The Gratitude Challenge’s twenty-second topic is “Animals”.
As I am working on allowing feelings and taking the risk to get hurt, I notice how also my relationship with animals changes. Once very much caring about my cat as a child, at some point I got angry and bitter with animals. In hindsight I think I did not accept the “weak” feeling of finding them cute and caring about them and I was afraid that being weak would mean that I get hurt. That feeling would mean that I would feel all the overwhelming sadness that I had in me. I often caught myself thinking that I’m at my best alone, that I did not need anyone and that it was safest to only rely on myself. The feeling of finding an animal cute or wanting to take care of it did not fit into this idea, so I angrily rejected such sensations.
As I accepted feelings of care and love more again, I also rediscovered my connection to animals, felt compassion with abandoned animals, with the gecko (which in Mandarin funnily enough is called “wall tiger”) in my house, with my friends’ cats. Not so much with dogs. For one, I feel there are not so many dogs I really get along with and I think most dogs simply don’t smell very nice. But second, my connotation for “dog” is not overly positive: I feel treated “like a dog” many times myself.
Being unable to uphold my boundaries, not respecting myself and therewith allowing others to disrespect me, too, I felt like the abandoned dog that was kicked out in the rain. Being shouted and cursed at and thinking I had to endure if I wanted to show loyalty and love. Consequently, I now tend to be very sensitive to someone telling me what to do, if I feel the tone is a bit of, I respond aggressively, because aggression is the only way I learnt how I could keep my boundaries. As I am trying to unlearn this reactive pattern, I notice that I do not only feel anger for being told what to do “like a dog”, but that I also feel anger with myself and envy for the other person that they can be assertive and clearly state their expectations, while I am very hesitant to express mine, fearing retaliation, to be considered selfish or not caring enough.
Having been told forever that my feelings are unreasonable and that my statement must stem from temporary “confusion”, I started to doubt and question and eventually immediately reject whatever I felt – just let the brain take over and find an alternative reasoning. Ignoring the feeling of being treated like a dog and telling myself that enduring mistreatment shows my loyalty and love. Obviously, abandonment of own desires and needs and self-sacrifice only led to losing myself, to gradually grow angry and tired of other persons, to feel resentment and expressing it passively aggressively – “I think so much for them, why don’t they do the same and notice what I need?”.
I felt very comfortable in Asian cultures – especially the Japanese idea of “reading the air” – because my inability to confront and to voice what I needed was considered a virtue, always guessing what the other person might mean and need was considered a great skill. Once I learnt that it does not make sense to expect anyone to be able to guess what only I can now and that it is my responsibility to say what’s on my mind instead of angrily thinking why the other person doesn’t get it, I got upset with myself for my difficulty to do so. Hence I was angry with the other person and with me – not exactly an improvement, but at least I had realized what was going on and I was aware of the problem and of a solution.
I’m now stepping out of my comfort zone and gradually confronting people more often, expressing my needs, reassuring myself that I can still be loved and accepted even if I state my needs and desires and that an unwelcoming response from another person does not mean that I was wrong or that I should stop being assertive. I’m learning that stating what’s on my mind actually does not put people off, but in contrary makes me more approachable and authentic. There is no point in hiding my true self “to be liked”, if it means people only like a version of me that is just a façade. I’m learning that it is not true that “no one” would ever like my true self. I’m learning that it is normal to have flaws and “ugly parts” and that it is enough to be aware and try to improve, but that there is no need to be perfect or “a saint”. And at the same time, I’m learning to be less strict, to not expect others to be perfect, either.
A song that represents well this ambivalent of crestfallenness and hope is “Pozo” by Lisandro Aristimuño:
What I’m trying to figure out now is how to be accepting other people’s flaws and mistakes, to appreciate their efforts to improve but at the same time to avoid being repeatedly hurt and mistreated out of the same pattern. How long is it acceptable to “endure” a certain situation if the other person apologizes and makes real efforts to change but then the dynamic repeatedly flips into an unhealthy pattern? When is it time to go – when is it running away prematurely and when is it my old idea of “enduring to show love and loyalty”? And as I’m asking these questions, I realize that I’m – again – trying to answer with my mind what only my heart can tell. But it takes a long time to relearn a language that you rejected to listen to for a long time.
I’m therefore grateful for the newly found compassion and love towards animals of all kinds – even though it is scary and feels so vulnerable, coming with the fear of loss and pain, it is a beautiful feeling. And I take its ever-greater arousal as a good sign, showing that I’m slowly relearning the language of my heart and to be aware of and to listen to my feelings. I’m grateful for the animals in my life.