7 March 2017

Narcissism And Pets. When We Love Our Dogs Too Much.

Narcissism And Pets

I read a scientific journal this week about narcissism and pet owners and I was fascinated by it. It was so true it made me shiver.

Narcissism among pet owners is something I have seen and experienced too many times to count. The author, a scientist who studied the way pet owners talked about their dogs and cats and lizards and fish, how they would lapse into a narcissistic state and speak of their own animals regardless of whether the people listening cared or were attentive.

Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes. The term was inspired by the young Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Ironically, it is not the pet owners who are in love with themselves, the are in love with their dogs and cats, their images always reflected.

It works this way. If your dog dies, I will tell you about my dog dying. If your cat had surgery, I will tell you about my cat having surgery. If your dog is sick, I will tell you every single thing about the latest illness my dog had. To the narcissist, no one else's story is interesting or important. Every bit of animal suffering is worthy of passing on, sometimes for many years.

The curious thing is that the people who own pets are rarely narcissistic about themselves, only their dogs and cats.

This is curious, and I have pondered it for a while.  I'm sure I can be quite obnoxious, but I have a dread of boring people, and and am practiced at reading audiences. When heads nod and eyes close, I move along.

Something about a loved pet touches deep emotional chords within us, and we need to express these feelings, especially when triggered. Ours culture does not encourage people to talk about their deep love of our animals, but it needs to come out and often does, sometimes in the form of a spill.

Narcissistic story telling is, I think, our way of working out our complex emotional feelings about them. Our new social media often encourages narcissism, as people believe everyone they meet is a friend who must wish to hear all about them, as friends do.

People who would normally consider it rude to talk endlessly about themselves have no compunction about talking endlessly about their dogs or cats or ferrets, either not noticing or not caring that the listener is yawning, looking at his or her watch, late for a plane, turning blue with cold, or edging to the door.

At such a moment, the narcissist hears only his story, no one else's. The object of the story is just a receptacle.

Someone on the street asked me recently if Lenore, my Lab, was still alive, and before I could even say she wasn't, she launched into a horrific and detailed story of the death of her Lab that was so eternal and graphic I actually interrupted her and said she needed to stop, I had to go.

She followed me to my car, still talking. She still doesn't know that Lenore is dead, or that I didn't wish to hear so much about her poor Lab.

I was out-of-town on a book tour when a reporter who was interviewing me on an NPR radio show thanked me at the end of the hour-long interview, and then told me an endless story – and a boring one – about the games his Golden Retriever likes to play with a neighborhood cat.

The story seemed twice as long as the interview, I could barely stay awake, and I had to finally just walk away. And this from an experienced interviewer whose interviews are notoriously intuitive and sensitive. His very livelihood depends on on reading people instantly and well, but he was stunned – we are good friends – when I told him later that was neither the time nor the place to tell such a story. I was exhausted, drained and distracted, and also clearly late for another interview and in a rush.

He is one of the most perceptive people I know, but he didn't notice that. Without the dog on his mind, he would have.

it is not uncommon for reporters interviewing me to spend more time talking about their dogs and cats than talking to me. This is so familiar an experience that I have trained myself to hold my breath and think of other things – like my work or another interview – until they are done. It used to upset me, but it happens so often I have gotten used to it.

The scientific journal was a relief to me, because it found this narcissistic behavior around pets was very common. I wasn't just me being impatient yet again.

The NPR interviewer is a good person and a wonderful friend, but it was as if I wasn't even in the room.The story had nothing to do with me, and I was not interested in it.

The journal  researcher concluded that the mention of dogs and cats often triggers a narcissistic response in animal lovers. If a reporter knows he or she is going to interview me, that might in itself be a trigger, because it is not normal for reporters to talk about themselves to interview subjects, it is generally thought to be unprofessional.

They mean no harm, they have strong emotional feelings about their animals, but they fail to acknowledge or understand them, and when these feelings are triggered. Then they simply come out, independent of the normal cues and signals that guide conversations.

I have seen this phenomenon a thousand times, and the journal report rang true to me. And I am a dog story-teller, so narcissism is something I am quite aware of.

I hate to interrupt people or walk away while they are talking, but I have gotten used to it. Good people, busy and important people seem to fall into a narcissistic state sometimes when it comes to animals, I see it on Facebook all the time. If I mention something about my dogs on the blog, people immediately rush to Facebook to tell me a story about their dogs, and it may or may not be relevant to my own. Mostly, it isn't. My story becomes another opportunity to talk about their dogs or cats.

This has happened to me so frequently that I rarely, if ever, tell anyone a story about my dogs away from my writing. And nobody ever asks me about them, hardly ever.

This is not a rare thing, it happens to me more than once in any given week.  Am I being intolerant or impatient? Maybe.

I don't know, I have spent many hours of my life listening to people tell me stories about their dogs and cats, and I don't believe I remember a single one of them.

One woman followed me through an airport terminal telling me an elaborate tail of her cats feuding with one another, the story went from cute to nightmarish and she was laughing and still telling me this story as I walked past the counter and headed down the walkway for the plane.  She never noticed I wasn't laughing and wasn't listening.

Thankfully, she was stopped at the gate, she didn't have a boarding pass for my flight. That was a gift.

I write about animals, so I consider myself knowledgeable on the subject of narcissism and pets. I cannot count the times people have stopped me – in the rain, on a bus, walking out the door, on the phone, at a restaurant – and launched into elaborate and circular and almost shockingly long and detailed stories of their dogs and cats, their adventures, their illnesses, their deaths and personality quirks, their bravery and understanding.

