We have many different types of experiences which we respond to according to our age and development.
This photograph demonstrates a baby’s natural shock when awoken from a deep sleep by a large licking beast. In contrast teenagers would laugh in delight.
Another example: a toddler would naturally be terrified when left alone in a large department store, while an adult would think nothing of it.
When an event is perceived as terrifying or dangerous (as for the child in the department store) our mind keeps a special record, to hopefully prevent a repeat.
Whenever the same situation could possibly happen again (walking towards the department store with mother), the mind and body react as they did during the first occurrence (panic).
Two psychological explanations of this are classic conditioning and stored traumatic memories.
Classic conditioning is when a normal everyday item (supermarket) is paired with a physical or emotional trauma (fear of being alone) which results in a stored link between the two (supermarkets are terrifying).
When discussing traumatic memories William Klemm, D.V.M., Ph.D. states “Sensory cues, even if not recognized consciously, can trigger recall of disturbing memories or even just the negative emotions that went with the original bad event. Sometimes this is the basis for so-called “anxiety attacks,” which seem to come out of nowhere.”
Acquiring the fear of dogs (Cynophobia) is a good example:
- A child is running ahead of her parents in the park
- When suddenly she hears screams
- She jumps and becomes very scared
- Then a dog knocks her down and licks her face
- She screams and cries in terror
The screaming which frightened the child was her parent’s. They saw her running towards a dog and thought it might attack so they screamed to get her attention. Little did they know it was their action which terrified the child, and the dog that was friendly just wanted to lick and play with her.
The effect of this terrifying experience was that the child associated the fear with the dog – and decided that dogs were to be feared.
This decision (dogs are to be feared) was automatically sent to her subconscious mind and stored as one of her beliefs.
Like all of us, this child grew up living each day according to her subconscious belief system – in this case, terrified of dogs.
This effects the child (now a grown woman) every time a dog is thought of or seen – even if only on television or while driving.
- She feels the fear as strongly now, as if it was the original incident.
- She relives the feelings of that moment of terror, over and over, as if happening now.
- The child couldn’t go to friend’s houses because they had a dog, so she isolated herself by missing social activities.
- Her friends thinking her strange, gradually drifted away, so then she became isolated at school, which led to loneliness, depression, and a dislike of people in general.
- Life didn’t get easier when she grew up. She still avoids contact with dogs, and people. Making excuses not to visit friends who own dogs. Not walking or jogging because she saw a dog off lead while driving. Not allowing her own children to get a puppy.
- People still think she is rather strange and more often than not avoid contact, which creates even more issues.
The funny thing is, that if you ask the woman why she is so scared of dogs she couldn’t tell you.
Just like the person who is scared of heights, doesn’t think they deserve, or thinks they are a failure; the memory of the incident that led to the inception of her fear of dogs belief has faded, while the terrifying feelings from that event remain strong, and grow with each repeated fear experience.