What You Don’t See is Still What You Get

Lately, I’ve been watching shows like “My Cat from Hell” and the “Dog Whisperer”. In every episode, the expert meets with some exasperated owner that can’t deal with the “issues” of their pet. The expert comes in, identifies the problem, and uses behavioral conditioning to teach the owner how to love the pet in a way that they can understand and receive. By the end of the episode, every one is happy.

One thing that I noticed was consistent in the experiences was anxiety. While the owner was treating the pet the best way they knew how, the animal experienced a great deal of anxiety which led to stress. Animals don’t like to feel anxiety. It makes them fearful and they lash out. The owner will continue to try to love the pet, but may give up after so many times of being scratched and abused. What the owner doesn’t realize is that the animal wants to love them as well. It’s just that the pet feels anxious that their needs are not being honored and they instead see the actions of the owner as threat instead of feeling it as love. I noticed that in many episodes that the experts identified one or two things that the owners could do differently and it made a world of difference in their relationship with the pet. The things that they were missing in the cat or dog was something that was inherent to breed or might have been a result of what they experienced before they came to that owner. All the expert did was recognize that the pet needed the owner to do something that they might not normally do to put the pet at ease.

What can we learn from the animal world? The truth is we all possess primal instincts. A high deal of anxiety or stress can send our primal brain into protective mode. We began to lash out and protect ourselves from the source of the stress or a perceived threat. We might not scratch or bite you, but you will feel it.

Anxiety or perceived fear is a strong emotion. The mind and body doesn’t like it creates a negative response in the body. The brain and organs go haywire with the fight-or-flight response trying to protect the body. Anxiety attacks can launch the body into intense stress which can lead to serious complications. This means that anxiety is to be avoided at all cost. People try to avoid anxiety by doing many things. There are a great many stress-relievers. Exercise is a great one. Some people watch television, read a book or write. Breathing is probably the best way to deal with anxiety. A few deep inhale and exhales goes a long way to relieving stress. Anxiety is a natural response within the body. It can save your life, but as with anything too much of a good thing can turn into a very bad thing.

People that have experienced trauma or some type of abuse in their life can have prolonged anxiety and stress. When a person or animal is abused or traumatized, the mind is rewired to be on high-alert at all times. They are constantly feeling anxiety and any negative response is a hair trigger for them. They are constantly worried about re-experiencing pain. In our society, it is uncivilized to lash out at everyone you meet. No one understands the high anxiety response because you are supposed to be calm and enjoyable. Some people will try to deaden the anxiety feeling with addiction. A doctor can prescribe a drug to ease anxiety. Addiction comes in all forms. Drugs, sex, video games, food, exercise, or internet. Any obsession that creates a numbing, deadening feeling. It’s a way to shut down and allow the thing to take over so the person doesn’t have to feel the anxiety and stress. It doesn’t solve the problem, but distracts from the problem. Like the animal, instead of biting and lashing out at people, we bite and lash out on the inside. Addiction inflicts the pain internally.

As I watched those shows, I realized that I was judgmental. I sympathized with the kind owner that was nice enough to provide food, shelter and who wanted to love that poor animal. I thought the pet was selfish to not appreciate the owner’s kindness and just give them the love in return. But, as I watched the show from a different perspective I realized something. The animal was neither unlovable nor incapable of love. That animal wanted to be loved, but it was used to a different type of life than was being provided for it. The animal was used to a life outside running wild and free. It was used to hunting for its food. It was perfectly happy to give up some of its ways for the love of the human. But, it was too much for the owner to expect it to be happy not having any of its old life. The owner had to play with the pet, give it exercise and do things specifically for the pet that honored its spirit. When that occurred, the anxiety was eased and both were happy.

“You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them.”  —Iyanla Vanzant        

The one thing that separates us from the animals is that we have the ability to recognize these things within ourselves and do something about it. It is possible to recognize anxiety and ease it in healthier ways. It might not be something that you can do on your own. Just as the experts had to come in and help the owners, it might require meeting with a professional. The easiest way to do it on your own is to tune into your emotions. You have to feel your body. You have to ask yourself the question, “Is there tension in my body?” “Am I irritable?”  These are stress responses in your body. If you are about to reach for food or a drink, check in with your mind as to why you are doing it. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or easing something else?”Awareness is the beginning of changing any habit.  If you can start asking yourself why you are doing what you are doing, you are on your way to understanding much more about yourself.