Monday, July 27, 2009
By Julia Williams
It’s been said that when it comes to cats, people either love them or hate them. But there is actually a third feeling many people have for felines: they fear them. The clinical name for Fear of Cats is Ailurophobia. Although it’s difficult for most cat lovers to understand why anyone would be afraid of cats, Ailurophobia is very real, and can be a genuine problem for people who suffer from it.
A phobia is defined as an extreme, irrational and persistent fear of a particular object, activity or situation. Phobias are considered to be a type of anxiety disorder, wherein exposure to the feared stimulus can cause sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, loss of breath, dry mouth, the inability to think or speak clearly, and even a full blown panic attack. Ailurophobia then, is not simply a strong dislike of cats; it’s an intense feeling of fear at the sight of one – even if it’s just on TV.
Sometimes, just the thought of coming into contact with a cat is enough to get an Ailurophobics heart racing. They may understand intellectually that a cat poses no real danger to them, but it doesn’t change their involuntary reaction. Ailurophobics may fear physical contact with a cat, such as bites and scratches, or they might fear the perceived supernatural nature of cats. Ailurophobics often associate cats with black magic, witchcraft, sadism and evil–especially black cats, thanks to Halloween legends, superstitions and countless literary works.
What Causes Ailurophobia?
Like all fears and phobias, Ailurophobia is a protective mechanism created by the unconscious mind. Quite often, the phobic individual can't even tell you exactly what they fear about cats, or where their fear might have originated. Sometimes all they know is that they've been afraid of cats for as long as they can remember.
They might have had a frightening experience with a cat as a baby or young child, but have forgotten it. Toddlers often aren’t taught how to properly pick up cats and may also prod, poke or pet them roughly. This could result in children getting scratched, bitten, and emotionally traumatized. Ailurophobia could also be caused by seeing someone else have a negative experience with a cat. Further, parents can sometimes transfer their own fear of cats on to their children.
Treatments for Ailurophobia
With professional help, the fear of cats can usually be overcome. Of course, for any phobia treatment plan to succeed, the person must first have a desire to overcome the fear. Ailurophobics often avoid seeking treatment because they’re embarrassed about fearing an animal that is generally regarded as cute, cuddly and harmless. It doesn’t help matters if they get teased after confessing their fear of cats to people who don’t understand phobias.
There are many different treatments for Ailurophobia. Like other phobias, Ailurophobia responds well to cognitive-behavior therapy (a form of psychotherapy which stipulates that the way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally). Cognitive therapy focuses on problem solving and present thinking rather than on past experiences, and often includes a desensitization component.
The Ailurophobic individual is taught to use relaxation and visualization techniques when experiencing anxiety about cats. Gradual exposure to cats is introduced in a systematic, structured way while the person concentrates on remaining calm. This might include looking at photos of cats, watching videos about cats, seeing a cat through a window, and eventually, being in the same room with a cat or kitten.
Hypnotherapy is another form of treatment for Ailurophobia. Hypnotherapy helps to reprogram the subconscious thoughts that may be linked to the phobia. When the subconscious is reprogrammed, the phobia symptoms are often minimized.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of how individuals create their reality. From the NLP viewpoint, phobias are the result of faulty “programs” that a person has created. With NLP, these programs are revealed and "re-programmed" so that the phobia is minimized or eliminated. Energy Psychology is similar to acupuncture, except that no needles are used. Energy Psychology is emerging as a safe and effective and way to change phobic behaviors and thought patterns.
I am eternally grateful that I don’t have a fear of cats. After writing this, I’m ready to engage in some serious snuggling with my three feline friends, Annabelle, Rocky and Mickey.
Read more articles by Julia Williams