Woman’s fear of dogs was due to being sexually abused as a child

Gabrielle Cummins and her children on an Irish strand

This is an interesting article by Gabrielle Cummins in The Irish Times online. She had a crippling irrational fear of dogs (cynophobia) and is brave enough to talk about it in public – good for her. It affected her life substantially. Her fear fed into her children which concerned her. They saw her fear and like osmosis they were developing an irrational fear of dogs themselves.

Gabrielle Cummins and her children on an Irish strand

Gabrielle with Peter, Kate and Cannon. Photograph: Darren Rice.

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It got to the point where she had to take steps to deal with it. She tried hypnotherapy without success. She found success with the Human Givens therapy programme. It took 10 months of “regular, intense sessions combined with targeted homework in between”.

And throughout the sessions it gradually dawned on her that her anxiety disorder, her fear of dogs, stemmed not from the dogs themselves but from a childhood trauma. She can’t recall when the sexual abuse began but her earliest memory was when she was six. She says that her last memory was when she was 10. On that basis she was sexually abused as a child for at least four years.

It transpired that her irrational fear of dogs stemmed from a feeling of a lack of control over herself and her body. And this fear stunted her emotional growth. Her psychotherapist under the Human Givens programme navigated her through her emotional trauma to the understanding that her dog phobia is “about my perception of not being in control”.

When a dog arrives, she feels like her “personal space is going to be brutally invaded without my permission”. And she doesn’t want to be in this state of acute fear any more. Having addressed the root cause of the problem she began to heal herself and recently she felt strong enough to be able to play with a golden retriever. A friend of hers allowed her to play with the dog. Initially she was tentative but after 30 minutes she was throwing a ball for the dog to catch.

Her children have grown more confident with dogs and are following her lead. She felt joy watching her boy play “lovingly with this beautiful animal that just wanted to play too”. She feels that she is on a journey to a life where that awful fear has been eradicated.

I for one am very pleased for her. The connection between sexual abuse as a child which gave her a sense of loss of control of her body and a fear of dogs invading her personal space is an interesting one and perhaps instructive to others.

P.S. A fear of cats is called ailurophobia. And: How to cure ailurophibia

P.P.S. Has the person who sexually abused her been apprehended and questioned?

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