Arach No Phobia
September 8, 2008 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me to find a way to be compassionate to people with a fear of spiders. Today in the work place someone started jumping up and down and screaming when they saw a spider. My wife and daughter are also very afraid of them too. My mind tells me that such fears are totally irrational and I want to tell them to "get over it." My gut tells me there is something more going on but I don't no what it is. Educate me.
posted by Xurando to Science & Nature (48 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Read through this thread from the point of view of someone with a similar fear of butterflies.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:49 PM on September 8, 2008

Imagine how you feel if this guy laughed at you for your fear of heights.
posted by mpls2 at 2:53 PM on September 8, 2008

No, you're right, it's completely irrational. There is just something completely alien and fearsome looking about the way spiders look and move that makes me think they're secretly gathering somewhere to eat my flesh and plant eggs in my corpse. I must stay watchful at all times, lest one touch me and plant a million bay spiders in me by touch alone that eat their way out of my body.

Rationally, I know there are non-poisonous spiders and it's good to have a few of those in the house for keeping other insects out, but jesus christ, I want to kill them all before they kill me. It's my mission, to keep the world spider free before they kill us all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

the best way to be compassionate to these folks is through action - capture the spider, put it outside, quickly and without fuss.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:55 PM on September 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

With some folks it's a genuine phobia. You can't talk sense to that kind of crazy (i.e. "get over it"), and it's often quite embarrassing for the person suffering from one.
posted by availablelight at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2008

Many phobias are believed to be genetic. You happen to not have been born with or learned to fear spiders, but assuming you're not Daredevil, you have some things which trigger a fear response. Just imagine someone instinctively feeling that sensation whenever confronted by a spider.
posted by justkevin at 2:58 PM on September 8, 2008

My mind tells me that such fears are totally irrational too, but it doesn't stop me freaking out if one gets close to me. Treat it as an allergy, not a phobia- you wouldn't laugh at someone for being paranoid about peanuts, even though you're fine next to them. For true arachnophobics, the fear is just the same.
posted by twirlypen at 3:13 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

How open minded are you about other things? You can't tell someone to "just get over" their sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, or any other number of personal matters that don't affect you. Just throw phobias in there with the other things you openly accept about other people and do what you can to help out when you can.
posted by Science! at 3:16 PM on September 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm a graduate student studying spiders. You are correct that their fear is irrational (for good info, start here), but your expectation that they get over it may be unrealistic. When I bring people face to face with the irrationality of their archnophobia, they usually look at me pityingly and ask to speak to a "real expert."

We can't fight it, it's too big, and there's too many of them. Better spiders than Jews and homosexuals.

(Pre-emptively: When they came for the spiders I said nothing...)
posted by Eothele at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2008

I am the go-to person in my office when there's a spider that needs to be taken out(side). At least I've gotten my fearful co-workers to come find me instead of just stomping on the spider. I think that's the best you can hope for.

You should have seen the day someone saw a lizard in the hallway....

It was a small lizard, and speedy, and zipped into an air vent before I could catch it. I suppose it's still here somewhere. Eating spiders.
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on September 8, 2008

You are never going to understand it because it is by definition irrational.

I've had some irrational fears that I was able to work on or that (seemingly) spontaneously dissipated. I have one now that bothers me no end and is based in part from some bad experiences that I must have mentally processed "wrong." You may not have any irrational fears now, and if that's so, I'm glad. But someday you may and will be glad of any understanding you meet. Try to concentrate on investing in the karma bank on this one. (Plus, think of your luck---you get to be a hero on the cheap.)
posted by Morrigan at 3:30 PM on September 8, 2008

The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing. - Blaise Pascal

Well, yes, it's irrational. But people aren't beings of pure reason. For nearly two decades I had a fear of digital alarm clocks, which is about as irrational as you can get, I know, but that didn't make my fear any less real.

