The gynophobia is an extreme fear of dogs, much higher than is considered normal. Some people with this phobia can suffer from severe panic attacks when they encounter a dog.
If you have this phobia, the terror in the presence of a dog or even simply mentioning something related to canines (in the most extreme cases ), can cause you symptoms such as: extreme anxiety, sweating, tachycardia, , weakness and dizziness.
In some cases, gynophobia manifests itself as an irrational fear towards all dogs whereas in other cases, the person only fears the proximity of dogs of a certain race or color.
What is the cause of this extreme fear? Many times the phobia begins to be generated after a traumatic event related to a dog, of course. In most of these cases, the event occurs during childhood, and the fear generated in that instance remains in time and is getting worse.
Although it is also true that this does not happen in all people. Other people with gynophobia do not remember any traumatic events that could be the cause of their terror. And of course, not all people who have experienced this kind of experiences end up developing a phobia.
There is another mechanism that is capable of generating a phobia, and is by imitation or learning. For example, if when you were a child your mother was terrified of being close to a dog, it is possible that she transmitted this fear to you and that is why today you have gynophobia.
Once the phobia is installed, it will not go away if you do not receive treatment; however much you try to reason and think that your fear is totally irrational, this is not enough to defuse the mechanisms that trigger the symptoms of gynophobia.
How to know if you have gynophobia or if your fear is “normal”
It is normal to be afraid in some situations, because this fear is what has allowed the species to survive.
Imagine if a person were not afraid to cross a poisonous snake for example, he would not walk away and probably die from the bite.
This adaptive fear includes a set of sensations and responses of the body that are considered normal when you are in a situation of real danger.
What happens in phobias is that this intense fear and the responses of the organism to this sensation occur in situations that do not represent a real danger.
Then in the case of the gynophobia appear the paralyzing terror, the extreme anxiety, the sweating, the tachycardia and the desire to flee, in the presence of any harmless dog.
If you start avoiding situations in which you might cross a dog, just to avoid these nasty symptoms, then you probably have a dog phobia.
You can say that it really is gynophobia if:
- The fear is disproportionate. Clearly superior to what would be considered normal for the situation.
- Avoid real or anticipated situations, in which you could meet a dog.
- There is no logical explanation for this extreme fear (irrationality).
- Terror surpasses your ability to control.
- When you come across a canine, you feel discomfort, suffering.
- Sweating, tachycardia, nausea.
- Weakness, dizziness.
- You want to run away
- Extreme anxiety, panic attack (in the most severe cases of gynophobia).
If you have many of these symptoms, you are likely to have gynophobia. But do not worry, if you seek professional help, you can safely overcome this fear.
Treatments for gynophobia
Specific phobias related to a well-defined object or situation can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy and phased exposure therapy.
In this type of therapies it is a question of banishing irrational fear, instituting new thoughts and new behaviors before the situations that represent a stimulus, and gradually exposing the person to the cause of his fear, so that little by little he associates new positive experiences, leaving behind the negative emotions associated with it.
1-Phase exposure therapy
Exposure therapy can be performed with real dogs or with pictures of dogs. However, the more real the exposure, the better results are likely to be achieved.’
But if the gynophobia is very intense, at the beginning you will not be able to bear the idea of having a dog in front of you, and in these cases you start with pictures of dogs. Many patients are so terrified that they threaten to give up treatment if they are forced to be around a dog.
That is why it is important to progress little by little in the exhibition, without ever minimizing the fear that the patient feels which is real, even if it is irrational.
How long should the exposure last?
The duration depends on how the treatment is planned, depending on the intensity of the patient’s phobia.
Some experts believe that prolonged exposure leads to better results compared to short-term exposures. An exposure may be considered prolonged when it lasts for at least 60 minutes.
It should be noted that during this time the patient must be supported permanently by his therapist. This will help you control anxiety and change the irrational negative thoughts associated with dogs by other more rational and positive thoughts.
How is this therapy applied?
First, once the patient feels moderately prepared for exposure, he must commit to not escaping until the anxiety disappears.
The patient is then encouraged to approach a dog as much as possible, and stay there until the anxiety subsides.
When this happens, the patient is asked to move closer, until anxiety decreases again.
