update: I have a spider phobia — and my new boss has a giant spider model in her office

Remember the letter-writer who had a spider phobia and had just discovered a giant spider model on her boss’s desk? Here’s the update.

The day my letter was posted, Carolina moved into her new office. She decided to put her model directly in the window, so it very much so was on display. It was especially in the view of the greeting desk where I would have to work at on some days.

I had a coaching session with Emily that day, so I decided to bring up the issue then. However, before the coaching session, I was doing a task at the greeting desk and kept nervously glancing at the model. Carolina noticed I kept looking into her office, and came over to me to check if I wanted something from her.

I nervously blurted out the whole story: my fear of spiders, my plan to talk to Emily, my worries about how this might affect our discussions. Carolina very politely let me talk, and at the end told me, “I completely understand. I never would want to make you feel uncomfortable. There’s just one thing… That’s not a spider.”

She brought me into her office to take a closer look at the model. Indeed, it wasn’t a spider but rather a very large and weird looking beetle or something. Since the lights had been off in her office when I first saw the model, in the shadows and my haste to flee from the spider, I hadn’t looked closely and only thought it was a spider. I’m perfectly fine with beetles, and the whole thing ended up being a little embarrassing.

Carolina was very kind and understanding. We did then have a nice talk about what I should do if a situation like this were to occur, and that if there was anything I wanted to talk to her about, she was more than happy to listen. I also learned that while she may be the manager, my boss is really more Emily than her. There may be the occasional thing we deal with, but I’m pretty much reporting to Emily.

Thank you to everyone for all the advice. It really helped me structure the conversation I had with Carolina. And I’m very happy that I don’t have to actually stare at a giant spider all day.

{ 298 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Rainy

    I first read the top “you may also like” as “I have a spider phobia and my new boss is a spider” and can I just say I cannot stop laughing at the mental image. My whole day is brighter.

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    1. JB (not in Houston)

      That would put a whole new spin on the “I left my old job because of my boss and now my old boss might again become my boss” problem.

      Reply
    2. Bulbasaur

      You know, I’m kind of getting the feeling that you’re uncomfortable around me for some reason. Is it because I’m a spider?

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      1. Drew

        I just snorted loud enough that my colleague in the next office came to check on me.

        I told her I stifled a sneeze. It seemed best.

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        1. kitryan

          My sister’s sketch comedy troupe had a spider boyfriend sketch. Girl 1 invites her friends for drinks to meet the new BF, who is actually all spiders. One of the friends keeps asking if anyone else notices that new BF is actually a bunch of spiders while everyone else just asks where he works and so forth. It’s really funny. Link in name.

          Reply
      1. Hills to Die on

        Dear Ask a Mandible: my coworker’s webs are all over the place and I have to spend all day re-spinning them. Sometimes, I don’t even get to eat my own flies.

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        1. Bethany D

          Dear Ask A Mandible: I’m pretty sure that my coworker in the next webical has been wrapping a layer of his silk around my trapped flies and passing them off to our manager as his own work. What should I do?

          Reply
    3. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff

      I may be clique-y, but as long as she is glowy and puffy she can work with me.

      As a side remark, I also laughed loud reading this and my whole day is also glowyer; except that of course my office mate arrived in that very moment and I had to explain him everything…

      Reply
  2. Matilda Jefferies

    Aw, I love when people are reasonable. It’s not often that Alison gets to print letters like this. Thanks for the update! (And I am also glad you don’t have to share your office with a giant spider, model or otherwise.)

    Reply
  3. Dr. BOM

    This is probably the best case scenario. Not only was it a) not a spider, but b) you discovered that your boss’s boss is a reasonable person who takes your concerns seriously.

    Reply
  4. Ali G

    As a fellow spider-phobe I was cringing so hard for you during your first letter! I loved the part of this letter where you said you kept glancing over at it. I would SO do this – I want to make sure it’s still THERE and not near me!! Irrational fears will do that to you – I mean it could totally walk right over and plop itself down on your desk, right???
    Anyway, I am glad it all worked out and now you can relax at work.

    Reply
    1. Tin Cormorant

      It’s so irrational. I’m not even afraid they’re going to bite me, because they’re too small and logically not dangerous and want nothing to do with me anyway. The thing I’m most scared of is them appearing inches away from me without warning. The only solution is to stare at any spiders I see to make sure they’re not coming closer to me.

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        1. Leslie Hell Knope

          It’s never too late to get out of the shower (the bathroom, and the house) immediately (running, screaming, and towel all optional).

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      1. PhyllisB

        My phobia is mice. My family thinks it’s hilarious. Once one of my (funny??!!) kids decided to throw a gray thing on me that at a quick glance looked like a mouse. Well, I totally lost it. Hysteria and the whole nine yards. They were all shocked; they didn’t realize how serious I was. (They did promise to NEVER do anything like that again.)

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        1. PhyllisB

          I should have gotten my revenge on child that did this. She has a fear of spiders, and watched the movie Archnaphobia holding a can of insect spray. I thought about it, but could never do that to someone I love.

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      2. JOA

        It’s moths for me, and it’s not entirely irrational – I was at home alone one evening and randomly got attacked in the head by a big one (for northern Canada, at least). I’m fine with butterflies, or even moths that look like butterflies, but the unpredictable flying really creeps me out.

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      3. ZugTheMegasaurus

        My best friend is a huge 6’5″ dude, works construction, could toss a 100-lb. weight like it’s nothing. He’s TERRIFIED of bugs (mostly, . He once forced us to flee my tiny apartment in the middle of the night by emptying two entire cans of Raid at a centipede. The poison cloud was actually visible. And the centipede escaped.

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    1. fposte

      Yeah, I wasn’t sure if it was going to make a difference to the OP, especially once it had freaked her out, but I’m glad it did.

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      1. Dragoning

        It sounds like Carolina would’ve moved it if still bothered OP after discovering it wasn’t actually a spider–but who knows!

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    2. nnn

      That’s what I was thinking! When I got to the part where it’s a beetle, my visceral reaction is “WTF THAT’S JUST A TECHNICALITY!!”

      But I’m glad you’re totally okay with the situation, LW :)

      Reply
      1. Flash Bristow

        Yeah! It might only be a beetle, but it would now *remind* me of a spider.

        Great update though. Great resolution. A nice light hearted update for a Friday afternoon :)

        Reply
      2. MCMonkeyBean

        Yeah, it makes sense that it wouldn’t trigger arachnophobia but I still think it’s a really weird thing to have in your office and that it would probably bother a lot of people who might be too afraid to say anything to their boss.

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    3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

      I am personally scared of all arthropods (yes, this includes large crabs) so it being a beetle would not help at all.

      Reply
  5. Editor Person

    Oh god, beetle would be so much worse for me! I’m sure Carolina was acting in good faith but “c’mere and look closer at a hellbeast that is different from the horror you thought it was” would have backfired so hard.

    Reply
    1. Mystery Bookworm

      It sounds like she was responding to what OP was expressing, and OP said she has no problem with beetles, so it seems like a reasonable approach for the situation.

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    2. Lissa

      I imagine if the OP were also beetlephobic she’d have said so, and they’d have figured something out, so I don’t think it was the wrong thing to do just because it wouldn’t have worked in all cases. It was an offer, not “actually this isn’t a spider so I’m gonna surprise you with it!” which wouldn’t be great cause it might be all bugs, not just spiders. Phobias are so irrational and idiosyncratic that it doesn’t surprise me that this ended up working out all right here!

      Reply
  6. Gymmie

    Glad this worked out, but in my head I am thinking WTF why is there a giant model beetle that is prominently displayed? LOL

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    1. Not the Boss

      Probably for the same reason that I have a teaching model of a thyroid gland on my desk (and I’m not in medicine)- it’s cool and unusual and I like it.

      Reply
      1. Free Meerkats

        FirstWife (RIP) worked at a silicone prosthetic implant company before I met her. For the longest time after, she kept some testicular implants on her work desk whereever she was working. Simple, semi-solid ovoids of silicone. People would pick them up and use them as fidget toys. Very rarely did anyone ask what they were. But apparently the reactions when they did were regularly quite the show.

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    2. green

      We found a dried up long-dead bat in my office and my boss thought it was the bee’s knees. She bought a little glass bell jar off of Amazon and has it displayed on her desk. No one has freaked out about it yet but it’s gotten a lot of side eye.

      Reply
    3. Secretary

      My husband worked at a funeral home/mortuary, and the head embalmer had decorated her office with various animal taxidermy…

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      1. Nye

        How is a biological model any different from having a trinket in the office that recalls a hobby or interest something? I’d much see a cool beetle than a trite motivational poster or pic of someone’s softball league or whatever.

        Of course, I’m a biologist, so it’s perfectly professional to have preserved deep sea crabs or small mammal skeletons or other cool stuff in offices. One workplace had a model human skeleton that was posed and dressed up for holidays. Another workplace had an actual human skeleton, but that had its own case in the hallway and was treated respectfully.

        I guess my point is that if you work in an office that allows personal items, I don’t see why natural history objects should be somehow unprofessional.

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        1. MCMonkeyBean

          I don’t think it’s unprofessional but I do think it’s not a good idea because bugs are a really, really common thing for people to be afraid of. Meanwhile it’s much less likely that anyone would have a phobia of a signed baseball or whatever. Allowing personal items shouldn’t mean that literally anything is fair game. A giant beetle is obviously not on par with say a picture of your spouse.

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  7. bored_at_desk

    Can someone explain what it’s like to have an irrational phobia like this? What does it feel like? I’d like to have more sympathy (or empathy?) because I Do Not Get It, but suspect that’s not fair. My immediate reaction is that once the OP discovered that the exact same (never dangerous, not alive, in a case) object was a different kind of invertebrate, and then discovered that his/her fear was gone – wouldn’t that take away the fear of the spider, or at least really highlight how irrational it is? Once you know something is completely not grounded in reality, how can you still be afraid of it?

    Reply
      1. Bunny Girl

        Oh yeah thanks for linking that site. Now I’m broke. :)

        I’m interested to read people’s responses as well. I don’t really understand phobias (in a psychological sense, I am not putting down anyone who has one) and I absolutely adore spiders. I have a huge spider piece tattooed on one of my arms.

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        1. PhyllisB

          Well, as I said above, mine is mice. There is no rationale. I know they carry diseases, but I guess dogs and cats do, too. There is just some visceral reaction to PHOBIA that can’t be explained. My next door neighbor is that way about snakes. Now I’m not in love with them, but they don’t terrify me. The lady on the other side of us came home to a snake draped upon her threshold. She came and got neighbor because man, get the snake. He came over and asked me if I would take care of it. I walked over, poked it with a (long) stick and it slithered away. He returned the favor when I saw a mouse in the mouse trap and freaked out.

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      2. Wulfgar

        I love spiders. My husband screams for me when he seee one. I put them outside in the summer and in the unfinished basement in the winter. Spiders are people too.

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        1. Pomona Sprout

          You sound like my daughter. She loooves spiders! I take part of the credit, because I taught her not to fear them and that they are our friends in a way, because they eat a lot of awful creepy crawlies that we would not want to have around.

          I feel like I’m really lucky, because I’ve never been afraid of spiders or insects or other critters that dome people find terrifying (like snakes–I love them the way my daughter loves spiders, lol).

          The are very few critters I can think of off-hand that really freak me out. I don’t care for centipedes (there’s just something about all those hairy looking legs… *shudder* ). Scorpions scare me (but that’s because I know how dangerous they are). And then there’s this tiny hell beast called the bunny harvestman thst is the stuff of nightmares (google it to see what I mean). But most spiders? Meh.

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      3. TooTiredToThink

        I’m glad you asked this question – and in a very understanding way (at least in my opinion). I too have wondered why people are so terrified of spiders. But I do get having that panic response about things; so I do have that understanding. I know I recently had a panic attack about something and my brain completely and utterly froze up. I couldn’t think, process, or move. Someone had to give me instructions on what I needed to do next. Thankfully that person was very understanding about the whole thing too.

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    1. Rainy

      That’s honestly just not how phobias work. They really are irrational, which means they do not respond to logic AT ALL.

      I’m not afraid of spiders (or beetles), but my bff has a bee phobia and she just goes straight into a state of panic when she sees a honeybee. Many a stint on a sunny patio has been ruined by a stray bee curious about our sangria, and you can’t just say “look, here’s how bees work, you don’t need to worry”, because irrational fears don’t work like that.

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      1. bored_at_desk

        So what does it feel like to have a strong emotion and simultaneously know that it doesn’t make sense? Or do you not have the second part when you have the condition?

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        1. Rainy

          I think it’s worse for true phobics, because you know it doesn’t make sense, you know you’re being irrational, but you still can’t control it.

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          1. :-)

            This. I’m not fond of spiders either, especially the domestic house spider… It gives me the creeps.

            I can talk about them, no problem. But when I see them, my “flight” instinct kicks in, it’s indeed irrational but I cannot control it.

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          2. Jaydee

            Honestly? It’s embarassing as hell. Other people truly don’t understand, and since it’s an irrational fear the flight response is so disproportionate to the thing that others just roll their eyes and say to get over it. I would love to get over it.

            I am emetophobic (phobia of vomiting). I’m no longer phobic regarding the possibility of myself vomiting, but other people vomiting is a huge trigger. I have a kid, so when he’s sick I *have* to take care of him despite a steadily brewing panic attack and the very powerful urge to RUN AWAY FAR AWAY GO. But when my husband gets sick, I’m a wreck.

