Is it Possible to Inherit a Phobia?

Lynne Taetzsch Health Guide
  • For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a spider phobia. I always dread the beginning of spring and fall because after a relatively peaceful winter of no spiders, they come to life in the spring. Then in the fall, when it starts to get colder outside, they come into the house more for warmth.

    There were times when I had to call my young daughter to come and kill a spider for me because I was “trapped” in a room, unable to walk past it. When I was a child, it was my mother who had to get up in the middle of the night and shake out my blankets to prove to me that there were no spiders in my bed so that I would go back to sleep.

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    I was afraid of most insects as a child, though spiders were the worst. When I was ten or eleven years old, another girl filled my pockets with Japanese beetles, and it almost drove me crazy when I discovered it. I could not bear gardening because of this phobia, and one time while holding an armful of roses my mother was cutting, I threw up my arms and tossed the whole pile because I saw a spider in their midst. When I left home to live in my first cockroach-infested apartment, the only way I survived was by having a can of Raid with me at all times.

    My phobia has gradually lessened, but has never gone away. I can enjoy walks in the woods in the summer now, even if I do break through webs as I walk. And small spiders no longer bother me at all.

    What was more disturbing than my own phobia was finding that my young grandson seemed to have inherited my fear. Mike’s parents don’t fear spiders, and I never showed my own fear when I was with him. Yet from a very young age, he was terrified of spiders and other insects, while his younger sister would be happy to touch any creepy crawly thing she came across.

    Genes do seem to play a part in phobias, though it’s often hard to separate environmental, hereditary and psychological causes. Like most mental illness, there is probably a genetic propensity toward phobias that may or may not be triggered by environmental conditions. I don’t know what happened in Mike’s or my early life to trigger our spider phobias, but it does make me feel even closer to him. My daughter used to kill spiders for me, and now she has to do it for Mike.

Published On: February 06, 2007