An “irrational” fear will never feel irrational to the person who experiences them. Many people suffer from phobias and fears in today’s world. It surprised me to find out that people can suffer from a fear of cats, called Ailurophobia.
Did you know, a quarter of Americans have a phobia to a specific animal?
Ailurophobia, is the technical term for having a fear of cats. Typically a strong enough emotion to trigger anxiety or panic around felines.
The phobia can present itself in many different ways. Most people who suffer from ailurophobia have a similar reaction to people who fear spiders, snakes or rats. While some suffer from it constantly, others will have it triggered with a small stimulation or sightings of cats, including pictures.
Big cats such as lions or tigers can also trigger the phobia but this may have a deeper biological origin. Therefore, a fear of big cats makes rational biological sense, whereas the fear of domestic cats is an irrational fear.
A phobia is far beyond a mild dislike. If you have ailurophobia, you would be spending a lot of time worrying about encountering cats. This would lead to thinking of ways to avoid them and people who are cat owners. You can start to imagine the impact it can have on someone’s life.
The cause of ailurophobia is somewhat unclear. It’s thought that it develops from a traumatic experience. For example, being scratched by a cat at a young age. It could also develop from witnessing such an attack.
While it is possible to develop a phobia without having experienced a negative event, most phobias can be attributed to a specific event that happened in our childhood. From there we carry over that experience and turn it into a fear or phobia. That’s why it’s believed many fears and phobias can be overcome, but more on that later.
- Eye of the Cat: A 1969 horror film, the protagonist planning a murder has a fear of cats.
- The Mummy: The movie series main antagonist has a fear of cats. Cats have an association as guardians of the underworld in Egyptian mythology.
- City Hunter 2: A 1988 anime film where the character Umibozu has a fear of cats.
- Nyanko Days: The 2017 anime film where the character Arashi Ikentani has a fear of cats.
Phobias have two types of symptoms. The ones that affect us physically, and the one that affects us mentally.
Some physical symptoms are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Racing or pounding heart
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- A churning stomach
- Hot or cold flashes; tingling sensations
Some emotional symptoms are:
- Feeling “unreal” or detached from yourself
- Overwhelming anxiety or panic
- Feeling intense need to escape
- Fear of losing control
- Feeling like you’re going to die or pass out
- Knowing that you’re overreacting, but feeling powerless to control fear
It’s staggering to think that just the thought of a cat can cause people to experience some of these symptoms. It triggers the fight or flight response and avoidance is often the first and only response.
Like all phobias, they are traditionally diagnosed by a health professional. If you think you might have a fear of cats, your healthcare provider can refer you on to someone experienced in diagnosing phobias.
Generally a phobia is confirmed when the anxiety or fear affects your daily life, or has a negative effect on quality of life or general happiness.
The fear of cats is not something that always needs to be treated. In fact, the same goes for any phobia, they don’t always need treatment.
If you have acknowledged that you have a fear of cats and continue to live a completely normal life, than treatment is likely not needed. Not only that, treatment is not always possible with phobias and fears.
It often requires the person to be 100% committed to getting rid of the fear, easier said than done at times.
Some behavioural therapy may help you get over the fear of cats. The therapy will help you be more self aware, you can then identify behavior patterns that trigger the fear. The theory is that, if we have learnt to fear something we can unlearn it.
This goes back to the old saying of face your fears. Exposure therapy is used to help eliminate many fears or phobias.
Working closely with a therapist, you’ll be exposed to the exact thing you’re afraid of. It’s considered to be highly effective.
If you do have a fear of cats, the therapist might start you off by having you look at pictures of cats. They then could have you watch a video, hold a stuffed cat toy and eventually, start to introduce you to some real cats.
Fun Fact: The BBC series, EastEnders character Robbie Jackson has Ailurophobia.
It’s different for everybody as to why the developed the fear of cats. We know that most fears or phobias come from a traumatic experience that we hold onto as humans.
The fear of cats is also attributed to high levels of anxiety. For example, a child who has been scratched once can hold onto that anxiety, and therefore develop a phobia or fear.
Try and remember when the fear of cats began. See if you can trace it back to a specific event or time. If you can do this, the most important thing is to talk to someone about it. That’s the first step to getting rid of any fear or phobia.
We know our animals have a much higher sense of smell than we do, so can our cats smell fear?
