Blue is a street dog, she was homeless and had ten puppies before she was rescued and came to live with us. The people at the shelter said she was crazy and wild and would take forever to adapt to being a pet. They warned us that she would jump on our heads and would not know how to be in a house. Blue proved them wrong. She got to our house, watched our other two dogs Ed and Sid and within three days had worked out how to live in a house. She was terrified the first day on a lead and ran around in circles constantly knotting the lead up around my legs. By the second day she was walking perfectly, much better in fact than Ed and Sid who we had taken regularly to dog training when they were puppies.
But the people at the pound were right about one thing, Blue does like to jump. Blue jumps almost as high as my head, especially when she is excited and/or happy. I haven’t worked out how to stop her doing it and have been trying a few techniques – ignoring, pushing her down with a sharp prod, shouting, rattling keys at her and so on.
Earlier in the week I was getting ready to go for a walk with the dogs and as usual Blue was leaping in the air, landing with her paws on my shoulders, and scraping her claws all the way down from the back of my neck to my shins. She was sooooooo very excited to be going for a walk. But I was tired and her claws hurt on my back, so I said “NO” is the most serious, stern voice I could manage and stared at her. Immediately she stopped. She stopped being excited. I was a little shocked. I had meant NO jumping but Blue has simply heard ‘no’ and stopped everything – she stopped jumping AND she stopped feeling excited. How can I tell? Well anyone with a dog can tell you that a happy excited dog has a different facial expression and body posture than a serious disengaged dog. She didn’t simply stop jumping, Blue stopped feeling excited.
So what? So what indeed…. I suddenly realised that Blue didn’t know the difference between FEELING excited and ACTING excited – the two are the same for her, she is totally congruent, her actions and feelings are aligned and in synch. Blue doesn’t know how to feel one thing and act another way. Ed and Sid do – they can feel really excited but they can modulate their behaviour so that they do not act as excited as they feel inside. So it must be a learned thing, something I taught them to do as puppies. And that got me thinking about people and children – how is it that we teach ourselves and our children to act and feel in two different ways? Why do we do it, and what happens to children who find it hard to master this bizarre social requirement? What has happened to all of us who have managed to act in TOTALLY different ways to how we feel ? I know that I often feel happy inside but on the outside look nonplussed, I get angry but rarely show it, I am happy to see someone I love but my behavioural response is always underwhelming and totally out of synch with the depth of feeling I experience in my heart.
I realise that it is helpful socially that we can modulate our behaviour and tone down our reactions. I just wonder if some of us have started acting like Blue? Instead of stopping the outward behaviour, have we also stopped feeling inside? Next time you are in a situation that brings up emotion, pay attention, are you acting calm on the outside but feeling deeply inside or are you as still and vacant on the inside as you look on the outside? I don’t want Blue to stop feeling excited, it’s her right as a living creature to feel deeply. I just wanted her to stop jumping on my back every time she was happy. What do you want from your feelings, from your children’s feelings, from those around you? Can you find a way to not squash the feeling when you squash the behaviour? Can you dare to be congruent? What would happen if your outer actions reflected your inner feelings – even just sometimes, even just the acceptable happy emotions? Who does it upset when we act big emotionally? Who makes us ‘stop jumping’ when we are excited or happy? What would it be like to ‘jump’ when we are happy?