When I was three years old (or somewhere around that age, anyway), my uncle owned a rottweiler. I wasn’t bitten, or really hurt in any way. The dog ran me over, not out of any intention of harming me (or so I’m told, I don’t actually remember the specific incident), simple as that, and that inspired a major fear of dogs in me. Specifically, it made me afraid of big dogs, but any dog was enough to make my palms sweat and my heart race, and generally speaking, I avoided all dogs for years. Over time, this grew to the point of being a real phobia, rather than just a fear.
Once I had kids, it really seemed as though the phobia had gone away. There were a couple of incidents with stray dogs running the neighborhood, and I had to chase them away to protect my kids, and I thought I was over the fear. I even owned a pit bull (sweetest dog I’ve ever met, by the way) for six years before his untimely death.
I was really proud of myself for overcoming this fear. And then…yesterday.
I’m out for a walk around the neighborhood with my kids. My phone is strapped to my arm, I’m listening to some new music I’ve just recently gotten into, one earbud in so I can still hear traffic and my kids. Out of nowhere, this dog comes running out. No barking, and not a very big dog, yet my heart started racing and I barely resisted the urge to scream. I also barely resisted the urge to run like hell. The dog was absolutely not, in any way, a threat to me or my kids, yet that old fear bubbled up and had me terrified.
I’d like to think that it was just that the dog startled me, but my kids warned me a split second before I saw him that the dog was there.
It got me thinking, though. Do phobias ever really go away? Or do we simply learn to function with/around them? Or maybe we deliberately arrange our lives to avoid the phobias so that we can pretend they don’t exist?
I can think of a lot of theories on this. What do you think?