It might help if you framed this less in terms of the specific phobia and more in terms of rational vs. irrational. Do you have any fears, any hopes, any secret desires that don't quite hold up to reason? Perhaps identifying yourself as not-always-rational might help you understand. Perhaps that gut feeling is something besides "rational"? (And if you can't find anything, maybe consider: Given the wide variety of genetics and experiences in our species, how rational is it to expect that every human being be as rational as you?)

Kindness and compassion, a lot of times, necessitate suspending that "but that's totally irrational" voice inside your head. Being human is a combination of reason and emotion, and fear and sympathy fall more on the emotional side of the spectrum.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:31 PM on September 8, 2008

Help these people get desensitized by gradually increasing exposure to spiders. Start with photographs on the web and/or get a library book. Then have them watch a spider in a jar at a distance, then gradually closer. Etc, gradually.
posted by neuron at 3:36 PM on September 8, 2008

I study spiders as well (hello eothele) and I encounter this phobia all the time. I can point to any number of MeFi threads, where the mere appearance of a spider effectively derails the thread. I believe that most arachnophobia is a result of social conditioning: everybody around the person is scared of spiders, so the person is as well. I merely try to distract the phobic person with lots of anecdotes about how cool they are, and remind them that spiders are more scared of humans. (the hawaiian happy face spider is useful here). But other than that I don't think you can do anything much. It is an irrational fear.
But on the other hand, I think it is possible to get over it. I have an aversion to things flying into my face, and my thesis was on bees and took an awful lot of self control to do experiments around hives, but I lived to tell the tale.
posted by dhruva at 3:44 PM on September 8, 2008

With all due respect, why on earth wouldn't you be compassionate to someone in fear? It seems like something that would come from your innate humanity, not logic or reason.
posted by Zozo at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's irrational, but that doesn't mean you can ignore their feelings. Heck, most parents think their newborn children are beautiful.

It might help to consider evolutionary psychology. We're predisposed to be afraid of such creepy crawlies because we evolved in a setting where spider bites are rather nasty. In that case, being cautious around all spiders is a useful heuristic.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:52 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

By the way, irrational though this phobia may be, it can be overcome. I used to be terrified of spiders. Now I'm curious about them, and if they're in my house, I let them be. (There's a huge one that's made his home in between the windowpane and screen.) This was not accomplished via other people telling me to "get over it."

Centipedes, though, they'd better stay the hell away from me.
posted by desjardins at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2008

I'm not afraid of spiders but if I thought too long about the time or two in my life that I've woken up with a strange swelling on my face ("Probably a spider bite.") I might go in that direction. Seriously, that's creepy.
posted by Morrigan at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2008

Theyre insects. They live, breed, and die. Just like you. Except they dont cause global warming and build nukes. In many ways theyre superior to you. They're alive and deserve your respect. Humanize them if you must. They all have personalities. Theyre all self-aware. If they bother you then you should capture them safely put them outside.

Its ironic that you hate spiders when they are actually insect removing machines. The more spiders you have the less creepy crawlies you have because they capture and eat them.

>My gut tells me there is something more going on but I don't no what it is. Educate me.

What happened is that you acted this way as a child and your parents never correct you. The "more" is that you are literally acting like a 4 year old. Stop the cycle. Dont let your kids freak out at natures other creations.

I also dont like the term "phobia." You dont have a phobia. If you did you would have had a real panic attack when seeing it. Instead you probably squished it because thats what you did when you were 4 years old and no one corrected you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:04 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not insects!
posted by theredpen at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2008

While I don't doubt that everyone has irrational fears -- for instance, I'm one of those crazies that uses a piece of paper towel to open the bathroom door on the way out -- I cringe when I see displays of "jumping up and down and screaming" over a mouse or a spider. I had a co-worker who would do this sort of thing when she would see an image of a snake on a neighboring colleague's computer screen. Ridiculous.

Mostly, I think that sort of behavior is aimed solely at getting attention, and annoying people who are annoyed by that sort of thing. Like me.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2008

damn dirty ape, did you read the question? It's not the poster who's afraid of spiders. Which are not insects.

