Psychoanalysis: How I Lost My Fear of Dogs

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. 

28 thoughts on “Psychoanalysis: How I Lost My Fear of Dogs

  1. Interesting story! So can one say you weren’t actually primarily afraid of dogs, but angry at dog owners, and the fear was kind of manufactured by your subconscious to explain the anger…? Interesting. I have to think about whether something like this might apply to any of my fears. Anger is perhaps easier to deal with than fear if you are an adult, but more difficult as a child. So maybe fears one has since childhood often need to translated back into anger…


    1. Anger is the emotion I can access more easily than any other. But there is so much of it that in order to tolerate it, I have to distribute it among a variety of objects. The only way to address that is to go to the root of the rage and try to remove some of it permanently. All of it will never go away but some of it might.


      1. Anger, yes. Someone just wrote and requested to me that I do a video on Deleuze and Guattari. He wrote this:

        Something else I wanted to ask about, it was left unclear since the first time we talked on your blog’s D&G post, is talking more on intellectual shamanism’s position on Deleuze & Guattari’s work. There is a text by Guattari that might be informative, “Mary Barnes’ “Trip””, where schizoanalysis is opposed to regression – , page 52 on the pdf file.


          1. I’m going to point out that shamanic regression would not be a regression back to familial psychodynamics, but rather back to a raw state of being prior to those psychodynamics having their impact. When you were a child you naturally succumbed to these, because you were so small, naive and vulnerable. But if you can recapture that original naive state and yet resist the impact of parental influences, you can be free of what caused you to have the cognitive distortions to begin with.


            1. I know what you were referring to when you mentioned regression. I’m not that ignorant! It’s considered by many people a powerful mechanism of psychological healing. I have no personal experience but I wondered what you thought.


              1. Oh, sorry, I wasn’t implying you were ignorant. I just came from reading that chapter that the guy recommended to me, by Guattari, where he points out that if you remain within the psychoanalytic paradigm, you will encounter very oppressive familial psychodynamics when you “regress”. The whole chapter points this out, that you can’t remain within the paradigm and hope to benefit by regression.

                But looking at the issue from a more shamanic perspective, shamanic initiation is often depicted as a regression to infancy. But what is being sung to you during that time is not a song about famiiliar psychodynamics and how important they are. Maybe other songs are sung, concerning gods or deities. Whatever is sung during that period of regression can be reinforced, and the specificities of what is sung can make things freer and more interesting or more repressive. That is the nut of G’s whole argument, that psychoanalytic regression makes things more repressive. My addendum to this is that it also depends on what is sung. Let us not reinforce an Oedipal triangle during the experience of regression (which G argues typically takes place in psychoanalysis). A talented shaman will surely reinforce something less damaging.


              2. Very interesting. What I always found weird and disturbing was that new-agey fad of rebirthing. I have a feeling it’s a bastardized version of a shamanic regression you describe.


              3. Anything new age is going to be a bit cheap and phoney, probably. In fact real regression is fraught with risks, and that is why the shamanic literature describes it mostly as a kind of torture. For instance in THE STRONG EYE OF SHAMANISM, we read that in one Aboriginal culture, the initiate is taken to an isolated place where he regressive to infant form and then the shaman comes and stretches him out into adult form again. In other instances, there is the idea of taking out the organs and boiling them to clean them and replacing them. Or the skeleton of the initiate is dismantled and the initiate must recover all his bones and put them back together, or he will have failed in his initiatiation. The element of violence in all of this seems irreducible.

                What may soften the experience is if the shaman sings or beats a drum and thus imparts a mythology. But the regression process itself is going to be affected by many unknown variables. I really don’t think it can be formularized — which is what all new age treatments try to do.


  2. I was curious about the roots of your dog-hatred before. Interesting. Never thought about the possibility of subconscious turning one feeling into another, f.e. anger into fear.

    Do you think there is some real hidden reason behind every dislike? For instance, being afraid of dogs because of fear of getting bit.


  3. Thinking back with excellent hindsight, your objections to dogs mostly seemed kind of…. unfocused (sounds and drooling? … what?) with real anger directed towards people with dogs.

    I also agree that normal levels of indifference and/or slight distaste towards specific animals are completely normal (personally I don’t get the appeal of birds, especially parrots) but active anger or major fear are warning signs.

    For years I had a phobia about stinging insects though the cause wasn’t very mysterious (as a 4 or 5 year old I was running around barefoot outside and stepped on a large wasp with predictable results).
    For over twenty years I’d have close to panic attacks when even a bee was flying around me but after almost getting in a car accident (trying to swat a wasp away from me) I let it go (don’t ask how but I never felt the same old panic around them again). A few years after that I was even stung on the finger by a wasp without freaking out.


      1. Of course, this is one of the simpler, easier to resolve problems. The worst ones are those where you know exactly what causes them, have discussed them in sessions about one billion times, and still, nothing changes. Those ones sucks.

