How to overcome your fear of spiders

Fear of spiders is unhelpful in the jungle
Fear of spiders is unhelpful in the jungle

This post is about how to overcome your fear of spiders. Maybe. Sort of.

Don’t worry, I haven’t included any spider pictures–if you’re anything like I used to be, you won’t even move your mouse over a picture of a spider. They’re that evil.

I used to be terrified of spiders. Now, not so much. I’m still not fond of them, but I can sit in the same room as them without shrieking and flailing.

I’m going to share what I did to overcome my fear of spiders. It would probably work for you, but I almost guarantee you won’t want to do it.

My fear of spiders

My parents tell me I’ve been scared of spiders since before I could talk. Spiders used to make me burst into tears before I had the vocabulary to say, “Get that evil demon spawn bug away from me.”

After I learned to talk I would jump out of bed in the middle of the night saying “spiders in the bed”, and refuse to get back in until my mum had swept the bed clean.

She told me later she never actually swept out any spiders, but she went through the motions and I guess I was convinced.

I thought my fear might go away as I got older. Logically I knew the spiders in New Zealand weren’t dangerous and they were more scared of me than I was of them (and all the other things that people who don’t understand arachnophobia say). Logic didn’t help and the fear didn’t go away.

I couldn’t go within a room of a spider. If I thought one was on or near me, I’d actually levitate, and shake my arms so vigorously they nearly came off. While shrieking, of course.

There came a point after I moved out of home when it was pretty inconvenient.

I won’t say that’s why I got married, but an advantage of having a husband is always having someone around to relocate the spider from behind the toilet.

The cure for my fear of spiders

I didn’t set out to cure my fear of spiders. I just realised one day it was gone. Mostly. Then I realised why.

I’ve heard of desensitisation therapy, or whatever fancy name you want to give it. It has two problems. First you feel like a real idiot saying “I want you to progressively expose me to more realistic representations of spiders.” Second, then you have to knowingly expose yourself to increasingly realistic representations of spiders.

I didn’t do that.

Instead, I went into the desert.

Let’s call it the quest for the Holy Grail. The reason had nothing to do with spiders.

I probably saw spiders in the desert. I don’t remember. I was more concerned with not starving, getting to the top of the next hill, not dying from heatstroke in the day, and not freezing to death at night.

I was exhausted. Every time I sat down from walking for a two-minute rest I fell asleep. Lifting an arm, let alone walking, was a gargantuan effort.

I remember sitting leaning against a log at one point. Something crawled up my back under my shirt and started biting me.

Normally you’d get some sort of emotional reaction. Irritation, even anger. I was so tired I didn’t feel anything. I reached under my shirt and pulled out the thing that was biting me.

It was a huge ant with waving pincers.

I threw it away and went back to sleep. Yep, there are ants. Some bite, some don’t.

My theory is that something similar happened with spiders. Normally when confronted with a spider I’d get a huge adrenaline surge, fly away from the evil spider, and not die. So my subconscious would decide a huge adrenaline surge was the way to go, and would resolve to do it again next time.

But on my search for the Holy Grail, when confronted by a spider I had no energy left to create an adrenaline surge. It would have been way too much effort.

Much to the surprise of my subconscious, I didn’t die.

Hey, it thought. That was easier than freaking out and everything still turned out fine. Let’s do that again next time.

So the next time I saw a spider, my subconscious thought “adrenaline surge? Meh.” And very little happened.

Fear of spiders? Cured. Mostly.

No, I didn’t come home with the Holy Grail, sorry to disappoint.

The guinea pig solution

You could try what I did.

If you like picking cactus spines out of your shin in the pitch black in the middle of the night when all you were doing was looking for a bush to pee behind.

If you want to hike all day through the desert for three days without eating more than few reeds that may or may not have been edible.

The quest for the Holy Grail was an amazing experience, but it was far superior in retrospect than at the time. For the two weeks I was there, I mostly just wanted to go home.

If you’re not big on deserts, you can try the guinea pig technique instead.

To me, spiders are freaky partly because of how I imagine their bodies–all spider-shaped with indecently many eyes.

But what if they weren’t spider-shaped? Imagine a spider was a tiny guinea pig. A cute snuffly little nose, floppy ears, and innocent beady eyes. Oh, and don’t forget the whiskers for avoiding getting stuck in narrow spaces.

Only this hamster isn’t happy with average-speed escapes, so it’s strapped on huge robot legs for epic fleeing. But still, look at the little nose!

Spider guinea pig
Spiders are less scary if you think of them as very small guinea pigs with strap-on legs.

