Ophidiophobia – the fear of snakes. Most people are afraid of these slithering, creepy creatures to some degree. I don’t know about you, but I turn and run the other way when I see a snake.
A snake phobia, though? That’s a different story. We’re not talking about the usual snake fear (after all, some are poisonous). We’re talking about full-on panic attacks and nervous breakdowns.
Not surprisingly, this phobia is pretty common. In fact, it’s the most common phobia out there. Studies show that 1/3 of humans suffer from ophidiophobia.
The word “ophidiophobia” comes from the Greek word “ophis,” which means serpent.
But why do people fear snakes? Do you have ophidiophobia and don’t even know it? We’re going to explore this relatively common phobia and ways to overcome it.
- Why Do People Fear Snakes?
- Symptoms of Snake Phobia
- What Causes Snake Phobia?
- How to Overcome Ophidiophobia
Why Do People Fear Snakes?
Why are people afraid of snakes in the first place? Part of it is cultural response. We’ve been brought up to believe that snakes are dangerous, and their bites may even kill us. Throughout history, humans have undoubtedly come in contact with poisonous snakes – and died. We should be scared of snakes to some degree. Otherwise, we might wind up like our ancestors.
Science even backs up this theory. Scientific studies suggests that humans have an innate tendency to sense snakes and learn to fear them. In one study, researchers showed adults and kids pictures of snakes and other non-threatening objects. The participants detected the images of the snakes before the flowers, frogs and caterpillars.
Researchers believe this ability has helped humans survive out in the wild.
Humans naturally evolve to develop certain innate fears that allow us to avoid dangers. Even if snakes are nowhere in sight, the thought of one may trigger intense fear simply because your subconscious associates these creatures with “death” or something else that triggers anxiety and stress.
In certain parts of the world, people associate snakes with death, evil and even the end of the world. When you’re brought up with these beliefs, it’s not surprising that you’d have a phobia of snakes.
Symptoms of Snake Phobia
The symptoms of snake phobia are similar to the symptoms experienced with other phobias. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, people with ophidiophobia exhibit the following symptoms:
1. Persistent and Excessive Fear
Someone with a snake phobia will experience extreme and persistent fear when they’re near or see these slithering creatures.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a harmless corn snake or a deadly rattlesnake, people freak out when they see snakes. The snake doesn’t even have to be doing anything to trigger this response. It may just be slithering back to its home after a meal, minding its own business. If you have ophidiophobia, you’ll still be convinced that it’s out to get you – and your entire family – even though there’s no actual danger.
People with extreme snake phobias can have a full-on panic attack when they see pictures of snakes.
2. Immediate Anxiety Response
The sight of a snake or the anticipation of a snake will send some people into an immediate state of panic. The thought of a snake being anywhere near you will convince you that death is imminent and there’s no escape.
That feeling of utter and impending doom is common in severe anxiety and panic attacks.
3. Recognition That Fear is Excessive
Adults with a snake phobia can usually recognize and acknowledge that their response is extreme and excessive. But when children have ophidiophobia, they usually don’t realize that their response is out of the ordinary.
4. Avoidance of Snakes
Extreme avoidance is a tell-tale sign of a snake phobia. It’s not uncommon for people to get nervous or even freak out when they see a snake.
But when you start avoiding places you normally enjoy going because you’re afraid there might be a snake, you probably have a phobia.
Some people with snake phobias will even avoid zoos (where they keep snakes in cages) because they’re so afraid these creepy-crawly creatures will find them and take them down.
If your friend has a snake phobia and you get a pet boa, don’t expect to hear from him ever again.
Snakes try to avoid people out in the wild, but in areas where snake populations are high, ophidiophobics may avoid going outside altogether out of fear.
What Causes Snake Phobia?
What causes people to develop such extreme, debilitating fears of snakes? Is it movies, first-hand experience, something that happened in a past life (if you believe that sort of thing)?
Scientists believe that specific animal phobias develop in early childhood. They’re usually caused by three things: witnessed, personal and impersonal.
1. Personal Experience
The first and most obvious cause of a snake phobia is personal experience.
“When I was a child, I stepped on a snake and it bit me,” says now-adult child with a lifelong fear of snakes.
Accidental bites aren’t the only cause of snake phobias; children may also develop an extreme fear of these creatures because a harmless snake hissed at them or they felt threatened.
When people have a negative personal experience with snakes, they are far more likely to develop a phobia.
2. Witnessed Experience
Personal experience isn’t the cause of every snake phobia case. Some people develop an extreme fear of these slithering creatures because they saw a friend or loved one get hurt or threatened by a snake.
