 13th guest at a dinner of the gods in Valhalla.

Since these references may be uncertain, folklore researchers maintain that the earliest true reference is in Gioachino Rossini’s 1869 biography, since he regarded both Friday and the number 13 unlucky in life. Rossini then proved the superstition correct by dying on Friday the 13th.

The Greek root words 'tris', 'kai', and 'deka' mean 'three', 'and', and 'ten' respectively. Additionally, the word 'phobia' comes from the Greek word ‘phóbos’ meaning 'fear.'

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Symptoms of Triskaidekaphobia

  • Extreme Anxiety, Dread

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Confusion / Inability to Articulate Clearly
  • Lack of Focus
  • Irritability
  • Shaking
  • Feelings of Powerlessness
  • Obsession with the Subject of the Phobia
  • Fear or Feelings of Losing Control
  • Avoidance Behavior
  • Headaches

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Causes of Triskaidekaphobia

Triskaidekaphobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (such as “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. (An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.)

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. (A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.)

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less well-understood, are driven by social anxiety, and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation, seeing something in the news, on TV, or in the movies.

Triskaidekaphobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias ›

Treatments for Triskaidekaphobia

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

  • Habit Strategies To Relax
  • Cognitive Therapy (CT)
  • In Vivo Exposure
  • Response Prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

Learn more about phobia treatments ›

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