Some of the screaming-and-jumping stuff is probably attention-getting, but some is going to be a true (if irrational) panicked reaction. The best way in either case is to stay calm and try to think kind thoughts while you collect the spider and take it outside. Don't make a big deal out of it, which will put a damper on the attention-wanters and spare the truly phobic from more embarrassment (most of them already know their phobia is irrational).
posted by rtha at 4:21 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

In reply to Zozo-

It is hard sometimes to tell the difference between true fear, and overly dramatic attention seeking.

The second gets no compassion, and shouldn't. But for the OP: both do exist, and they aren't the same thing.

Either way though, taking the spider outside is a good way to either calm the fear, or shut up the irritating attention seeker.
posted by nat at 4:22 PM on September 8, 2008

I grew up being terrified of spiders and remained fearful of them into my twenties. What got me over it was watching a good friend repeatedly deal with them calmly in her house ("Come on, big fella, out you go") while gently scooping them into a cup or onto a piece of paper. Eventually, I gained the nerve to try this myself and haven't had the same fear again. Sure, sometimes a big meaty one that pops out of nowhere will still make my skin crawl, but I can deal with it calmly.

Make removing a spider a completely neutral task without comment, just as you would open a stuck window or a jar for someone who can't. A lack of commentary or judgment will not bring attention to the person's fear or the irrational threat of the spider. The calmer and more nonchalant you are when dealing with a spider, the more likely the screaming and jumping up and down will dissipate (no guarantees, though).
posted by Heretic at 4:29 PM on September 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

I woke up once and opened my right eye just as a spider was walking across my closed eyelid, resulting in a trembling black shadow of a spider that spanned my entire field of vision-- it was partially trapped by my lower lid, I think-- and then ran off (over my eyeball) to the side.

But it was only many years later in the wake of a concussion that I developed a fear of them.
posted by jamjam at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife has an "irrational" fear of cockroaches. Even dead ones.

But you know what? If I couldn't find it in myself to be sympathetic and help her out (ie, just grab a paper towel and smoosh/pick up the little bastards), I'd be a jerk. I love my wife; I don't want to be a jerk to her.

I don't think any less of her for her fear of cockroaches.

You have to recognise that phobias aren't rational. They don't elicit rational responses from those who suffer from them.

The phobic person may usually be the most rational being on the planet, but show them a toilet roll, or a dripping tap, or a piece of beef with the bone left in, or a room painted purple -- and that part of their brain that initiates the fight or flight reflex just goes apeshit.

It's not conscious, or intentional. I'm certain that if my wife were able to switch off her cockroach-phobia, she would in a second.

It's just part of living in a big world with all different sorts of people. Grow up, and deal with it like an adult.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2008

Start by bringing in some awareness and compassion for yourself, and your annoyance with these irrational people. This is not about them. People do irrational things every minute of every day without eliciting your irritation and contempt ( least I hope so, for your sanity and that of those around you).

Some questions that might prove fruitful: What beliefs do you have about people who show fear? Why is rationality so important? Where did you learn that? What response did you get as a kid when you were scared? Look at the response that comes up: "Get over it." Who said that to you?
posted by ottereroticist at 4:47 PM on September 8, 2008

At some opportune moment after a co-worker has calmed down after a spider freakout, you can have a conversation that includes this talking point: It's highly unlikely that a spider will kill you, but a fear of spiders certainly could. Consider the likely consequences of being in control of a car at 100km/h when a big hairy one drops in your lap after being bumped out from behind the sun visor.

I know from personal experience that what feels like a deep-seated and visceral fear of spiders can be dealt with fairly quickly, and I'm glad to have done so. Also, it's fun to watch people's faces as I let a hairy huntsman crawl around on my head while acting all unaware.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2008

My wife is freaked out by rats. Like jump on a chair, cartoon character-style. Never mind that she's smart and scientifically minded and could beat me in an arm wrestling match. If there's a rat situation I take care of it. I don't laugh or mock or tell her to get over it, because I would be a dick if I did. Likewise she doesn't mock my fear of big bugs.
posted by O9scar at 5:00 PM on September 8, 2008

One thing that I've found to be a problem in these situations is that many people are just not interested in overcoming their fears or their phobias, and they take the mere fact that they are afraid of something, as proof that it's worthy of that fear.

