When problems or tensions arise between you and your partner, what’s your default response mode? Do you:
- Rush to smooth things over so everything quickly becomes normal again
- Go on the defence and get ready to fight to protect yourself from being hurt
- Withdraw completely until the threat passes
- We never have any problems, our relationship is perfect
If you chose D, then the other 99.9% of us are very happy for you. If, however, you chose options A, B, or C – then read on!
When we feel under threat our natural instinct is one of self-preservation and so we tend to respond in learnt ways. These coping strategies can look something like the way a dog, a cat, or a crab might respond to threats in their environment.
So, dog, cat or crab – which one are you? Let’s take a closer look….
DOGS: Those who turn towards
Dogs are friendly, energetic and attentive creatures. If they know they’ve done something to upset you they’ll become distraught, fearing you’ll punish them, or worse still, banish them. They’ll continue to come back to you over and over until they’re sure they’re still a part of the pack.
If you’re a ‘dog’ when it comes to dealing with relationship issues, then you’re more likely to turn towards the problem, eagerly trying to smooth things over. You feel it’s your responsibility to make everyone happy again.
‘Dogs’ are people-pleasers’ and are afraid of conflict of any kind. They’ll say ‘yes’ to things that don’t suit them in order to seem easy-going. They avoid potential conflict because it makes them feel too uncomfortable. They’re usually hyper-vigilant and can sense any possible tension in a relationship before it’s even arrived. They become fearful of offending, and will quickly try to right any perceived wrongs.
Those who turn towards need to understand that people will respect them more for being assertive, and that their fear of conflict is not as big or scary as it seems.
CATS: Those who turn against
Playing with a cat can be a little like Russian roulette. It’s all fun and games until something happens, and the cat latches on biting and scratching. When you finally separate from them feeling a little worse for wear, you might get as much as a hiss before they’re off.
At the slightest hint of vulnerability, people who tend to turn against will ready themselves for a fight. They’re on the defensive, they become hurtful and their words will sting. Even if there isn’t any intended conflict, they too are hyper-vigilant to any perceived threats that may leave them weak and alone. They can quite often push others away with their words and actions.
For those who turn against, fighting can be very lonely. They need to dig deeper to recognise what’s really going on under the anger, and soften more towards others. This will in turn draw others closer to them.
HERMIT CRABS: Those who turn away
Hermit crabs are quite content going about their day, meandering along doing whatever it is that hermit crabs do. But the minute anything unusual happens or there’s a threat of danger close by, they’ll promptly pull in, shut down, and you won’t see them again until the threat has passed.
When everything feels light and breezy and logical, those who turn away are great companions. But the moment they face emotional struggle, be it tension, dependency, or vulnerability, they completely withdraw. They feel confronted by anything that is too emotionally intense or overwhelming, and they retreat. As soon as things have calmed down they’ll come out again.
It can take a while for those who turn away to come out of their shell. Crabs need to try to stay engaged a little longer each time there is a threat, rather than instantly running at the first sign of trouble. If they can do this they’ll be able to notice the wave of overwhelm becomes smaller and more manageable overtime.
Whether you’re a dog, a cat, or a crab, you are responding in these ways because you feel your sense of the world is under threat. It’s how you’ve learnt to get your life back to a state of normal.
These are learnt behaviours that may have served you in the past, but they’re no longer conducive for your adult relationships.
The good news is that we can stretch ourselves beyond our automatic coping strategies and learn to modify these behaviours over time. Once we do this we can start to find a deeper sense of connection, belonging and understanding.