I used to think my husband was fearless, until he found a spider in the bathroom.
Photo Credit: Theodore Black, Creative Commons
It was early one morning, last year sometime. We were staying with my parents for the holidays, and my husband got out of bed to take a shower. Suddenly, I heard him call from the other room. I jumped out of bed and rushed to where he was.
That’s when I saw it—a big, hairy, long-legged monster of a spider.
Both of us sort of stood there, looking up it intently, unwilling to take our eyes off of it because, of course, that meant we would lose it forever. And in that moment, while we stared at the big hairy spider, I realized a few important things about fear.
First, we’re all scared of something.
For so long, I thought my husband was fearless. He’s so constant and stoic—rarely showing too much emotion in any situation. And something about seeing him experience fear that day helped me realize something important:
Fear is a normal, human emotion.
I know that sounds so elementary, it’s a wonder I ever doubted it, and a wonder I have to spell it out here. But how often do we feel isolated by our fears because we assume we’re the only ones who experience them?
It was actually really helpful for me to see my husband experience fear that day. It made me realize I’m not the only one.
Second, most of the time, our fears are irrational.
This is the other thing I realized about fear as I watched my big, burly, bearded husband stand back and let the spider prevent him from taking a shower. It’s not that I would have done anything differently if I were in his shoes, but it was as if suddenly I realized how ludicrous it was for a giant human to be scared of a tiny spider.
I kept saying, “just smash him with a towel,” and he kept responding, “you just smash him with a towel!”
Both of us refused, and it made me realize how easy it is to justify our own fears while recognizing just how ridiculous the fears of others actually are.
Third, our fears are telling us something.
I’m guessing our fear of spiders has something to do with evolution. I don’t know this for sure, and I’ve done exactly zero research, but I’m guessing that since many spiders are poisonous, humans have learned to be afraid of them over time.
Isn’t that crazy—that fear can be a learned trait?
It makes sense, if you think about it. Many of the things we’re afraid of we’ve never actually experienced before. Broken bones. Plane crashes. Robbery. The house burning down. A few of our fears are learned in our personal lives (heartbreak, for example) but most of our fears are learned fears.
They’re stories passed that have been passed down over time.
Who is teaching you to be afraid? Your parents? The news? Old stories from a former version of yourself?
Why are you listening?
Most often, I would argue, our fears are pointing us in the right direction.
We assume it’s the other way around—that when there is something scary in front of us, we should turn around and walk the other direction. But I think, most often, our fears are saying: this is the right way to go.
I’ll never forget the image of my husband, on mission to take a shower, with the spider standing in his way. To me, this is a powerful image of fear in our lives. So often we feel afraid of something, simply because it’s standing in the path of what we already know we’re supposed to do. If my husband didn’t want or need to take a shower that morning, the spider wouldn’t have been an issue.
If it didn’t matter, he would just turn around and walk the other way.
So the next time you’re afraid of something, cut yourself a break. Consider how fear is a basic human emotion, and how everybody feels fear at one time or another. Remind yourself your fear is probably irrational, and ask yourself what story has taught you to be afraid of this situation.
Then, give thanks for the valuable piece of information: You’re pointed in the right direction.