My dog has many needs that she feels must be met right away. For instance, she enjoys having a good, long pet, and she doesn’t like it when you stop petting her before she’s ready. If you even think about pulling your hand away, she wraps her paw around your arm. Then if you manage to break free, she whines and moans and barks. If that doesn’t work, she attempts to crawl on top of you.
It’s the same when she’s hungry, which is pretty much all the time. Around three in the afternoon, she usually decides that it’s been days since she was last fed. So she sits in front of the closet where we keep her food and then does the whining, moaning and barking thing. Sometimes she tosses her body against the closet door for effect.
In the beginning, when she was a mere pup, I made the mistake of responding to her calls for attention. Though I didn’t always give her what she wanted, I still talked to her, often saying useless things like, “Macy, it’s only 3 p.m. If I start feeding you at 3, you’ll be hungry by 2. If I feed you by 2, you’ll be hungry by 1. Soon you’ll be eating all day long, will be overweight, and the vet will be giving me a speech about how I’m killing you with kindness.”
As we all know, what she hears is, “Macy, blah blah blah blah…” As a result, she stares at me as if I’ve lost my mind. Then she proceeds to whine and moan and bark and toss her body around more intensely.
It has been only recently that I’ve learned to say one word firmly, “No,” and then go on with my daily life. You want to know what happens when I do that? Does she suffer for hours with hunger and lack of love? No, she hops up onto the bed and happily goes to sleep in a sunny spot.
Most of her discontent seems to come from not knowing whether she will get what she wants. Once she knows for sure that the answer is “No” and that it’s not going to change, she relaxes. In that way, a firm “no” is a kindness that breaks her out of her self-imposed suffering cycle.
It got me thinking. Humans are a lot like dogs, you know? Have I been prolonging the suffering in my other relationships — especially some of my friendships —by being too soft? Too accommodating? Too wishy-washy? Too non-committal? Too “whatever you want to do is fine”? Too “I can’t give you what you want, but I feel bad about it, so I’ll talk for a really long time about how I can’t help you”?
It seems I have.
When I think back over my life, my most difficult relationships grew out of my inability to firmly and succinctly state my opinion and then stop engaging. I’ve since learned that a firm sentence or two spoken without anger and followed by silence can be deafening. People notice it much more than 25 loud sentences followed by 30 even louder ones.
Short and succinct also ends the drama. It takes two people to play tug of war. If one person drops the rope, the other person has no choice but to stop tugging. Sure, that person might not drop his end of the rope right away. But trust me. As soon as he or she realizes that you are definitely not going to pick your end back up, that you’ve already stated your case, and that you are not about to change your mind during this lifetime or the next, that person’s persuasive tactics (quarreling, whining, and even passive aggression) will come to a quick end. Then you’ll both feel better.
Whatever we put our energy into, we get more of. If we put our energy into drama, we’ll generate more drama. If we put our energy into calm, we’ll get more of that instead. Then by not dealing with drama, we can end the drama.
And, in the process, we’ll be doing everyone a kindness.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.