I admire cats. They are scrappy creatures. Resilient. Not only that, they are great at setting personal boundaries. In fact, if they don’t like you, they won’t get near you. Don’t even think about trying to pet an aloof cat. They will scratch your ass faster than you can count your nine lives. Even though cats are scrappy, I identify more as a dog—a rez dog. Most mutts found on the reservation have a spirit that just radiates gratefulness, resilience and loyalty.
Having two boxers with neurotic energy, I can appreciate the calm mutts sprawling out among the grass at the local climbing crag. They take pleasure in hanging out, enjoying the occasional passerby who gives a good belly scratch. Even though I treasure the outdoors and getting the occasional scratch, I’m working on embracing my inner cat.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but like some people are afraid of dogs, I have a fear of cats. It sounds crazy—after all, I’m covered in ink and am used to getting the crap kicked out of me, whether it’s rugby or derby. However, I assure you after a bobcat attacks your head from a high platform, you’d be hiding your ball of yarn, too. I’ll save the juicy bobcat story for another column.
Regardless of the feline’s ferocity, cats have a special gift for reading people. They are vicious when they feel threatened, aloof when unsure and playful when they feel safe. Bottom line, cats are great at setting boundaries. Like my inner mutt, I sometimes let loved ones manipulate me. I gobble up any scraps thrown to me and acquiesce to behaviors that might hurt me.
Throughout the years, I have noticed behavioral patterns I seem to repeat and certain types of personalities to which I am often attracted. My empathy is a gift and a curse. It allows me to be vulnerable in painful situations, as well as understanding toward people with toxic patterns. My caring nature often blinds me to making logical, self-preserving boundaries that most healthy individuals establish with ease and confidence. In other words, I supply the ball of yarn to those who hurt and manipulate me—often feeling drained, depleted and used (boosting their personal worth).
I have a habit of making excuses and defending these types of behaviors because I have compassion toward others’ trauma. It’s easy for me to find ways to defend someone’s cruel or selfish behaviors. In other words, there’s always a legitimate reason for someone to be a dick. However, I need to remind myself, there is never a good reason to tolerate it.
In order to heal, I must learn to value my self-worth and deflect the toxic energy that often comes when I mirror someone else’s trauma. The term my therapist used to describe this dynamic is “trauma bonding.” Trauma bonding is a way you connect to others by mirroring each other’s fears, emotions and insecurities. For instance, being a survivor of continuous childhood sexual abuse causes me to struggle with self-worth and abandonment. Unfortunately, those with previous trauma have a tendency to endure abusive behavior because they think it’s the best they will ever receive or deserve.
I might as well wear a sign that says, “Pick me! I’m compassionate toward douchery. Your needs come first!”
During a recent counseling session, I came to a conclusion that I choose people who validate the negative story I have created about myself. I also let them treat me in ways that make me feel lonely and unworthy. I am magnetized to their inner damaged little girl or boy who needs love and care. Instead of trying to comfort my inner damaged little girl, I try to heal theirs. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s much easier to put the focus on someone else instead of facing my own shadows.
Now that I’m single for the first time in my life, I’m independently working on my self-worth. I’m not seeking outside validation from a partner. I’m embracing my inner cat and giving my mutt a bone to chew on. Now, this cat chooses her own color of yarn.