Phobias: We Need to Talk About Richard
Aww, bless Richard. I like the way he stands for hours in the living room in the same position, hoping I won’t notice him (typical freeze response). Sometimes he’s brave and ventures further out but scuttles back into his hole once I enter the room. To be fair, I’m known for being heavy-footed and I’m also about eleventy hundred times the size of him so it’s understandable. But I’m curious about him and want him to come out more. And this is weird because Richard is a spider and I used to be terrified of spiders.
Phobias: A Novel Use of Hairspray
I developed my fear of spiders as a child. I used to have one pesky bugger who lived inside my wardrobe and caused me no end of worry. So whilst I should have been asleep I kept creeping to his lair to check that he wasn’t about to leap out onto my face. I did this checking repetitively until I was so tired I gave up and went to bed. But this was the 80s so in order to make sure that it didn’t get any ideas in the middle of the night I used to liberally spray his hole with hairspray. Sorry ozone layer! Anyway, my fear continued unabated and unchallenged and not helped one night in Leeds circa 1998 whilst reading quietly in bed and one of the biggest, ugliest spiders crawled onto my hand. I mean, come on!!
Phobias: I Blame my Mum
Most phobias are learned behaviour. Now, I know that mothers’ get the blame for a lot of stuff, but I must lay the responsibility of my fear firmly at the feet of my mum. She’s the one who I observed from a young age running hysterically away from, well, basically any winged insect or spider. Once queuing in the butchers, a wasp caused her to throw her hands in the air, scream and run around in circles whilst said wasp kamikazed at her. Meanwhile, the other customers showed no reaction to the wasp whatsoever and stoically waited for their kidney and tripe. Poor mum never let a bit of social humiliation come between her and her phobia. Daddy Longlegs were like a cruel joke to us both. I mean, why give spiders wings?? (And flying cockroaches? That’s just hideous). Mother experienced a particularly traumatic holiday in Scotland during crane fly season when they were EVERYWHERE. She still shudders as she recalls seeing them in peoples’ hair and on their clothes. And no-one batted an eyelid, which was the weirdest thing for us both to get our heads around.
Phobias: Gary our (Weird) Hero
So, me and my brothers basically learnt, from seeing mum’s reaction to things like spiders, Daddy Longlegs and wasps, that these were things to be feared, that they could hurt you and the only correct response was to run away (classic flight mode of the nervous system when under threat). For some reason or another, we used to get a fair few spiders in our home so there would be all four of us, shrieking like idiots at the sight of one. Luckily, we had Gary next door, one of those strange boys who likes collecting insects and so one of us would be dispatched to get him to help. He’d troop in and take the spider out of the house, him shaking his head at our hysterics and us shaking ours at his weirdness for actually liking these things.
Phobias: The Brain & Patterns
I can’t remember a specific incident where my brain learnt to make a connection between spiders and fear and it’s likely this is the case for others who have a specific phobia too. Specific phobia is the name given to the fear of a particular object (like an insect) or situation (such as flying or fear of going to the dentist). It is well-established that the brain operates in patterns. This means that it does things that it has done before because it’s quicker and more efficient this way. So rather than take the time to think of a fresh response to every single situation or object it encounters, it responds in a way which it has previously. This can lead to people think they are stuck with their phobia forever. Think about what your conditioned response is like in relation to your fear – do you always react in the same way?
Phobias: How Cognitive Hypnotherapy can Help
Luckily for me - and you, if you also have a fear or phobia - the brain is able to change learnt behaviours through something called neuroplasticity. This is when neural connections can be re-routed which means that we can adapt our behaviour and establish new neural pathways. Or, in my case, stop being terrified of poor spiders and learn a new response. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy therapists use some very effective techniques from Neuro Linguistic Programming, and on top of this, the new learning is embedded through hypnosis to make sure that the unconscious is also on board with the changes. These interventions can help clients to get rid of phobias – fear of heights, public speaking or needles, for instance – and start being in control. And remember, once you experience change in one area, it can soon lead to you making changes in other areas of your life.
Phobias: A Nice Ending.
Whilst it differs between everyone, it only took me one session to reduce my fear of spiders to manageable levels. I can now exist very comfortably with Richard in the same space as myself. And although I have no desire to get too close to him (as in, physical contact) I do find myself, on my hands and knees looking down at this handsome lad and wondering what’s going on inside his head. Thanks to brain plasticity and the skill of my Cognitive Hypnotherapist I no longer have any desire to run away. And I definitely will never attack another spider with hairspray again.