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Spiders, Snakes, and Dealing with Irrational Fears

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By: Michael Hayes MS Licensed Professional Counselor

irrational fearsSeveral years ago, my wife Jain and I were relaxing on the back porch when I went inside to fetch an extra pillow for the hammock. As I rounded the foyer of our home, I was confronted by a 4-foot-long blacksnake stretched out on the stairway leading up to our bedroom. This was no skinny rubber snake placed as a practical joke; he was thick, very much alive, and very out of place in our house. I stood very still and weighed my options.

If Jain were to see our visitor, we might have to move! She is terrified of snakes. Large or small, poisonous or not – it doesn’t matter. I, however, am not afraid of snakes at all.
I know my poisonous from my non-poisonous, so I carefully grabbed Mr. Snake behind the head (thanks, Steve Irwin), released it into the bushes outside the front door, and then told Jain what happened. Together, we thoroughly searched the house from top to bottom for additional reptilian guests – twice! It took several hours for Jain to calm down, even though she had never actually seen the snake.

My Turn

Not 24 hours later, I was carrying a basket of craft supplies upstairs for my wife, when suddenly a silver dollar-sized wolf spider crawled out from among the papers and perched right on top of the stack, staring me down with its multiple evil beady eyes. I yelled, dropped the basket, and smashed the spider with I-have-no-idea-what-was-nearby-within-arm’s-reach. That basket could have had priceless family heirlooms in it and I still would have slammed it to the floor and clobbered it repeatedly. You see, I am afraid of spiders. They are the stuff of my nightmares.

Facing Phobias

Jain is afraid of snakes; I am afraid of spiders. While dangerous species do exist, we are very aware that our reactions to the ones that we might encounter in daily life are completely irrational. It would be cruel for me to demean Jain because of her fear of snakes, and it would be hypocritical and rude for her to tell me to “just get over it” when confronted by a spider. Instead, we give each other grace. We’ve learned to face and work through the fears together.

Emotional Spiders and Snakes

What then, about the fears that lurk in the attics of our minds and pop up on the stairways of life? What about my fear of failure? What about your fear of rejection? Or the fear of loneliness? Or the loss of control? These fears show up in places both common and unexpected and always at inconvenient times: an argument, a date, an important interview, a project deadline, during affection or sex, while driving to work or praying in church.

I am painfully aware that most of the conflicts in my present relationships grow out of irrational fears that I cling to (consciously or unconsciously). They may be grounded in genuinely hurtful encounters from the past, but have usually grown out of proportion to their origin. Unfortunately, these heightened fears can be triggered inappropriately by a shadow situation in the present. Just like the mind’s eye can see a twisted stick and perceive a snake, the reaction is real and immediate! My marriage is the microcosm where this is most apparent, but I see it in relationships with family, with friends, with my boss and even with complete strangers.

A Loving Plan of Action

These irrational fears, however irrational, are much more damaging than spiders and snakes. So we need to be open to facing them, dealing with them as they are, and moving through them into healthy communication and wholeness. The process starts with me giving you a lot of grace for your fears, because I certainly have mine.

So rather than judging each other, demeaning each other or patronizing each other, may we bear with each other in love, allow for each other’s faults, and forgive each other just as we long for forgiveness.

May we lovingly speak the truth, calling out our fears for what they are, confessing them to each other and encouraging each other in taking steps towards a fearless relationship.


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