The spider and developing trust
This is a true story - something that actually happened to me. The story for me had an important message about the capacity to develop trust, over time, for the things we fear and dislike the most, and what an amazing gift this can be when it happens. Because of the lovely lesson I learnt from this experience I would like to share it.
A long time ago I had an experience, for a few months, of living on my own in an old cottage in the countryside. The cottage had no mod cons, no electricity. In the evening, except for the light of the fire, no light. Living in this cottage, for the short period of time that I did, was a truly beautiful experience. One of my better memories was the peace and quite - the time I had to myself. I was on my own but not alone. I did not feel lonely. Despite having no computers, television or radio, I was not bored. I had my books, the walks in the countryside, my embroidery and that lovely open fire in the inglenook fireplace; a very simple lifestyle for some and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea. However, for me at the time, when I needed to find myself again, it was the best it could possibly get. In the evening I would sit outside until it got too cold and dark and then I would come back inside, light the fire and sit by it, pondering over life and the meaning of it.
One early October evening, as everything was changing, the leaves, the weather and the smells of the countryside around me, I sat looking into the fire I had lit and something caught my eye, a small black movement, like a dark shadow swiftly moving across the floor. I looked quickly and there it was, a great big black monster of a spider. For me, this we not a good contribution to the calmness of my evening by the fire. I realised at this moment how terrified I was of spiders. I don’t understand them, don’t want to be near them, and quite frankly I just don’t trust them. Don’t ask me why - I just don’t.
Power and control
This intrusion into my very special countryside sanctuary was a big compromise for me. I felt like one October evening, for no apparent reason, I had been catapulted from magical tranquility to the terrifying trauma of dealing with a threatening intruder in my house every night. Looking back on it now, as someone who understands trauma and the fight and flight response, I realise how much of a shock this must have been for me. I went from the most amazing calmness every evening, to fear, adrenaline and hyper arousal each evening. It’s bizarre to think of this as it was only a spider. However, spider or not, it was to me a threatening intruder and one big fat trauma trigger. Although I tried to get rid of the spider, I could not. I did not have it in me to kill it. This meant it had a lot of power over me; or did I give it a lot of power over me? I was terrified of it and terrified of destroying it. Looking back now though I am very glad I did not destroy it, as this terrifying little, black hairy creature eventually became a great teacher and friend of mine.
Rage and trauma
Initially though, each night from the beginning of October, I had to face the visit of this black monster in my house. Very quickly I realised, in my fight or flight warrior mode, that we needed to establish some sort of boundaries. This was a tricky procedure because the spider did not speak English. I could not just sit it down on the sofa next to me and have a serious talk about which corner of the room belonged to who. No - this spider was alien, it had no rules, no sense of fair play, justice or compassion for me - it just crawled, stalked around wherever it wanted to, with me at its mercy - powerless. After a few days of feeling terrified and trapped, something happened inside of me. I started to get angry with it. This was the beginning of the very important lesson I feel it had come to give me. It was crawling everywhere and I could not move with fear; suddenly I felt furious, and I grabbed a long stick, banged it on the ground and shouted at it “go away - leave me alone”. The spider scuttled away very fast to the other side of the room, and boundaries were made clear. Actually looking back today I feel sorry for that spider as I shouted so loudly at it, in such a rage. However, something happened in that moment, a leveller, an equaliser. I found my capacity to not be a victim, to not be so disempowered.
The next night I did not see that spider in the same way. That night for the first time I sensed its traumatised aura, maybe as a response to my rage at it the night before. I looked at it and could not feel the same fear or anger. Actually I felt some compassion for it as it creeped slowly forward, little by little, when I was not looking. I sensed it was watching me now, maybe terrified. At this point I came to understand that it had the capacity to hurt me through my own fear of it. However I had the capacity to hurt it through my rage response to it and it’s capacity to fear my response. It was then I realised that this equaled hurt + hurt, and two hurts don’t make a right. In a moment of compassion for this hairy creature I decided that we did have to come to an understanding, and if we could then maybe we could start to possibly even form some trust with each other. Oh my what a thought, developing trust for a creature I had always feared!
Time, compassion and eventually trust
I realised that if I could find compassion for this terrifying, hairy monster, then over time I might even develop this further and come to find empathy and trust for it, and this is exactly what happened over time. As the journey moved forward over the days and weeks, with my now wise hairy teacher, I learned that with my stick, this time, as I watched it cautiously and it watched me, I could bang three times on the floor, when it got just a bit to close for comfort. I learnt to trust that if I communicated this it would listen and oblige, move back and give me my space. I learnt that my screaming had been too much for it, and that it upset me to see it frightened of me too. The very lovely thing was that over time this communication and trust between us developed further.
Over the days and weeks we met each night, by the light of the moon. The spider got closer and closer to me, listening carefully to me and my need for boundaries, and I grew calmer. In turn I believe it came to develop trust for me too. With this, I really believe a warmth and empathy developed between us, and the fear and control dissolved. This spider no longer ruled me with terrifying power and dominance; instead this spider had gained my trust and I had gained its trust. When I finally left that lovely cottage, I actually cried when I said goodbye to the cottage and to my teacher and friend - the spider.
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About Penny Wright
My name is Penny. I am an integrative counsellor (registered MBACP)
As well as traditional counselling within the counselling room I offer Walk and Talk Counselling, within beautiful nature, on a lovely rural farm in Sussex or within an easily accessible countryside environment close to Brighton. Please phone 07584201837 to find out more.