Updated: Nov 3, 2019
I am currently charting the introduction of a new fur baby cat (5 years) to the resident pup (11 years) on my instagram @draudreyt
...and I discuss the importance of these points as they pertain to relationships at work in my article for The Attic.
I love widely and willingly without trusting - but I need the latter to form a bond.
Love is defined as feelings of deep affection.
Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, ability or truth of something.
Because I am so passionate about many things I am effusively expressive in my delight - much like a dog when you come home at the end of the day; but that excitement wanes if I cannot rely on you.
Cat person or Dog person?
I have always owned dogs, and would consider myself a "dog person", but until introducing a cat into the family, I didn't really know what that meant. I realise now it is my approach to others that makes me "more comfortable with dogs"...but that doesn't mean I can't learn to earn the trust of a cat nor lose the trust of the dog in the process!!
When I knew I was adopting a cat, I asked my cat-owning friends for advice and every single one said "The cat will show you how it wants to be loved." Note that we're still in the process of familiarity with a new environment, and perhaps because of my "dog-like" qualities I have wanted to dive right in and try and coax her out of hiding. (So did my dog!) After all I have so much love I want to give, why wouldn't she see that?
After a couple of hisses I began to get a little worried - does that mean she hates me? So I turned to the encyclopaedia of Google where I began learning that hissing is simply a form of communicating fear - it had nothing to do with like or dislike, she simply didn't trust me yet.
Seriously, Cat person or Dog person??
I began to wonder if this was a more useful metaphor for people than I first thought. After all we really do say X is more like a cat, and Y is more like a dog...But have we ever thought about what we really mean by that?
I began to think about the people I would say were "more cat" - not because they owned cats, but because of their approach to others. I began to question whether their sometimes "challenging" behaviours were more about fear or anxiety rather than - well - like or dislike.
Then I thought about the "more dog"...was their openness more about a shared passion rather than a friendship?
Then I got to me. I love widely and willingly. If you share my passion I will often seek to spend time with you as running with a pack with like-minded people is (to me) exhilerating. But the friendships which have endured through that were the ones that I could rely on. That is, the ones that remembered to include me when they were excited about something new, or when I had moved away ...the ones who I could trust to feed, walk me, and keep me company - even when I'd been a bit "over the top" in going on about my latest project!! I like being part of a pack. And sadly, because I have a great sense of loyalty I do feel bad if I walk away, but empty promises or friendships of convenience can never be enough, and there's only so long I can stand being left on the outside.
My husband, although he is incredibly loving, is far more independent. He's home for food and shelter, but he likes his own time and space. It took a while for him to adjust to my need for company and balance that with his need for solitude. We worked together on that - he has his garage, but when it's our time, he gives that to me fully. Similarly I've learned to amuse myself (I have my studio) and begin to appreciate our time together as quality time and so not to be distracted by social media or work because "being near" is actually enough to make me know I'm included.
None of this has much to do with love (although it is there), but everything to do with trust.
It is trust that allows us both to know that although we have differing preferences and need to respect them (more cat?) we are working to support each other as a team - a pack (more dog?)
Other "cats" and "dogs"
In considering how this may apply more widely, perhaps you, like a cat do struggle trusting people. Perhaps you are defensive and push them away, making them feel like they need to "earn your love". The moment I could appreciate the hissing was about fear my own attitude changed from worrying about rejection to earning respect for the cat's space. Could it help to explain that fear may be what drives you?
Then, if you are the other person, perhaps you can find ways of allowing them space, but making it clear your door is open when they are ready.
Similarly, one of the problems I had was trying to keep my dog from wanting to run up and play - simply because she was excited, so I started keeping her outside the door...she started scratching the door itself and waiting outside hoping for the cat to come out - I'd not been teaching her anything, I was rejecting her! Rather than keeping them apart, instead I opened the doors and allowed the dog to follow me but kept saying "gently" in a calm voice...so far they have been able to pass on the stairs and sit in the same room without incident. The dog felt wanted, the cat felt safe.
Therefore, if instead you, like a dog, are feeling a little ousted in a relationship, could you explain that's what's happening and try to change the situation? And if you are the other person, can you try to reassure rather than supress...and never ever misuse that sharing of vulnerability?
Base bonds on TRUST
I know it's early days, but I think that my two furry family members are on the way to becoming friends - because we have begun to establish trust.
Trust is about knowing that we're here when you choose to connect. Knowing that you will be supported or protected when vulnerable. Knowing that your secrets are safe, and no-one wants anything more of you than your company. It is about respecting others' needs and not trying to manipulate them; about remembering who helped you and trying to help them back; about knowing it's ok to be around although not always together - and that differences are ok too. Cat people - try to explain rather than reject first; Dog people - try not to make promises in your enthusiasm which you cannot keep.
And that's something I intend to look at it my own relationships too. The most important part is trust - and that stems from the active expression of reliability, consistency and understanding. I am grateful to the people who have allowed me to express my fears without rejection or embarassment, who have, rather than kept me outside, sought to reassure me; who have always remembered me and my role in their life. In the same way I try and respect a need for space, and also remember that when my over-enthusiasm changes direction to different packs, or my more independent friends don't call, that I can still be trusted to check in.
Most importantly of course, is that while through metaphor I have gained a little more insight, we have much higher level thinking than cats and dogs, we can ask, we can express through language not have to guess feelings through interpretation. So while I see people can 'be more cat' or 'be more dog', think, and be clear with words and actions because at the human level we have the advantage and keeping it to ourselves in order to make others guess - that's not friendship - that's a power struggle.
So, my friends, I'm effusive, a little over the top and sometimes easily distracted, but when I know you are there for me, that you'll seek to include me as much as I like to run towards you, that you support my basic needs as much as I will cheerlead or sit quietly with you, you have my trust as well as my love.
Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016, Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Training Consultant with her training consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She often presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness and offers psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations.