I realise this starts out looking like a GTKY, but what I’m hoping to give is a practical solution to a very real problem. In order to give advice based on my personal experiences, some degree of background is necessary. Bear with me.
For the greater part of my life, I have been an arachnophobic. When confronted with a spider of almost any size, I suffered all the symptoms that momomom describes above, particularly heart palpitations and a proclivity to “freeze up”. The size and proximity of the offending arachnid were directly proportional to the severity of these effects; a relatively small spider on the other side of the room might cause me only mild discomfort, while a glowering, fist sized creature scuttling along my arm might send me into stomach cramps and general hysterics.
Being British, I share my nation with spiders that are decidedly moderate in size, generally lacking in hair or visible mandibles and without exception harmless. My phobia has pretty well precluded me from doing any serious jungle travel, or, after reading Bill Bryson’s excellent “Down Under”, visiting Australia. Seeing a tropical spider on television would ensure that I would bolt up right at 3am the following morning, screaming in a previously undiscovered falsetto voice. If I were to be taken to George Orwell’s Room 101, I would sell out my friends, family and assorted loved ones before they even opened the door.
One final personal detail is necessary here: as both a vegetarian, and general, all-round softy liberal, I don’t kill. Animals, insects, vexing small children. Barring the few million bacteria I must be constantly slaughtering, and the odd ant beneath my feet, I do my best not to harm anything. This, however, left me powerless against my fear- as “fight” was an option closed off to me, “flight” was my only recourse. I won’t go so far as to say it dominated my life, but it could make it highly inconvenient.
It might not be sound psychology, particularly moral or even rational, but one day I started to kill every spider I lay eyes on. Not in a deranged, frothing way either; I methodically would retrieve a piece of kitchen roll, stride across the room, gather it up and crush it. What became immediately apparent was that spiders no longer repulsed me. The things that previously made my skin crawl: their movement in particular, seemed irrelevant. Only spiders on television continued to bother me (and even these much less so) because I was unable to crush them in my triumphant manner.
Now, I hardly kill spiders at all. Oh sure, if one is so impertinent as to scurry onto the dining room table, I might squish it with a handy napkin for old times sake, but to be perfectly honest they simply don’t bother me anymore. My status as a two-legged war criminal, a perpetrator of gross acts of arachno-genocide, have redressed the order of nature. I can’t say for certain that if I came across an Australian Funnel-Web that I wouldn’t relapse, but only time will tell with that one. Wish me luck.