It's not that people ARE phobic of spiders that's bothersome, as much as the fact that the way they're dealing with fear, is not the way you would. And if you try to comfort them with the honest-to-god truth about the innocuous nature of almost every spider on Earth, it won't help and they'll probably just get pissed at you. That kind of mind simply doesn't work the same as yours does. Maybe if you developed a phobia, you'd get therapy, or whatever you needed to do to reduce its ability to reduce you to quivering gelatin. I would do that too, and I have. For some mysterious reason, many people will not or cannot.

I'm just saying maybe you can't "understand" this phobia, and why would you want to? I try to practice distant politeness when people start jumping up and down at the sight of a spider. I can't understand at all, but I don't want to make them feel worse, and apparently I can't make them feel better.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:04 PM on September 8, 2008

By following By The Grace Of God's method, ms scruss is now able to (well, sort of) squee over how cute jumping spiders are (and most importantly, not insist I get rid of them instantly). Fifteen years ago she would likely have freaked out big style.
posted by scruss at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2008

People do/say/believe a lot of irrational things. For some, impoliteness might even be one of them.
posted by bunji at 5:18 PM on September 8, 2008

woke up once and opened my right eye just as a spider was walking across my closed eyelid, resulting in a trembling black shadow of a spider that spanned my entire field of vision-- it was partially trapped by my lower lid, I think-- and then ran off (over my eyeball) to the side.

But it was only many years later in the wake of a concussion that I developed a fear of them.
posted by jamjam at 7:33 PM on September 8 [+] [!]

PLEASE PLEASE tell me you made that up.....

I used to be so afraid of spiders that I literally could not stand to see a picture of them. I had trouble using the S and the T encyclopedia (spiders and tarantulas, natch.)

Please know that it is a totally visceral reaction. Rational thought has nothing to do with it.

I did get over mine just a wee tad-it helped that in a very very controlled situation I was able to stroke the soft velvety belly of a tarantula while a museum worker held it. But that sucker still had some fangs, I tell ya.

Please be sweet to people with the phobia. It is unpleasant and darn near automatic. We humans are wired that way sometimes and it takes a lot of inner fortitude to begin to unwire it...
posted by konolia at 5:29 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fear is good. It helps you avoid risky things. Most of us have fear of something, and most of us can trace it to an event, usually in our childhood, but not always. Seems as kids we are easily programmed for extreme reactions to something by seeing how others react to it.

I am in love with social insects. But I like to steer clear of wasps, and can trace that to a childhood situation. My late wife would walk up to a window where a hornet was trapped, stick out her finger, let it walk up on it, then carry it outside. Always brought down the house when people saw her do it. Of course, I don't think I ever saw her expose fear of anything, including the cancer that killed her.

So now, partly in honor of that I will sometimes pet bumblebees on a rose bush just for fun and to impress girls. (Doesn't work, BTW!) I usually will put a wasp or hornet in a glass, though, because I am not as steely nerved as was she. But every time I do it, I think I am sending her memory a little gift, and I feel good about myself and am so happy for the little critter that gets to escape a certain death.

Be that way for your spider buddies, and feel good for being the only (probably) species which would think to help a fellow mortal out of bad jam, just because it's the right thing to do. Pass on the meme, slowly and repeatedly and it'll take on some susceptible human.
posted by FauxScot at 5:30 PM on September 8, 2008 [9 favorites]

A really long time ago, the people who weren't afraid of creepy-crawlies were less likely to survive into parenthood, because some creepy-crawlies are poisonous. So the people who were afraid passed that fear on to their offspring, on and on.
It's the same reason small children are picky about what they eat, kids are scared of the dark, and it's frightening to bungee jump even if you know the cords are well attached. When you see people being scared this way, remember that the fear is hard-wired, and their ancestors all lived because of it.
Of course it's best if we can override these fears (and I firmly believe the best way is exposure) but really, if a person is busy turning into someone great at crossword puzzles or stock-car racing, does it matter if they never get over their fear of spiders?
posted by smoakes at 5:32 PM on September 8, 2008

I understand the fact that irrational fears exist, and I had a couple of my own for awhile (bees and driving). However. I had them quietly and intensely, and I got over both of them because they hindered my life. As a result, I share some of the original poster's challenge, because while the fear is understandable to me, the jumping and shrieking is less so and can seem to me like attention-getting.

