Friday, July 1, 2011

Dominance and Powerlessness.

A friend used to have a small dog, who was on a continual quest to find a larger dog to bully. He could never leave well enough alone; always had to push it just that one bit further, and then - smackdown! He'd find himself on the ground, belly-up, with teeth hovering over his neck, and a strong warning being growled into his ear. (He reminded me of my first husband - seemed to thrive on conflict.)

At the time, I had a large Lab cross who was only interested in sticks, balls, or anything which could be thrown and retrieved. She dealt with my friend's dog by not dealing with him - it was as though he didn't exist. Until one day when he had been posturing and prancing about in front of her, ignored as usual, and for whatever reason, decided to give her a nip on the leg.

My dog dropped the stick she'd been holding, peeled her lips back from her teeth, put her head down, and slowly advanced upon him, legs stiff, ruff up, tail held straight out - very threatening body language.

My friend's dog realised that he had gone too far, and began to ever-so-slowly back up. My dog kept advancing, and he kept retreating, and she backed him one circuit around the yard, until he finally dropped to the ground and rolled over in the canine gesture of submission.

My dog grasped his throat in her jaws and held him for a long moment, then let go, shook herself, and trotted back to get her stick. He rolled up into a sitting position, and sat there, then went over and flopped down beneath a bush.

His entire world view had been changed in that one moment, because he was a different dog after that, according to my friend - seemed to have given up trying to dominate anything but his squeaky toys. I found that fascinating - what was it about being told off by my dog that changed him? He'd been told off by Rottweilers, pit bulls, you name the breed, he'd challenged them and been put in his place, and it hadn't changed his behavior; why now? What was different? We never did come up with a satisfying answer to that question, and he's long gone.

Displays of dominance in people can be equally as mystifying - we watch as someone will cause themselves added harm, from not being able to stand down, to let go, to accept, to admit to their own powerlessness.

I tried for almost the entire ten years of my first marriage to dominate my husband's alcoholism, and I failed completely. I challenged him time and again, trying to force my will, and it had no effect whatsoever, except to increase conflict between us.

Whenever I try to force my will upon another person, I will fail. That's a given, because I can't change another person. I do not have the right to try to dominate anyone. I may try to justify my attempts to dominate with explanations about it being for their own good, or look at what they are doing to themselves, yada yada yada.

I am powerless over alcoholism. I am powerless over other people. How many times must I find myself with teeth at my throat and hot breath growling a warning into my ear, before I am willing to accept this?

1 comment:

  1. I think that perhaps it was the detaching with love that made the point. Having someone by the throat but not biting all the way through to kill can be applied in our lives as well. When I could let go and quit the dogged control, things did get better for everyone. I am grateful!