Steffi (36) has never had a particularly close relationship with spiders. She always looked at the animals with disgust, would never have touched them voluntarily. And that although she grew up in the country. With garden, cellar and attic – thus ideal habitats for spiders. “At the time, I found spiders simply disgusting. It didn’t get really bad until I was a teenager,” she says. Bad means that Steffi suddenly broke out in a sweat and had a racing heart every time she saw a spider.
Her only thought in such a situation: escape. “If I was on the phone and a spider suddenly appeared, I just dropped the receiver and ran out of the room. I didn’t care about anything else.” Staying calm or even removing the spider – unthinkable for Steffi at that time. “I was like in panic and sometimes I could only calm down hours later”, she says.
If the fear gets worse over the years
‘This will get better as you get older’, her mother had often prophesied. Unfortunately, the opposite was the case and the fear of spiders increased noticeably with Steffi. Holidays were only taken in countries that were not coincidentally also known for their particularly large spiders. A walk into the cellar was almost only possible in company.
“At some point, I couldn’t even leaf through a book that I knew contained a picture of a spider”, she says, “That’s not untypical”, knows hypnotherapist Dietmar Brökelmann (hypnosetherapeut-heilpraktiker.de), “Existing fears can manifest themselves with aging in such a way that they become quasi overpowering and limit people’s quality of life more and more”. Young people therefore also have a much better prognosis of having an anxiety disorder treated.
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What are the causes of arachnophobia?
But where does the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) come from in the first place, which – at least in our latitudes – is irrational. After all, spiders are not dangerous here, or why should a daddy’s weaver’s apprentice on the ceiling cause us to sweat? Is the fear triggered by a key experience? Is it learned or can it have a completely different reason, for which the eight-legged animal is ultimately only the godfather?
Sentences like “She doesn’t do anything” are not helpful for those affected. The irrational fear of spiders can have many different reasons. © Marjan Apostolovic / Shutterstock.com
Learned or diffuse fears – the fear of spiders always has another reason
The reasons for arachnophobia are very individual. “Show me 10 cases of arachnophobia and you usually have 10 different triggers present,” says the hypnotherapist. Very classical is the learned fear, which occurs when we as a child are shaped by the behavior of our parents. This means: If our mother has already flinched in panic when she saw a spider, the probability is quite high that we act in the same way.
Movies, books, heard stories about spiders or people with arachnophobia can also trigger the same.
“There are also very diffuse fears that have nothing to do with the animal in the first place, but are projected onto the spider”, Brökelmann knows from his practice. In one case, a woman had suddenly developed a fear of spiders that she could not explain. In the hypnosis session it turned out that she was actually afraid of being alone. She wanted her partner to be around her all the time and the arachnophobia was therefore an attempt to bring about this state.
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If the suffering becomes too great: actively combat arachnophobia
Those who have understood the pattern of their fear and it slowly begins to dissolve, often feel like a new person afterwards. “An enormous burden is taken off the shoulders of the anxiety patient”, knows Dietmar Brökelmann, who repeatedly experiences in his practice how patients suddenly take a deep breath and start to smile while still under hypnosis. “After that, the quality of life of these people is completely different. They actually feel liberated.”
When small insects cause great panic, this can reduce the quality of life. © Marjan Apostolovic / Shutterstock.com
Also for Steffi the suffering became too big at some point. She describes the day when she knew that she had to act urgently: “When I wanted to get into the car with my 5-year-old daughter, a spider crawled in the footwell of my car. This almost made one of my greatest fears come true – that one day the fear would catch up with me while driving and I would provoke an accident”.
Steffi left the car in a hurry, her daughter left her strapped in the back seat of the car to ring the bell in the next house and ask a woman to remove the spider for her. “Then I knew that it couldn’t go on like this and that I urgently had to do something. I was also worried that my daughter might adapt this behaviour at some point and develop the same fear. “That’s not what I wanted.”
How can hypnosis help with arachnophobia?
But how does a hypnotherapist find the right cause and above all how does he manage to dissolve the fear in the subconscious? For this purpose Dietmar Brökelmann conducts an intensive conversation with the patient even before the actual hypnosis. How long has the fear existed? How great is the pressure of suffering and what feelings does the fear trigger in you exactly? Questions like these slowly bring the therapist on the track.
“During the hypnosis itself I continue to talk with the patient”, says Brökelmann, “You must not imagine the state of hypnosis as you know it from show hypnosis on TV.” Those who are in a trance are not out of it, but are in an extremely focused and awake state, which gives them the possibility to connect processes in the subconscious in a completely new way.
And this reconnection is ultimately the key to dissolving the fear. “During hypnosis I try to put something positive on the object of fear,” says the hypnotherapist. For example, the feeling of disgust and rigor mortis that a spider used to cause in us can be exchanged for the feeling of joy we might feel when we see a dog or cat.
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Being confronted with fear again and again in trance
Steffi also went into a trance in Brökelmann’s practice in Paderborn when she began to feel uncomfortable in her own house. At that time, going to the cellar or the garage was hardly possible for her. “A confrontation therapy was out of the question for me. Slowly approaching a living spider or holding a jar with a spider in my hands would have been unthinkable for me,” she says.
“Step-by-step confrontation, as used in cognitive behavioural therapy, can even be counterproductive for people with very severe phobia,” says Brökelmann. On the one hand, the fear can be increased even more, and on the other hand the feeling of not having overcome the fear can paralyse the person even further.
During the hypnosis Dietmar Brökelmann and Steffi walked through the rooms of their house again and again. “I always had to go downstairs to the cellar or the garage, switch on the light, take a close look at the walls. Little by little, it seeped through to me that spiders are completely harmless,” she says.
And after that? “After that the feeling was completely different”, describes Steffi, who still doesn’t cuddle with spiders today, but can lead a life without fear and restrictions. “If I discover a spider in the cellar today, this shock is gone. I am not happy, but I can remove it myself without panicking and screaming for my husband. And that is more than I could ever have imagined.”
Dietmar Brökelmann offers therapeutic healing hypnosis in his practice
Dietmar Brökelmann is a hypnosis therapist and alternative practitioner (psychotherapy) with his own practice in Paderborn. It treats all kinds of fears, traumas, addictions or behavioural anomalies. People with arachnophobia make up about 10 percent of his anxiety patients. They usually need between 2 and 8 sessions to completely resolve their fear of spiders. www.hypnosetherapeut-heilpraktiker.de.