“Man is rated the highest animal, at least among all animals
who returned the questionnaire.” ~Robert Brault
It is a commonly accepted belief that dogs have similar feelings to humans. A broader perspective might ask us to consider that humans have feelings similar to dogs – that many, if not most, of the emotions we feel are as mammalian and automatic as they are for our beloved pups. But the similarities between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom extend well beyond just emotions or emotionality. Even unto ways of relating in a “pack” mentality where behavior is governed less by individuals and more by characteristic group dynamics.
Our feelings aren’t what define us as distinct from the animal kingdom. Not really. What distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our potential to develop the ability to think about our feelings and how they may fit a larger pattern of an emotional system.
Therapy that focuses on our feelings often times makes us feel like the most automatic parts of us (our emotional reactions) are the most important or relevant parts of us. An understanding of what our feelings tend to be – part of a long standing dynamic of a larger pack (a.k.a a family, a society, or a culture) – tends to be more beneficial. More often than not, our feelings have us. We don’t have them.
An understanding of the forces that lead to resolution of human problems goes a long way. These forces include triangles (for example, your wife is overly involved with her mother who doesn’t like you), projection (when our bad days or stomach aches – a.k.a. negative emotions – are attributed to those closest to us), and sibling position (yours as well as those of your parents), just to name a few. These kinds of organizing forces in a family trump anything else we do. Which is why date nights, extra sex, communication techniques, and love languages don’t make a lasting difference in our relationships. There are larger, systemic, “pack” realities extending back to your great grandmother, if you will, that mitigate the process.
Every family has large and small stressors to deal with. But what makes the difference between families that are destroyed by these stressors and the families that aren’t? This is a complicated question with a complicated answer. Suffice it to say that the difference is in how the family responds to the crises. The difference is in how much any individual family member understands those mitigating factors like triangles and can act upon his or her understanding. Can we use the idea of a triangle, for example, as a springboard to greater understanding and change or are we washed away by the emotion of it all?
I have found in my own life that studying about the family emotional system makes an important difference in how I handle arguments or illnesses or individual dysfunctions as they inevitably come to pass.
Most of the folks in my industry are trained to help people grow distant from their family emotional systems, in a stance that blames parents for either being too much or too little or too toxic or what have you. This only intensifies problems in the long run. It is better to re-enter the emotional field of one’s family system in order to learn what makes your pack tick. You might be surprised what it can tell you about how you tick and how you contribute to the problems you are now facing in your nuclear family. Chances are, whatever problem you are dealing with in your own nuclear family has happened before in some shape or size. So, congratulations! You are the proud owner of your great grandmother’s problems.
The advantage we have over our four-legged friends is we can do more than just feel. We can observe and think. We can educate ourselves about how emotional systems function, and when we have that knowledge, we can make a difference.