You remember the two dogs I wrote about a week ago? Luna and Sol? Well, Sol is not the only one triggering anxiety. Luna does too.
Usually, she is a sweetie. Super mellow, listens to me, doesn’t disappear in the fields.
So this morning when we get at the dog park, I let her off leash. We walk up to the field where other dogs are playing with each other, happy to have found playmates for Sol and Luna.
Then out of the blue, Luna charges at another dog. Like really charge: her neck hair up straight, her teeth in a grimace, her posture in complete attack pose. I feel terrified.
I’ve seen enough dog aggression, and it all ended in a hospital visit: my baby sister got caught in a dogfight, my older brother was bitten in the throat by a Dalmatian, I got bit when I was caught between Luna and Sol, trying to disentangle Sol’s collar.
So teaching Luna to calm down or stop her from charging at other dogs, is not only a challenging task for me – it’s really scary. Being afraid, I’m nowhere close to call upon my calm-assertive Alpha-dog leadership quality.
And as I imagine the potential for violence, I perceive urgency, and yep: my anxiety spills over into anger and frustration. My calm-assertive energy becomes anxious-angry-confused energy and I start teaching Luna the wrong lesson: Fear! Anger!
Of course it doesn’t work. My anxiety doesn’t invite her calm: it triggers her anxiety, reinforcing this sense that we are in danger and that she has to be aggressive to protect us.
It takes a lot of self-acceptance and self-compassion, before I reach a place where I can focus on Luna’s needs and understand that Luna’s behavior is a tragic expression of unmet needs.
Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, offers that “Everything we say and do is an attempt to meet universal, human needs, and some behavior is a tragic expression of unmet needs.”
As soon as I shift my perspective on Luna’s behavior from “she’s a scary, uncontrollable dog” to “she needs leadership”, I get curious: which needs is she trying to fulfill? And how I could I help her with them?
She probably needs safety and support: “Hey, Elly, will you be the pack leader? I want to trust you’ll keep us and yourself safe, so I can relax. Show me you’ve got everything under control.”
With that in mind, I feel less scared and more excited to figure out ways to meet all needs: hers and mine. Even without an answer, I feel inspired to work on a solution and I enjoy experimenting with different strategies.
When were you able to receive someone’s behavior as a “tragic expression of unmet needs”? And how did that help you feel excited about brainstorming strategies that meet all needs?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.