For some of us the presence of a pet promotes a sense of safety and security. Sitting on my back porch writing, I am accompanied by no less than five animals including a cat and two dogs. About twenty feet away two miniature horses lie in the sun. There seems to be a shared message of comfort circulating between all of us. From a neurobiological perspective I am sure mirror neurons and unseen messages on a hormonal level are supporting this environment of safety. For instance, in front of me is a strong smelling bush covered in honey bees. The bees are deeply involved in their job on the plant, ignoring the presence of the rest of us.
Families come to Transitioning Families in California and Stable Paths in Florida struggling to figure out how to create harmony in their worlds. This is especially true for families in the midst of and/or post divorce. Sometimes the quest for harmony is complicated by the addition of a stepparent or step siblings. Everyone’s role and sense of belonging has been disrupted and has shifted in the face of the fracture and reformulation in the family.
How do you regain a sense of Saftey?
- Respect the Boundaries of Individual Space: Family members need to establish and be aware of individual and collective space.
- Know your Job/Role: Individual family members need to be aware of their own role and individual place within the system.
- Neutral Zone: An environment of safety needs to be a priority. Find a “conflict free” space where individual needs and conflicts are put aside. Such as: the dinner table, during bedtime rituals, etc.
So how does watching animals help us understand how to do this as humans? It might be simpler than it sounds. The first step would be to acknowledge and commit to the notion that regardless of individual differences and needs we can survive and thrive together. We have had people visit the facility who are surprised cats and dogs can live so closely together. No special training is needed, just promote a slow integration and promote the sense under that conflicts will arise but steps are taken to minimize their escalation. An example would be feeding the dog and cat in separate protected spaces. This avoids the inevitable fight between these animals during feeding time. It doesn’t mean they cant live together. It just means common sense and mindfulness needs to be applied during that time.
Animals tend to look to us humans as the providers of safety. Today they gravitated to where I sat in response to their sense of my comfort level. The bees did not distract any of us . I was confident in their focus on the job they had in front of them and clearly they trusted me to stay out of their orbit. Again simple: respect individual space, know your job, have a “neutral zone” and never lose sight of th fact that we are all part of the same planet. Families form different constellations. Conflict can be supported or avoided, but first a feeling of safety must be achieved. Active litigation is not a promotion of safety.