Episode 363: Treating a Phobia of Wasps & Adjusting to Moving in With a Partner

Hello, friends! I hope you are treating yourselves well. In this episode, we dive deep into two thought-provoking listener questions.

Our first discussion revolves around a listener who’s grappling with a profound fear of wasps, known as spheksophobia. This phobia has had a significant impact on their quality of life, especially during the summer. We delve into the nature of specific phobias, their prevalence, and debunk some common misconceptions about wasps. Moreover, we explore potential strategies for addressing and managing such fears, emphasizing the role of exposure therapy and the significance of understanding one’s fear hierarchy.

The second question opens a window into the world of a couple navigating the challenges of moving in together. One partner has relocated from a cherished home, and both are experiencing the typical growing pains of cohabitation for the first time. We discuss the importance of communication, curiosity, and compromise in this new chapter of their relationship. By establishing routines, rituals, and shared spaces, they can create an environment that feels like home to both, while also setting aside time for individual activities to foster a deeper bond.

Your questions always bring valuable insights to our conversations. If there’s a question or topic on your mind, feel free to send it over to duffthepsych@gmail.com. For full show notes, head to http://duffthepsych.com/episode363.


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Question 1: Phobia of Wasps

Hi Duff,

Enjoying your podcasts and was reticent about posting this in case you think it is a joke or trivial. I can assure you that my constant panic in summertime is neither, and is making my life one constantly vigilant vigil. I am starting to think that going to purposely get stung is the answer, but I don’t know if this will fix the problem, and don’t know if I could go through with it ? I guess in a way this is self harm ?

The only time I was stung was aged 5, and although I recall that it hurt, it does not seem to equate to the level of panic I feel when I hear that buzzing. I have tried the standard advice to stay still, but they don’t go away, in fact they try to land on me ! I also now believe (and experience gives positive confirmation bias) that they target me. If one comes into a room it immediately comes to me – is it really true it can smell or sense my fear ? So inevitably I end up flapping like a hummingbird and giving Linford Christie a run for his money over 100m. My wife was sensitive and understanding initially, but now she just thinks I am an idiot.

I know this might not seem important compared to some of the issues I have heard you cover, but the levels of panic and anxiety I feel, even to the point of flapping because I am imagining the buzzing in my ear. Strangely I do not exhibit the same levels with bees.

Would purposely getting stung fix this anxiety, and do you have a better strategy than staying still (at which point I believe being stung is inevitable).


Thank you for writing in. I deeply understand and empathize with your fear of not being taken seriously, but please know that your concerns are anything but trivial. From what you’ve described, it sounds like you’re grappling with what professionals might term a “specific phobia.” In your unique situation, this appears to be a phobia of wasps, known as spheksophobia. A specific phobia is characterized by an intense, persistent, and frequently irrational fear of a particular object, situation, animal, or environment. It transcends ordinary fear, often leading to behaviors designed to avoid the feared object or situation. Even though the fear might appear exaggerated to others, the emotional distress and the disruption it causes in one’s life is very real.

For some context, studies estimate that between 7-9% of the U.S. population, or about 20 to 30 million people, suffer from at least one phobia. So, rest assured, you’re not isolated in this struggle. Phobias can center on a variety of subjects. Some individuals fear dogs, spiders, or birds, while others dread heights or flying. A phobia of wasps isn’t unusual.

I want to emphasize a crucial point you raised: the tangible impact this phobia has on your life, particularly during the summer months. Seeking help for this isn’t a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s a testament to your courage. You’re eager to reclaim your life from this fear, and I commend you for it. The encouraging news is that phobias are treatable. Research consistently shows that a majority of those who pursue therapy witness substantial improvement.

My primary recommendation would be to engage with a therapist or psychologist who specializes in treating phobias. However, there are several self-help strategies you can also explore. A productive first step might be to understand your fear better. Perhaps jot down potential triggers or exposure scenarios and rate each on a scale of 0-10, based on how distressing you anticipate they’d be. For instance, being confined with a wasp might rank a 10, while merely hearing a wasp buzz might rank lower. This exercise will help you identify which situations you can tackle immediately and which require a more gradual approach.

