It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us.
Today on the drive to one of the schools where I teach English, I rolled down my window to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Unfortunately, I also startled a giant huntsman spider (literally the size of the palm of my hand) who proceeded to scurry from the window column just behind me and scamper back and forth across the inside of the front windshield looking for a way out of his predicament...
Luckily for both of us I've spent the last several years building up an immunity to giant huntsman spiders, so I was able to calmly find a wide turnout on this narrow, winding mountain road and stop safely. He was totally flipping out, looking desperately for a place to hide and finding none on the wide expanse of the front glass. Fortunately I was able to reach across the car to open the passenger door just as he started to drop down, and he jumped right out.
Unfortunately, because I had stopped on the opposite side of the road, this put him right on the edge of the roadway, and because I prefer not to drop off passengers directly into danger, I got out to find a way to coax him into the bushes on the shoulder rather than crossing the street and getting run over... Well, he wasn't willing to climb onto my boot (understandably I suppose) for a walkover, so I looked around and found some random bamboo branch to scoop/chase him in the right direction. In the end, my stowaway and I were both saved from high-impact deaths and I happily arrived just in time for my first class.
If you detect a whiff of affection for my unwitting passenger, you wouldn't be wrong. I do actually admire and respect these gentle but impressive giant spiders that share my environment and home. But it definitely wasn't always the case. In fact, I used to be terrified of all spiders as a child and young adult, and killed them on sight, without mercy and no questions asked.
So what changed? How did I trade such a common spider phobia for my current calmness in the face of giant arachnids? Well, there were certainly stages to the process...
First of all, there was an odd but practical decision to be made. I went through a pretty serious goth phase during which I thought authentic spiderwebs made for excellent room decor. And of course, having authentic spiderwebs decorating ones house means that there must be some real live spiders dwelling there at least part-time. So I made an uneasy alliance with the smaller spiders that as long as they stayed (and decorated) in the corners, they could live. If they ventured out into the living spaces I frequented, they would be killed immediately. I also began carefully researching which spiders might actually be safe so that I could sort out the truly dangerous ones and continue killing them with extreme prejudice.
Along the way, through research and simple observation I learned some things about their lives and habits and the fact that, like my predatory pet cat with mice, they kept the local fly population down. Slowly, I began to get used to them and got lazy about enforcing my territorial death sentencing. Around this time I also became a vegetarian and eventually began thinking that if I was changing my diet to avoid killing cows, I should also probably start applying that same logic to the smaller creatures in my environment...
By this time I was moving out of the cobwebby-style goth and into more glamorous goth stages and instead of killing the spiders whose spinning services I no longer required, I was catching them in a glass and relocating them outside where they could continue to keep the local environment pest-free and I could feel good about not murdering them unnecessarily. This kind of constant close contact with them helped retrain my physical aversion to them so that I could calmly scoop them up without any fear or loathing. I had befriended the spider.
This process came in very handy when I ended up moving to Japan where lives the giant huntsman spider. These spiders are confrontingly huge and shockingly fast. And they are everywhere. They don't spin webs but just hide out in corners and then suddenly run across the floor or wall or ceiling... I was certainly intimidated. But I had already researched what creatures are dangerous in Japan and these monsters are definitely not on that list. So I knew I just had to reapply my previous training on a larger scale...
Through research and observation I found that they are actually pretty much blind and they run after things that vibrate the floor like bugs, or my feet. So yes, they do sometimes run at my feet aggressively but as soon as they notice that I also happen to carry a big shadow they instantly retreat with equal speed from whence they came. And if I try to move them off with a broom, they rear up and try to look like big baddies at first, but on the second try they give up, flop over, and pretend to be dead, just big and dead. Oh, and they eat cockroaches, which are also big and everywhere here...
So by the time I moved out here to the mountains of Japan, where relocating each individual spider would be a hugely pointless waste of time, I had made my peace with the giant huntsman spider. Now we coexist in a kind of partnership with them eating the more unpleasant pests of the humid summers and me providing them with plenty of corners to hide in during the cold winters...
So what is the point here? Well, first perhaps something about how a reasonable concern about something as dangerous as black widow spiders needn't prompt us to also kill cute little helpful jumping spiders on sight. And how that can be logically extrapolated up to more intimidating but equally harmless creatures as well (including, umm, the infinite variety of humans).
Second, fear itself. Fear can certainly help keep us safe, but it can also harm us. My old fear of spiders could have just killed me on the road if I hadn't already dealt with it. Yes, that's a rare case of serendipity, but fear can easily push us into poor choices in the mundane situations of daily life, and it can limit us in some of the life-changing opportunities that do sometimes come up.
And finally, adaptation. I adapted to living with spiders (and a lot of other creatures actually) through the practical realities, then research and observation, and then familiarity. It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us. Each fear and each person will have a different process, and some will probably benefit from including therapy of some kind... But if you have some fears that are limiting your life, consider processing them too. It can be so freeing--