As the warm weather approaches, most of us look forward to sweet smells of spring, warmer temperatures and some long-awaited sunshine. But for some, spring heralds a season of terror!
A group of uni students headed off to lectures. It was just like any other day… they chatted and enjoyed the warmth of the sun through the glass of the car windows, when all of a sudden, Kara leapt from the moving car!
Her friends were stunned. What was going on? What just happened?
As Kara rolled onto the road and into the kerb, she was hyper-ventilating. She could not express the fear and terror she was feeling. Eventually she calmed herself enough to explain to her worried and stunned friends: there was a spider in the car!
Not just any spider. One of those big, hairy, leggy, fast-moving harmless Huntsman spiders!
This is a true story (privacy and anonymity maintained).
Yes, these types of extreme reactions really do occur, and yes, for some people, spiders are really that scary!
I should point out that there are many people, myself included, who don’t particularly like spiders, but our fear is not so extreme or intense that it leads to extreme and dangerous behaviours.
People responding like Kara are considered to suffer from arachnophobia, and whilst these responses may seem irrational and ‘over the top’ to non-sufferers, their fear is very real for them. Adding to their frustration, they know that their fear and their responses are irrational, and that apart from this phobia they are rational and intelligent people.
And this story is one of many examples of the very real and often debilitating effects of arachnophobia.
Fear and phobia affects approximately 10% of population, with common forms including the fear of rodents and creepy crawlies such as mice and rats, spiders, snakes, the fear of heights, or open spaces, social phobias and fear of medical procedures such as injections, being amongst the most common.
Arachnophobia or spider phobia no doubt gains more attention than other phobias because like it or not, in Australia spiders are all around us, and hence, encounters with spiders are more frequent. Coming across a spider also tends to have a surprise element, leaving sufferers unable to control their environment. This is particularly true in the spring; one never knows if and when a spider might turn up in their car, or inside the house.
Historically, arachnophobia appears to relate to a fear of disease (especially the Black Plague) which was thought to be associated with spider bites. However, whilst spiders were found in large numbers in the Plague-prone areas, it was found to be the fleas on rats which carried the disease. It appears that the importance of disease avoidance has led to a disgust response towards spiders. A number of epidemics that devastated Europe from the Middle Ages onwards appear to have contributed to a fear of spiders being commonly passed down through European cultures since the tenth century.
The fact that non-European cultures don’t seem to share this fear, supports the notion that arachnophobia is the result of an inaccurate belief that spiders caused the spread of the Black Plague.
Anecdotal evidence collected from the “Living With Spiders” workshops I am involved with has indicated that when asked what it is about spiders they don’t like, people often mention features such as their big hairy legs or unpredictable movement. However, there is often a shudder, facial expression or accompanying body language that completes the verbal description, supporting the notion of disgust.
Hence, myth-busting in relation to spiders is essential: accurate information is an important element of rational thinking. Without this, questions that feed anxiety are likely to multiply and reign supreme, for example there are presumptions that the White-tail spider causes necrotic skin conditions, however, it seems that people tend to deduce that the White-tail caused the injury rather than having factual evidence.
The key point in understanding one’s response to a spider encounter relates to their thinking.
Whilst the majority of people acknowledge that most spiders are not harmful, their emotionally charged thought processes lead them well and truly astray when confronted by a spider.
The good news is that this can be changed, and people can most certainly learn to live with spiders.
Having assisted many people with their spider phobia, I have found that the combination of understanding the facts about spiders, neutralising any early disruptive experiences with spiders, and learning how to combine the skills of relaxation together with modifying their self-talk and thinking, enables people to move from fear to fascination when it comes to spiders.
The more I hear about people’s dislike of spiders, the more it seems to be a disgust response rather than a true fear – and the reality is that you don’t have to like spiders, but you do need to learn how to live with them!
Tell us, do you have a fear of spiders? What is it about them that you don’t like?
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