Maybe it's genetically programmed attention-getting, as in, "Fellow tribe members! Beware! Dangerous evil thing here! Stay away!" Or maybe the person reacted dramatically as a child, got attention for it, and now continues the habit.

I agree with the previous suggestion to under-respond to the shrieking. I had a friend who would make a huge screaming fuss whenever a roach appeared. I would just say, calmly, "Oh, a roach? Okay. I'll get it." And I would quietly get it and immediately resume whatever we were doing as if nothing had happened. He toned down the roach reaction after awhile, and I like to think it was because I consistently under-reacted.
posted by PatoPata at 6:07 PM on September 8, 2008

I think a lot of this particular fear has to do with "spiders are bad" propaganda instilled at a very young age: Little Miss Muffet, etc.

Honestly, though, a fear of spiders is not irrational. Hysterical screaming fits, okay, yeah. But spiders are wild animals that can kill people. Maybe you can tell which ones can and which ones can't. Lucky you.

And they tend to appear unexpectedly. Turn around, BAM, spider. It's startling. It's like you're alone in the house, and you turn around and are suddenly confronted with an axe-wielding psycho.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:10 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Right now, I am very glad that Metafilter has no pictures. Otherwise, there's no way I would open this thread. Just reading some of these comments is icking me out.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:24 PM on September 8, 2008

I doubt I'll be much help to you, Xurando, because I'm in the same boat as you are. Like many of the other responders, I have a feeling this has something to do with how people around you reacted about spiders/insects/whatever as a child. My parents were very calm about all insects and would simply bring them outside. Spiders were tolerated in my house because, of course, they control other bugs. In fact, one of my favorite books as a kid was The Lady and the Spider, which is really beautiful and helped me appreciate the rich little life an arachnid could, conceivably, live. I'd recommend it if it's age appropriate for your daughter.

I definitely don't understand all those who are saying that arachnophobia of the arm-waving, screaming sort is logical. This type of reaction wouldn't do anything after a bite and some spiders, like bees, only bite if provoked. To me, it seems that the evolutionary advantages to tolerating spiders (pest control of more widely worrisome and annoying creatures) really seem greater than the evolutionary advantages of spazzing over them.

I really think that the right reaction here is to be an example. Understand that the fear that other people are having is not rational, but that regardless, the best way to react is calmly. Though you don't say how old your daughter is, I'd say that this is particularly true around her if she's young. If I were in your position, I might gently ask my wife to seek counseling for her phobia, not necessarily because it's good for her to get over such fears (it is), but because you're already seeing the negative impact that a conflated reaction can have on your daughter. When confronted with a spider, say something calm and friendly ("a nice little spider") and put it outside. The more your daughter realizes that she can live in peace with beneficial animals, the better off she'll be.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Be that way for your spider buddies, and feel good for being the only (probably) species which would think to help a fellow mortal out of bad jam, just because it's the right thing to do. Pass on the meme, slowly and repeatedly and it'll take on some susceptible human.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:49 PM on September 8, 2008

Speaking as someone who's afraid of spiders:

We know it's irrational and stupid. Everyone we meet tells us it's irrational and stupid. Insisting that spiders will not kill us, that they're good bugs that keep away other bugs, that they're more scared of us than we are of them will not convince us to get over it. When I have to call someone over to get rid of a spider for me (and I prefer they don't kill them, just take them outside and let them run away), I'm extremely embarrassed. It gets ten times worse when my rescuer lectures me about how stupid I'm being.