Witnessing the event can be emotionally traumatizing, so children learn to associate snakes with terribly bad things. This intense fear may last years or for the rest of the person’s life (unless treatment is sought).
3. Impersonal/Learned Experience
In cases of learned or impersonal experience based phobias, children or young adults may learn to fear snakes because they overheard stories or saw movies that highlighted the danger of these creatures.
Just think of the movie Jaws. It’s a safe bet that many people developed a phobia of sharks after watching that movie, especially young and impressionable kids, because the shark is made out to be the villain.
Along with these causes you also have, of course, the genetic factor we talked about earlier. People evolved to naturally fear snakes because some are so deadly.
People suffering with ophidiophobia may have a panic attack at the sight of a snake, but once the threat is gone, they find their body function returns to normal.
How to Overcome Ophidiophobia
People have a natural fear of snakes, which probably helped our ancestors survive in the wild. But when your fear of snakes has gotten so extreme that you avoid certain places and have an anxiety attack when you see photos of these creatures, it may be time to seek treatment.
Living with a phobia is no walk in the park. Unless you seek treatment, your fear will keep you in chains for the rest of your life.
The good news is that you have many treatment options. You can choose to attend an ophidiophobia treatment program, you may work with an e-home fellowship, or you can work with a private therapist to vanquish fear.
The correct treatment plan will give you the tools you need to move past your fear and start enjoying life again.
If your’e unsure of whether you have a true snake phobia, consider talking to a therapist about your concerns and take an anxiety test. The test will help you gauge the extremity of your fear and help you figure out whether you need treatment.
CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is how most phobias are treated from a medical standpoint. There are a few different types of CBT methods that are used to treat ophidiophobia.
1. Exposure Therapy
One of the most common and effective ways to treat any phobia is through exposure therapy. The idea behind this treatment method is that gradual exposure to snakes in a positive environment will change the conversation in your mind.
Eventually, the mind realizes that snakes really aren’t much of a threat. The world won’t come crumbling down if you’re within 10 feet of a boa constrictor. You’re not going to die on the spot if a corn snake slithers past your feet.
Exposure therapy allows for gradual desensitization, so snakes are no longer a trigger for anxiety. While you can perform exposure therapy at home and in your own way, this type of therapy gets the best results in a treatment center.
Treatment typically starts with gradual exposure to snakes. Your therapist may talk about snakes at first just to gauge your response. If you’re okay with talking about snakes, therapy may progress to showing you pictures and videos of snakes.
Videos and photos allow you to see snakes in a safe environment, which can help your progress when you’re eventually exposed to a live snake.
2. Cognitive Restructuring
Another effective way to overcome a snake phobia is through cognitive restructuring. With this type of therapy, the entire treatment process revolves around changing your thought patterns.
A therapist may have you write about your fear of snakes, and question the reasons for your fear. The goal is to pinpoint the underlying cause of your extreme fear. Once you know the cause, you can work to overcome your fear and change your perspective.
Negative thoughts are replaced with positive, true beliefs.
Cognitive restructuring can be a highly effective method when treating snake phobias, and the results are typically permanent.
3. Relaxation Training
Many people have successfully overcome their fears of snakes by learning how to relax when they’re near them. With this type of training, your therapist will teach you techniques to learn how to relax when you’re faced with the object of your extreme fear: snakes.
Relaxation training gives you the tools to not only stand in the face your fear of snakes, but any fear you may have now and in the future.
A hypnotherapist may also be able to help you overcome your fear of snakes, especially if you have an extreme aversion to the idea of exposure therapy.
If you’re not even open to the idea of being near a snake, hypnosis may be a good option for you.
With this type of therapy, a hypnotist will work with you to help find the exact moment your fear began and the cause of your fear. Hypnosis can also be used to retrain your mind and thought process, so the mind no longer associates snakes with extreme fear.
In extreme cases of ophidiophobia, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. These medications may also be helpful when going through exposure therapy.
Anti-anxiety medications can help ease your symptoms, but is not typically used as a replacement for CBT. These medications are only used as a temporary measure to keep symptoms under control in extreme cases of fear.
Exposure is the only real tried and true way to get over a snake phobia. To truly overcome a fear, you have to face it head-on. If that freaks you out just thinking about it, you can feel safe in knowing that you won’t just be thrown into a pit of snakes when you sign up for exposure therapy. The entire process is gradual and done with the helping hand of a professional.
If you don’t have the means to see a professional, there are numerous books that can help guide you through the process of overcoming your fear of snakes.
If you do decide to tackle your fear on your own, have friends and loved ones help you through the process. The more positive support you have, the greater your chances of success.