            I once slept on the floor in farthest room of our house away from our bedroom because it was the only place I couldn’t hear the sounds. And by “slept” I mean laid awake in hyper vigilant panic thinking through whether there were other viable options like sleeping in my car or going to Walmart in the middle of the night just to wander around because that would be somewhere else.

            In college I avoided people drinking not because I’m a teetotaler but because too much alcohol leads to vomiting. I’ve had to leave parties and gatherings to just go sit outside when someone was looking a little too drunk and green because my vision was going wonky and all my body could do was run away.

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        2. I'm A Little Teapot

          There really is no thought involved, you’re reacting on pure emotion, and the logical part of the brain just isn’t there. At least, for me.

          I have some fears that aren’t phobias, so I can logic with them, to a point. But there is a threshold after which the brain turns off the logic.

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          1. roisin54

            This. I’m afraid of birds, not to the point where images of them bother me, but still very much afraid of them. My reactions to one or more coming near me are involuntary for the most part. Depending on the circumstances, my fight-or-flight instinct will kick in and flight always wins.

            Two smallish birds managed to get into the library while I was at work one day. Despite my co-worker’s best efforts to keep them away from me (her mother-in-law is also afraid of birds so she understood) after about 90 minutes of them flying around and terrorizing me and causing me to make weird yelping noises and odd jerky movements, I eventually said “No. No. I can’t.” got up, and ran out of the room, leaving behind all of my work materials. I was only slightly embarrassed. I inherited this fear from my mother, so she understood my reaction completely.

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              1. roisin54

                Oh man, that letter made me cringe so much. I do have enough control over myself in situations where I encounter birds that I have never and would never do something that stupid. I scream and run away, I don’t push people.

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            1. Ralkana

              Yeah, I’m not fond of bugs, but once I have determined they are Not A Spider, I can deal with them more easily.

              That said, this solution of “it’s fine, it’s a beetle” would not work for me, esp if the model was right at the edge of my vision. I would spend all day going, “GAH! A SPIDER! oh, right, not a spider, a beetle…” over and over and over, and the adrenaline surges would not be great for my mental or physical health.

              Anything vaguely spider-like at the edge of my attention will cause this reaction in me. I have a shirt that has white sparkle shapes on it, and they look nothing like spiders. The only similarity is that they have eight prongs. I KNOW they aren’t spiders and yet every time I wear it, I catch myself glancing down at my shirt, just to be sure.

              Frankly, it’s a pain in the butt. But it’s not logical and I can’t think myself through it.

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            2. Yvonne

              I knew a woman once who was afraid of birds. I had no idea, though. Once we met up at a coffee shop and, while sitting on a bench outside chatting, a tiny bird about the size of a golf ball landed on the ground in front of her. To this day I’m not sure how it happened but one moment she was on my left and the next she was on my right. I had only the impression of a flurry of movement and I guess she somehow went behind me to get to the other side? It was like she teleported. Honestly I couldn’t stop laughing, not because she was afraid of that tiny bird but because she somehow defied all the laws of physics to get away from it. I don’t think she even really knew how she did it, she was laughing too once I understood and shooed the bird off.

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          2. The New Wanderer

            Exactly, for fears that aren’t quite phobias, you can control your reaction to some extent but there’s a point beyond which it’s just straight-up reaction. I have this with wasps/yellow jackets (live ones, photos don’t bug me *snort*). I’m totally fine with honeybees because they just do their thing, and sweat bees are kind of fun – they can land on me, I’m cool with it. But with yellow jackets it goes like this:
            It’s not going to hurt me.
            Okay, it’s still around but it’s not going to hurt me.
            It’s probably not going to hurt me.
            Why isn’t it going somewhere else?
            OH GOD GET AWAY!!

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        3. Gymmie

          I don’t have a phobia but really strong anxiety and I KNOW I am thinking irrationally and my body gets tense and nervous, but I can’t stop the thinking and physical reaction. The good thing is that by knowing it is irrational I don’t act out on it, although I really want to. (Like getting a friend’s voicemail and thinking that you did something terribly wrong and not being able to relax until they call you back – I don’t then go and call them and call them.)

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        4. fposte

          I definitely have the second part too (flying phobia, I know a lot about aviation). Do you have disgust or shock responses to compare it to? If you go across cultures, do people eat things that horrify you or make you gag? Does thinking about your parents or grandparents having sex gross you out?

          This may not get you very far if you tend to be analytical anyway, but sometimes it’s a workable analogue.

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        5. Dragoning

          It sucks.

          Knowing you’re being strongly emotional for a reason that makes absolutely no sense and you can’t do anything about it is one of the most powerless, helpless feelings in the world.

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        6. Fuzzy Pickles

          I usually only get the second part when I’m reflecting on my responses. The conflict is very frustrating to me… kinda goes logic, logi- BUT WHAT IF!! Almost like the emotions are screaming over the indoor voice logic.

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          1. Hills to Die on

            This is the first explanation I have read that helps me to understand phobias (toally not judging, just havne’t experienced that). I certainly have my own hang-ups but I have driven home from work so many times trying to understand this. It makes so much more sense now. Thank you!

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          2. Not Paul Hollywood

            I described this to my therapist as my logical brain and my illogical brain. Before I started anti-anxiety medication, my illogical brain could always shout louder and longer than my logical brain. Now my logical brain can at least get a word in edgewise.

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          3. Not Paul Hollywood

            I described this to my therapist as my illogical brain and my logical brain. Before medication, my illogical brain could shout louder and longer than my logical brain all the time. Now that I’m on anti-anxiety meds, my logical brain can at least get a word in edgewise.

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        7. ElspethGC

          Depending on whether or not you’ve ever had hormones that do this to you, and you’re lucky if you haven’t – I remember very clearly that during puberty (and during unforunate months even now) I had/have very irrational irritation. Ever had that? Where you know logically that the person isn’t actually doing anything wrong, but *oh* my *god* they’re just so *annoying* and everything they do makes me want to punch them in the *face*. And it’s like, I know that they’re doing nothing wrong. Nothing different to a normal day. It’s all on me and my irrational emotions. That’s why I take myself off for some quiet time and avoid having to human for a while. But knowing that they’re doing nothing wrong doesn’t stop an incredible wave of irritation and genuine anger every time they do the thing, even if the thing is just *existing*.

          I know that being angry about my housemates talking or eating or quietly laughing at videos is stupid, and I know that it’s irrational and doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I take action to remove myself from that situation before I do or say something I’ll regret. But knowing it’s a stupid emotion doesn’t stop it from being an emotion, and it doesn’t stop said emotion from colouring my words and actions. I don’t have a phobia, but I’d imagine that the logical disconnect is similar. Yes, I know it’s irrational, but it doesn’t stop it from existing.

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          1. bored_at_desk

            OHH this is good too. Because this, this I totally get and you describe the experience and reaction and internal arguing with yourself perfectly.

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            1. Envy Adams

              I get that with PMS as well! Also with being tired. Honestly it really feels like my boyfriend is just *extra* annoying at night time, even though my logical brain knows that doesn’t make any sense, he’s not acting any differently to usual!

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        8. Hapless Bureaucrat

          It’s really a panic attack for me, at its worst. Heart pounding, frozen in terror, ears buzzing, possibly sobbing. Other people saying it’s just a June Bug… I hear it and on some level believe it but can’t assimilate the information. My head translates that to IT’S A GODDAMN JUNE BUG GETITOFF… and then afterwards I feel awkward. But it’s not something my body easily learns not to fear.
          I spent years with my bug phobia getting progressively worse to the point that trying to eat crab legs was a subtle psychological torture. I spent more years deliberately trying to get better by shadowing a bee keeper on the grounds that my reaction to bees wasn’t bad and exposure therapy might help. (Which it did… my worst reactions are confined to large beetles now I can live with everything else.)
          But a moderate reaction is still the mental equivalent of holding my hand under too hot water. It takes a lot of effort to keep calm.
          Oddly, btw, I’m fond of spiders. We’re friends. Especially big ones. But then, they eat bugs.

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        9. JSQ

          Does it help to know that your brain, by design, actually shuts down logical thinking and reasoning when confronted with extreme fear? A person with a spider phobia experiences being confronted with a spider as extreme danger. This causes your brain to activate the limbic system, flooding the body with adrenaline and cortisol, which triggers flight/fight/freeze. You literally cannot think rationally when this response has been triggered, and for a good reason. This response is designed to keep you alive and taking time to think rationally when confronted with a serious threat is not helpful–you need to be able to act. It doesn’t matter whether your response is logical, because logic has been bypassed in order to keep you safe from a real or perceived threat.

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        10. That Would be a Good Band Name

          I can only speak for myself. I also have a spider phobia. I can tell you that I know it’s ridiculous and I can laugh at myself when there is no spider present. But in the moment, it’s just panic. There is no rational thought. For example, I recently went to pull back the curtains and a LARGE orb weaver was outside the window. I full on panicked. Now I realize that this sounds silly. It was outside and the window was closed. It probably took me a full 10 minutes to recover enough to be able to go find my spider killer (aka my husband) and tell him that I nearly died and to take care of it. Again, at this point I know that’s not true, I still wasn’t completely rational. During the 10 minutes of panic time, I was having a hard time breathing and was sitting on the edge of the bed holding my chest because I thought my heart was going to come out of it. Sometimes I hold my breath, obviously not for 1o minutes, but there have been times when I’ve had people in my face screaming at me to BREATHE when I’ve seen a spider.

          Also, I’m not the LW, but I would still have a hard time with the model. If it looks spider-y from a distance my brain is going to register spider every time and I’ll have a small moment (long enough for my breathing and heart rate to increase) before my brain can kick in and remind me that it’s a beetle. I really struggled with the spider decorations that my coworkers put up for halloween. But I only had to see them briefly on my way to my office, and I could remind myself they were going to be there so that helped. It would be something like the LW described where you are sitting at your work space and it catches your eye. No matter how much I remind myself it’s there, it’s still going to “surprise” me because of the random, intermittent timing of when I’m seeing it.

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        11. jenavira

          For me it’s a physical reaction as much as anything. I can be sitting there telling myself, “you know this is fake and it is impossible for it to hurt you,” but that doesn’t stop the clawing feeling in my stomach or the muscles tightening in the back of my neck.

          (Not a spider or bug phobia. No, I’m afraid of T H E V O I D. I had a panic attack watching the trailer for Gravity. Am I ever going to be cut adrift in the endless vacuum of space? Hell no, but that doesn’t stop the reaction when I think about it too hard.)

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          1. Relly

            Sometimes late at night I try to wrap my mind around the concept of infinity and eternity and beginnings and endings, and how meaningless those terms become if something can actually be infinite, and partway through I start hyperventilating. I have never been able to explain why coherently.

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            1. Magnets

              Ooh yes, me too. It’s always when I’m about to fall asleep too when my brain just goes “lets contemplate infinity and death for a bit” and then I’m all awake and clammy

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        12. Nerdling

          It sucks. Your body is usually having a physical reaction to the thing you’re phobic of, which tends to mean adrenaline rushes your system, your heartrate accelerates, and your fight/flight/freeze reaction often gets activated. Your lizard brain often screams, “RED ALERT! DEFCON 5! GET OUT!” while your more rational thinking brain is going, “Y’all, relax, it’s just a granddaddy longlegs; even if it wanted to bite us, its teeth are far too tiny to puncture the skin. *pauses and waits for response from lizard brain but just gets Alexander Hamilton in “10 Duel Commandments” so goes Aaron Burr* Okay, I guess we’re doing this.” Only that all happens in a flash and at the same time, and afterward you need a stiff drink to calm your poor blood pressure.

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        13. Archaeopteryx

          It’s a little similar to psychosomatic pain or a hallucination in that way- just because you know it’s “in your head” and aren’t confused about what is real, that doesn’t make you stop experiencing it.

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        14. animaniactoo

          I’m afraid of thunder. Not the lightning part that can kill you. That’s beautiful. No, it’s the thunder.

          Mostly, I laugh at myself. Unless it’s a thunderstorm. And then I’m hiding under the covers if possible on the phone to somebody who knows and gets me and is okay with the fact that I’m a crackpot.

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        15. Common Welsh Green

          The whole problem with phobias is they don’t make any sense at all, and it’s not possible to logic yourself out of them. When I see a spider, my entire attention becomes focused on it, and I can’t rest until it’s gone – not just dead, it must be smashed, obliterated, unrecognizable worm food. On the other hand, I find snakes fascinating, I enjoy handling bats (zoo docents get some great opportunities), and I relish small, dark, closed-in spaces. I think everybody has something, and unlike the heart, the brain doesn’t want what the brain doesn’t want.

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        16. MM

          I’m afraid of heights. I don’t have it as bad as some people, but significant enough to make it out of the norm and irrational.

          Say you slip on the stairs, almost fall, and catch yourself. Your stomach probably gets a lurch, and in addition to that, for me, the soles of my feet suddenly start tingling and prickling (I understand not everybody experiences that sensation.) But I don’t have that physical sensation only when I actually almost fall down! I have it when I look over the edge of a height; I have it when I *watch a movie character climb something tall*. I have a physiological reaction even when what’s causing it is a) not real and b) not anywhere close to affecting me physically!

          Now, part of why I say I don’t have it as bad as some people is that while I may squirm in that situation, stay back from the edge if there is one, or cover my eyes (or, on one memorable occasion during Mission: Impossible: III, basically try to crawl into my father’s lap because I simply could not watch Tom Cruise clinging to the outside of the Bourj Khalifa any longer and had to get away from that concept–I was in my early 20s), I generally don’t actually freeze. I have frozen once or twice climbing down from a height, but I am usually able to push through it and do what I need to do. But to do so I have to focus with life-or-death concentration on what I’m doing with my hands and feet, and when it’s over I will be shaky, exhausted, and basically wrung out from the adrenaline surge I had to push through to manage.

