Our new pup apparently has some issues with separation anxiety.
So far, he has destroyed every bed that has been secured with him in his crate and tried to eat through a window when he was allowed to roam free (He was wearing the cone of shame when this happened. I would love to see video of how he managed to get his teeth to the window frame!).
Once we realized what were dealing with, my husband immediately researched Cesar Millan’s recommendations for mitigating separation anxiety.
In one video, Cesar highlights the origination of the behavior and why it can be so pervasive.
“Dogs are pack animals. And to be left behind from the rest of the pack is the most painful thing ever.”
Now, I know it’s dangerous to equate human emotions to dogs. But when I heard this, I immediately thoughts of the excruciating pain of a sudden break up. After all, our human packs may look different, but social bonds are just as important to us. And to be rejected from the rest of the pack is the most painful thing ever.
In our ancestral past, to be rejected could easily become a death sentence. Without the protection and pooled resources of the tribe, the outcast immediately has to enter into a battle for sheer survival.
It’s no wonder then that rejection registers the same as physical pain on fMRI scans. To be rejected can feel like a literal death sentence.
This framework also helps to understand why people respond to romantic rejection the way that they do. Especially when the break up is sudden and complete or the withdrawal unexplained and painfully cold.
Some choose to fight, channeling their distress into relentless anger targeted at the people they see as responsible for their dismissal. They may paint their ex as a malicious monster or demonize the other man or woman. Rejection can prompt an offensive attack or it can lead to a fight to hold on to the rejector. This grasping may manifest physically as stalking behavior or it may exist only the rejected’s mind in the form of obsessive and persistent thoughts.
Others, powered by the fear of being alone, choose to flee, hoping that if they can only run fast enough, they can outpace the pain. They may seek to distract themselves from the rejection or find temporary acceptance from hollow interactions. Maybe they convince themselves that they prefer being isolated and they build walls to ensure that others cannot approach (thus eliminating the chances of further rejection).
And some choose to freeze. Becoming stuck, anchored in their isolation. They turn inward, perhaps blaming themselves for not being enough. As they internalize the experience, they shift from seeing rejection as something that happened to them to wearing it as an identity and projecting this idea that they are not to be desired.
At its most basic, rejection triggers fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of being unwanted. Fear of insignificance.
At home, we’re working with Kazh to help him understand that being alone isn’t something to fear. He’s learning how to stay calm even as his humans walk away and to trust that the solitude is transitory. We’re building his confidence in himself so that he becomes more comfortable when his pack leaves him behind. And, as the healing leg allows, we’re exercising the body so that it is less likely to send the mind signals of panic.
And it’s not really so different for us. We can practice staying calm in times of rejection, reminding ourselves that isolation is often fleeting. We can refrain from exaggerating the magnitude of the rejection, understanding that feeling like you’re dying doesn’t mean that death is truly imminent. We can focus on building our confidence so that being alone doesn’t equate to feeling helpless. And we can use the body to help to train the mind.
But we, unlike many of our canine companions, can also find a new pack when we’re pushed out of the existing one. A rejection from one person does not equate to a rejection from all. Instead of seeing rejection as a sign that you’re not good enough, chose to view it as an indication that you’re not the right fit.
When you view rejection as information, it empowers you to find a more fitting situation. Better to know that you’re not a good fit than to spend your life trying to be a square peg in a round hole.
And if you’re still feeling the sting of rejection, play with a dog. They’re good at making you feel wanted. Especially if you have treats:)