Co-existing with Bugs

“If it raises the hairs on the back of my neck, it’s a problem. That’s all the entomology I need.” That’s an actual quote from one of my parents, both of whom definitely don’t like bugs. Lots of people feel the same way – an insect or arachnid in the house has to be killed or run away from.

Our murderous disgust with bugs is a symptom of our disconnect with greater nature. (Of course, it probably comes from evolution too. That hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising feeling is an evolved nervous system reaction.)

Bugs also just don’t have good PR. (Bees do, though. #SavetheBees.) Googling bugs comes up with results for pest control and software bugs. Synonyms for bug include disease, germ, pest, and vermin. People might think you’re a weirdo if you study bugs or set bugs free when they wander into your household. You can easily find ant repellents and insect killers for sale, but try looking for insect-friendly options and your search comes up nil.

So how can we learn to coexist with creatures that have been demonized since the Biblical barrage of locusts? My first suggestion might seem extreme, but it sure worked for me: interact with insects, arachnids, and the like. I lived in the jungle in Ecuador for a month a few years back and came into contact with bugs that jumped at me, bit me, and hung out at the dinner table with me. I held a pine roach and he had an adorable little face and sticky little legs and he investigated my hands with his antennae before deciding he would hang out with me. I grew up running inside crying when I saw bugs that weren’t roly-poly bugs or ladybugs, and now I was holding the cockroach’s cousin. And I honestly enjoyed it, and my visceral reactions to creepy crawlies have diminished since.

My second suggestion is to learn about bugs and about human reactions to them. Do you ever wonder why spiders make your skin crawl? Do you ever consider how the ants got into your fourth-floor apartment, or how they even knew there were crumbs on the kitchen floor to eat? I’ve begun to ask myself questions like this and it’s made a difference. I’ve started to think about not what bugs are but who they are, and how they relate to my existence.

My third suggestion is a difficult one to practice: slow down your visceral step-on-it reactions. Think it out first. Sometimes I’ll still step on a bug because I see it and quickly think IEW OH NO! and then it’s dead and I can’t fix it. But since I grew up super anxious and getting cognitive-behavioral therapy, I usually know how to slow down my immediate, visceral reactions and recognize them for what they are. It’s not easy. Those thoughtless reaction are the result of generations of evolution that kept our ancestors alive and let us be born; humans, however, also evolved a concept of mind and an aspect of cognition that allows us to be malleable to our own wills. (In other words: we can change if we want to.)

What are some ways to slow down your immediate autonomic nervous system reactions when you see a little crawling thing? Well, first of all, feeling safe in an environment will automatically slow down that fear response. If you’re comfortable in a place you can practice some sort of safety meditation there to increase your feelings of comfort. (Meditation and breathwork, in general, are things I would suggest learning about or trying.)

Learning about insects and seeing them as interesting living things can help slow down your fear reaction too. Think about it: you might be scared of a hulking shape in the dark, but when the light’s turned on you aren’t afraid of your dresser!

You can have a more beneficial human-bug relationship. You exist and they exist, so why be miserable about it? And what are some things you wonder about this huge class of small creatures? ✿

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