We got a puppy this summer.
We named him Camper.
He’s a happy Camper—a rambunctious chocolate lab that likes to wrestle and get into things. He has many friends at the dog park, but not Mooshie.
Mooshie is a small dog, a type of terrier with a beard. He’s very bossy and likes to police Camper, likes to control the goings-on of other dogs. He doesn’t like the way Camper wrestles; he doesn’t like how fast he is; he doesn’t like how greedy he is when it comes to treats.
I watch how Camper is unbothered by Mooshie following him around. How he ignores Mooshie barking at him and chasing him away from corners he is exploring. I can see how this upsets Mooshie. How much harder he tries to teach Camper, who is completely uninterested in his approach.
I looked at Mooshie’s owner and giggled, commenting on his policing, his bossiness. The owner looked at me seriously and said, “Mooshie likes things to be a certain way.”
I nodded and said, “He’s going to have a hard life.”
I know this because I was the Mooshie of my family.
Like many families, we had our own entrenched dysfunctional patterns and destructive behaviours. And, like Mooshie, I knew how to make things better. I knew the changes that needed to happen to make things smoother and safer for us all.
I tried many strategies to make this happen. I spent countless years educating, modelling, reasoning, berating, screaming, manipulating. I was well intentioned; I was right. I was doing this for their own good, for the health of the family.
Sometimes my strategies worked for a time, but they didn’t seem to stick. I had to stay on people. I had to correct their every move, their every way of being. Eventually I was exhausted and sick, sick of myself mostly. If this was going to work, it would have worked by now.
I came to realize that it didn’t matter if I controlled people in the moment. I didn’t actually have the power to change their internal systems, re-wire their nervous systems. With this realization, I stopped pouring my energy outwards in changing others and instead poured it into myself, the only nervous system I had any control over.
In my own EMDR and somatic therapy, I discovered that because I didn’t feel safe in my own body, I couldn’t feel safe in the world and my way of coping was to control and manipulate those around me. I surrendered to the process of developing more safety in my body by strengthening my vagus nerve and processing the past childhood traumas that projected onto the outside world, I am not safe; I don’t have choices over my own life.
I discovered that even though my intentions towards my family were good, I was actually being invasive, intrusive by inserting myself on their learning when I wasn’t invited. I understood that we all have our work to do; it’s not my job to point out their work, unless I’m asked.
After some time, when I felt safe in my body and present in time and space, I came to see that the outside world is here to tell me more about me than it is about others. The outer world is reflecting back to me my preferences, my needs, my wounds, my belief systems. It is here to show me more about Natasha and navigating a healthy expression of the uniqueness of me in the world.
I discovered that when I feel safe in who I am and in my own body, I have room for others because I know where I end and they begin. In this way, I can choose to enjoy the unique expression of others or not. I now understand that I am responsible for myself and my contribution to the collective. I can participate from a place of presence and safety or I can add to it my control and fear.
At the dog park, I can see that Mooshie isn’t having any fun. He’s too busy being vigilant, on guard, with his head spinning the entire time watching for how all the dogs are interacting. He doesn’t see how little he is in the grand scheme of the dog park, how little control he has over all the other dogs. He doesn’t see that he only has control over himself and that he can choose how he interacts with the other dogs or doesn’t.
Mooshie doesn’t see the complexity of the macrocosm at play and that Camper is being trained at home, that he is learning more every day from many other dogs. He doesn’t see the evolution of Camper’s development or growth. He doesn’t see that it’s not his job to train others.
Take what works, leave the rest