        There is finally a breakthrough in such issues but they take forever and leave one desperately whining, “Why, but why do I keep doing this???”


  4. It’s a great story, thanks for sharing it. However there’s one thing that’s not clear to me. Were you afraid of dogs, or just hated them? Were you afraid that you would be actually bitten or attacked by a dog? You write you detested them passionately, and you were angry with dog owners, but that doesn’t necessarily means you were afraid of an actual dog attack. There are lots of types of fear, I’m really curious what is the kind psychoanalysis can cure?


    1. I used to say I was afraid of them because that was more socially acceptable than saying, “I have fantasies of running them over with my car that I don’t even drive and hearing their heads crack under the wheels.”

      As I said, this was a pathological dislike, not a normal one. It’s OK not to like dogs but such fantasies are obviously a sign of a pathology. Now it turns out that I don’t hate dogs, I just miss my grandpa.


  5. The problem is that if “others can see things not obvious to you” is a blanket statement, rather than a very circumscribed one, you can actually cause bad situations to become even worse. For instance, it has become increasingly obvious to me how I was a conduit for my family’s bad vibes. And really, these were more than just “vibes”. It may even be possible for those other than myself to imagine a situation where huge sacrifices, including one’s blood, were made for a certain kind of ideological ideal, and then in a flash, without proper warning from the media, those sacrifices meant less than nothing and one lost absolutely everything that had had meaning in one’s life. Accumulated rage has to go somewhere, and I do believe that my family tacitly agreed that the breadwinner needed to lose his direct awareness of his extreme rage so that he could…earn bread. Therefore I was the nominated victim in the family to succumb to those negative emotions that my family were unable to face (for both practical and cowardly reasons).

    Family psychodynamics. And history. And war. These are relevant explanatory systems in my case.

    And what would be really unhelpful, not that it has not already occurred, would be for someone to tell me to buck up because they have deeper insight into “my” “problems” than I do. Of course narcissists will come along and propose trite solutions because they genuinely have the illusion that they are omniscient, like “GOD”, and they did not even have to be present or do any of the footwork just to know exactly whatever the problem happened to be.

    And believe me, I have met some pretty wacky narcissists, some that use psychoanalysis as their crutch.


    1. Huh. Agree with this. I’m happy when I hear a success story like Clarissa’s, but there are a lot of abusers out there in this profession. How do you prove if the therapist bullies or mistreats you? He is the professional, you are the “crazy” one. Nobody will believe to you. The power difference is incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is why it’s crucial only to work with analysts who have supervision. If an analyst begins to offer some explanation of why she or he doesn’t need supervision, that’s a sign this is a quack.


      1. Ah well that is good to hear then. Excellent. Recently I have been making huge numbers of facetious comments, for instance that maybe all my experiences were “all in my head”. In one section, I even simplify things for modern people — being those who do not have any troubles of their own and therefore think things necessarily are limited to one’s head. I say that modern people will probably understand that my mind dropped out whilst I was crossing the Indian ocean (migrating from African to Australia), but being an old fashioned type myself, I still believe in geographical continents and history and politics and that changing these can make all the difference to how well one copes in life.


  6. It is interesting how this memory could only be reached sideways, so to speak, and then only through multiple steps, and then and how much speech you could now entirely omit in the telling of this story now. I definitely recognize the ‘wedge’ of sorts that your mother brought into play, and also the verbiage that begins to clot around it. It seems like you can only access so much of your memory, and there are so many things in there that technically depend on beliefs that have justifiably changed (like “my mother is a trustworthy source of information about the world”), but you don’t reevaluate because you’ve been using those beliefs to derive new ones, and new ones from those, and can only rationally consider the latest layer.

    I’d also bet that these kinds of statements from your mother (“people who you thought cared about you don’t, the world is scary and I am the only one you can trust”) are coupled with a different kind (“you do not care about me, and do nothing but tax my resources – hasn’t it long been time that you take care of yourself?”), both of which together act as a kind of wonky distance regulation mechanism. You are either “too far”, or “too close”, but always in the process of being corrected.

    In this situation, you kind of begin clotting around the confusion – “I have no idea what’s happening, it hurts when I try to find out, screw it, I’m not even going to think about it.”


    1. “You are either “too far”, or “too close”, but always in the process of being corrected.”

      Exactly. This is the core thinking pattern of every narcissist. They do this to their children, their spouses, and their employees – all the people who have less power than themselves. They put their victims’ mind on a swing which moves with an incredible speed between the two extremes. The victims will understandably have shattered memories afterwards – especially if they were only kids when the abuse happened. Narcissists are the ultimate power abusers, but put on a perfect facade, so outsiders would never find it out.


    2. And there have been so many stories like these. It takes forever to sort through all of them and find out who I really am underneath this mountain of false reactions


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