          I know this isn’t rational. I wasn’t even always afraid of heights, and there was no traumatic experience that made me that way. I did gymnastics as a little kid, and had a great time on the high-up rings…until one day, suddenly, for no apparent reason at all, I did *not* have a great time up there. I froze, in fact. (I was six, so my ability to separate my conscious choices from my body’s fear signals was not so well-developed as it is in adulthood.) I literally remember the day that this happened and how it came as a complete surprise. This knowledge makes absolutely no difference to the physiological response, nor can I make that response go away mentally. I can work *through* it (and some people, as noted, can’t), but it will happen regardless. If my job asked me to deal with heights on a regular basis I would quit. It’s neither practical nor healthy to subject myself to that kind of autonomic fear response with frequency, even though I can manage most of the time.

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        17. Sarah

          I don’t have a phobia, but I have had panic attacks, and it’s kind of like there is a part of your brain talking at a normal volume that everything is fine, while there is a part of your brain shouting at a much louder volume that everything is NOT OK. The shouting part of your brain gets more attention, because it’s shouting.

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        18. MCMonkeyBean

          Even without phobias, I think lots of people can have emotions that they know logically don’t make sense.
          I’m both very logical and also very emotional so there are plenty of times I feel really upset about something while knowing it’s really not a big deal, especially when I’m PMS-ing. It’s certainly not as extreme as a phobia but still frustrating to have that dichotomy. There have been lots of times that I’m crying and I have to tell my husband to just ignore the fact that I’m crying because I know that whatever made me cry is not a big deal. Then sometimes I feel so embarrassed about the emotions I’m feeling that don’t make logical sense which makes me even more upset and even more likely to cry.

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        19. TiffanyAching

          My understanding is that phobias are similar to an anxiety disorder, in that the irrationality of the fear/anxiety are what makes it a disorder — if the fear were rational, it wouldn’t be a phobia. As someone with generalized anxiety and panic disorders, one of the most frustrating parts is knowing that it’s absolutely irrational, and not being able to stop anyway. So imagine a time when you were really afraid (like scared for your life/physical safety kind of afraid), and then imagine that in addition to the terror, you also feel irritation/disgust/embarrassment at yourself for being unable to be rational.

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        20. Chinookwind

          I am one with a phobia for heights that I try really, really hard not to hold me back. My head wants to do something but my body refuses to follow any commands. Here are a couple of situations:
          – Tried walking on the glass floor of the CN Tower (emphasis on “tried”). I was shaking the entire time we were up there and couldn’t get near the windows to look and had to close my eyes going up the elevator with the glass door. I have a picture of myself crawling onto the glass floor because I intellectually wanted to see what it looks like through the floor but my legs would not move.
          – Took a group of grade 8’s on an adventure camping trip and did rope climbing, rock climbing and walking down the sides of the contraption without much issue as I was moving up and not down. But, when we got to the zipline, my legs wouldn’t move near the edge to go. I had about 20 of my students go past me twice before another kid, who was equally scared, agreed to try it if I did it. Teacher brain kicked in, overrode scared legs and we both went down (to many cheers).
          -Tower of Terror at Disney. DH wanted to go (but was willing to skip it because of me) and I figured that it wouldn’t be bad as I couldn’t see the ground and I was okay on all the coasters there. I had no issues until the safety belt closed and the operator went to close the doors. I don’t know what I said but operator released me and I was escorted to a bench too catch my breath, stop shaking and calm down. DH came off the ride (which I insisted he stay on because we were already there) and said I would have hated it. I am still jealous he got to experience it, though.

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        21. Kelsi

          What does it feel like to be able to logic your emotions into what you want them to be?

          I’m not being facetious, I’m genuinely curious. Like, does it only work when there’s one obvious path of logic (i.e. this thing is dead and obviously can’t hurt me)? Or like, can you reason yourself out of feeling something even when there are multiple perspectives (this thing is alive and capable of hurting me, but on the other hand, the statistics say that 9 times out of 10 the bite causes no pain/swelling/complications and it’s not currently coming after me)?

          I’ve never been able to change ANY of my emotions by the application of logic–which is not to say that all of my emotions are illogical, but unless you’re presenting me with NEW information I didn’t already have, it doesn’t change things. If I’m afraid, the way to stop being afraid is for the scary situation to be resolved, not to try and persuade myself it’s not actually scary. (Sometimes the way it’s resolved is that I face the fear for long enough to handle it myself–like the time recently when I had to force myself to carry a dead mouse to the garbage–but that doesn’t mean the fear goes away, not until after it’s resolved!)

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        1. Rainy

          Nope. Just hates and fears them.

          I’m allergic to wasps and I go into full on panic when I see a wasp near me, but it’s also the case that the panic hormones reduce the severity of the reaction if I’m stung, so I know I’m being ridiculous but I also know that my extreme emotional response is trying to save my life.

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          1. Drew

            I am not allergic to wasps, but I was stung right on the finger by one when I was a young Drewlet and it stuck with me (pun intended). I am getting better about controlling my immediate panic reaction when there’s one in the vicinity, but the panic is still there. You can best believe that I will be paying attention to where that wasp goes until it is FAR away from me.

            (Don’t even ask about the time I nearly pitched myself off a 20-foot balcony because I walked outside and a wasp flew from the nest I didn’t know was above the door and landed ON ME.)

            I know a wasp sting will hurt for a while and then it’s done. And I know it won’t kill me, because I’m not allergic. None of that matters in the moment when my limbic system is screaming “WASP! WAAAAASSP!”

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            1. londonedit

              I also have a phobia of wasps. Bees to some extent, but it’s mainly wasps because bees generally don’t bother you and will go away. Wasps get IN YOUR FREAKING FACE and won’t leave you the heck alone.

              Like all phobias it is irrational (I mean, yes, wasps can hurt you, but it’s unlikely and I’m not allergic to wasp or bee stings) and it doesn’t matter how many times people say ‘It’s just a wasp! It’s not going to hurt you! Just sit still! It’s fine!’, I cannot help the fact that my body’s response is to get up and get the hell away from the evil flying thing. My heart races, I’m absolutely terrified and my only thought is to get as far away as possible. I literally punched a car window this summer because a wasp landed on my arm as I was about to get in the car. It’s extremely embarrassing in the summer – many a pleasant lunchtime in a pub garden has turned into a drama because there have been wasps that just will not leave the damn food alone, and I especially can’t deal with it if I feel like I don’t have an escape route (for instance if I’m sitting in the middle of a load of people at a table and can’t easily get up and run away). Friends with kids have scolded me for ‘making their children think there’s something to be afraid of’ – again, I cannot control my response! I try my best to sit there and panic in silence while every fibre of my body is screaming RUN RUN RUN RUN, but it’s not pleasant.

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      2. Mrs. Fenris

        I’m terrified of bees/wasps, but I submit that it’s not an irrational phobia. I grew up in the country in a warm climate, and I’ve been stung by everything that stings. It hurts like hell and you can’t always see them coming.

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        1. Rosemary

          I also submit that it’s not irrational. My cousin showed me a wasp nest that had been built under the porch when I was young, and even though I was perfectly, perfectly still, two wasps landed on my ring finger and stung me anyways. None of them stung her, even though she’d been out staring at them longer than me. So I feel I have hard proof that wasps are not logical, and also I’ve already tried the ‘just ignore them, they won’t hurt you’ and it FAILED MISERABLY, so… yes I’m going to run, you can’t stop me.

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      3. Sarah

        I have to explain to my roommate every now and then “You can’t out-logic fear.” Phobias do not care about logic, they don’t care about reason, they just ARE and they can be extreme. Mine isn’t as bad as the OP’s, but a huge model of a spider would definitely make me uncomfortable and I would know that I was being irrational (because: it’s a model, even if it weren’t, it’s not alive and creeping around), but it would absolutely interfere with my productivity and my willingness/ability to go to Carolina with questions because I would not want to be anywhere near That Thing. It would feel like…maybe closer to having to crawl into the wreckage of a car crash to have a discussion with my boss. Like, sure, the damage has been done and everything is stagnant and can’t hurt me, but it doesn’t mean the idea of it all wouldn’t make me a little queasy. For the OP I imagine it would be more like knowing that you have to get into a car that will crash into a wall and probably kill you every time you have to ask your boss something like, “Where do we store those reports again?” She might be able to tell herself it’s illogical, but her body will treat it that way regardless of the facts of the situation.
        But a beetle isn’t the same thing so it doesn’t trigger the same fear response. A beetle is just a weird bug with a hard shell and isn’t going to like…well, I’ll save the nightmare scenarios. But going with the car crash analogy, it would be like walking past a parked car in a parking lot.

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    2. Eirene

      I have a completely unfounded phobia that everyone thinks is very funny because it is completely unfounded, and I am well aware that it is completely unfounded, because they don’t exist: zombies.

      I don’t have panic attacks every time I see an ad for The Walking Dead, but I cannot spend more than a few seconds looking at a photo/video of them before the alarms in my head start blaring and I feel the need to remove myself from the situation. (It made the few times I attended New York Comic Con really, really uncomfortable; I had to contend with random hired zombie cosplayers and giant banners of rotting undead people everywhere I turned, and is part of the reason I’ve never gone back.) I wind up with serious, vivid nightmares anytime I do. I really don’t know where it came from. I wasn’t exposed to zombie movies at an impressionable age or anything like that. It’s not that I’m afraid so much as my brain goes NOPE THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE AND IT IS THEREFORE UPSETTING. It’s called an irrational phobia because I can’t just reason my way out of it, even though I know zombies aren’t real and therefore nothing to worry about.

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      1. bored_at_desk

        Wow, that’s super fascinating. So I can see having the initial “AHH scary” moment, almost like being startled, but when you tell yourself in your head, “Look, I know and believe that this zombie is not a real walking dead person and this person in a zombie costume isn’t going to eat me” – doesn’t the fear – go away?

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        1. curly sue

          Nope. It’s spiders for me, and it’s full-on limbic node fight-or-flight. My primal brain is absolutely convinced that there is a true and imminent threat of my life underway, and the survival instincts kick in. There’s no rationalizing it down, though I have confronted spiders if my kids are around. Apparently parenting instinct does trump ‘SPIDER WILL EAT ME’ in some circumstances.

          We won’t talk about the 2-minute mile I did away from the clown creeping up on me in the local haunted house.

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        2. Goya de la Mancha

          That’s the theory with exposure therapy…but it doesn’t always work like that. I might lessen the reaction, but the fear/thought is always back there and needs to be quieted before it takes over and runs away with your imagination.

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        3. Eirene

          I mean, it sort of does? I know in the moment I’m being silly and irrational. I don’t run away screaming or knocking people into the paths of moving cars or anything, but I freeze and hope “it” doesn’t notice me or want to interact with me in any way. I do suspect that part of my phobia stems from a general squeamishness about human corpses, as I don’t really do super well at open-casket funerals either (but again I control myself and limit how close I get to said casket), and there’s a piece of my lizard brain that sees dead people upright and somewhat sentient and just cannot handle it.

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        4. Not Paul Hollywood

          Logic: Zombies aren’t real, there’s no reason to be so scared of them.
          Illogic: THEY ARE TERRIFYING. LOOK AT THEM. THEY WILL EAT YOU.
          Logic: Calm down. They’re not real. Why are you freaking out?
          Illogic: BECAUSE LOOK AT THEM. JESUS CHRIST HOW ARE YOU NOT PANICKING?
          Logic: Because they’re not real?
          Illogic: BUT WHAT IF THEY ARE?
          Logic: But they’re not.
          Illogic: BUT WHAT IF THEY ARE? WHAT IF THEY ARE?
          Logic: Oh god, you might be right. What if they are real? I mean, they’re not, but what if they are? What if this time they’re real? Oh mY GOD AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

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        5. KTM

          It really doesn’t. I consider myself a super logical person – I’m an engineer with an advanced degree. I make life and financial decisions based (mostly…) on completely rational and well thought out arguments. I completely recognize that my phobia is irrational. I have had internal conversations with my brain saying ‘this is not actually scary, there is nothing bad about this situation, you are completely safe, this is a complete overreaction’ and it really doesn’t do anything. I still have a physical reaction where my body is freaking out and I get short of breath and feel woozy. I get mad at my body and brain because they are not making sense or being cohesive with reality. I simply can’t help it, it’s dumb.

          Reply
          1. KTM

            I’ll also mention that I don’t typically have any sort of anxiety or things like that. I’m a super functional normal person if you met me! It’s just… super specific and bizarre.

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        6. else

          Phobias aren’t like that. There’s no room for thought, or if there is, there’s no impact from it on the physical response. That’s why they’re so upsetting – there is an involuntary PHYSICAL response that includes tachycardia, trouble breathing, shaking, sometimes fainting, etc. That stuff is alarming and makes it really hard to think. I seriously think some people are just born with a response like this to snakes/spiders/whatever, and others just have the tendency until triggered, and then they’re stuck with it. There are some thought exercises that CAN help – I managed an escalator phobia down to a functional level that way – but in my experience that only works if you deliberately set out to do them. Like, you have to plan to deliberately encounter the object of horror for a long time before you can deal with spontaneous encounter.

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          1. Relly

            My spider phobia got better not for any rational or sane reason, but because one time while I was panicking, my cat wandered up and started eating it.