You can be more compassionate towards people like us by not making a big deal out of it when it happens. Just scoop the spider up and dispose of it however you wish. Don't try to fix us; that's something we have to do, not you. Not making a big deal about it a) refuses to reward the people screaming just to get attention, and b) subtly reinforces the idea that it's not a big thing and that we could probably do it ourselves -- Heretic's answer shows it works, and the nonchalance my boyfriend shows has given me the courage to take care of a few myself. And for the love of God, if the spider gets away don't tell me. Tell me you killed and flush the kleenex anyway.

As an aside, I can pinpoint my fear of spiders to an exact moment in my childhood when I heard a story about God telling someone not to kill a spider, but they do it anyway and so God sends a flood to kill the person. My thoughts on the subject have since irrationally swelled to include the idea that the spiders know I'm killing off their kind and are slowly organizing a way to do me in. My boyfriend lovingly refers to it as the "spider resistance movement." I was beginning to realize how stupid I was being until a few weeks ago when my boyfriend went away for a week and half a dozen spiders showed up around my front door every morning, and then the lights in the bathroom suddenly went out...
posted by lilac girl at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Spiders are small, often move quickly, and can sneak up on you when you don't expect it. Some people think they are gross looking - all those legs and eyes. Elephants are freaked out by mice (confirmed on mythbusters, donchaknow) which isn't at all logical either. Some people don't know how to tell the difference between dangerous spiders and non-dangerous spiders, just as some people can't tell poison ivy from other plants or harmless snakes from dangerous snakes. So for them there's also that whole aspect of "the unknown" scariness.

Just get rid of the spider via preferred method as quickly and quietly as possible, so you don't have to dwell on their freaking out. They'll be happy it's gone and that you didn't tease them with it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:10 PM on September 8, 2008

(BTW, I was scared as spiders as a kid. I got over it during summer camp - one would show up on my knee and I'd freak, while a "cool big kid" camp counselor would calmly pick it up and do a "there you go little guy, over here" thing. So just by acting as if there is nothing to fear but not being embarrassing and lecturey either you can help your wife and daughter be a little less scared.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:15 PM on September 8, 2008

Elephants are freaked out by mice (confirmed on mythbusters, donchaknow) which isn't at all logical either.

If a panicked mouse ran up inside an elephant's trunk, which it might very well do, it would probably get stuck and die.

Now imagine what kind of death would result for the elephant.

I'd say they're being pretty rational, all things considered.
posted by jamjam at 11:08 PM on September 8, 2008

Xurando, I'm glad you want to be compassionate. I am the OP of the thread martinX's bellbottoms linked in the very first reply. Phobias are irrational and we can't "just get over it." Even my best friend's husband, who thinks I'm ridiculously oversensitive when it comes to my phobia, if I start screaming he says "oh stop" very gently (which is a big deal considering he's usually full volume yelling at people when he gets upset.)

As to my thread, I figured out that guy was just an ass, as he kept finding giant dead moths to show to me and telling people who were unaware of my phobia to show them to me too. So now, when he's around, I'm not.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:26 AM on September 9, 2008

My friend claims that my ability to kill spiders means that I don't have a phobia. I disagree. Through different events in my life, I've learned that if I don't do stuff, more than likely, no one else will step up to do it (y'know, like living alone, you're the only one who's going to wash the dishes, do the laundry, unclog the toilet, deal with the spider with a leg span that could reach across your face).

I know it's wrong, but they terrify me. (I mean, Shelob! Come on! Tolkien wanted to depict ancient evil, and he went with a giant spider! He didn't have a huge bunny, or giant teddy bear) I feel ill just reading this far in the thread. The idea of people picking them up (even with the glass/paper method) causes me to imagine them escaping and crawling (at lightning speed) up a sleeve. The closest I've come to a detente with the eight legged purveyors of evil is that if they come inside, with me, they die. Outside, I give them their space.

And I know that's wrong. They are (for the most part) good things. But I am terrified of them. And all of the people who tell me to get over it just make me feel worse, but do nothing to lessen my fear.

