Fear of Spiders
November 15, 2004 11:31 AM   Subscribe

PhobiaFilter: I'm an arachnophobic. How does one conquer an irrational fear? [more]

As long as I can remember, I've hated and feared spiders and I don't know why. Even other creepy crawly things don't bother me at all. I've slept with scorpions in my tent and in cockroach infested huts - not a flinch. I've tried to identify what it is about spiders in particular that might cause this reaction, with no success. Hairiness? Nothing else hairy is a problem. Lots of legs? Why wouldn't I be afraid of caterpillars, then? Webs? Actually, that part doesn't bother me, either. Biting and poison? But I have no fear of bees, wasps, mosquitoes or other bitey stingy things. I've tried forcing myself to go to websites and look at books with lots of close-up pictures of spiders, thinking that familiarization might work. Nope, just ended up feeling ill and having bad dreams.

This isn't ruining my life or anything, but I'd like to get past it. There's something psychological going on that it's obvious I don't understand. How does someone get over an irrational fear? Is it even possible? Rationality doesn't seem to work.
posted by normy to Science & Nature (14 answers total)
i think i was similar to you, from your description. what fixed it for me was a spider - quite a large house spider - running across my grandmother. i grabbed it (because i wanted to "protect" her, i guess) and then realised that, once i had it in my hands, i wasn't screaming or dying or, well, you know - it was just this little bug i had between my cupped hands.
ever since then i've been less scared. they're still not my favourite animal, but they don't really bother me.
i guess it was a kind of self/randomly-imposed mix of shock treatment and aversion therapy...?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:39 AM on November 15, 2004

You might try contacting a local science center/museum type place. Ask if you can handle some of the gigantic spider-type things from their collection, in the presence of some trained professionals who can prevent you from hurting them. It might help you.

It might also cause you to drop dead of a heart attack, but IANAD so I dunno ;)
posted by bcwinters at 11:41 AM on November 15, 2004

You can start with Nat'l Geographic tarantula pictures. I've always had a helluva time putting my hands on the page, let alone look closely.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:12 PM on November 15, 2004

There are many approaches to phobia treatment. Most involve desensitivity training using various methods, such as gradual exposure or behavioral therapy. You would probably need to see a therapist for assistance with stuctured methods like these.

The problem is that we phobics are simply powerless to overcome the fears that we cognitively understand are irrational. I realize you want to get past your fear of spiders, but is it really reducing the quality of your life in a significant way? I am only asking because I am a walking anxiety attack. I fear planes, driving, leaving my house, looking in mirrors, heights, and so on. But I do leave my house, and I do have a car that I actually drive. I am still terrified, but I just do it. I don't, however, ride in airplanes or go to crowded places or bungee jump. I guess the moral of this story is that I don't think the fear ever really goes away, but it's desire that makes ignoring a fear possible. I must eat, put gas in my car, and so on, so I just actively ignore my terror.

So, I think, to control your fear of spiders, you must REALLY want to do it, and then proceed with whatever method seems to fit you the best. I hadn't driven since I was 19, but in October of 2003 I bought a car from my brother and just drove it. I don't go far, but I get stuff done that needs to be done. So, I guess if you're like me, you will buy a tarantula and name it Clyde.
posted by xyzzy at 12:29 PM on November 15, 2004

I am somewhat of an arachnophobe myself, but what has helped was the opportunity I had to actually touch a tarantula's tummy while it was being held by a museum employee. IT was so soft and velvety...I still have no love for spiders, still don't want one on me, but I am not in hysterics around them either. And this from someone who once couldn't even stand to look at the T or S volume of the encyclopedia.
posted by konolia at 12:32 PM on November 15, 2004

I'm also a huge arachnophobic, normy, but I've made significant progress in the past year or two. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I live in a house that's got lots of spiders inside and outside, but they're all small, skinny ones that don't freak me out very much.

The other day I actually sat in front of a window and watched while, just on the other side of the glass, a pale-colored garden guy spun his web. I watched him circle around, attaching a long spiral of web at 5mm intervals, painstakingly attaching each intersection with his foot before moving onward. I was able to see him as a builder, an engineer, and I had a moment of appreciation for him as another lifeform just trying to get by.