            So I’ve decided that my cats are sacred guardians who will protect me from spiders. This works even when I’m not at home. That spider can’t get me; the cats will eat it first. I know that’s illogical, but so is the phobia, so screw it.

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        7. SarahTheEntwife

          Nope! I can’t watch horror movies for this reason. In a way, I think the fact that it’s *completely* irrational makes it harder to logic my way out of it. I’m mildly phobic of spiders, but I know they’re not harmful and I can sit myself down and focus on how they’re nifty and useful and look at its cute little eyes etc. But if my brain is freaked out about zombies, some lizard-brain part of me is sure that they exist and are a threat, and so no explanation that they don’t really exist is going to convince it.

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      2. Project Manager

        Yep, same here. I will have horrible nightmares if I read or watch anything about zombies. Just cannot stand them.

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      3. ElspethGC

        There might actually be a rational-ish explanation for the zombie one. A friend has a collection of phobias and phobia-adjacent dislikes (not so bad they trigger a panic attack, but it takes a lot of talking-down, and they’re more phobia-y if they’re a surprise.) This collection consists of clowns, overly lifelike mannequins like waxworks, gas masks, and dolls. (That school trip through a WWII exhibition that had wax mannequins wearing gas masks was *super* fun. They’re the two lesser ones, so we walked through with me guiding her while she very determinedly counted the wires on the ceiling.) And there’s actually a reason for such an odd collection.

        Basically, have you heard of the uncanny valley? Where something looks right, but we just know that it’s *wrong*? Bad CGI does a very good job of it. That’s what her brain does. She sees something that part of her brain recognises as human, but a significant chunk of her brain is simultaneously screaming “THAT IS NOT HUMAN JFC THAT IS WRONG”. It’s simultaneously too close and too far from human for her brain to rationalise it. With zombies, it could be that your brain is simultaneously going “Yes, this is a human” and “No, that is definitely not human, that’s not right, that’s not human, it’s all wrong” and it just…short-circuits.

        If that is the case, you’re not scared of zombies because you’re actually scared that the undead are going to rise again and kill you; you’re scared of zombies because your brain rightfully recognises that they’re not human but also just a little too close to human for comfort and therefore wrong and bad and nope.

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        1. Dankar

          A lot of phobias correspond to things that were, bad, wrong or dangerous when these hardwired responses were being ingrained in the human brain. Corpses (and zombies, by extension) and vomit were evidence of some deadly disease, for instance. Bugs and spiders were venomous, etc. etc.

          The most common phobia is apparently public speaking, though, so the theory breaks down a bit there. I guess it was the danger of embarrassing oneself to death..?

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          1. jenkins

            Well, I guess when you are heavily interdependent on your small group of cave, um, colleagues and you are all a few missed meals/one angry mammoth away from death, you REALLY don’t want to make a social misstep and be shunned – so doing a potentially embarrassing thing is dangerous, maybe? (I have no knowledge of any of this.)

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          2. nonegiven

            I thought the public speaking one was more of a predator/prey thing. You have EVERYONE’s attention, all eyes are on you. I have felt this, all the eyes on me. Felt it on my skin.
            I have suddenly felt eyes on me and turned and found someone looking at me. First grade is the first time I noticed it. I kept rubbing the back of my neck because it was making me uncomfortable, then I finally turned and my teacher was right behind me looking down. It was creepy.
            When I was in middle school I tried it (staring) on a stranger in a restaurant. He rubbed his neck twice and the third time he turned. It’s the predators having their eyes on us, somehow we are able to sense it because when we were living in caves, we needed to know they were focused on us even when we didn’t know they were there. It’s an instinctive response.

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        2. Eirene

          That is a great point and one I had never even thought of. I’m not the best in wax museums, either. During a 5th grade class trip to Gettysburg, I realized – to my sudden and overwhelming horror – that they’d added some small mechanisms to a few of the wax dummies to make them a little more “lifelike.” Only my lizard brain interpreted this as “THESE ARE PEOPLE” and I ran screaming from a tableau of Clara Barton nursing a wounded soldier, because the soldier had been rigged to look like he was breathing. At least I wasn’t the only one who did; another classmate freaked out too and ran with me.

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      4. TooTiredToThink

        Don’t worry – I’d be in the corner with you, having a panic attack too. For me its not so much the fear of *them* but I am an HSP, so its the blood, guts, death; etc… that gets to me.

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    3. pants

      The best way I can explain it is that it’s entirely an adrenal/physiological response – the thing doesn’t make you afraid in the sense of being worried or nervous (which is largely mental) but instead triggers a heart-pounding, skin-crawling, fight-or-flight response. I’d think of it mostly as a kind of mental allergy – thing x makes my body do y unpleasant thing.

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      1. bored_at_desk

        Seriously thanks all for these comments, it really is helpful. Having an initial, immediate physiological response makes sense to me – our brains do weird things. The allergy metaphor is a good one. It does still seem to me, though, like something you could work through or train within yourself with long-term exposure – or, once the initial reaction abated, talk yourself through “It’s not a real spider, it is fake” and change the reaction. I guess exposure therapy is a thing, right?

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        1. Rainy

          Exposure therapy is a thing that should only be administered by a professional trained in exposure therapy, and even then it doesn’t work for everything and is definitely not indicated for some people.

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        2. DecorativeCacti

          Exposure therapy is a thing and can definitely help people get over their phobias. For a lot of people, they don’t seek treatment because the phobia isn’t severe enough to say, make you push someone in front a moving car and break their arm. Also, you feel absolutely ridiculous about it because you do know it’s irrational but that makes you think that if you sought help, you would be laughed at.

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        3. Bulbasaur

          I think of it as the ‘caveman brain’ (which is actually a pretty good metaphor for what’s going on – deep-seated fears originate in the amygdala, which handles things below the level of rational thought like fight-or-flight responses, and can override higher brain functions when it kicks in). If caveman brain sees something large with big teeth approaching from just outside the circle of firelight, it’s getting us out of there ASAP. Rational brain will have to wait its turn – listening to it might delay us by a fraction of a second, and in these situations fractions of a second can be the difference between life and death.

          Usually the first thing people need to do to work on it is find a way to deal with the physical symptoms, similar to meditation or biofeedback. That’s usually something physiological or tactile – you’re looking to slow your heart rate and breathing, control adrenalin production and so on. It’s why kids look for hugs/cuddles from their parents when they’re frightened. Once you’ve done that you reach a point where you are able to disengage caveman brain, at which point you become capable of responding to rational thought again. Thought patterning can work at this stage, but first you need to reach it, and that means soothing caveman brain using conditions that it can understand.

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        4. Avyncentia

          Yeah, you CAN talk yourself out of it and I’m pretty sure that’s what LW is doing. But first you have to realize that you’re having an irrational reaction. Depending on the circumstance, it can be difficult or take a while to get to that step.

          The second problem is that if the trigger for the irrational reaction is CONSTANTLY THERE, then you need to keep repeating the trigger–>recognition–>coping cycle. It’s exhausting.

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        5. Gen

          One way to look at it is a faulty flight/fight/freeze response. I have PTSD and a phobia of spiders. Because of my trauma the sound of a shop tannoy chime sends me into a panic- 99.999% of the time it’s a manager summoning a cashier, but once in my past it was the police ordering an evacuation just before a bomb went off. Rationally I know that’s unlikely to ever happen again, but the caveman part of my brain that wants to keep me alive hears it and sends my body into flight mode faster than rational thought can happen. My heart is pounding before the chimes have even finished. I don’t work in retail, I hear shop tannoys less than once a month and it has taken me decades to train myself not to flee the building. Spiders in my country are almost never deadly and rarely even bother to bite, but their alien appearance and learning at a young age that some can kill you led my brain to label them as a Threat.

          If you think about it in species development terms cavemen that saw something tiger shaped and ran away every time probably reproduced more than the ones who waited to see if it actually was a tiger. Not very useful now. There’s a theory that’s why some cats are scared of cucumbers, a deep instinctive distrust of snake-like objects.

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        6. beth

          Exposure therapy is a thing. But it’s not as simple as just walking up to the thing and going “Oh, well, now that I’ve been exposed to it, I’m cured!” It’s a long process that requires medical supervision and professional management, not to mention a lot of mental and emotional energy on the part of the patient.

          It also doesn’t work for everyone, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s a “gets worse before it gets better” deal; sometimes it doesn’t get better at all, even when you’re doing everything ‘right’. Like many mental health treatments, it works great for some people, but it’s not a cure-all.

          Whether an individual goes for it depends on a lot of factors–what their reaction is like, how often they encounter their trigger, whether they have the resources to seek treatment, etc.

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          1. Dankar

            I’ve seen a number of AAM commenters suggest exposure therapy (see infamous bird phobia letter), but this is an excellent rebuttal. I probably do encounter my phobia often enough that I should look into exposure therapy, but there’s a non-zero chance that it will have no effect, or worse, a negative one. It’s not a guaranteed cure by any means.

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            1. CupcakeCounter

              My mom attempted to “cure” my phobia of snakes by signing me up to work as a junior zookeeper once. I had horrific nightmares for months because of the 6ft Burmese python with NO FREAKING EYELIDS – that was a snake fact I really did not need to know.
              I made sure to wake her up each and every time I had a nightmare.
              She did not sign me up the next year. I still am very afraid of snakes (can’t even see photos without a reaction).

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              1. Kathleen_A

                See, I like snakes – I mean, I don’t go around petting rattlers or anything, but generally, I like them a lot.

                But moths? Brrrrrrr. One fluttering around outdoors some distance away is fine, but they get in your *face* and they skitter around in the *air* right by your *face* and that fluffy stuff they have on their wings brushes *off* and sometimes there’s only one which is kind of OK but other times there are several or *dozens* and…

                Toooooootally irrational. But there it is.

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              2. beth

                That’s not even exposure therapy! I swear, people hear that term and just think “Oh, exposure cures phobias, great, let’s just expose you to the thing then!” It never seems to occur to them that if you know you have a phobia of something, obviously you’ve been exposed to it at least once or twice before, and yet that hasn’t cured you.

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        7. Rosemary

          For me, my (mild) arachnophobia presents more as very vivid imaginings of worst-case scenarios. It’s kind of similar to, say… if you have the best sex of your life, the next time you see that person you might have a vivid, physiological flashback. Or if you’ve been in a bad car accident, you’ll have vivid flashbacks, etc. Except I’m not vividly remembering things that actually happened, but rather what [i]might[/i] happen.

          So I see a spider across the room and my brain goes WHAT IF IT JUST POPPED UP NEXT TO YOU SUDDENLY OR DROPPED DOWN FROM THE CEILING IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE OR YOU JUST LOOKED DOWN AND SUDDENLY IT WAS CREEPING ACROSS YOUR ARM and now I am imagining these things happening so vividly that it’s like they actually are. I watch a spider move and now my brain is vividly telling me what it might feel like to have those legs prickle across my skin, and hey, since we’re thinking about it being on my skin, the bite will probably be like a hard pinch (because Phobia says all spiders definitely bite, for sure, absolutely), and now let’s imagine bug toxin being released into my bloodstream and how incredibly unsettling, violated, and contaminating that would feel. Oh and also probably the bite will necrotize and now the doctors will have to cut out a chunk of my rotting flesh.

          Logically none of this really makes sense, but my brain is basically providing PTSD flashbacks for things that haven’t actually happened.

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        8. Mockingdragon

          Regularly scheduled chiming in as a person who can’t “change the reaction” even for less fight-or-flight things. I went to five or six CBT therapists and a handful of other doctors before finally coming to the conclusion that my brain just doesn’t have the switch that lets me consciously control my thoughts or emotions. I have more control these days over the physical expressions, but not everyone has the capability to think themselves out of a feeling, even a low-stakes one.

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    4. Jessen

      I sometimes think of it as the emotional version of an allergy. I may know that grass pollen is not in fact a danger to my body, but some bit of my body has decided that it is a problem and there’s not a huge amount I can do about that. Phobias are kind of like that – I may understand that I’m in no danger, but some brain bit has decided to fire off anyway. You can get exposure therapy just like you can get allergy shots, but you can’t just switch it off.

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      1. Ann O'Nemity

        I like the allergy analogy. To me, it’s like a biological issue that has no connection to rational thought. You can’t rationalize an allergy away.

        I have a mild case of trypophobia, which is a fear or disgust of closely-packed holes. (Some say it’s not even a real phobia.) Anyway, whenever I see closely-packed holes, especially when the holes are partially filled, I get these weird feelings. I’m not scared but I’m disgusted, my skin crawls, I have sudden eyestrain, and my brain feels sort of hot. I don’t know how else to describe it. This makes no sense to me! It’s completely irrational! But knowing it’s irrational doesn’t make me feel any better. The only thing that relieves the symptoms is to stop looking. So if my boss hung a huge picture of a lotus seed head in my proximity, I’d ask her to take it down.

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        1. pentamom

          If it’s not too upsetting, can you describe an example of a”closely packed hole?” (If it is too upsetting, forget I asked.) I can’t imagine what this refers to and it’s interesting that it’s a known phenomenon to have a fear of something I can’t even picture in my head.

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          1. Elsajeni

            Do an image search for lotus pods — they are THE classic example of something that sets off trypophobia. (A lot of people discovered that they had trypophobia by seeing an old scare email that photoshopped the texture of a lotus pod onto skin and claimed it was a photo of… I don’t even remember, a horrible fungal disease you could get from not washing your bra or something.)