If you get nervous around cats it’s possible that you will begin to sweat. Within our sweat there are many pheromones and smells that our cats will pick up on.
A study published on, Neuroendocrinology showed that humans have the ability to differentiate between fear and non fear scents. However, we still don’t know how well our cats are able to recognise these scents. It’s likely that if a human has the ability to differentiate these scents, our cat certainly does too.
The ability to use their scent and read our body language, leads many people to believe that cats indeed can “smell fear”. Although, it is more likely that they understand a change in our normal behavior. This makes us feel as if they have the ability to smell fear.
To help you better understand cats, I wrote recently wrote an article on cat language.
When it comes to getting rid of fears or phobias there are some proven techniques that you can do yourself to help you on your way.
It’s perfectly normal to experience fear in some situations. We can then rationally decide in that moment what we need to do. It’s called the fight or flight response.
With phobias however, the threat is greatly exaggerated or non existent. For example, it’s perfectly normal to be afraid of an approaching wild lion, but it’s irrational to have a fear of cats or ailurophobia.
One of the hardest things to do is to actually face our fears, but it’s also one of the most important. If you only avoid them, you won’t have the opportunity to learn that your fear might not be as overwhelming as you first thought.
You should want to be in control or your situation, and the quicker you can do this the quicker the fear or phobia will go away.
Studies show the most effective way to fight fear is repeated exposure. During the process, you’ll find that the fear or anxiety will pass with time. You will gain back control, and gain confidence in the situation. The phobia in a sense begins to lose power.
Start by writing down your fears, list everything you’re afraid of within the situation. Try to include as much detail as you can, even the small things.
You will begin to organise that list from least scary to the absolute most terrifying. The first step should make you feel uncomfortable or slightly anxious. It should be something that you’re not to worried to try, but enough to make you sweat.
Keep the end goal in mind, for example: To be able to hold a cat. From there, work backwards and list the steps you need to take to get there.
This is the part where you spring into action. Start taking the first step required, you should only move on to the next step once you’re comfortable with the very first step. Repeat the steps until you’re completely comfortable and you don’t get anxious at all.
Once you’re confident that you have completed that step, move onto the next. Do this all the way through the ladder, completing each step. The longer you expose yourself to the thing that scares you, the more you’ll feel comfortable with it.
Like anything, the more you do it the better you become. Keep practicing and don’t give up. If it’s taking you longer than you expected, that’s completely fine. Stick with it and be patient, you will eventually get there.
Get out of your comfort zone and get used to feeling uncomfortable. You will have to deal with feeling uncomfortable and anxious, but it’s temporary, the feelings will go away over time.
Here is an example of a fear ladder below.
Meditation is great for everyone, not just phobia sufferers. The symptoms of phobias and fear leave us with a high heart rate, and tight chest feeling. It’s these symptoms that can make the phobia feel real and very distressing.
If you can learn how to meditate or calm yourself down quickly, you’ll have more confidence when facing your fears and be a step closer to getting rid of your phobia.
Some techniques you can use are:
- Take a deep slow breath in through your nose. Breathe deep into your stomach for 4 seconds. Slowly exhale for 2 seconds and repeat a minimum of 5 times.
- Get your body moving, go for a walk. Do star jumps if you have to, or do some simple stretches. Running is a great way to eliminate anxiety.
- Listen to some calming music. There are so many playlists to choose from, pick something that calms you down and makes you smile.
- You can try lighting a scented candle, or go to the garden and literally smell the roses.
- Give yourself a massage or have someone give you a 5 minute neck and shoulder massage. We hold a lot of tension and stress in our necks and shoulders.
We are often our own worst enemies, our thoughts become things. If you have a fear of something you should try and question it. Ask yourself, why am I afraid of this and is the fear even real.
When you have a phobia, you’ll generalize how horrible it is to be exposed to it. You’ll likely underestimate your ability to overcome it. All the anxious thoughts and fears are created by negative self talk.
Try writing down your negative thoughts towards your fear or phobia. You can then begin to challenge those thoughts and work towards beating your fears and phobias.
Gatophobia is the fear of cats. The origin of the word gato is Spanish (meaning cat).
The exact cause of phobias in unclear. It’s believed to stem from a traumatic experience with a cat at a young age.
Cats are extremely good at reading body language. This leads us to believe that cats can sense fear.