We adopted our dog Hartley from a rescue a couple of years back. She is the sweetest little girl pup you’ve ever met. She’s timid and shy, but extremely loyal and obedient. She follows us everywhere we go. She doesn’t hesitate to tuck that big head right up under our hands to make sure we know when, she’s ready for some love. There’s only one thing that changes all that.
When she is afraid of a stranger it comes out in a thunderous bark, a strong defensive stance, spiky hair raised on the back of her neck and her huge, sharp teeth take center stage. She scares our neighbors, the mail lady, the principal in carline, our friends and especially any contractors that visit our house. In an instant, her fear transforms her from the sweetest pup on the planet, into a vicious predator.
It scares people off and pushes people away. She becomes so focused on defending, it scares people off. It creates exactly the opposite response of what’s she’s really wanting, which is to be loved.
She was laying beside me on the floor the other day and I was thinking about her little predicament. All of a sudden, it occurred to me, that I know someone else like that.
It’s been a real eye-opener for me lately. Over the years, I’ve learned that defensive anger is my go-to emotion when I feel threatened (whether real or perceived). I plant my feet and brace for a fight at the first sign of an attack and It’s not helpful. It creates a domino effect and scares people off when deep down, I really just want to connect. Watching Hartley’s cycle of defensiveness has shed a whole new light on it for me.
It gives me a whole new awareness of how it might look to others. Loving her is helping me see how incredibly counterproductive that behavior is for me. And of course, it all points back to vulnerability.
“Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves…are we willing to show up and be seen.” ~ Brené Brown
P. S. What’s your go-to emotion when you feel threatened or afraid? What have you learned about how that works for you?
photo credit – Vanessa Corral Photography