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        2. JLH

          I had to read to see if someone mentioned this. I am the same way, and have three older sisters. Two have similar feelings, one does not. I have that immediate shoulder kickback, queasy feeling when I happen upon them. I will say some things with the same characteristics are a lot more sickening to me than others, which is weird too.

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          1. Gloucesterina

            I’ve also heard it described as fear of clusters (like someone might be afraid of a cluster of berries), but for me, it’s thankfully more specific–the seed pod thing.

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      2. EnfysNest

        I really like the “emotional allergy” wording! Thank you for that! It really is just all the fear emotions firing off at once for something that shouldn’t be as much of an issue as it is.

        My main phobia is spiders, but really anything with more than 4 legs is a problem for me. It’s about the way that they move, somehow. Even watching crabs scuttle around on the beach or my sibling’s 6-legged robot toy he got for Christmas a couple years ago make me highly uncomfortable. I don’t think they’re going to hurt me – I’m not worried about being bitten or stung or anything. I just can’t handle the thought of feeling or seeing it moving. And it doesn’t matter if it’s behind glass or in a video or even animated – it’s just that when I see or think about that movement, I instantly feel like there’s something crawling on me. Even writing about it now, I keep feeling the need to swat at something on my leg that isn’t there. My skin crawls. I get uncomfortable. I feel the need to stand up and check just in case.

        Even if it’s just a photo or a drawing, I have cover the picture with my a piece of paper or hovering my hand over it (but not *touching* the page, because oh my gosh, I can’t touch a spider, what if I touch the picture but somehow I can still feel the legs and then it could be crawling on my hand and no no no no no), but then I also sort of have to half-glance at it every now and then to make sure it hasn’t moved off the page and that it’s still there underneath whatever I’m blocking it with. Which is ridiculous. I know that, as I’m sitting here. There’s truly no logic to it. And yet I have now physically checked my legs and the back of my neck at least half a dozen times just while writing this post because of the thought of it.

        There’s some aspect of the fear of the unknown there, I suppose. Spiders are fast. The way they move, they’re hard to keep track of, and if I lose track of it, it could be on me. And somehow, my brain takes that and makes it a million times worse by assuming that even a picture of a spider or a plastic spider could somehow get to me, too. If I look at it, I’m imagining it moving, which is awful. But if I’m not looking at it, it might have disappeared and it could be on me! And so maybe there’s a sensory reaction built in there, too – I can’t imagine anything worse that that feeling on my skin. I’d rather be in actual physical pain than have a bug crawling across my skin.

        Again, none of these thoughts happen as complete sentences in my mind or fully-formed thoughts. It’s all of that in a single instant of panicked response. It’s all bundled up and thrown at my brain in a sudden moment of too many freaky legs moving in weird ways and potentially touching me and I MUST GET AWAY RIGHT NOW.

        I’ve gotten “better” in dealing with it since I was a teenager, which is I think when I had the most trouble with it (in part because of having a basement bedroom where creepy-crawlies got into my bathroom somewhat regularly). But by “better”, I mean that now when I see a real spider, I can force myself forward to swat it instead of just running away, but it’s more because that’s better than the alternative of running away and then having no idea where it went (again, probably linked to the fact that the ones in my bathroom always seemed to be gone by the time I dragged my mom or dad downstairs to kill it for me). So, I’m braver about it, but all the emotional parts are still there, and I still end up shaky and full of adrenaline…

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      3. jenkins

        Yeah, I like this analogy. The phobia happens on a whole different level from the rational – I can be watching it happen and thinking how ridiculous it is, but that does not in any way stop it happening because they are two different systems. Tree pollen is not dangerous, and asthma attacks are, but if I go for a walk in spring my lungs will still go INTRUDERS MUST BE STOPPED AT ALL COSTS AWOOGA AWOOGA CLOSE THE MAIN GATES.

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    5. JKP

      Fear isn’t grounded in reality or logic. Fear is designed to help us survive by reacting instantly with fight or flight to escape danger BEFORE we have time to think about it. If we had time to think about it, those extra seconds could prove deadly. So the rush of feelings happens BEFORE the thought.

      Think about phobias like a situation that normally works to our survival ends up working overdrive or in the wrong direction. Like an illness where the immune system attacks itself.

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    6. Andy

      I don’t have a phobia, but I do have kids so I feel like I understand what that’s like. The kids thing.(bear with me, I swear I have a point) and I was also wondering that one day so I looked to the source of all wisdom. The internet.
      And Lo, the Internet did give me the adjacent understanding that allowed my empathy to come forth.
      The Gift: I saw this video of a woman who was just driving along…and then she saw a spider on her dashboard. She freaked out, got out of the car WHILE IT WAS STILL IN DRIVE and continued to freak. Her kid was in the car. The car continued to go.
      So I guess that’s what it feels like: you see the thing and it makes you forget that you’re in charge of making sure your child that you love is ok. It overrides the biological and emotional compulsions (probs not right word) to care for your offspring. Total Override of the biological imperative.

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    7. Avyncentia

      To add on to some other comments above–it’s not dissimilar to anxiety (especially for those who tend to catastrophize). I KNOW that I’m overreacting, that I’m not going to ruin my life, etc. And I can talk myself out of the anxiety or use other techniques such as deep breathing, but it’s like there’s a wall between that initial physical reaction and the thought process. I can’t get past the anxiety until I 1) get through the first physical action and 2) realize what’s going on.

      I am also afraid of dogs. I see a dog = my heart rate speeds up. When I was a kid I could not knowingly be in the same room as a dog. Now I can even let a dog sniff my hand, but I’ll still cross the street to avoid them if socially acceptable. What changed wasn’t the initial physical reaction, it’s that I’ve gotten better at quickly recognizing what’s happening and imposing coping mechanisms.

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    8. CatCat

      I used to be very phobic about flying (I’ve gotten it largely under control though I am still a nervous flyer). I abstractly know that flying is very safe. But leading up to a flight (for which I would take medication or have a couple stiff drinks ahead of time), I would have nightmares. Getting on the plane, I would have panicked thoughts, sweaty palms, heart racing, and sometimes would start crying. I tried my best to control all of those things, but it was not something I could really control, it was pure stress even though I KNOW flying is really safe.

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      1. CatCat

        It’s almost like even though you’re an adult, your ability to regulate your emotions with a phobia is as if you are a young child. It’s extremely difficult to control and overwhelming.

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        1. fposte

          I think the parallel to an allergy is dead-on. I will have early phobia symptoms that aren’t even feeling anxious–I get short-tempered and snappish the day before. Now I know and can see it happening, and then I watch the rest of the symptoms come trotting in. And I can have thought the day before how not anxious I am and maybe the phobia isn’t kicking in this time, because why should it?

          Brains like to go where they’ve gone before, whether it makes sense or not.

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        2. eee

          you know when you’re walking in the woods and you suddenly see a snake (or what you think is a snake) really close to your foot? and there’s that second of “o $!#$@ a snake!” and your world narrows for a few seconds and you’re suddenly not a complex smart human who understands that you can take a step back, you’re just a bunch of hormones screaming DANGER! and then it passes in like a second and you can behave (more) normally and slowly walk away? I do not have a phobia but I’m guesssssssing it feels like that “OH CRAP” moment but lasts a lot longer. is that accurate?

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          1. fposte

            It’s that but sustained. You have time to go “Oh, it’s a snake but I’m okay,” but the “o $!#$@” alarm keeps blaring in your head. It’s basically a faulty alarm system.

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    9. Anon for this

      For me it’s a physical/emotional response that is battling with my rational brain. I also have anxiety and I think they can feed off each other.

      I will feel pure fear, panic, along with hyperventilating in a bad case. Even though my brain is saying, “Don’t be silly, it’s not going to happen,” often times it’s not enough to overcome the automatic emotional/physical response that has already started. I have noticed that in situations where I can prepare myself before going in, my response is lesser, so I do think logic can help to mitigate the response, but it’s much harder when I’m caught unawares.

      My phobia is one that I have to encounter on a semi-regular basis so I have learned over time to control the irrational panic, but it is mentally exhausting. It’s a constant back and forth where I’m saying to myself “Look, it’s going to be fine.”
      Irrational phobia: “But what if?”
      “No, for XYZ reason you’re going to be safe”
      “Are you sure?”
      “Yes, stop freaking out.”
      “But really?”
      “Yes nothing bad has ever happened in this situation”
      “BUT WHAT IF THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT”
      etc, etc.

      If I had a bee phobia like Rainy posted about, the buzzing would set off that automatic emotional fear and every time the bee came near me I’d have to re-start this argument in my brain, because the buzzing would just trigger the panic. It would be incredibly hard to just relax on the patio, knowing the bee might come back any second.

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      1. Not Paul Hollywood

        “Yes, stop freaking out.”
        “But really?”
        “Yes nothing bad has ever happened in this situation”
        “BUT WHAT IF THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT”

        I feel so seen right now.

        My therapist is always like, “Why would this time be any different than last time?” and my response is “BECAUSE IT COULD BE. THE POSSIBILITY EXISTS. HOW ARE YOU NOT SEEING THIS”

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        1. Mrs. Dean Winchester

          Right? Why is anything ever different than anything? BY THAT LOGIC, NOTHING DIFFERENT WOULD EVER HAPPEN EVER.

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      2. londonedit

        Exactly…I have a momentary freakout every time I hear an insect buzzing or see a flying insect out of the corner of my eye. My brain’s immediate thought – before I can even fully comprehend what’s going on – is OMG IT’S A WASP WASP WASP IT’S A WASP RUN AWAY RUN RUN RUN. So for maybe half a second, I get a sudden rush of that total panic, stomach flipping sort of feeling. Then, either my logical brain takes over and goes ‘Ah, OK, no – look, it’s just a fly, it’s not a wasp’ or my logical brain catches up and goes ‘Holy crap it IS a wasp!!!’ and then that’s it, my irrational brain has had its worst fears confirmed and off it goes into panic mode. Even if it isn’t a wasp, it still takes me a few seconds to calm down and I’ll then be hyper-vigilant about all flying insects for a good while after.

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    10. Brett

      I have an irrational fear of jumping over “dangerous” edges. Most of the times is just means I am extremely nervous near them, no matter how incredibly unlikely it is to fall over that edge, much less intentionally jump.

      To give you an idea, when I visited Hoover Dam, I had to stand about 10 feet back from the wall. I did not freak out. I even briefly got close enough to glance over the edge, but immediately moved back again. If I was forced to stay there by someone, I would probably eventually either drop to the ground next to the wall (where it would feel “impossible” to go over” or push my way through them.

      At the same time, I have visited 875 North Michigan Avenue (Hancock tower in Chicago) and stared straight down the side of the building through the observation windows without an issue, even though that really freaks out a lot of people. Since it is totally enclosed and has no edge, I have no fear of falling over the edge.
      I can also climb on our roof okay and hang xmas lights, because it is low enough that it does not feel dangerous. (For the highest spots, I have to physically lay down on the roof though.)

      No amount of rationality helps. My brain just sets off all sorts of anxiety and adrenaline when I encounter the situation and there is not much more to it.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Brett, have you done the glass floored platform on the Sears Tower? I don’t think I could manage that, but I’m not sure.

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        1. Brett

          I have not done that one in particular, but I have been on similar glass bottomed platforms without much issue. (Hancock tower is pretty similar.) As long as it is completely impossible to jump, fall, get blown over, I am good.

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        2. Two Dog Night

          I have a similar fear to Brett’s, and I had no problem with the Sears Tower glass floors. Just about everyone is very tentative walking out on them, but once you’re out there it’s really cool.

          Don’t get me started on ski lifts, though. And I found the Grand Canyon rather nerve-racking.

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        3. MM

          Those are Bad for me (fear of heights, but not at all the fear/intrusive thoughts about jumping). I even worry a little walking over grates in the sidewalk when I can’t even see down through them. I don’t actually freeze or fully panic with a glass floor (my fear of heights rarely does that to me even when I’m climbing down from something), but I get super twitchy and uncomfortable and want to Leave Immediately. And this is like, just smallish glass floor panels like you might see in a very old building that’s serving as a tourist attraction, the ones they put in so you can see down into older layers of the building, not a whole wide floor many stories up in the air (I don’t know what would happen with one of those; I don’t think I’ve ever been on one). I will usually force myself to look a bit, because I do want to see down into the catacombs or what have you! But I do NOT linger.

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      2. Lis

        I have the same thing about heights. One time i was at famous cliffs and had had to stay so far away from the edge so I didn’t panic. I eventually did look over the edge, on my stomach, with someone holding onto my feet even though I knew from the laws of physics I couldn’t fall over the cliff by accident. Another time I got halfway across a castle wall before I panicked and had to take off my shoes and hold onto my companions hand to make it across. The wall was wide enough there was no danger but my brain was just freaking out. Ecposure just makes it worse it’s not logical at all.

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          1. Marthooh

            For some reason it’s easier to walk near hideously dangerous drop-offs when your feet are in direct contact with the surface you’re on. It feels safer somehow. Lis is to be congratulated on not going for the hands-and-knees option.

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          2. MM

            I’m afraid of heights bad enough that I get a strong involuntary adrenaline response, but not quite so bad that I can’t usually push through it to do what I need to do if necessary. In those situations, it feels like I can grip whatever my feet are on better without a sole in the way. I locked myself out of my apartment a month or two ago and had to climb down the fire escape (just a ladder, not the quasi-stairs you get lower down) from the roof to go in my window. I absolutely left my shoes up there and went back and got them via the indoor stairs after the fact. I could not care less how dirty the roof, ladder, or roof-access stairs were and that I had no socks (they were ballet flats), I was NOT climbing down that ladder on the side of a building with shoes on.

