Dear Douglas,

 

I want to know what is wrong with me. I have had a fear of lizards since I was a young girl, but now it is affecting me every day. I cannot relax, because I am thinking they are around me. When I see one on the wall, I run the other way and make someone get it out of my house. But when there is no one to help me I feel frozen to do anything. Sometimes it affects my sleep or I wake up and the first thing I think is about where the lizards are. My husband and family tells me not to worry, the lizard cannot hurt me. I know all of this…so maybe I am getting crazy. Can you help me?

 

— Crazy Girl

 

Dear Crazy Girl,

 

You are not crazy. You have something that many people have. It is called a “phobia”. It means an extreme irrational fear or aversion to something. People can have phobias of many things, including heights, spiders, flying, darkness, germs… and lizards or geckos. It is irrational… meaning that the fear doesn’t make sense, logically. You have said that you know that nothing very bad will happen if there is a lizard in your house or room. You might feel like you are “crazy” because it is irrational and the emotion (fear) is very strong.

 

Fear is an emotion that is meant to be helpful to us by warning us when we perceive danger. If it is not too strong we can make a good decision to deal with the danger. Often the solution is to confront the danger (fight), run away from the danger (flight), or to become invisible like animals who use camouflage (freeze). These responses are part of a survival instinct called stress mode, and generate hormones and other body chemistry, like adrenaline, in order to alert us to protect ourselves.

 

The problem comes when we overreact. Our body goes into “stress mode” when the real danger is not very high. Remember that emotions are fluid, like water, and that they come and go. We have all seen a child crying very hard one minute and 10 minutes later laughing and playing again. But sometimes we interfere with the fluidity of our emotions. We block them from moving through us and allow the intensity to build up so that they dominate our thinking and our behaviour, the choices we make.

 

In order to overcome the phobia it is necessary to confront it step by step. You have said that you “freeze” when you feel the fear of seeing a lizard. With the help of a support person, you will be able to overcome the fear by exposing yourself to lizards and tolerating the discomfort you feel long enough to see the emotion come and go. It is often best to start with some relaxation exercises. The next step might be to look at pictures. Look closely at the picture and observe the feeling you have, even if it is uncomfortable, until the feeling becomes less difficult. Step by step you go closer to the thing that you fear, with someone by your side, and simply pay attention to how the feeling comes and goes. You focus on your breathing and other ways to relax yourself.

 

My recommendation is to seek a psychotherapist who can help guide you through this. It has been proven to be successful and is called systematic desensitization. Look it up if you want to read more.

 

I am sure it will feel really good to overcome this fear and you will not need to wonder, “am I crazy?”

 

Good luck,

 

— Douglas

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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