I have great appreciation for nature in general and a great love for animals. I even took a college entomology course that made me greatly admire the diversity and specialization of insects. I've been trying to tap into those feelings and apply them to spiders. I'm doing better now. I'm not at the point where I can capture one in a clear glass, and I do still have spider nightmares (last night I dreamt I came back to my car, opened the door, and found 2-inchers blanketing the floor of the car.

But I no longer flip out and jump back 5 feet when I see a garden spider. For example, in the dream last night, I just handed my Aunt Henriette the program from the play I'd just watched, and asked her to scoop the spiders out. I didn't wake up, strip off my clothes, turn on the lights, and take a shower.
posted by scarabic at 1:05 PM on November 15, 2004

To beat that phobia, I bought a tarantula and kept it in a terrarium in my bedroom. The first few nights were almost sleepless -- I could hear him moving around (or thought I could) and my dreams were full of spiders. As I got used to him and learned just how fragile a spider that size really is, my attitude changed. Any spider dreams I had were about my spider protecting me from something. I got to the point where I could touch him and stroke him, but I never summoned the courage to actually pick him up before I moved and had to give him away.

I'm still not a spider fan and will thrash about if I run into a web, but I don't freak out anymore if I see one.
posted by joaquim at 1:21 PM on November 15, 2004

a) Why do you need to eliminate this phobia from your life exactly? My advice would be just leave it be.

b) ArmchairPsychiatristFilter: I've always suspected that arachnophobia is due to the fact that a spider and a pair of copulating humans both appear to have 8 limbs emanating from a central trunk. Lots of people are afraid of sex too, but that fear often gets displaced.

c) Reading the above, I see that joaquim brought a "tarantula" into his bedroom to beat the phobia. Yes, of course, the bedroom - where else? And scarabic's initial response to spiders in his dream - to strip off all his clothes? Yes, of course.

Xyzzy says, 'So, I think, to control your fear of spiders, you must REALLY want to DO IT'

All right - now where did I leave my flameproof pants...
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:58 PM on November 15, 2004

For my mild arachnophobia I can back-up some of the things said here. I learned to really appreciate the find roles that spiders play in our world. I also learned to appreciate their amazing architecture (their webs). Looking into your past can help. My sister has severe arachnophobia and I think a childhood story involving our father might have something to do with it. Or not. On preview: /shudder as related to my sister's tale
posted by Dick Paris at 2:07 PM on November 15, 2004

For what it's worth, I know a couple of people with completely irrational phobias who've gone on Wellbutrin for some other reason and had the phobias lessen significantly. (I guess a phobia is similar in some ways to OCD or depression.)

IMHO it would be better to try non-chemical approaches first, and I wouldn't think that going on SSRIs would be worthwhile unless the phobia is really screwing up your life, but you might want to suggest the idea to your doctor or psychiatrist and see what they think.
posted by hattifattener at 2:40 PM on November 15, 2004

I've trained myself to be able to pick up small spiders on paper to be delivered to the great outdoors, rather than flushed.

Of course it's all for nought, because it turns out that house spiders can't survive indoors, and vice-versa.

So I've come to an uneasy truce: I'm okay with house spiders so long as they stick to their corners. Get rowdy, though, and they're toast.

Big spiders still give me the heebie-jeebies like nothing else. My solution for them is to send my wife after them.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:48 PM on November 15, 2004

Neuro-Linguistic Programming has a pretty good track record with "simple" phobias--arachnophobia usually fits into that category. Often, a total or near-total cure is accomplished in one session.

If you Google "nlp practitioners x", where x = where you live, you'll probably come up with some people to call. Fees vary. I would hold out for someone who would do a phobia-cure session with you, then meet with you a few weeks later to check that it had "held," and who would not charge you if there was no cure. Quite a few NLP'ers and hypnotists practice in this way; it's worth calling around.
posted by Tholian at 4:11 PM on November 15, 2004

As a teen, I had a wolf spider sit on my chest, which gave me arachnophobia.

In my early 30s, I killed a black widow spider bare-handed, which conquered the phobia.

Last year, a black widow bit me on the leg, while I was asleep, in my bed, which gave me the phobia back all over again.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:57 PM on November 15, 2004

This may not help: there is nothing irrational about a fear of spiders. They are creepy and, in some cases, super deadly.
posted by jaded at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2004

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