            (I do think the security camera footage must have been pretty funny. Woman goes up to the roof, wearing shoes. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the same woman goes up again–never having come down on camera–barefoot. She then returns wearing her shoes.)

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    11. KR

      I’ll bite. I am scared of most bugs and spiders. When I see a bug/spider it activates the flight response in me. I get that deep tinge of anxiety somewhere between my stomach and my heart and I have an extremely strong urge to get as far away from the bug/spider as I can. A lot of them, particularly roaches and large beetles, also give me this overwhelming sense of revulsion that I cannot push aside at all. Bees, hornets, and similar all make me panic and put all reason aside. I’m not allergic but if I see one I am out of there. It also makes me scared of small spaces outside as those tend to be breeding grounds for creepy crawlies and it makes it so you can’t easily get away from them. It’s not every bug or spider and sometimes after I calm down I can go back and admire how gross the thing is but when I first see it it makes me panic. The key here is overwhelming – I can’t push the feeling aside often and I have to remove myself from the situation. No choice. I can work around this only sometimes and I must for my job but I have to rely on having a long handled broom or vaccum nearby or my coworkers being willing to deal with scary bugs, which thankfully they are.

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    12. Seeking Second Childhood

      You know how you can have a nightmare about something totally innocuous that still wakes you up in terror? And for the rest of the night you keep waking up and shuddering at the thought of those… Bunnies. Butterflies. Whatever.
      That’s one way to imagine yourself there.
      I’m very mildly claustrophobic — I need a little more space behind me in line at the cashier then the average New Yorker, and it takes Xanax to get me into an open MRI. My nightmares feel a lot like that…and mine us mild.

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    13. Roscoe

      Yeah, I’m like this too. Like, I thought I had a fear of spiders since I freak out when I see them in my house. But after seeing how the LW is reacting to just a model, I guess I don’t have a phobia afterall, just kind of get a bit sqeamish

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      1. Ralkana

        I can’t even look at photographs or clearly not real cutesy illustrations of spiders. My iPhone helpfully showing me the spider emoji every time I type spider is not useful and I wish I could block that particular emoji. The computer generated spider shaped drone in Spider-Man: Homecoming made me close my eyes, and I can’t look too closely at Spider-Man’s costume.

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      2. Newbie

        I think phobias are like anxiety and that awesome allergy analogy, they exist on a spectrum. I have a thing about spiders and things with bug-like legs (lobster, crab) but I don’t react to pictures that much. Everyone’s triggers and reaction levels are different.

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    14. CommanderBanana

      Phobias plug directly into your amygdala, so you’re flooded with an instant adrenal response. It’s not the same as being ‘afraid’ and I kind of get annoyed when people use the word phobia to describe what is actually a dislike.

      I have a phobia of certain insects – not spiders, but roaches and centipedes or cricket-like bugs. I instantly go cold and break into a sweat and my brain completely switches off. After the bug is gone I still feel crawly all over and have to keep checking to make sure it’s not there. Even pictures or fake plastic ones give me the same response.

      I have no idea why. I never had a traumatic bug incident, and why do only specific ones trigger it? I think it’s just a wiring in the brain. If my boss had something like a giant centipede in a cage, I Could.Not.Deal. A tarantula, fine.

      Yes, exposure therapy is fine, although generally most people only pursue it if their phobia is severe enough that it’s impacting their life, or they’re phobic of something that’s really hard to avoid in everyday life. Phobias like arachnophobia are pretty well known because on the list of phobias that exist they’re not that uncommon.

      That being said, exposure therapy is really grueling, it’s hard to find a therapist that does exposure therapy, it doesn’t always work, it’s pretty traumatic, not all health insurances will cover it, and it may just not be an option for some people. So in this case, if it was a spider, I think the OP’s need to not have her phobia triggered would outweigh Caroline’s “need” to display a spider in her office.

      I think I mentioned this in the original column, but there is a couple that lives in the same neighborhood I do that have two enormous snakes. They make a habit of walking around the neighborhood and going to 7-11 with these snakes draped around their shoulders (I can’t imagine the snakes enjoy it especially when it’s cold). I personally don’t mind snakes, I think they’re cool, but I think this couple are assholes for hauling around animals that are a really common phobia trigger for a lot of people, most of whom are not thinking they’ll be turning a corner in 7-11 and come face to face with a massive ball python or constrictor.

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    15. Nobby Nobbs

      Since it looks like you’re genuinely trying to understand, have a blow-by-blow of what it feels like when my (fairly mild) emetophobia (irrational fear of vomit) is triggered:
      You’re out with a group of kids and a few other adults, maybe for a volunteer thing. Everything’s going great, lovely weather, no tantrums, when one of the kids says “I don’t feel so good” in *that* tone of voice, you know the one. Without any conscious intent to do so, you find yourself on the opposite side of the room. *Then* you register what’s going on. You feel hot all over. You risk a glance over to the rest of the group. Just looking feels like stepping off the high dive for the first time. The kid is lying down being fussed over, but hasn’t actually thrown up. You feel a little bit silly. It takes what feels like about half an hour for your heart rate to go back to normal. You hadn’t even noticed it was racing.
      You’ll notice most of what I’ve described is physical symptoms (which can vary, sometimes I get a strong disgust response or complete emotional shutdown instead) or emothional responses. Rational thought only enters the picture after the fact.

      Reply
      1. Dankar

        Ugh, exactly this! For me, I also can’t be near the “sick” person for hours, sometimes days without my heartbeat skyrocketing. My partner was sick in front of me on vacation not that long ago, and I actually army-crawled into another room and briefly passed out.

        Sometimes I find myself scratching on my hands and arms, or digging my nails into my palms until they bleed, too. It’s usually a conscious attempt to pull my attention to something non-phobic, but I’ve also caught myself doing it when I *think* someone has been sick in another room.

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    16. Lissa

      I think of it as like a lot of irrational emotional responses – telling yourself something is a certain way doesn’t necessarily switch it off, and often trying to do so can make it worse. This is true in many many cases. For instance, think of somebody who’s really attracted to or in love with somebody they *know* is bad for them. Knowing the person is bad news doesn’t always make the attraction go away – sometimes it even works in reverse. Sitting there and telling myself “Ok, I know Alex is terrible and I should not like them, stop feeling positively towards them” doesn’t work. I think for some people it would work but for so many people, it does not.

      Or for instance, I am irrationally annoyed (not afraid of) by certain behaviours, and even knowing rationally that the person can’t help it and isn’t doing anything wrong, and that I am the jerk here, doesn’t actually make me less annoyed with the person/behaviour. For me, all the “have empathy!” “see it from their perspective!” advice in the world doesn’t help if my brain is already irritated and knows it’s not “right” to feel so. I still don’t want to be around that person and won’t really enjoy their company.

      Brains are weird and hard to control, even in nonphobic circumstances. It’s why I think it’s really helpful that there’s more said about “you can control your behaviour, not your emotions” rather than “if you think/feel this you are Bad Bad Bad.”

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    17. beth

      I have a phobia of centipedes. (Yes, a lot of people find them creepy, and yes, some of the big ones can hurt you–my reaction is still irrational in that 1. it applies even to harmless kinds, dead ones, images of them, etc., and 2. it goes far beyond ‘ew’.)

      I know it’s irrational. But that has absolutely no impact on my phobia. When I see one, the first thing I’m aware of is my immediate physical reaction: my pulse skyrockets, I start hyperventilating, my limbs shake, I start tearing up. This reaction happens very quickly, long before my brain has a chance to tell me, “This is just a bug, it is harmless, you are safe.” And once those panic chemicals hit, my brain isn’t going to be doing any critical thinking for about 20 minutes until my body can process them; it’s too busy trying to hold me together until the adrenaline wears off. Once I’m recovered a bit, I can feel silly about how extreme my overreaction is, but in the moment of seeing the awful things, I don’t have a chance to think about it pre- or mid-reaction.

      Maybe the key point is that phobia reactions aren’t the same kind of fear as, say, walking through a haunted house. If you’ve never experienced this type of reaction, I can see how it would be hard to empathize with–but I hope you can at least accept that others do experience it and that it is out of their control, and have sympathy for that.

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    18. Sylvan

      So the clinical definition of a phobia includes that it is an irrational fear. Knowing that it’s not grounded in reality doesn’t make the phobia go away.

      To use myself as an example: I have a phobia of dentists. I had a very bad experience with one, but I had a milder phobia before that, too. I know any new dentist I see won’t hurt me at all – but fight/flight/freeze reflexes kick in anyway.

      It’s completely irrational. The way I feel in the dentist’s waiting room is the same way I felt that time a car swerved towards me while I crossed the street. I know this is completely illogical, but the fight/flight/freeze reflex is hardwired.

      You can’t really overcome it with logic. If you could, you wouldn’t have a phobia. I mean, think of that girl who ran away screaming from a pickle on Maury or whatever. She had to know that was irrational. She still panicked and ran.

      What actually helps is controlled, planned exposure to the object of the phobia. If, for example, someone has a phobia of dogs, they might begin by getting comfortable watching videos of dogs. Later, they go to a park where someone is walking a dog. They develop a tolerance to a series of smaller, lower-stress situations until they’re able to handle petting dogs or hanging out at a dog-owning friend’s house.

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    19. RabbitRabbit

      I used to be an arachnophobe but am more on the “extreme discomfort/don’t want to be anywhere near a live one” level these days – except that tarantulas are big enough that they don’t trip that button for me, for some reason. Go figure. Centipedes as well, though I think I really got that fear from a certain short story I read as a kid and it’s hard to shake.

      It’s a very primal sort of terror when I did get it, though. Absolutely no actual reason, I know it almost certainly can’t hurt me, but still, my muscles would tremble and spasm/contract, especially in my arms/neck/back, and an absolute upwelling of fear would happen.

      I’m not fearful of snakes. I once participated in a psych research study (about gradual exposure, etc.) as a control subject to compare to the snake phobia group. I sat in a chair and they moved a small constrictor-type snake (maybe less than 3′) in a plexiglass box on a conveyor toward me, and I had to verbally rate my discomfort level. I saw the poor thing startle from the movement of the box and any concern dropped down to nothing. I even got to touch her. :)

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    20. bored_at_desk

      A genuine thanks for all of this – I can feel my understanding growing! Thanks for taking the time to write thoughtfully and openly about your experiences.

      It’s making me realize that an analogue I can probably draw on is that just in the past couple years, I’ve started sometimes getting weird symptoms in very crowded, very loud concerts where people are banging into me. I feel uncomfortable, stressed out, and weirdly feel like crying – or sometimes even nauseated – and kind of go into shut-off mode. It never used to happen. I imagine some of those physiological symptoms overlap.

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      1. bored_at_desk

        I really mean the genuine thanks, and I want to reiterate that I absolutely don’t think phobias are “bad” or “dumb” or that people aren’t experiencing genuine symptoms.

        Reply
        1. Dankar

          Well, I mean, I always say my emetophobia is dumb. It’s a big, dumb, over-the-top response to something that’s harmless (if a bit icky) at the end of the day. ;)

          I wish more people were interested in what a phobia is really like. It’s easy to fall into thinking of it as an overblown fear or discomfort rather than the anxiety disorder that it actually is.

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          1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

            If you say that, then you can also say that allergies are dumb – over-the-top responses to something harmless. Allergies also don’t go away simply by knowing that peanuts aren’t actually poison.

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      2. beth

        That does sound like a kind of anxiety response! Anxiety isn’t just an emotion, really–it’s also a whole set of chemical and physical responses in the body. Anxiety stomachaches are a really common symptom, as is tearing up/feeling like crying. It might be worth looking into if they’re bothering you, even if your mood doesn’t strike you as all that nervous.

        Reply
    21. B'Elanna

      I have a strong fear of high places. It triggers all the time (ladders, flying, balcony theater seats, looking out a window on a top story, etc..) and it’s incredibly annoying. Even watching movies will sometimes trigger it, to a lesser degree. Driving over bridges is the worst.

      Literally my brain thinks I’m in danger and there is nothing I can do to stop the physical response of fear. Because I don’t want to miss out on stuff, I just have to deal with it. This means I have to sit through incredibly uncomfortable feelings. Imagine somebody with a bow and arrow slowly lining up to shoot an apple off your head, and you have to sit there until it happens. It’s distracting, it makes your heart race, your thoughts race, it’s a battle to stay seated, and you just want it to finish already.

      My brain/body doesn’t realize my fear isn’t rational, so the best I can do is try to control my actions in the moment. This means continuing to drive over the bridge despite the adrenaline rush I’m experiencing. The nice thing is, if you sit with the anxiety, it will go down over time. And the more I practice sitting with it, the faster this drop seems to happen.

      It still really sucks though, and consider yourself lucky if you don’t have any phobias.

      Reply
    22. Arya Snark

      I have a fear of lightning and yet I am fascinated by weather. The lighting will make me scream completely involuntarily and run inside/downstairs/for any kind of cover when I am actively trying to storm watch. Makes no sense but it is what it is.

      Reply
    23. clunker

      I’ve had generalized anxiety and panic attack disorder (may or may not still have GAD? who knows) and one aspect of those is often the fear of the fear. If you have panic attacks often enough you might start having panic attacks which are triggered…. by the fear of having panic attacks. And most people’s automatic response to anxiety of any source is avoidance, which can often make it worse. (In the case of a phobia, I don’t know that this applies? I do know that exposure therapy done badly can be very counter productive).

