The fear of snakes or ofiofobia is defined as uncontrollable panic and fear of snakes. Its symptoms can be embarrassing in daily life, especially in cases of severe ophiophobia.
Ophiophobia is the most widespread phobia in the world and affects both women and men. This universal aspect has questioned many anthropologists. Some think (Lynne A. Isbell in: »The fruit, the tree and the snake«, 2009) that it is an innate phobia inscribed in the memory of the human being since prehistoric times. This would make ophyophobia not only the most common phobia, but also the oldest.
It is very normal that people who suffer from this phobia will refuse to frequent places where they run the risk of encountering snakes (zoos, vivariums, for example). You will also not be able to watch movies in which there are probably snakes. All this is of the order of mental construction (imagination, projection, dream …) especially in the West where the risk of finding yourself in front of a poisonous snake is almost nil.
- Ophiophobia is characterized by an intense and irrational fear of snakes – even harmless snakes, such as snakes, cause it.
- Ophiophobia is one of the most common phobias : it is more precisely classified as zoophobia (fear of panic to an animal).
- Sometimes, it appears only when the subject is near a snake, but for the most serious forms, anxiety can also be triggered by seeing a photo of the animal or by its simple evocation when turning a conversation.
- In some cases, the phobia can also spread to other reptiles or even all crawling creatures (slugs, for example).
Symptoms of ophiophobia
- A person who suffers from this fear avoids at all costs the areas where he runs the risk of crossing a snake (nursery space of a zoo, forest …).
- She also tends to avoid documentaries, movies, and books that can evoke the animal in one way or another.
- You can check daily that no snakes have been hiding in your shoes or under your furniture.
- At the sight of a snake, it suffers from intense and uncontrollable anxiety, often accompanied by physical manifestations: feeling of tetanization, palpitations, suffocation, sweating, paleness, tremors, dizziness.
- The subject may also flee or pass out in some cases.
- Another possible symptom is the more or less recurrent presence of snakes in your nightmares .
- There are several possible causes for ophiphobia.
- Sometimes it is linked to a traumatic childhood event (snake bite), but it can also draw its source from the fear of castration: in psychoanalysis , the snake can represent a penis detached from the body.
- However, according to the scientific community, fear of snakes is primarily a survival instinct.
- Human beings would have naturally developed their distrust of snakes during evolution, to protect themselves from the venom of potentially lethal species: this would explain why ophiophobia is so widespread throughout the world.
- Later this fear would be amplified by the serpent’s association with Evil in Genesis. Not to mention its recurring use in many horror movies.
- Personal traumatic circumstances (snake bites, placement in a difficult situation in the presence of a snake, comments about the dangerousness of the snake, religious link between the snake and the “original fault” …) can be found that would explain an opiophobia.
- But it is also necessary to take into account the universal nature of this phobia, as stated below.
Physical, psychological and behavioral consequences
- The fear of snakes can lead to a generic fear for all reptiles that go as far as the phobia of earthworms and slugs.
- Anything that crawls becomes a source of anxiety.
- The physical reactions are of the order of a fear of suffocation, a fear of a fatal bite that will lead to strong skin reactions (redness, excessive sweating….), Tremors….
Possible treatments for phobia
- Behavioral approaches have been shown to treat ophiphobia.
- It is about modifying current behavior without necessarily looking for a possible cause in the subject’s past.
- Psychoanalysis establishes a fairly direct link between the serpent and the symbolism of the penis.
- The snake would be seen as a representation of a penis detached from the body and would refer to a castration complex.
- Therefore, the therapeutic work will be carried out around this notion and the oedipal crisis around 3 to 6 years.
- What is generated for both sex without exceptions.
- Psychoanalysis and / or behavioral and cognitive therapy (CBT) are often effective against ophiophobia: the former seeks the exact cause of the problem, while the latter consists mainly of gradually exposing the subject to the source of his anxiety so that he can control it.
- Sometimes antidepressants or anxiolytics are prescribed in parallel to relieve significant symptoms.
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Some truths about snakes
- Before running away from all the crawling little beasts, you may have to try to reason with yourself.
- Because fear gives you a distorted view of reality.
- Here are some good truths to ponder:
- Snakes do not attack man, they flee when they hear him coming;
- Fewer than one in 10 species of snake is potentially poisonous to humans, and even fewer are lethal.
- In France, only snakes are to be feared and yet all are not dangerous;
- There are 1 to 3 fatal snake bites per year.
- There are very few large snakes of several meters, and they only live in the tropics;
- It is man who is a danger to snakes, and not the other way around, because he makes species disappear by destroying their natural habitat (especially in South America or Asia).
Depending on the intensity of the phobia, the subject may:
- Being in a situation of extreme difficulty or being unable to frequent certain places where snakes can take refuge,
- They experience extreme difficulty or inability to watch documentaries about the animal in question,
- Perform ritual checks of certain places: clothing, furniture, habitats,
- They have more or less difficulty seeing the photo of a snake,
- Having nightmares about the animal,
- Feel the presence of more or less significant neurovegetative symptoms such as sweating, palpitations, anxiety, etc.
- Generally, people with this disorder are aware of what is happening and how real their fear is, which is clinically proven to generate important meanings.
What psychological treatment for ophiphobia?
- In the absence of other associated psychological disorders , snake phobia is treated very well in the vast majority of cases.
- It is not about exploring the patient’s past, but about giving him simple exercises that allow him to gradually master his phobia.
Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.