In this way, the brain “understands” that there is no real danger and therefore, the symptoms related to fear decrease or disappear.
And so, the patient can stop avoiding situations in which he could cross with a dog, because he is already able to control his anxiety.
If your anxiety level is very high, techniques of progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, yoga or meditation can be very useful.
The relaxation techniques increase adherence to treatment exposure and also facilitate gradual habituation to the phobic stimulus, especially when exposures are short.
3-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
As already mentioned above, in this type of treatment we try to change the person’s thought patterns with gynophobia, trying to differentiate the unrealistic ideas from the realists, distinguishing between the possible and the probable.
If you have gynophobia, your mind makes an exaggerated and irrational estimate of the danger of being near a dog, which does not fit the reality of the situation.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy the patient can better control these thoughts and reactions and access to exposure to the phobic stimulus with less anxiety.
On the other hand, the more informed you are about gynophobia, the more likely you are to understand that your fear is irrational, and in this way you can also expose yourself to the stimulus by feeling less anxiety than before.
4-Exposure through virtual reality
Advances in technology make other treatment possibilities for extreme fear of dogs and other phobias available in addition to actual exposure.
A very good example of this is the so-called “virtual reality”. When you place a virtual reality device in front of your eyes (like a helmet or a pair of lenses), you see images projected in three dimensions, which become your new “reality” at that moment.
For the treatment of gynophobia, with this type of devices you can gradually expose yourself to the proximity of a dog, without actually being close to one.
This therapy has the following advantages:
Your therapist and you do not have to move to a context where there are dogs.
The context can be manipulated much well than in the actual exposure. It is possible to avoid unexpected stimuli, for example, that the dog barks or grunts, if the patient is not yet ready for this type of exposure.
With virtual reality, the patient’s safety and privacy are guaranteed, ensuring the confidentiality of the treatment. In other words, no one needs to know the treatment you are following.
In any case, the virtual exhibition can never substitute for the actual exhibition. Sooner or later you will have to see and be with a dog live and live, if you want to overcome your fear.
But do not worry; the therapist will know how to guide you along this path, advancing little by little, as you overcome your fear.
Another disadvantage of the virtual exhibition is that it is expensive.
5-Pharmacological treatment for gynophobia
For specific phobias, there is in fact no particular pharmacological treatment. It is known that medications that help control anxiety can be useful, as they reduce symptoms caused by gynophobia.
If the patient presents other disorders besides the terror to the dogs, the appropriate treatment can help secondarily to diminish this irrational fear.
However, some experts believe that anxiolytic medications could hinder exposure treatment, as it interferes with the process of habituation (natural decrease of anxiety) to phobic stimulation and this may decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
However, other professionals believe that pharmacological treatment at the right dose and time is capable of enhancing the beneficial effects of cognitive behavioral therapy and gradual exposure.
A Real History of Gynophobia
A girl as young as three began to have symptoms of gynophobia shortly after an unknown dog climbed into the back seat of the truck she was in and barked at.
Although the dog did not attack her, this fact, added to the mother’s own fears towards the dogs, caused gynophobia in the girl.
She began to have dreams in which the dog bit her, and her nightmares grew worse over time.
Every time they went to the park and saw a dog, he took his mother’s hand and carried her away. But avoiding the cause of the girl’s fear did not solve the problem.
So her mother set out to investigate to find a way to combat her daughter’s fear. He read information about gradual exposure therapy and decided to try to apply this therapy to eliminate his daughter’s phobia.
He started by showing him pictures of dogs, reading stories where the canines are the protagonists and continued to see animated cartoons with dogs.
Then she took her on vacation to a snowy mountain, where dog-drawn sleigh rides were offered. Families also had the possibility to play with the dogs if they wished.
And after seeing that their parents felt totally relaxed in the presence of the dogs, and that they played with them, the girl’s gynophobia disappeared forever.
As you can see, the gynophobia can be overcome. You do not have to feel embarrassed to consult a professional, specific phobias are quite common. Did you know that Michael Jackson also had a dog phobia? And that Woody Allen suffers from many phobias at the same time?
You do not have to live your life always with fear. Follow the treatment indicated by the psychotherapist and you will see that after the gynophobia has passed, life will be much more fun.