In the immortal words of Indiana Jones, “Why did it have to be snakes?”
I made an unexpected discovery last weekend when I went for a walk – snakes. I went exploring a less-used path through some woods to save time on the way home. As I followed the path past a public swimming pool, I saw it. A giant garter snake. Black with yellow stripes. I admit it. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Sure enough, “rescuers,” a.k.a. pool attendants, asked me if I was okay. They likely thought I’d lost a limb.
Here’s what really happened.
- The snake wasn’t gigantic but it FELT giant to me.
- The reptile activated my reptilian brain that monitors fight, flight, or freeze responses … but I didn’t respond as predicted. More on that shortly.
- I recognize that snakes represent fear to me. I’m not surprised that fear emerges at this time of change in my life.
My fear of snakes is well understood by my family and friends. Typically, I get paralyzed, that is, I usually respond by freezing. When I freeze, I am literally stuck. I am neither here nor there. I’ve still made a choice, though. Being stuck means by default continuing along the same path. Same path equals the same outcome.
Fear as Saboteur
My snake saboteur (notice the sibilance?) appearing now is not a coincidence. I’m at a cross-roads in my life, building a new career and leaving safety – or safety as I used to define it – behind. Remaining paralyzed, afraid to take new paths, is my snake saboteur trying to keep me safe.
Remember that saboteurs perform a protective function and evolved from our childhoods. The snake saboteur bares its fangs to maintain the status quo. The saboteur wants to maintain safety at all costs. And the cost is steep.
While I won’t get hurt, I also won’t grow. And this is the crux of the matter.
Snakes as symbols are powerful; both healing and destroying. Think of the Rod of Asclepius associated with healing and medicine along with Medusa’s “hair” of venomous snakes that turned people to stone upon sight.
Ultimately, we must embrace both light and dark. To grow and embrace my power, I must accept my light and my dark. Sheesh, back to Jung. He popularized the idea of the shadow self, that is, the parts of you that you subconsciously reject.
Whatever was repressed in the above-ground domain of the ego was relegated to the shadow where it festered in obscurity, taking surprise stabs at the individual in his daily life … The shadow acts as a container for all the attributes that the conscious self disowns.
Do You Know Your Shadow Self?, 2022
A simple way out is deciding what feels better. I feel better being powerful as opposed to feeling safe.
Another option – change the dialogue as discussed in Judge Judy.
Back to the snake pit…
I responded to the snake by making myself bigger. Physically and emotionally. I stomped the rest of the way down the trail to make it clear to other snakes I was nearby. No fighting, fleeing, or freezing. It felt powerful. The next day, I walked the path again, this time with allies, to reinforce the learning.