      So even if you know that, say, a fake shark on a wall can’t bite you, you might end up having the same fear response because you are afraid of feeling afraid, which is a true thing which HAS happened and will very likely continue to happen and is itself a rational fear, even if the underlying fear is irrational.

      Logic can’t really help fear past a certain degree, and can in fact reinforce the underlying anxiety. (If you tell yourself “don’t worry you won’t wreck” that can end up reinforcing “but what if you DO” in a weird way, ESPECIALLY if you’re already very very afraid by the time you are having that thought). I’ve been able to identify the starting part of a panic attack and calm myself down and prevented it from becoming a full blown one, but that wasn’t due to logic nearly as much as practice and techniques. (I have specific things I do to prevent the escalation of the physical symptoms of a panic attack which work for me and which calm me down– I am still not thinking logically really. Occasionally during a panic attack I’ve been able to be mad at myself for being irrational and ridiculous for having a panic attack, but it has only ever escalated my fear/panic to do so. I imagine that it’s similar for phobias, but I’m not sure.

      Reply
    24. many bells down

      Basically, your fight-or-flight reaction malfunctions. It goes into overdrive.

      My two big phobias are needles and helicopters. Helicopters make me breathe really hard and I can’t take my eyes off it in case it comes near me. Which is a bit of an issue when I’m trying to drive. Anything non-organic that moves like a helicopter is the same problem; I’m going to smash the shit out of someone’s drone someday.

      Needles, though, are the real problem. Really it can be any medical procedure. Sometimes even talking about it is enough. In those cases, I’ll often have a vasovagal syncope reaction and pass out (often accompanied by flailing around beforehand). And then, after …you know how when you get really anxious before giving a speech and you get butterflies in your stomach? Slightly nauseated? Imagine that ramped up to max. I’ve spent 4+ hours in the ER trying to stop vomiting from that kind of panic attack.

      Reply
      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

        I used to have a needle phobia too. It’s pretty much under control now and I can handle common needle procedures just fine, but there’s one condition: don’t show me the needle! It’s happened that I’m completely fine at first, then I see the needle, and I go to full blown hyperventilating panic mode. That’s how illogical it is! (I deal with this by saying it first when I enter the room and know there will be needles. If I have blood drawn I explain it and ask which direction is safe for me to look. Health care people are usually very accomodating for this.)

        I also have issues with dogs, but only dogs that are coming right towards me. Dogs going to other directions are OK. I know this comes from an incident with an over-enthusiastic dog when I was about 18 months old. My logic brain knows I’m a lot bigger now, but it doesn’t stop the reaction.

        Reply
        1. The New Wanderer

          That’s interesting, I also had a really bad fear of needles as a kid and I still refuse to look anywhere near the location where the needle goes in. I think I may have seen the needle once or twice when it was being prepped and that doesn’t bother me, but I cannot see it anywhere near my skin.

          Reply
    25. Lobster phobia

      I’m not sure if it’s a certifiable phobia, but I hate lobsters. Sometimes at the grocery store the line is so long that it snakes past the live lobster tank and I have to use all my energy to not start panicking, hyperventilating or crying — I can’t look at the them. Just typing this is making me freak out a bit. I don’t even like the cartoon Red Lobster logo or that one from The Little Mermaid. I don’t know why I dislike them. I’m not afraid of being attacked or pinched by one. I just find them absolutely creepy and disgusting. There are other things I find creepy/disgusting but don’t cause the panicked feeling I get from lobsters. (I find Rock lobsters slightly less freaky than Maine lobsters but they both cause me to panic.)

      Reply
    26. Rincat

      I have a fear of dolls that started when I was a child, and it’s been so strong at times that I could not even walk into a room where there was a doll. Like fear just froze me in my tracks and I couldn’t move forward. It feels overwhelming, like something else is controlling me and won’t let go of my brain. I could tell myself it was nothing more than plastic but that did nothing, the fear response was just so strong. I’ve been able to get a handle on it as I’ve gotten older, so now I can tolerate being around most dolls, but the antique porcelain ones still elicit the fear response.

      I think it was a combination of a very active imagination + nightmares + my sister making me watch Chucky movies + the uncanny valley that led to this fear. So add in all the emotions that go with each of those things and swirl them around together in the mists of my early childhood memories and you get some complex, murky emotions that flood in all at once at the sight of a doll, like a reflex. It’s hard to get control of because all this complexity rushes into your brain at once and you can’t quite pick it apart to analyze it, or even understand what you are feeling/thinking in that moment.

      So that’s what it’s like for me. I also get this way around mannequins and animatronics so there’s definitely an uncanny valley thing going on for me, however figurines – like action figure toys or anime figures – are totally fine (maybe because they’re small?). This may not describe other people’s experiences but I hope it’s helpful!

      Reply
    27. nnn

      Think of your body’s physiological response to true panic/fear/danger – heart racing, breaking out in a sweat, nausea, screaming whether you want it to or not, fight-or-flight instincts.

      The way it works for me is that physiological response kicks in as soon as I get triggered – whether the trigger is real, or a picture, or just a random shadow I saw out of the corner of my eye whose shape or trajectory reminded me of the trigger. The panic response happens before my brain can analyze the situation logically, and doesn’t begin to subside until the trigger is gone. (Which is a challenge, because I can’t touch it myself. Over the years, I’ve worked out an intricate system for killing bugs in my home without touching them directly or indirectly.)

      However, after the trigger is gone, I’m not back to normal. I’m still carrying around residual physiological effects of the panic attack, which tend to make me more stressed and jumpy for a day or two – which increases the likelihood of my jumping at shadows and having another panic attack.

      Whether it’s logical or rational or grounded in reality is irrelevant. Before I’m even capable of thought about whether it’s justified, I’ve already had the panic attack and I’m already carrying the physiological reaction in my body. My heart rate and blood pressure are already up, my shirt is already soaked through with sweat, I’m already hyperventilating, I’m already in the process of screaming and fleeing the area and trying not to puke. The damage is already done, even if it’s technically “harmless” or dead or a statue or an ill-placed piece of lint.

      Reply
    28. Lady Kelvin

      I’ll add mine to the list to give another example of what my body is doing when I’m faced with my phobia:
      I’m afraid of sharks (I’m a marine biologist who lives in Hawaii, slightly ironic, but it is what it is). I can only swim in water where I can see the bottom and I will have a panic attack if I find myself in murky/deep water. In general I know that it is completely irrational and the likelihood of my getting attacked by a shark is slim, and I have snorkeled and dove with sharks so I can fight it to an extent. However, once I was swimming in a large public pool and briefly became disoriented and couldn’t see the bottom. Immediate panic attack. I am now treading water in the middle of a freshwater pool panicking about the shark I know is not there but I cannot physically stop my body from reacting. It was quite surreal as I was telling myself to chill because it was totally irrational for me to be panicking about this, but there I was, panicking anyways. (I did manage to swim to the side and get out and breathe for a few minutes and I was fine, but geez who panics about sharks in a pool?)

      Reply
      1. Calpurrnia

        “but geez who panics about sharks in a pool?”
        *raises hand sheepishly*

        I have the same reaction to being in dark or murky water. Interestingly it’s only really if I’m swimming and my body is in the water; if I’m on a boat, a raft, an island, the beach, whatever else – I’m fine. I’m not afraid of the water itself, pictures are completely fine as is standing on the shoreline (it behaves by “the floor is lava” rules, obviously), it’s only being *in* it while not being able to see through it clear to the bottom. I won’t go within a 3-foot radius of anything dark on the bottom, even if I reasonably know it’s a rock or a leaf, because BUT WHAT IF IT’S A STONEFISH?, and I won’t go anywhere that’s too deep to see the bottom of because BUT WHAT IF THERE’S A SHARK DOWN THERE? (I’m not actually afraid of sharks, either – just the unknown *things* that could be in dark water!)

        While wading with friends at a beach on a lake shore, I was completely fine walking around up to my shins or knees, as long as the bottom was sandy. Then a friend accidentally kicked up a bunch of silt into the water, and suddenly the exact same spot in the perfectly safe pond was basically full of piranhas to my brain, and I needed to get out of it immediately.

        It’s kind of hilarious to think about, but when I’m standing in the middle of it, it is one of the few things that will make me scream like a small child, flail my arms, abandon all pretense, and run until I’m out of the water.

        Reply
    29. BloodyRose

      It might help to think of it as a physical reaction. Talking oneself out of an anxiety or panic attack or a fight/flight/freeze reaction is about as useful as talking oneself out of a seizure.

      For me the rational mind is there but just gets to be an observer. My limbic system, endocrine system, and sympathetic nervous system really don’t care what my “rational” mind has to say.

      Reply
    30. PetticoatsandPincushions

      I have a phobia of needles, and I’ve actually been working on it with a therapist. One of the things I find frustrating as I go through the process is how easily I can accept that what I am afraid of cannot hurt me (well, ok it can, but that’s not really the source of my anxiety, and I am aware the pain is minor and temporary). I can attempt to logic my way out of the fear, but my primal instincts tend to overtake my logic, such that I can picture myself calmly going through the steps of, say, getting blood drawn, but when it actually happens, it’s like I really have no control over my physical reactions. And yet, I am a seamstress. I prick myself with needles all the time. I have no problem getting novocaine at the dentist. My fear is incredibly specific and targeted as well as irrational, and I am fully aware of that.

      If you have a basement in your house, do you ever get nervous when you turn off the light right before you exit the basement? Or something similar? Imagine that fear multiplied. You can know it’s not rational, but still have a very base-level, visceral reaction to a dark basement you knew was fine with the lights on. It’s like that.

      Reply
    31. This Daydreamer

      Okay, a phobia is irrational by definition but I’ll try to explain how I would react to the spider (that turned out to be a beetle).

      If I knew that it was around, I would constantly be afraid it had somehow gotten loose. A stray hair got loose from my pony tail and brushed my cheek? Was I sure it wasn’t a spider leg teaching out from the back of my chair? Wait, what was that shadow? No I’m sure I saw a shadow running across the floor! That rustling of papers would make me jump out of my skin because that’s what a spider sounds like. At any moment I would know that it could come after me at light speed and I would feel those cold, alien legs climbing me.

      Yes I know. It’s DEAD. It’s permanently entombed in acrylic and there’s no spider Leia to set it free. But I can feel the tension in my back and shoulders now just thinking about it while sitting at home and I’ve managed to desensitize myself quite a bit.

      Reply
    32. JSPA

      It can be roughly like a panic attack–or the same panic anyone might experience when faced with something truly dangerous–except attached to an object, or a concept of an object, that’s not necessarily dangerous at all. In some cases, familiarity, in very gentle stages, can reduce the reaction. There was a fascinating read, along those lines, an article titled “fight like a mantis.” (I’ll add a link separately below.)

      As far as “why does finding it’s a beetle not fix the fear”: imagine a situation where you thought that something harmless was something legitimately dangerous (a non-venomous snake for a venomous one, for example). Knowing you were frightened of a harmless snake is not going to make the possibility of a venomous snake less frightening. So, too, finding out that a phobia trigger isn’t actually relevant (that the “spider” was a beetle) would not normally have any impact on the spider phobia.

      In my case, I was able to deal with house centipedes (which freaked me out badly for years after I first encountered them, because of the way they move) after appreciating the same movement in giant, iridescent, jewel-toned marine polychaete worms. (Which actually have stinging bristles, and are thus more objectively scary than house centipedes, which actually keep pest insects and problem spiders under control.) Once I got over intense revulsion at their movement, I….OK, I still didn’t love the house centipedes. I have a moment of sinking-stomach-ickiness each time I spot one. But I no longer have to deal with them by throwing phonebooks in their general direction from across the room while hyperventilating. And sometimes I’ll even manage to catch one and put it outside, where it can patrol the compost pile, instead of my kitchen.

      Reply
    33. AnonNurse

      Unfortunately, the worst part about phobias is the fact that they are truly irrational and do not respond at all to logic and reason.

      For example, I’m a nurse who has a needle phobia. I do get shots because I have to but I get lightheaded, sweaty, my heart starts racing, and I want to run away when it’s timw for the actual shot. I give shots and start IVs all the time but have a very visceral reaction when the needle is pointed at me. I control it with a continual loop of self-talk in my head that includes “shots don’t hurt that much, this will be over fast, it’s not a big deal” and do deep breathing to try to calm myself. I’ve never passed out or run away but I want to more than there are words to express.

      Reply
    34. Bethany D

      Another way of looking at phobias is by comparing them to food allergies. Our physical immune system is needed to keep us safe from legitimately dangerous things (Flu virus! Red alert!) but sometimes a person’s body misidentifes a harmless substance (Peanut butter! Red alert!) and reacts. The fact that it actually is benign doesn’t matter; once the Red Alert response has been launched, all you can do is treat the symptoms. Psychologically we NEED to react to dangerous situations quickly (About to be hit by a car! Red alert!), but a phobia happens when our brain misidentifies a particular type of situation (Bird could kill us! Red Alert!) as being dangerous, and unleashes the “appropriate” physiological response to it. And again, that Red Alert reaction can only be palliated afterwards – not prevented by logic in the microsecond before the neurochemical cascade effect is unleashed.

      Reply
    35. Flash Bristow

      I can’t explain why, because that’s the nature of irrational things, but I can explain how it feels.

      I have a fear of water (in quantities larger than a puddle). If we are walking towards a river, say, it goes like this, as each step progresses:

      I see there’s a river over there.
      Oh. We’re getting closer to the river. OK then.
      Hmm. This is getting uncomfortable, but ok…
      I need to stop soon.
      I need to stop NOW.
      If you make me take another step closer, I WILL kill you. I mean it. Seriously STOP or I’m fighting.

