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Little did Miss Muffet know when she sat down to eat a pleasant lunch that she was about to suffer from one of the most common phobias in the Western world. The appearance of the spider frightening Miss Muffet away should come as no surprise to the number of people who actually suffer from moderate to severe arachnophobia, which is an unreasonable fear of spiders. In fact, in the US, about 50% of women, and 25% of men report some degree of arachnophobia, so Miss Muffet is in good company.
All phobias represent an unreasonable fear of something. In truth, very few spiders are dangerous to humans. For the person suffering from arachnophobia, it really doesn’t matter to logically tell the person that he or she is in no danger. The arachnophobe generally can’t listen to reason or logic on the subject, and even the most innocent Daddy Long Legs may provoke a flight or fight response. In arachnophobia, danger is perceived if a spider is seen or suspected to be present, even if no true danger exists.
People with arachnophobia may also fear other types of arachnids, like scorpions, or they may have an overwhelming fear of all insects. Arachnophobia can sadly limit a person’s behavior. If you intensely fear spiders, you might not want to go anywhere where you could encounter one. This means camping trips or visits to the woods could definitely be out of the question.
Another trouble for those with arachnophobia is that spiders commonly live in houses. To suddenly be faced with your greatest fear dangling from a window or the bathroom wall can be a difficult encounter. Those with extreme arachnophobia might feel completely paralyzed by such an encounter and be unable to move or to approach the spider.
Some of us have a mild fear of spiders, expressed by a sense of heightened fear around spiders, or “the willies” if we have to remove a spider from the home. In many cases, better understanding of spiders can allay any mild fear of spiders. Although arachnophobia requires real treatment, there is hope for arachnophobes who want to recover from this phobia.
Treatment for most phobias focuses on desensitization. People write about their fear, watch the objects they fear, and learn to turn off their flight/fight response. In some cases, doctors are now using virtual reality images of spiders, so that patients can interact with “virtually” real spiders and thus lessen their arachnophobia. Though the process takes time, most people with arachnophobia can learn to conquer irrational fears of spiders. People with only a mild fear of spiders may never seek treatment if the fear does not seriously affect their daily lives.