Hello everybody! I guess my problem belongs in here. I'm 33 years old male and as silly as it might sound, I've been terrified of dogs my whole life. When I was 8 years old I was attacked by pack of dogs and I was bitten so severely I had to spend weeks in hospital. I still have scars left and ever since that happened I cannot approach any dog. It doesn't matter whether it's a puppy or a grown dog, I start to panic.
Now I have met a beautiful and wonderful woman. We met in the Internet and later in life and everything seemed just amazing, as if we were made each for other. She doesn't know about my fear because somehow we never talked about dogs or pets in general. Then she invited me to come over to her place and then it turned out she has a huge Doberman. When I saw it I thought I was going to die right on the doorstep. I wanted to turn around and cancel all our date but she was already leading me in the room.
At first it wasn't so bad because she was with me all the time, we were talking and the dog was sitting in the opposite side of the room all the time. Then she went to the kitchen and left me alone for a while, and suddenly the dog came to me. I was sitting motionless and wasn't even looking at it, I don't know why it came to me. It climbed on the sofa and put its head on my shoulder and I was just sitting there frozen with cold sweat dripping down my back and tears coming to my eyes. For a moment I was like - this is how I die, it's going to rip my throat out. I know how silly it sounds but that's how I felt. Now when I think about it, I feel so disappointed of myself, I'm a grown ass man and I was sobbing there like a three year old.
Then the dog went away for a while and came back with something in its mouth and dropped it in my lap. When I dared to look, it was some dog toy.
I haven't talked to anyone about my fear. Mostly it's because I feel ashamed. I believe usually children are afraid of dogs. I haven't told my woman about my fear, I can see she loves her dog a lot. I'm afraid she'll think less of me and I won't be man in her eyes anymore, because what kind of man is afraid of dogs. What should I do?
Michael, first off, much love to you. My heart goes out to you.
First things first. . . Do not ever let anyone dismiss your fears, however well-meaning their words may be. You haven't had the fortune to have tons of good, positive, loving experiences with stable dogs - your most significant experience with a dog was a brutal attack. This is not an irrational response for you. As many times as you're told that this doberman is safe to be around, your instincts are telling you otherwise. For those of us who have had many positive interactions with dogs, this fear seems irrational, but for you, it's not.
Second, this is what we call a trauma response. Here is a PDF with a little more information on it: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~eap/reactionstotrauma.pdf Your response is completely normal, there is nothing wrong with it.
This sucks, but it's what happens. I've had two major trauma responses in the last year myself, and I wish I had handled them with as much strength as you did. It's okay to cry, it really is. A trauma response is basically your body having the same reaction to perceived danger as it did when the initial event happened. It's basically PTSD. Would you (or anyone else) disrespect a a veteran for having PTSD? Probably not. When you're feeling low, remind yourself that you are also experiencing PTSD and give yourself a little break.
As a woman, I'm going to tell you that she already knows, or has some inkling that something's not right. If she hasn't said anything awful to you about it, she's probably never going to - she probably sees your discomfort and also sees that you're trying to cope for her and is touched by your actions.
If you have 20 minutes sometime soon, Brene Brown is an amazing speaker and writer. She's a researcher who focuses on shame, courage, and imperfection. Her work has been life-changing for me, and taking the time to watch this might help you to overcome those "shame spirals" and be comfortable reaching out to someone. You've already taken the first step in reaching out to us, and I can tell you it only gets better from here. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brow...me?language=en
The next thing that I can tell you will help is to speak to a therapist. Therapy has a bad rap, but they're basically doctors for your brain. If you were sick, you'd get a doctor. If you're experiencing PTSD, you go to a therapist. It's not just "sitting in a chair and talking," it's having someone who can validate your experiences and teach you coping skills - because they've done it for hundreds of other people, too. I'm learning coping skills to use before I panic so that it doesn't happen again, and learning ways to bring myself back down after it happens, and healthy ways to communicate boundaries. Boundaries are your first step - setting healthy boundaries so you can manage your fear is important. Those boundaries may be a time limit at her house (for now - to be increased gradually), or she stays with you, or perhaps you go on walks with her and the dog. Get creative. Learn his name - when you start referring to him as an individual with a name and a personality and feelings, you start to take away the power of your fear. Every little bit counts.
Lastly, you're not any less of a man for this. You're not any less of a man for having a weakness or showing fear. Real men have fears. Real men have skills. Real men are loving. Real men are forgiving. Real men have talents. Think of all of your talents and skills and positive ways you contribute to the world, Now keep thinking about them every time you start to tell yourself you're "less than."
A weak man would have given up. A weak man would have dumped her because she had a dog or tried to intimidate her into getting rid of her dog. A weak man never would have been able to find the courage to post on here and ask us what to do. You are incredibly strong and courageous, and she's lucky to have you. I wish you both the best, and I hope the next time you can find the words to speak about this, it's with her.
ETA: I'm also going to say that you're really lucky in that you have an opportunity to confront your fears and work through them with such a gentle, understanding Doberman. The dog obviously senses your fear and is trying to comfort you - when I'm upset, my Dobe puts her head on my shoulder and brings me toys, too. The Dobe doesn't realize you're scared of him/her. So, remember, that first step is to name your fear - the dog has a name and a sex. Every time you say "it," you can try to correct yourself with "he/she/name," even when it's only in your head. It also helps to "humanize" the dog a bit - acknowledge that the dog has a personality and is an individual. For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, "the dog picked up it's toy," it can help to replace that thought with "he/she picked up his/her stuffed animal. He/she likes snuggling with stuffed animals while sleeping." It will seem weird at first, but I promise that it does help over time.