We often hear that there are two types of people; those who loves cats, and those that can’t stand them. There is however a third group of people, for whom the cat is a source of intense fear and anxiety. The slightest meow or the merest mention of our feline friends can induce panic.
Ailurophobia, or the fear of cats, affects a surprising number of people, with figures of up to 22% in the U.S. Extreme sufferers can find this fear slowly taking over their lives, due to the prevalence of cats in urban and rural areas.
Derived from Ancient Greek words Ailouros and Phobos, meaning cats and fear, the fear of cats may also be known as Gatophobia, Felinophobia or Elurophobia. Whichever name you use, sufferers typically fear encounters with domestic cats, but may also fear larger species such as lions or tigers.
CAUSES OF AILUROPHOBIA
Most cases of Ailurophobia are believed to be a result of either a traumatic event or learned behaviour, typically experienced as a child. It’s safe to assume that a bad experience with a cat can scar you (mentally and psychically) for life. Cats are prone to lashing out when they don’t feel safe or comfortable, and minor attacks are not uncommon.
A child who was hissed at or scratched by a cat, may very well develop Ailurophobia. A traumatic event that was witnessed may also lead to a phobia of cats. Overly protective parents can actually encourage the fear to develop by not allowing the child to be near cats, after the initial event.
In this way, Ailurophobia can be the result of conditioning from those around you as you grow up. The parent who constantly warns their child to stay away from cats, can quickly instill a fear of our feline friends. In the same way, cultural references can also play a role.
There are many superstitions regarding cats, which are often associated with witches and bad luck. Even in cartoons they are typically depicted as the villain of the piece. To a young mind, these negative connotations can lead to an increasing fear of cats.
SYMPTOMS OF AILUROPHOBIA
There are varying degrees of Ailurophobia, with more extreme cases having an impact on day to day life.
- Fight or flight reactions to a cat encounter are typical of Ailurophobes. The sufferer will often feel a need to either run away or attack.
- Irrational fear of cats even when not faced with one. Pictures or videos, or simply thinking about them can send you into panic mode.
- Avoidance of anywhere you think you might encounter a cat. You may avoid visiting certain friends who have a cat, or dangerously run across the street if you see one up ahead.
- Anxiety attacks when confronted by a cat, involving screaming, increased heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, hot or cold flushes and even fainting.
- Anticipating an encounter and preparing for it by carrying pepper spray or cat food.
- An unwillingness to venture out alone.
As with most specific phobias, Ailurophobia is rather easily treated, with proven, long lasting results.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the way you think about cats, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Talk therapy and counselling sessions encourage you to discover how your fear developed.
Exposure Therapy works by gradually exposing the patient first to images of a cat, and eventually a real one. During the sessions, breathing and relaxation exercises are carried out, enabling the patient to control their fear.
Audio Therapies such as Hypnotherapy and Affirmation Therapy are excellent ways to overcome your fear of cats, which can be cured in as little as 3 sessions. You can even download audio sessions online, and complete a course from home.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Subliminal Programming treatments work to reprogram those parts of your brain that cause your suffering. By completing a number of exercises, either at home or with a professional, you change your way of thinking. This isn’t only a great cure for Ailurophobia, but can also have a positive impact on other areas, such as confidence.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF CATS
The obvious benefit of overcoming your fear of cats is that you’ll be free to go out without worrying. In most urban and rural places, there are cats around. All the time you fear these very common creatures, you’re unlikely to ever feel entirely comfortable outside of your safe zone.
Having overcome your fear however, the world will be your oyster. You can finally visit your friend’s house, take the shortcut to work and walk down the street. Trips to the zoo need not fill you with terror, and a whole world of movies and cartoons can be enjoyed, despite their cat content!