What an outrage!
The committee in my head wakes up, fully alert, and fires away.
First the Codependent Kid: Why did he do this to me? What’s wrong? What did I do? Am I a bad cat lady?
Then the ADHD-OCD-I-don’t-feel-things-I-fix-them Taskmaster: Do I wash it, toss it, buy a new case, buy a new set, will they deliver by tomorrow, where’s the best price, do they make these anymore, can I use one that doesn't match??
And soon we’re onto the Vengeful Evil Sage: Throw him out the window—but only after I put the poop in his water dish.
The possibilities are endless.
These things happen. They may not be fun, but I gotta say, I admire the direct communication of cats. You know when they’re pissed.
People are often a bit more passive aggressive. Wouldn't it be fun if, when you were angry, you could cop a squat on the offending party’s pillow? I’m not saying to actually do it, but wouldn't it be liberating to know it was an option? Think of your favorite least-favorite person…
Just kidding. Though I can see how it would clearly communicate your disapproval and your feelings of anger, I am not a fan of soiling folks’ linens. Why not, you ask? Well, aside from any moralistic judgments, it’s simply not effective—it would not let the person know what you need.
Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication (aka NVC), said that when we are angry, two things are happening:
a need is not being met, and
we think it should be.
He also said that when we are angry, we are likely to do something that will guarantee that our needs will not be me—at least not in the way we want.
Will sh*tting on someone’s pillow meet your need...? It may relieve your anger, but is relief the only thing you want?
Not me. I want a way to be present with, and real about, the authentic feelings (e.g., anger, outrage, disappointment, hurt). Then, I want to take care of the dang need whose “unmetness” stimulated my anger in the first place.
All of this is possible but not easy, especially while our brains are filled with the chemicals that accompany anger.
So, first things first. Before you do anything, do nothing.
Pause. Breathe. Take some time to be gentle with yourself and accept that your anger is a perfectly understandable and valid response. Allow your brain to ride out the wave of chemicals so that it can function. In this way, you become a more powerful space where healing and restoration can take place.Then, move on to the practice below, a way to externalize, observe and bring healing to the situation.
Remember Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter? He had this thing called a “pen sieve” that he could hold to his temple, and thoughts and memories would drain into a bowl so he could see them, not only clearly, but outside of himself. He separated himself from the situation, so he could ponder it from a new perspective.
You can do that too, with a pen, by writing down the incident, drawing it, etc.
I like to do the writing systematically:
First, write what happened, without evaluation:
Eg., The cat shat on my pillow. (Not, the stupid cat, or the neurotic cat. Just the observable facts.)
Second, write (or draw images/emojis for) your feelings.
Eg., I feel rage, disgust, confusion
(Tip: Most people are not taught Feelings literacy. Feel free to click here for a list of Feelings.)
Third, write (or draw) the meanest, vilest things you can think of about this person (yes, cats are people too!). Call them names. Don’t hold back on this step. Let it rip!
Eg., Little piece of sh*t! (irony unintentional!)
Fourth, what needs were affected by the action?
Eg., sleep, cleanliness, peace, harmony
(Tip: Most people are not taught Needs literacy. Feel free to click here for a list of Needs.)
Fifth: What request might you make of yourself to meet that need or those needs?
Eg., In my case, for rest, I could sleep in the guest room; for cleanliness, I could change the pillowcase and the pillow; for space, I could put the cat outside the room tonight or offer him up on eBay… (just kidding!).
Bonus: Ask yourself, "What might the other person (or cat) have been feeling and needing?"
Eg., in Slinky’s case, he may have felt anger, loneliness, fear, and/or frustration, and needing comfort, companionship, cleanliness in his litter box.
By the end of the process, give yourself a moment to pause. Notice your feelings. Do you still feel angry? Do any of your answers surprise you?
If you’d like some live guidance and practice, this July I am offering a 2-hour workshop on The Gift of Anger at the new Santa Monica College campus in Malibu. You can find more info on the home page under "Coming Up Next".
And, to register, you can go here.
*Slinky has never actually pooped on my pillow. However, I've heard cats will do this if they’re really angry. I hope yours never does. If it does happen, you’ll have something to write about…
Please feel free to contact me with any purrs or growls.