I have two cats; one outgoing, cuddly, and loving, the other skittish, fearful, and aloof.
They are brothers from the same litter, and presumably have had comparable life experiences.
Of course, the first cat, Oslo, is the one naturally favored by my son. He both seeks and gives love.
The other cat, Berlin, seeks love, but often runs away before it is given. He will follow his brother and stay a few feet behind him when we all have a cuddle session on the couch.
Signs of Nervous System Upset
An interesting thing I noted is that, while his brother is smooth and silky and jet black, Berlin’s fur is rough and has many white hairs–sometimes a sign of stress or trauma.
This indicates that his nervous system is on hyperdrive, his fight or flight response much more active than his affectionate brother.
According to Ayurveda, Berlin exhibits the qualities of excess Vata, or wind energy. If you can imagine a candle flickering in the wind, that probably approximates how he feels much of the time.
On the other hand, Oslo exhibits the qualities of Kapha, or water and earth. He is grounded, juicy, loving, soft, cuddly, brave and bold. His sympathetic nervous system is much less active than his brother’s.
My point here is that often those who need love and support the most are the ones who hide from it. Poor little Berlin lives inside of an overactive nervous system that tells him there is danger around every corner.
That shadow of a hand reaching to pet him? It must be a predator! That explosive squeal of a little boy who loves him? Must be a sign of danger!
Because Berlin’s nervous system is in this hyperdrive state, it is distorting his perception of reality and causing him to run away from the very thing he needs; love and affection.
Getting petted, or massaged, in a slow, gentle way is very calming to the nerves. Unfortunately, Berlin gets far less of it than his outgoing brother.
Talking Ourselves Out of Getting Support
We do this as humans too, especially when we are anxious or depressed. We tend to hide away and rationalize the reasons we don’t seek out support, affection, or a shoulder to cry on. Often, we rationalize that we don’t deserve this kind of support.
I have been so depressed that I was ashamed to let my friends see me. I have been so anxious that a hot bath, normally one of my favorite self-care activities, felt like nothing to me. My body couldn’t relax and feel the pleasure of it at all.
Those were the times I needed love and affection most. But what did I do? I hid. I played it off. I kept my chin up.
This helped no one and worsened my depression by further isolating me.
I encourage you to watch the ways you hide from love in your life. This applies to so much more than mental health.
How many times have you skipped out on a blind date, rationalizing you “probably wouldn’t like them anyway”? How many times have you avoided calling your family because you “had nothing to say”? How many times have you left the house when it’s pouring rain without your umbrella or raincoat?
Though these may seem trivial, they are small ways that we avoid taking action to love ourselves, care for ourselves, and let ourselves be loved by others.
Allowing Love In
Love is a verb. It doesn’t just happen. We have to seek and give love actively. Otherwise, we are in stasis.
Love cannot exist in a vacuum, nor can we as social creatures. It is our job to create it through connecting, giving, sharing–especially sharing ourselves, no matter how inadequate we think we are.
I have been surprised to find over and over again that when I share my perceived inadequacies with others, rather than shunning me, they extend compassion. Often they confide that they share the same fear of inadequac.
Our culture is increasingly looking like ships passing in the night, never really seeing or communicating with each other. In order to change that trend, we have a responsibility to reach out. And we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on how to notice when someone is in need of being reached out to.
I say this without judgment, because we are all still learning. Coming back from pain and self doubt is tricky business, but making ourselves vulnerable makes us relatable and human, and it allows others to be human as well.