If you’re comfortable, consider embarking on a journey to better understand wasps. It’s common for people to harbor misconceptions about them. Contrary to popular belief, wasps aren’t inherently aggressive. They mainly become so when they perceive a threat to themselves or their nests. Moreover, there’s no scientific proof suggesting that wasps can sense human fear. They’re more likely attracted by the summer foods and drinks we enjoy.

You’ve expressed concern about the buzzing sound, but it’s essential to recognize that buzzing doesn’t equate to an impending attack. It’s just a natural part of their search for food or exploration. There are also several preventive measures you can adopt, like being alert to nests or using natural repellents.

Regarding your query about getting intentionally stung, I understand your reasoning. However, I wouldn’t recommend it. The risk of complications from a sting aside, such an experience might intensify your fear. Instead, consider developing an “exposure hierarchy” and, alongside anxiety-regulating techniques, begin addressing each level step by step.

In conclusion, it’s essential to be patient with yourself. Overcoming a phobia is a journey, and it’s okay to seek help along the way. As for your wife’s reactions, it’s challenging for those who haven’t experienced a phobia to truly understand it. Sharing resources or even this response might help bridge that gap. Remember, you’re neither silly nor at fault. You’re confronting a mental disorder that countless others face too, but with the right tools and determination, it’s treatable.

Question 2: Adjusting to Moving In

Good morning Dr. Duff,

Recently my partner and I moved into our very first apartment together. She left a place she really loved to live closer to my work and I’m very appreciative of it. In our new place, she’s been dealing with feeling out of place. It’s both our first time living with a partner, and she has been living alone the last 4 years. She struggles with being extremely conscious about things she does and how it may impact me. Do you have any advice on how I can help alleviate her anxiety, or any way to help her feel less our of place? Thank you for all you do.


Wow, that’s a whirlwind of change in such a short span! I can genuinely empathize with both of you for the strong emotions this transition might be stirring up. She’s not only made the significant step of moving away from a place she held dear, but both of you are navigating the novel waters of cohabitation for the first time. Add to that her previous four years of living independently, and it’s clear that adjustments are inevitable.

Your relationship’s evolution to this juncture speaks volumes about its strength. Even the most appropriate decisions, ones that resonate with our core values and aspirations, come with their own set of challenges. It’s essential not to read too much into the difficulties she might be facing right now. A period of adjustment doesn’t imply that this wasn’t the right step or that there’s a deeper issue at play. It’s all part of the learning curve that both of you are on.

As her partner, one of the best things you can offer is patience and understanding. Recognize that her heightened sensitivity or tentativeness isn’t indicative of any wrongdoing on her part. Continue to reassure her, and when you communicate, prioritize honesty and directness. I’m a big proponent of leading with curiosity. This means refraining from making assumptions about why she’s behaving a certain way. Instead, engage her in open-ended conversation. For instance, if you notice her moving extra quietly one evening, instead of assuming it’s because she’s worried about disturbing you, ask her directly. A dialogue like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you tiptoeing around. Is everything okay?” might reveal her concern about not wanting to disturb your sleep due to work the next day. You can then reassure her, emphasizing that it’s as much her space as yours, and she needn’t be overly cautious.

This principle of leading with curiosity can be applied in various scenarios. It’s always better to gauge her emotions through direct communication rather than presumptions. She might appear anxious on the surface, but she could be feeling a mix of excitement and happiness internally.

Another potential source of her unease could stem from transitioning from a solitary living arrangement, where everything was solely hers, to a shared environment. To mitigate this, consider involving her actively in making the apartment feel like home for both of you. Perhaps she could spearhead some decorating projects or even carve out a small space in the apartment that’s uniquely hers, like a reading corner.

Beyond the physical environment, blending two distinct lifestyles can take time. Establishing shared rituals and routines can go a long way in making both of you feel connected. This could be as simple as cooking meals together, binging on your favorite shows, or taking evening strolls. At the same time, it’s vital to recognize the importance of individual space and pursuits. Encourage her to engage in her own hobbies and activities. It’s a delicate balance, ensuring your lives are intertwined without feeling suffocated.

The journey you both are on requires patience and understanding. Keep the channels of communication wide open and always remember you’re in this together. Express your gratitude to her, acknowledging the sacrifices she’s made for the relationship. Recognizing her efforts and assuring her of her value in your life can go a long way.

Stay positive and give it time. With empathy, communication, and a bit of patience, I believe you both will find your rhythm and thrive in this new chapter of your lives.

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