      Does that make sense? I guess ultimately it comes to fight or flight. Make a joke and try to get me closer than I can handle – or surprise me by putting me in that situation – and I WILL lash out, I don’t care the consequences, it’s a spur of the moment thing and it’s a gut reaction, and as I said – it’s irrational.

      I’m not proud of it, and I’ve tried to work on the phobia in the past, but anyway. That’s how it is for me.

      Reply
    36. Sleepytime Tea

      I know I’m late to the party, but I had to weigh in not just on how it feels but also in a way the kinds of coping mechanisms that I’ve used and kind of the origin of my phobia. I am a super rational person. As a kid I never got scared by things like movies or whatever and didn’t get nightmares because I knew they weren’t real, so it wasn’t an issue. I loved bugs and snakes and spiders and all that. I remember watching a spiders nest hatch and letting the baby spiders crawl all over me. So WTF happened?! Well my rationality worked against me as a kid. My mom let me watch the movie Arachnophobia because she thought it was funny. I was not scared of it at all, knowing it wasn’t real, until I asked my mom “spider’s can’t jump like that, right?” to which she for some unknown reason replied with “oh actually they can, we have jumping spiders here in Western Washington.” INSTANT FEAR OF SPIDERS. And it got exponentially worse in a short period of time. It became a full blown phobia. I was in the car with my dad and a small spider was in the back seat and I LOST it. Completely broke down in sobbing tears (age 12 or so). I was hysterical.

      I also think spiders are a common phobia because they look freaking alien. 8 legs? NOT NORMAL. Oh, Octopi have 8 legs? Nope. Tentacles. And they don’t walk in that creepy way. Crabs? 6 legs, 2 pincers, and again, don’t walk in that creepy way. Exoskeletons so that you can literally hit them with a shoe and sometimes they don’t die? It’s like a beast from hell that’s also small enough to hide between your couch cushions.

      Anyways. I don’t WANT to have this irrational fear. I know it’s irrational. And I have no problem with anything else. I have actually started (sigh) talking to the spiders. I made a pact with them as a species. If they don’t come in my house, crawl on me, or surprise me, then I will let them leave them alone. Break the rules and their life is forfeit. When I moved to a new apartment? I had an out loud conversation with the spider community to make sure they remembered the rules. Is this crazy? Maybe. The thing is, it has worked for me for years now. I can see a spider and not freak out about it (except truly big horrific ones, and ones that surprise me). In fact, if I find a spider in my house my reaction is to be angry they’ve violated our pact rather than to be scared of it. However a spider crawled on my leg at work the other day, not a small one, and I gasped, smacked it away, heart pounding, adrenaline gushed for an hour, and I had an angry conversation with the spiders at my new job about how they need to abide by our agreement and this is my place of work god damnit!

      Reply
    37. Echo

      I have a fear of heights/vertigo and it doesn’t manifest as thoughts at all, irrational or otherwise–it’s a completely uncontrollable physical reaction. I get dizzy and shaky, and break out in a cold sweat. This was happening to me the other day while visiting an observation deck at a tourist location. The only conscious thought I had was how much I wanted to take photos of the beautiful scenery, but every time I started to step closer to the edge, the dizziness and shaking got so overwhelming that I had to back up against the wall! The knowledge that there was a protective railing, that I could hold my partner’s hand, etc. didn’t help at all.

      Reply
    38. Dwarfdragon

      As others have explained a phobia is not logic. the comparison with an allergy is quite good. To add a new phobia to your list (if you collect all this mentioned phobias): I am afraid of people as in: you come to close to me (and to close is not something normal people would consider close in the slightest) and I panic. I become stiff, my heart is pounding, I can’t breath normally, I start to shiver/tremble (sorry, english is not my mothertongue and I’m not sure what’s the right word) and then flight. searching for a save spot, sobbing, trying to breath. on bad days I start to hyperventilate and on really bad days asking myself if this is the day I will die cause I’m so scared I’m getting a heartattack. It’s not rational, nobody did ever something bad to me , I know nobody tries to harm me but yet I’m soo stressed everytime I have to leave my house. to make things worse it’s not a phobia where I can avoid more or less easily the trigger. I have to work (my coworkers know not to come to close to me), have to buy groceries etc. so every day is a fight against fear, the stress, my aching back (cause my muscles are stiff from trying to make me small) and the resulting depressions.

      Reply
    39. Elizabeth

      I have a similar phobia, and yes, experiences like the OP’s do give me perspective on its irrationality.

      But here’s the part you’re missing: the *rational* kernel to my phobia is that panic and fear are painful and destructive. You know the saying “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”? Well, my fear is what I fear. And it’s a rational fear… because spiders *do* (irrationally) trigger the panic reaction that hurts me. When I try to avoid or monitor my potential for interaction with spiders, what I am fearing and trying to avoid is my own panic, a rational response for anyone who has experienced panic like that.

      That’s why phobia treatment has to carefully break the link between trigger and panic, without reinforcing it.

      I often don’t tell people about my phobia because many, many people respond by trying to “empathize” by sharing the most terrifying spider experience in their own history. But that is the *last* thing I want to hear. I’m trying to break that association, carefully.

      Reply
  8. Jason Funderberker

    Just for my understanding, it’s a model of a beetle that she keeps in a glass case? Is the case like a terrarium? That’s interesting. Carolina sounds kind of cool! (I’m saying this as someone who 100% would have been hugging the walls of her office if it was a spider or spider/model)

    Reply
    1. Dankar

      I’m guessing it’s less of a terrarium, and more of a showcase for a real, dead beetle, similar to how some people display pinned butterflies. Someone posted a link above.

      Love your username, btw!

      Reply
      1. Flash Bristow

        I was assuming more of a paperweight – you can get kits where you get a clear resin and a mould, and you can basically set anything in it. Back at school, we ran a “business” under the Young Enterprise scheme and it was one of the products we offered (the other was dress shirts with custom designs on the back, so it looked formal as usual, but later in the night when you cut loose and took your jacket off, it was fun and distinctive. I digress, but I was about 15 and I’m quite proud of what we did!)

        You’d be surprised what we put in the paperweights. One person wanted some chewed up gum in it (which he provided). We obliged and he was delighted by it. Wonder who chewed it?

        Anyway that’s where my mind went. “Let’s put this beetle in a nice rectangular mould for posterity.”

        Reply
        1. Jason Funderberker

          Those both sound like really amazing Young Enterprise ideas. If you ever revive those dress shirts I’d be in line to get one :D.
          The idea of having to pour resin over a dead bug would send shivers down my spine, but somehow the chewing gum doesn’t…

          Reply
      2. Jason Funderberker

        Oh, I missed that link. That’s interesting and I can see how OP thought it was a spider. That would be a little unsettling in the dark.
        And thanks, I was hoping there would be another OTGW fan here!

        Reply
  9. Armchair Analyst

    I have had extreme anxiety and fears in the past — and I physically exhaled and relaxed my shoulders and whole body when I read of your relief that it wasn’t a spider and you were fine with the beetle. It sounds like most of your fears and anxiety were very much relieved by this talk and I am so glad for you!

    Reply
  10. Lauralyzer

    Phobias are so weird, hey? I also have arachnophobia and just reading the original letter had me feeling super uncomfortable, looking over my shoulder for creepy-crawlies, etc. And then as soon as I saw the update that it was a beetle and not a spider, I was like “WHEW, no problem then!” which is so weird because really, what is the practical difference between a giant bug with 6 legs and a giant arachnid with 8? They’re both creepy and strange and, in general, not seen in office settings. I’m so glad this was resolved so easily!

    Reply
    1. Walter White Walker

      Phobias are super weird. I’m not afraid of spiders, but have a deep, phobic revulsion to most other bugs. I was fine with reading the original question, but after this (really good!) update, picturing a giant beetle in a glass case has me doing some deep breathing exercises.

      Glad this worked out for OP. If anyone needs me, I’ll be quietly freaking out in the corner.

      Reply
    2. Plant

      Ha, in an online multiplayer game I used to play with a person with arachnophobia. We referred to various evil spiders as ‘ants with a suspicious number of legs’ and everything was fine.

      Reply
      1. Elsajeni

        I have a phobia of roaches. You know Wall-E? You know Wall-E’s little friend, some kind of sorta… flat… brownish… insect who survived the end of the world? In my house, he is a grasshopper.

        Reply
    3. Scarlet

      Yes, actually I read somewhere that 6 vs 8 legs makes a crucial difference in terms of arachnophobia. I’m arachnophobic and I had the same reaction when LW said it turned out to be a beetle. (I love beetles and even have a book about them with giant illustrations)

      Reply
      1. Birch

        Same here, arachnophobic but everything else is pretty awesome in my book. IMO it’s about the number of legs plus the way it moves. I’ve been initially freaked out by some kinds of insects that hold their legs in the same position as spiders and have similar movements, but e.g. ticks and scorpions don’t bother me, even though they are arachnids, because they don’t move the same way as spiders. (Also the size and…. *shudder* hairiness… of the specimen in question…)

        That being said, I don’t know if the knowledge that the model was actually a beetle would make it suddenly OK for me, unless I was really looking at it wrong and could now immediately see the beetle. I think the imprint of the initial seeing-it-as-spider would still create a reaction, even knowing what it actually was (this has actually happened to me with suspiciously shaped hairballs or lint around the house). OP is okay with it but I hope they would still feel comfortable asking for the model to be moved even without a supposedly “good enough” reason.

        Reply
  11. Phony Genius

    I think the lesson here is this: if you’re afraid of something, make sure that the thing you think is the something you’re afraid of is the something that you’re afraid of, and not some other thing.

    Reply
    1. CommanderBanana

      We’re talking about a phobia here, not just a fear. As someone with a similar phobia, there is no way the phobic person is going to be able to get close enough to be like, oh-ho, it’s just a beetle that LOOKS like a giant spider!

      Reply
  12. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)

    For a moment I thought it was going to be something like a small strandbeest (don’t Google it, OP!), but I was mistaken. I’m so glad that it was resolved.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      See, that’s not spidery to me at all. I can see other triggers it would trip, but it doesn’t ping my arachnid radar. It’s funny how differently forms can read to us.

      Reply
        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Me too.

          The thing with spiders is they’re small and like to hide. A big one makes me go “HA I SEE YOU, you’re so much easier to escape than being a tiny bite-y ninja.”

          Reply
        2. Zona the Great

          Ugh but halve you ever been out hiking and almost squashed one underfoot? I pulled a groin twisting myself outta that one! Can you imagine what that would feel like?

          Reply
          1. Birch

            Yeah, this–the larger and hairier, the more …crunchy…. (I’m sitting here with shivers running up and down my spine.) I have trauma around a wolf spider+egg sac that I squished thinking it was a big dirt clod in the garden.

            Reply
        3. SarahTheEntwife

          Yeah, I actively like tarantulas so long as I know they’re going to be there, and I’m good with little jumping spiders, but the ones with the long skinny legs (of any size) immediately trigger the NOPE NOPE NOPE reaction.

          Reply
  13. Michaela Westen

    The day of the original letter, I went home and turned on the light and was looking right at a spider on the wall. I thought of you all!
    I live over a garage, so spiders and centipedes are to be expected. Spiders ok, centipedes ick!

    Reply
    1. loslothluin

      I can deal with those (despite my fear of them) better than a bat in the house. I’ve lost count how many times a bat has gotten in the house. Those things give me the creeps.

      Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Why not?

      Who makes the rules on decor? It’s better than a collection of troll dolls in my opinion. However y’all can def still keep your troll doll armies, I’m only secretly jealous.

      I have a pop funko army of my own. They make me smile.

      Reply
  14. Jaid_Diah

    One of my friends at work has a bug phobia. We can talk about cricket flour and mealworm snacks (Thank you MOM’s Organic Market on Market East for selling these things in bulk, Whisky Tango Foxtrot) all day long, but I put a Post-it note over any comics in funnies section that feature bugs for her.

    Reply
  15. Mrs. Dean Winchester

    Oh, OP, I feel you so much on the embarrassment afterwards. I also have a pretty severe spider phobia, and I bike back and forth to work. One day, I came out to my bike and saw what I was 100% sure was a spider hanging from a web on my handlebars. I backed away and did some deep breathing to quell my panic attack, and then decided I was bussing home because getting on that bike sure wasn’t an option. Right as I made that decision, one of my coworkers walked by. The following conversation ensued:
    Me: “Hey, there’s a spider on my bike and I’m terrified of them, could you please get it for me?”
    Him: “Sure.” *walks over* “Uh, I don’t see a spider anywhere.”
    Me: “That yellow thing.”
    Him: “That’s a flower.”

    In my defense, it was hanging from a spiderweb at an angle that made it look like it had eight legs.

    Reply
  16. river

    My brother worked with a guy who kept a tank of LIVE redback spiders in his office. True, the guy specialised in creepy-crawlies, but nobody else in the building did. Also, those things are dangerous!

    Reply
    1. This Daydreamer

      Redback spiders? Aren’t they pretty much Australian black widows?

      Oh HELL no. There simply would not be room for both me and those things in the building and I can be be loud and stubborn.

      Reply
  17. Observer

    I have to say that I had a good laugh.

    But, overall, it sounds like a good update. Caroline sounds like she would be a reasonable person to report to, if you had to, so that all to the good.

    Reply
  18. Interviewer

    Glad to hear the update. But now I’m wondering how long it will take this giant beetle to fade and/or turn to dust, when it’s displayed in an office window, exposed to sunlight and temperature changes?

    Reply

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