I can’t promise it’ll work, but give it a try. All the best for your next encounter with robo-guinea pigs.

 

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

18 thoughts on “How to overcome your fear of spiders”

  1. I actually solved mine through logic; I learned about spiders and lost my fear of them. They’re fascinating creatures and some of them are quite beautiful (e.g. the Cobalt Blue tarantula). Part of that education was learning about what antagonises them and the warning signs that they’re getting ready to attack.

    I still wouldn’t like to be at close quarters with a tarantula (unless it was contained – I’m fine in my friend’s living room, where she has six pet tarantulas) but I’m okay with non-hairy spiders, even if they’re on my body.

    I also don’t remove cobwebs from my house until they’re no longer inhabited. House spiders are just trying to live their little spidery lives and I don’t think giants should come along and demolish their houses with one fell swoop. πŸ˜€

    1. I’m impressed you could solve it by logic!

      When I was in South America there were tarantulas living on the ceiling of the lodge. Occasionally they’d drop down when people walked past. It never happened to me, but I would have been pretty unimpressed.

      You’re very kind leaving spiders their homes. I tend to as well, but more because I don’t get around to cleaning than to be nice. πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for the “no pictures” disclaimer. πŸ™‚ Last time I read a post about someone’s spider fear, she included a HUGE Australian arachnid in her post, and I haven’t gone near any of her social media stuff since. I can deal with small things, because I have to, but that was ridiculous. I’m going to try the not freaking out technique. My biggest problem is that they always come out of nowhere and startle me. I don’t freak out, but I get all kinds of chills and paranoia. I would like to get to the point where I can see one, think, “Oh, bug,” and then get rid of it without being paralyzed, paranoid, or freaked out.

    1. Haha. My first thought when I started writing this was “oh, I bet I can find some great spider pictures.” Then logic kicked in and I thought “everyone likes pictures of guinea pigs.” πŸ™‚

      I totally agree, spiders are much more startling when they appear suddenly, especially when they drop on you from above.

  3. I was about to skip right over the post until I saw the “no pictures” warning. Hell to the no, I’ve thrown a phone across the room in the past because of that sort of thing. As usual, this was hilarious. I’m always thoroughly entertained by the end of your posts. Great stuff!

  4. Well done! … I wonder what it is about spiders and creepy-crawly things in general, that gets us humans all tied up in knots? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, really?

    We might get bitten and be uncomfortable for a while, (the exception being the really nasty ones) but they don’t actually intrude in our spaces. Things only get dicey when we intrude into theirs. They’re more likely to run away from the giant monster trying to swat them.

    We are an odd species, that’s for sure. πŸ˜€

    1. You’re right, people are very peculiar. In general a fear of spiders is totally irrational – especially in New Zealand where we basically have no poisonous ones. Now if I lived in Australia… πŸ™‚

  5. I used to be afraid of them when I was a kid. Actually I was afraid of almost all insects. Now I actually admired spiders, though admittedly still not crazy about them crawling on me. Just yesterday, however, I was on a hike and observing a small tree that was full of the brilliant, backlit webs, each with a small little spider patiently waiting a meal in the center. It was quite beautiful and serene. Thanks for the article!

    1. That does sound beautiful. Spider webs are pretty amazing things, especially when they’re covered in dew.

  6. I got over my shark fear by becoming a scuba diver and diving with sharks. Sort of like you going into the desert. Most sharks will get the heck out of the area if they see a diver. Fear…gone (mostly).

    1. Oh, that’s very brave! I’m super impressed. I’m not big on having water over me even if there are no sharks.

      (Sorry about the slow response. WordPress decided your comment was spam, for some reason.)

  7. I did the same as Anna Kaling: I read about spiders and was able to shake off the worst of my arachnophobia as a result. We fear what we don’t understand was my mantra. It was easier to live with spiders when I understood what they do. They’re an important part of the ecosystem, we’d be in big trouble without spiders. And apparently it’s possible to tame a tarantula, which is kind of sweet.

    But omg, a guinea pig spider bot! πŸ˜€ That is so cute, I’ll definitely keep that image in my head the next time I see a big hairy one. I’ll just imagine it with cute little eyes and whiskers. Unbeatable!

    1. You guys are so much more rational than me! I knew how important spiders were, and my parents always made an effort to rehome them outside rather than killing them, but it made no difference.

      In California, I saw tarantulas in the pet shop. The coolest ones had pink feet, which was pretty adorable. I still wouldn’t let my husband get one, though.

      I’m glad you like the robo guinea pig idea. I actually find it helps. πŸ™‚

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