And the giant spider in my apartment: evidently they eat cockroaches. Still, evil.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:07 AM on September 9, 2008

I once handled spiders, in public, allowing people to touch them gently and ask questions, for a summer job. Part of this fear is one of those basic irrational fears that we all have to some degree but some people have pretty badly. For those people, you can't really help-- that'd take therapy, if anything. But for most people, a big part of it is just a refusal to confront something you've been trained to fear. It helps to remember what you are irrationally afraid of, and how ridiculous it would be to some people, and to be patient.

My advice is to respect the emotion, but if you want to confront this problem, also try a bit of gentle education to untrain it. Become a nature nerd. When they scream, be excited about finding a spider and swoop in and catch it in a glass. Get a guidebook and start identifying them. Return and tell the scared person what they found, and a cool thing about it, and inform them that you released the visitor outside. You will then become the Spider Person. We have special badges.

Spider fear is a reaction that's usually pretty firmly planted from a young age by social conditioning with a healthy fertilizer of misconceptions. There are fascinating books and videos out there that could break the ice on the subject and pique some interest, as well as counter the misinformation. I have changed a lot of people's minds on this just by answering their questions and telling them all about spiders in a very non-pushy way. Really, people want to talk about spiders. We're a bit preoccupied with the things we fear, in general. In fact I can't seem to avoid being known as someone who likes spiders, because if I mention them once, people who fear them remember that if they remember nothing else about me. I do not go to them-- they come to me.

The important thing is that people have to be willing to think about it if you're going to gently nudge them away from the fear reaction, and you have to be willing to engage their brain without insulting them or stepping over their boundaries. The boundaries will change on their own if the interest is there. Maybe someone will never pick up a tarantula, but they might stop freaking out all the time. Fear's easy because you don't need to think about it too much. You just react. Genuine knowledge tends to counter that pretty strongly.
posted by Tehanu at 5:23 PM on September 12, 2008

Spider fear is a reaction that's usually pretty firmly planted from a young age by social conditioning with a healthy fertilizer of misconceptions.

There's a lot to be said for this view, but I think the depth and prevalence of the fear of spiders, along with things like its apparent exacerbation in meth addiction, point to a strong possibility it's built into us like a fear of heights, though it may require a triggering event to manifest fully.

And it's amusing to me you attribute it to 'misconception', because if I had to guess, I'd say the potential impact of spider bites on pregnancy is a good candidate for a selective pressure which could have caused it to be built into us:


A few bites by Latrodectus species and Loxosceles species in pregnant women have been reported (Tables 2 and 3 ), including 4 envenomations by the black widow spider.28–31 Russell et al30 described a case of a pregnant woman bitten by L hesperus. Thirty-five minutes after the bite, she developed abdominal cramps and chest tightness. She was treated with antivenom (Latrodectus mactans Lyovac) and became asymptomatic within 20 minutes of administration. It was suggested that severe abdominal cramps provoked by the venom of Latrodectus might precipitate spontaneous abortion. Three additional cases of latrodectism during the second, fourth, and eighth month of pregnancy were reported to Russell et al30 (Maretic of Yugoslavia, personal communication, 1976). Despite violent cramps, no abortions or premature births occurred. Russell et al30 also mentioned a patient of Orusev that was bitten by a Latrodectus spider during the sixth month without adverse influence on the pregnancy. In a personal communication (1963) to Dr Russell, Piguelvsky stated that in Russia before the turn of the century, some bites in pregnancy resulted in abortion, but no details were provided.30

All of the 4 women with Latrodectus bites experienced an increase in blood pressure, abdominal pain, and cramps. Leg and back pain were also noted. Health care staff reported fasciculations in 2 individuals. One person reported paresthesias of the soles of her feet, described as a burning sensation that began 15 hours after envenomation.31 In one individual, slight irregular uterine contractions were noted, the cervix was dilated from 1 to 2 cm, effacement increased from 50% to 75%, and the station changed from −5 to −2, but no further progression of labor occurred after antivenom was given.29
[From a 2004 review article on the impact of venoms on pregnancy]
posted by jamjam at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

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