Since moving into our lush lake community ten years ago, I’ve had to dial down my skittishness toward bugs and other creatures. We share our wooded neighborhood with all kinds of wildlife, and slowly I’ve grown more comfortable with walking through spiderwebs and dodging flying insects that look downright prehistoric.
But lately the snakes have been out and about. First there was a snake in our back yard, and then one in the front yard. One day, I couldn’t walk down the stairs from our deck because a large black snake was slithering its way up the steps!
A week ago, my husband emerged from the basement and informed me that he had seen a snake in the storage room.
It’s one thing to be forced to give a snake a wide berth in the great outdoors, but the thought of one slinking around inside our house made me shiver.
“Well,” I announced, “I guess I’ll never go in that storage room again.”
Throughout the following days, I pondered my predicament. Staying out of that room forever was not a practical solution. We could ask the local wildlife wrangler to remove the snake, but it had already disappeared by the time my husband went back down a few minutes later.
We started jokingly referring to “snakey” and wondering where it might be. This helped bring some levity to the matter. Might it be possible to conquer my fear after all?
I’ve been working on my emotional growth over the last five years, so I have some insight into the challenge of personal change.
Like many humans, I’ve developed stories about myself and the world. These stories started in childhood and center around my insecurities and fears. My brain repeats them as a way to keep me safe from scary things.
I’m too chicken to do that.
I’m jumpy and high-strung.
I’d never try anything like that.
I’m anxious and paranoid.
This is just who I am.
Does leaving such stories intact grant them too much power? Can they be replaced?
I’m not a big fan of the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. I don’t think the most effective way to change is to tell yourself something that your mind knows is not true.
What’s worked for me with other long-held beliefs, has been a more gradual process of: 1) trying to understand why I adopted a certain story; 2) questioning its ongoing usefulness; and 3) imagining how my thought patterns might evolve.
With the snake, this looks something like:
- As a kid, my family life often felt beyond my control, and I transferred that fear to other things that threatened my sense of security, like bugs, snakes, and other creepy crawlers.
- Does continuing to subscribe to this mindset serve me now? Not really.
- I believe it is possible for me to be careful around potentially dangerous snakes without getting so distressed that it negatively impacts my life.
Thus, when I needed to go down to that storage room yesterday because my husband was otherwise occupied, I did so. I banged on the door before opening it and announced loudly to any snakes that I was entering the room. I kept my eyes peeled, did what I needed to do, and exited quickly and calmly. I even went in there again later in the day.
I think we can rewrite our stories. We can change assumptions about ourselves that feel fundamental to our identity. Now, don’t expect me to go adopting a snake anytime soon. But if I can tame this fear even just a little bit, it will help the next fright seem far less menacing.