Ailurophobia: why are some people afraid of cats?

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Ailurophobia: why are some people afraid of cats?

Famous phobias are often known, such as fear of elevators, fear of crowds, fear of spiders, etc. But do you know about ailurophobia, or the fear of cats? And why do some people have it, often in a severe way?

Ailurophobia: what is it?

First of all, what is ailurophobia? This is an irrational fear of cats, which occurs in a subject who would have experienced trauma often in childhood. This pathological defense mechanism then sets in, fleeing the feline race in an unreasonable way.

Also called felineophobia, gatophobia or elurophobia, this particular phobia has attracted medical and popular attention, since since the beginning of the 20th century, neurologists have looked into the causes of this pathology, belonging to anxiety disorders.

The American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell, in particular wrote an article in the New York Times in 1905, attempting to explain the causes of this fear.

In practice, ailurophobia results in anxiety attacks (anxiety felt repeatedly, prolonged and excessively) when the patient is faced with a cat, directly or indirectly.

The daily life of the patient is often affected by it, since our friends the cats are present almost everywhere on the planet, in our apartments or in our streets and countryside. Sometimes this fear is so strong that the subject can sense in advance the presence of a cat for hundreds of meters around! And in extreme cases, seeing a feline would be enough to cause a panic attack.

What are the symptoms of ailurophobia

When people with ailurophobia find themselves confronted with the object of their fear, several symptoms then arise, making it possible to assess the severity of their pathology, depending on their intensity.

These symptoms are:

  • Excessive sweat production;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Irrepressible feeling of wanting to flee;
  • Dizziness (in some cases);
  • Loss of consciousness and tremors can also occur;
  • Difficulties in breathing are added to this.

Where does ailurophobia come from?

Like any anxiety disorder, ailurophobia can have various origins, depending on the individual. This can primarily come from a trauma experienced in childhood, such as a cat bite or scratch. The individual with the phobia may also have inherited a family fear related to toxoplasmosis contracted by a pregnant woman in the family.

Finally, let’s not forget the superstitious aspect linked to cats, associating misfortune with the sight of a black cat. Beyond these leads, medicine is not currently able to clearly identify the origins of this phobia, in any case ruling out “rational” origins, such as asthma or an allergy contracted in the presence of cats. It would ultimately be a defense mechanism that an individual puts in place in order to avoid facing any other anxiety.

What are the treatments for ailurophobia?

When daily life becomes too impacted by this phobia, we can then think of psychotherapeutic treatments.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

There is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to overcome it. With a therapist, we will try here to confront the object of our fear, by performing practical exercises based on the behavior and reactions of the patient. We can also try Ericksonian hypnosis: brief therapy, it can treat anxiety disorders that escape psychotherapy.

Neuro-linguistic programming and EMDR

Also, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and EMDR (Eyes Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) allow different approaches to treatment.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) will focus on how humans function in a given environment, based on their behavioral patterns. By using certain methods and tools, NLP will help the individual to change their perception of the world around them. This will thus modify his initial behaviors and conditioning, by operating in the structure of his vision of the world. In the case of a phobia, this method is particularly suitable.

As for EMDR, meaning desensitization and reprocessing by eye movements, it uses sensory stimulation which is practiced by eye movements, but also by auditory or tactile stimuli.

This method makes it possible to stimulate a complex neuropsychological mechanism present in all of us. This stimulation would make it possible to reprocess moments experienced as traumatic and undigested by our brain, which can be the cause of very disabling symptoms, such as phobias. 

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