Oh my gosh, I relate to your post 100%! I grew up super arachnophobic. I didn’t kill spiders, but not because I liked them - but because I was afraid I wouldn’t kill them all the way and then they’d run up my leg or arm and get me. Instead I’d ask other people to do it. My dad and older brother showed me the movie Arachnophobia when I was young and already terrified, saying it was a comedy movie, and to this day I can’t flick a string coming off a spider’s web!
But then, a few things happened. Twelve years ago, I started teaching at a Nature Center / Environmental Education place. They have a lot of live animal ambassadors, including a few tarantulas. I wanted to teach all the things, so I sucked it up and learned to hold the big furry spiders. I made my peace with them, in part because I heard they were not true spiders - one difference is that they have fangs underneath, not in front, and can tuck them away when they aren’t interested in biting. I liked that very much. I checked them each time I picked them up, and the fangs were always tucked. They were very docile species, raised by people, and actually really soft.
Later that year, a jumping spider appeared, and my friend & coworker @jessicafriedman180 pointed him out to me. I went to take a picture, hesitantly, and only because she’d said it was neat. Then it jumped at my camera lens and I dropped the camera and screamed! She explained it was a jumping spider. My first reaction: “A spider that jumps?!? NO THANK YOU.” But she held him (!!) and he seemed really curious, and had such big eyes. She let me know they don’t bite people. I didn’t hold that one, but made a mental note. They might be ok. But then, I saw more of them. Many more! They liked the picnic benches we sat at with the kids. I took the phrase “Fake it til you make it” to an extreme. When kids got scared of the spiders and wanted to hurt them, I pointed out we were in the spiders’ home. I let the spiders stay. One day a jumper crawled on me… and I didn’t fling it into oblivion. I let it be on me. I faked a smile. I showed the kids. I said “Isn’t this cool?” I hid the panic. And slowly, I stopped panicking. I recognized, ok they’re kinda cute. Dang it, they’re really cute. I like them! I LIKE THEM! And during that time, I started faking ok-ness with other spiders. I’d gotten a camera that does great close-ups, and I took close-up pictures of everything… and started including spiders in that, and their webs. I still didn’t love them all, and didn’t touch any but jumpers, but I could get close and take their picture. They didn’t attack me. They didn’t seem to care I was there. Sometimes they looked much prettier in a close-up than I’d noticed. I’d show the kids, and we’d all get excited together. One day, I even took a photo of a black widow up close. It just sat there, which meant - I could do that again. As as iNaturalist came into my life, the photos increased tremendously.
@jessicafriedman180 even called me out on it, saying “It’s pretty amazing that someone so arachnophobic takes so many pictures of spiders!”
I still don’t want to be near a black widow (other than going in for a close-up). I still can’t stand the feeling of a web on me. But I enjoy finding spiders, and taking their picture. I’ve let a wild tarantula crawl over my shoe. I’ve sought out spiders and photographed many. (I’m still catching up with posting them all.) I’ve watched spiderlings hatch without running for the door. I’ve learned to live with some, and scoop others up (with a jar) and move them, instead of squishing them. And I give credit to that first little jumper.