<#comment>I’m a 17-year-old girl who’s terrified of lizards, to the point where I have nightmares about them. I  cannot even look at a picture of one. The fear began when I was very young. How can I tackle this fear?

We all have our own little fears of this or that but a phobia is something far more than this. To others, these fears can seem irrational, even silly, but to the sufferer they’re anything but. Just because it isn’t as ‘traditional’ as a phobia of spiders or snakes for instance, it doesn’t mean it’s any less serious.

I’ve encountered countless phobias over the years, that for other people, may seem bizarre – such as a fear of balloons, buttons, even stairs to name a few. These issues can have a real impact on a person’s daily life.

You mention that your fear began when you were young, which is a typical trait. I imagine there has been a specific traumatic memory involving a lizard somewhere along the line.Young children’s minds are extremely impressionable – easy to frighten, easy to build on their incredible imaginations – and being confronted with something that scares us as toddlers can leave a lasting aversion to whatever that may be. That’s where an ‘association’ is developed. It’s only when we become more mature that we become aware of how irrational these fears are, but we’re still powerless to combat them as they’re now ‘hard-wired’ into our brains.

Never fear! (Sorry.) You can learn to re-map your ‘fear-core’. Try thinking back to when your fear began – pinpointing a specific early memory that may have sparked it. This way you can start to understand how your phobia may have developed. Often, understanding the root of the issue can help you in overcoming it; by methodically working backwards to trace your fear, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.

Another option is to seek the help of a trained professional with expertise in this field. They’ll be able to structure a detailed programme of management that may involve exploring the root cause of the phobia and gradually building up your tolerance to looking at lizards, progressively moving through phased steps towards the biggest step, which for you would be touching or holding a lizard.

I’ve worked with people with mortal fears of animals who subsequently have gone on to get up close with their former antagonist.

There is much you can do to help yourself. Think of combating fear as climbing a ladder, and this fear ladder can only be climbed one rung at a time. As regular readers know, I love making lists and letters to ourselves – they work!

Start by making a comprehensive list of frightening situations related to your lizard fear, then rank them from least scary to most terrifying. Then you have your ladder. Draw it out visually with each step labelled on the rungs. These are your goals. By this I mean your first goal might be to look at a picture of a lizard for a couple of seconds. Your most extreme goal might be to hold one. Then begin to climb. Don’t leave the first rung until you feel totally comfortable. Then climb up to the next rung and so on. In fact, you’ve taken the first step by writing to me and acknowledging the issue. So you’re already on your way.