Humans have many fears. The fear of snakes or Ophidiophobia is the second most common phobia in the world. Nearly 1/3rd of adult humans are believed to have an intense fear of snakes.
Most people with Ophidiophobia can lead normal lives as they do not have to confront the object of their fears under normal circumstances. However, for people with severe Ophidiophobia, the mere mention, or an image of a snake in books or on TV can lead to an intense fear response, the reactions of which can even include heart attacks and death.
Causes of Ophidiophobia
Snakes are fascinating creatures that have always had myths associated with them. These myths are the major reason why humans fear them. This and the fact that some snakes are deadly and venomous and can lead to deaths have probably led to Ophidiophobia.
Following are the causes of Ophidiophobia:
- Ignorance and lack of education is one of the most common reasons why humans fear snakes.
- Traumatic episode in the past such as accidently stepping on a snake or being bitten, hissed at or otherwise threatened by snakes might have lead to one’s Ophidiophobia.
- Seeing or witnessing an incident wherein another person, a close friend or family member was hissed at, or bitten by a snake can also lead to the fear of snakes
- Media reports and TV shows can also lead one to believe that snakes are always dangerous leading to Ophidiophobia.
- Genetic traits, family history with ophidiophobic persons etc can also lead other family members to have an intense fear of snakes.
- Evolution is another reason behind this phobia. Many evolutionary psychologists explain Ophidiophobia as a ‘disgust response’ to snakes that have always been associated with death, disease or poison.
Ophidiophobia is a part of Zoophobia, a generic term for the fear of animals. Some cases of zoophobia are stronger in the childhood and go away in the adulthood. In other cases, the phobia persists and remains even in adulthood.
Symptoms of fear of snakes
The American Psychiatric Association has described following symptoms of Ophidiophobia which can be categorized as mental, physical or emotional:
- Uncontrollable anxiety especially when one is about to be exposed to snakes
- Feeling that one must do anything to avoid snakes
- Screaming, crying or experiencing the difficulty to breathe, or trembling or shaking violently when one encounters snakes, their pictures or images on TV etc.
- Feeling anxious or experiencing increased heart rate when taken to locations where snakes may be present.
Ophidiophobia can affect a person’s normal life especially when he/she avoids zoos or friends’ homes where there are pet snakes. Ophidiophobics refuse to leave their homes in places that are having high snake population.
Treatment of Ophidiophobia
If you or someone you know is experiencing an irrational fear of snakes, you can look into one or more of the following treatment options:
- Desensitization and reprocessing- This therapy is effective in addressing past traumatic experiences that might have caused the Ophidiophobia. It helps the patient overcome his/her fear by making him/her look at images of snakes and gradually enable him/her to hold small snakes. This helps the individual overcome fear and move forward in life.
- CBT or cognitive behavior therapy- Cognitive behavior or restructuring helps the individual identify his/her thought patterns that lie behind the fear of snakes. The patient is made to write down thoughts as to why one fears snakes. These include thoughts like: “snakes are slimy”, “they are dangerous and have the ability to kill humans” and so on. Writing down these thoughts can help the ophidiophobic identify patterns leading to fear, anxiety and stress. The patients also learn to replace their negative associations with positive beliefs. This, in turn, can help decrease the fear.
- Relaxation techniques- These include meditation, controlled breathing, counting and positive reaffirmations when faced with images of snakes. The best part about these techniques is that one can tailor their own solutions and help oneself overcome the fear of snakes.
- Individual counseling or group therapy- Talking about one’s fears can help release negative feelings while coming up with strategies to cope with their phobia.
By using the treatment options mentioned above, one can overcome their Ophidiophobia in order to not only lead a normal life but also enjoy the beautiful creatures that are a fascinating part of our Nature.