I do not know exactly when something flipped a switch inside my brain, and my fear of spiders began. My mother informed me that I would pick up a spider, as a child, and look at them in the same way an engineer regards a mechanism of particular interest, before setting it back down in order for it to make its escape.
Then, one day, around 8 or 9 years of age: BOOM! Spiders became terrifying things to run from, and avoid at all cost. A strange change of mental course, which I can not attribute to one particular incident. Perhaps my subconscious is shielding that experiencing from me, but I am at a total loss for the behavioral u-turn.
So now I have acquainted this fear. I'm carrying it around like so much baggage. Checking room corners and shadowy places when entering rooms. Avoiding places like sheds and garages where there 'may' be a potential spider. Generally, wasting a lot of time on anxiety, if I am honest with myself.
As I live in the UK, we do not have huge, hairy, species here. The largest house spider reported was, I think, around 5 inches. Fairly big, but you will not need a phasor canon just yet. Readers living in other countries may find this diminutive, compared with local specimens. Yet, to an arachnophobic (someone who has the fear of spiders), even a modest spider appears horrific. Especially if it is against a high-contrast background, such as a white bath.
So why are we afraid at all? The rational part of our brain tells us that this creature is not life-threatening. At worst, we may get a small bite. Yet the hair on our arms and neck stand up, goosebumps appear and we show signs of stress when confronted with our imagined foe. Confrontation is a key factor. Being confronted with something, anything we are not expecting, causes our thought-process to change mental state.Hereby lies the key.
Imagine coming down stairs one morning and finding a red plastic child's toy on the bottom stair. 'So what?' you may think, if you have small children. But what if you do not have any kids in the house? Why is this 'foreign' object there at all, and where has it come from? It is this 'pattern interrupt' which wrong foots our thought process. The toy is not threatening or dangerous (unless you did not see it, and step on it causing yourself to slip) yet we are surprised to its appearance. Cue the spider's sudden appearance which gives as the same reaction. Aha! It is the overall lack of exposure during the course of the year which makes any chance meeting that more starting. Our mind begins to associate the spider with the startled feelings, which eventually turn into fear.
Even though I do not long have the fear (I'll come to that in due course), I have to admit to being started by a big spider in the bath this very morning of writing this article (how's that for irony?), Due to its sudden appearance. Once I realized what it was, I reached down and grabbed it, without hurting it (I hope), before expelling it into the garden.
Watching hapless characters in a movie run from a huge, computer generated, spider help to cement such fears into place. Even though we know it is not real. Imagery is a powerful thing. Making us all that more afraid. A vicious circle begins.
So how to break the fear cycle? My break came when I saw someone else reacting badly to a spider, and I suddenly thought 'Hold on, I do not want to go through life like that. It's time to stop this! '
Here's what I did to re-program my brain.
1) Put matters into perspective. Spiders are not dangerous. It's more scared of me, than I am of it. After all, I am HUGE compared with it. So it makes no sense for me to be fearful.
2) Most of the year I will not see a spider, and I do not want to use the reminder of the year checking for them.
3) Close my eyes, while sat somewhere comfortable, and think of the last spider that I saw (in real life – not a movie). Then, imagine that I am watching a TV show of myself in that same situation. But I am in control. So, I can run the movie of the incident back and forth. speeding it up, slowing it down, changing from color to black & white, adding in funny music. Anything I damn well please. I am MASTER of the situation. Feels good.
3) Run the 'movie' in my head of my last spider incident backwards. It's there, and then it retreats – GONE. It's there, and then it retreats – GONE. Over and Over again. All the time I do this I run a Sesame Street soundtrack in my imagination to accompany the movie. Round and round in a continuous loop. Until the whole thing makes me laugh. After a while, it's just not scary and more. It's just a 'thing'. Monster status deflated like a leaky party balloon. A shadow of its former self. A little sad. Even pathetic.
I, on the other hand, feel empowered. I'm FREE! Released from previous bondage. Maybe even feeling a little guilty at my previous reaction. I giggle at myself for having felt that way, and know that it is gone. I've been a silly sausage.
Try this technique for yourself. It WORKS. It will surprise you and set you free. Your previous * ahem * 'issues' will be our little secret. Do not worry, I will not tell anyone.
Enjoy the reminder of your life, and use the time you previously sent worrying about our multi-legged buddies to do fun stuff instead.
You're my hero.