Of course, there is nothing wrong with disliking dogs, cats, birds, or earthworms. (Although, to be honest, I’m convinced there must be something deeply amiss about people who do not adore earthworms.) There is no need to analyze a mild dislike for anything or anybody. However, when an emotion begins to interfere with your normal daily existence, it’s a sign for you to address the issue.
I didn’t simply dislike dogs (which, yet again, is a normal, healthy thing to do). I detested them passionately. Seeing a dog from a distance of 1,000 feet would be enough for me to disrupt my daily walk and run home in a huff. Obviously, this is neither healthy nor normal.
So here is a reenactment of how I solved that problem.
Analyst: When you are walking down a road and you see a dog, what feelings do you experience? Imagine yourself walking right now. Suddenly, you see a dog. What is it that you feel right now?
Me: Anger! I feel anger and resentment.
Analyst: Who are you angry with?
Me: Dog owners. [A long rant about the inconsiderate dog owners follows but I will spare you having to go through it.]
Analyst: Stay in this emotion of anger and resentment towards the dog owners. What word comes to mind that you could use to describe the dog owners?
Me: Traitors! They are traitors!
Analyst: Whom did they betray?
Me: [A long rant about how I totally understand that this is completely irrational because I know that dog owners didn't betray anybody.]
Analyst: That’s OK, we are not trying to address the rational here. Whom did the dog owners betray?
Me: [Another long rant about how I totally understand how weird I sound, etc.] Me. They betrayed me.
Analyst: How did they betray you?
Me: [Yet another long rant, etc.] They betrayed me by having a dog.
Analyst: Did anybody have a dog among your friends or family when you were growing up?
Me: No, nobody did.
Analyst: Go back to the feeling of being betrayed by somebody with a dog. Who was that person?
Me: I can’t think of anybody.
Analyst: Stay with the feeling. Remember another situation when you felt this way.
Me: Well, actually, I felt this way when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I felt the same anger and resentment.
Analyst: OK. Who had diabetes in your family?
Me: My grandfather did.
Analyst: How did your grandfather feel about dogs?
Me: Oh. Oh, oh, oh. I cannot believe I forgot this. [A long rant on how stupid I am for having forgotten this and wasted so much time, etc.]
Analyst: It’s OK, tell me, what was it about your grandfather and dogs?
Me: When I was little, I really loved my grandparents. But then my grandmother died of cancer at the age of 54. And my grandfather remarried. For some reason, my mother felt mortally offended by his remarriage and did everything she could to distance me from my grandfather. My grandfather and his second wife bought a dog. And my mother kept telling me, “You see? Your grandpa doesn’t love you. He betrayed you for a dog. He now loves the dog more than you.” I was 7, and I think I kind of believed that.
After this insight, my terror of dogs started to recede. I’m not planning on buying a dog or donating money to dog shelters but at least I can now be around a dog without freaking out.
Of course, now everybody who is reading this feels vaguely cheated. “And you needed 31 years and 94 hours of psychoanalysis to arrive at this huge revelation?” people will ask. “This was all completely obvious!”
The problem is, however, that the roots of the problems you have been struggling with for decades are just as obvious to everybody who isn’t you as my problem with dogs is obvious to everybody who isn’t me. We cannot access our own subconscious. This is why all talk of self-analysis is bunk. Even if somebody had told me why I detested dogs, I would have immediately forgotten, rejected, or dismissed this information.