Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Spray - Part Deux" or "Phobia, Phobia... Who's Got A Phobia?"

Finally... here is the second part of my post entitled, To Spray Or Not To Spray, which I'm sure you've been waiting on bated breath to read (yes, I am a bit deluded).  In the previous post, I mention that I have overcome a very severe case of arachnophobia.  In this post, I will describe how I managed this.

The World English Dictionary describes arachnophobia as "an abnormal fear of spiders".  Notice the word abnormal.  That is the key word here.  Abnormal  fear of spiders.  I still strongly dislike  spiders and still have a rational  fear of them.  My definition of a rational  fear of spiders would include being afraid of an enormously large individual spider or being afraid of an enormously large combined group of them. Being mortally afraid of one tiny spider is not rational.  Being so scared of said tiny spider, that you are unable to move-- is abnormal. This is when the term arachnophobia applies.

Of course, I am obviously referring specifically to one phobia among many.  Many, many people suffer from ALL kinds of phobias.  Several internet sources conclude that phobias number in the thousands.  The most common phobias include:

  • Agoraphobia- Fear of inescapable situations such as crowds or open spaces
  • Acrophobia- Fear of heights
  • Ophidiophobia- Fear of snakes
and the number one most common phobia reported is:
  • Arachnophobia!! I am far from alone in this.  One source stated that nearly 1/2 of all women and about 10% of men have some type of fear of spiders.

So... how did I overcome the irrational aspect of this fear?  Well, I went to college and got some learnin'!  That's how!  Actually I had taken a psychology class in college during which we did a section on phobias.  I was fascinated as the teacher told a story of a case study in which the patient was cured of hemophobia, or the fear of blood.  The following story will show how the phobia was first developed and how it became progressively worse.  We'll call the patient John.

When John was about 3 years old, he would watch his father shave every morning.  John's father shaved the 'old-fashioned way' with shaving cream and a straight razor.  One day, John's mother was downstairs doing the dishes and realized it was way too quiet.  She went upstairs looking for John and upon entering the bathroom where John was 'shaving like daddy', discovered him holding the very large razor and covered in blood.  She screamed.  John wasn't in any pain, as he had only given himself a large number of surface cuts.  But upon hearing his mother scream, when she saw him, he looked down, saw blood, and started to cry.

As John grew older, he would associate blood with 'bad'.  If he fell, even if it didn't hurt, if he looked down and saw blood, he would cry. Pretty soon, he would become sick or even faint at the sight of blood, whether it was his own or someone else's.  His phobia steadily progressed to where he couldn't be near someone sick or injured; then he couldn't visit someone's hospital room; then he couldn't go in a hospital; then he couldn't drive past a hospital; until he was going out of his way to avoid driving within a certain distance of all hospitals.

John ended up seeing a psychiatrist for his condition.  The doctor prescribed a program that would require John to 'unravel' his phobia by working it backwards, one step at a time.  First, the doctor had him drive within a specified distance of a hospital, then past a hospital. Then the doctor had John go into a hospital, then visit a sick/injured friend, etc., etc.  During the course of these exercises, John was able to trace his phobia back to it's source, helping to reveal to him it's irrational beginnings.

After my humiliating run-in with the spider, that I mentioned in my previous post, I thought back on this Psych class and decided I needed to try to 'unravel' my own phobia by following the same type of program the psychologist had prescribed for 'John'.  My process didn't require nearly as many steps, but I basically pushed myself to face my fears. I forced myself to kill spiders on my own, without anyone else to step in and save me.  It was really hard, at first, but I found that the more I did it, the easier it became.  All the while, I would remind myself that I was far bigger than the little, tiny creature and that it was silly to be afraid of a bug. That's all it was... a bug.

I also traced my phobia back to it's source, recalling that when I was a child growing up in Southern California, we had a breed of spiders there that were whitish/clearish (don't know what kind they are but I've never seen them where I live now).  My mother, being a mom and all, was trying to protect me.  She would warn me to watch out for those spiders when I was outside playing with my brothers.  We often saw them crawling around in the plants around our home.  We had discovered that I was highly allergic to them and would break out in hives all over my body if I was bitten by one.  I had Benadryl (which you could only get by prescription back then) on hand and any time I left home for extended periods of time, mom would make sure I took my meds with me, 'just in case'.  

Understandably I became quite paranoid of being bitten by those little buggers, and thus began my phobia of spiders, which grew more irrational over the years.  Once I traced the phobia back to it's beginnings, I was able to understand how it got started and thereby debunk it, a little at a time.  

Some phobias are understandable, like a fear of heights or flying in an airplane.  But, for me, being debilitated by a little, tiny bug was, frankly, embarrassing.  Especially when my toddler had to come to my rescue...

Do you suffer from any phobias or irrational fears?


Lora said...

I have a fear of spiders and snakes and heights but I haven't ever been frozen with fear.....wait I have a fear of the dark and sometimes that will make me stop,and sometimes it takes a lot to get me moving again. I have to many fears! :) I guess I better figure myself out, that could take me a long long time. Glad you overcame your fear!

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