They tell me again and again how much they love my books, and how much they meant to me,  but it is apparent to me that they either didn't read them at all, or failed to comprehend them or  perhaps I failed to write them well.  I have written extensively about the emotionalizing of animals and the need for human beings to understand their own feelings if they wish to do right by the dog. Most people have no interest in doing that.

What have I learned about narcissism and pets?

I I have learned not to be an animal Narcissus. I do not tell stories about the death of my dogs to strangers because everyone who loves dogs has lost someone, and everyone has had a struggle or loss as difficult as mine. I do not pass along my sorrow and fear and hard luck to other people, it does not seem right to me.

I am conscious of the time and demeanor of other people, I don't care to give them the chance to be bored, or to take their stories from them before they have even lived. Narcissism is not about listening.

And yes, I have learned to be honest. If I have to go, I have to go. If the story is going on too long or in too much detail, I explain that I have to go, and just leave. If someone tells me their dog died, I do not respond by telling then how my dog died. If someone tells me in eternal detail how their dog got sick, I do not tell them about the many times my dogs get sick. Everyone's dog gets sick, that is life, not a tragedy.

If people want to hear my stories, they are welcome to read them in my books or on my blog. That is the rightful place for them.

Empathy, the work of the noble spirit, calls upon us to listen to the stories of other people, not drown them out with ours. And to protect ourselves from stories we simply do not need or wish to hear. We live in a world where too much information we don't want is continuously raining down on us.

This tit-for-tat pet exchange over misery feels narcissistic to me, like one-upmanship. I say sorry, and move on. I do not mourn or tell stories about dogs who passed on, everyone has it as bad or worse than me. If you love dogs, you will know loss and sorrow.

The human-animal bond is a rich and complex thing, and I believe, as the writer of the journal article found, that narcissism is an almost inevitable a part of it.

I don't expect it to vanish in the minds and habits of others, but I am increasingly conscious of not doing it.

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Free Tote Bags To The First 1,000 People Who Pre-Order “Talking To Animals”

Free Tote Bags

I'm very excited to share this fresh news. Connie Brooks of Battenkill Books has ordered 1,000 of the above cotton tote-bags to be given to the first 1,000 people (including those who have already already ordered my book from Battenkill) who pre-order my newest book, Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us out from Simon & Schuster in eight weeks.

The book centers on my decades-old work learning to talk to animals and listen to them, starting with a puppy I brought home from elementary school to Simon the donkey and Red, my border collie. I've been working at this and observing a long time – with dogs, cats, sheep, horses, chickens and donkeys.

I believe it is time for a new and wiser understanding of animals than is currently available.

In the book, I also write about the New York Carriage Horse controversy, which occupied several years of my writing life and has c aused me to re-consider many of my beliefs about communicating with animals. The horses are a prime example of the dangers domesticated animals face – they are being driven away from humans and into oblivion by people who think they understand their needs but do not.

I think the book is more timely than ever, it is filled with anecdotes and techniques about connecting with animals, from food to visualizations to the sharing of emotions. Understanding animals is the key to keeping them in our world, they are in the gravest danger of vanishing.

The animal rights idea is not saving animals, or even protecting them. In too many cases, the movement is simply forcing animals away from people, sometimes putting them at peril. We need a movement that keeps domesticated animals among us and finds them humane and important work.

If you wish to pre-order the book from Battenkill Books, I will sign it and customize it, and the first 1,000 people will receive one of these beautiful tote-bags for free. So you can also support a wonderful independent book store, my book store. Thanks for considering it.

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You Did It Again! The Art Kits Campaign Has Received More Than $1,000

You Did It Again

You did it again, and in just a few hours.

An historic day for the blog, for good people seeking to do good, for the refugee children, and for the true spirit our generous country. Thank you. Rachel Barlow, the artist and author who started the Art Kit program for refugee children – draw.paint.create – sought our help in raising $900 to make her Creativity Kits, she has raised more than $1,000 since Monday afternoon.

I hope people who despair about our country and our ability to bring about change – to see it's true heart and soul  – is following today. We also raised $10,000 so the residents of the Mansion Assisted Care Facility can buy a new van.

I am feeling hopeful and grateful about the gift we are all receiving – the chance to fulfill our noble spirits and to demonstrate our highest human potential.

We all have our own ideas about what makes a country great, for me, this is one of the things makes America great. For the first time in my life, I feel like a patriot, fighting for the true meaning of liberty and for a compassionate world.

One thing at a time, one person at a time one day at a time. Rachel is the woman of the hour today.

Rachel Barlow is a hero of mine, her compassion and fierce creative spirit have helped launch something powerful and affirming, and of enormous comfort to the refugee children who can use these kits to help heal, find their voices, and adjust to our complex and sometimes difficult country.

Rachel, a devoted mother of two boys, writes about children and family life on her popular blog.

What's in a kit? Look here.

This money will go to create more than 60 kits that will go out to newly arrived refugee children, there are many more than that, and Rachel is looking to contact other refugee groups in other cities. If you wish, feel free to continue supporting this idea, even thought she has reached her initial goal. This is a wonderful way to welcome these children to America.

Thanks to you, and congratulations to Rachel. She intends to expand and continue this program of sending art kits to refugee children.  We can help them light their creative sparking, creativity gives them strength and also a voice to create their own visions and messages.

Any future donations will be put to good use, and I will certainly keep on writing about this wonderful new idea. I'm proud to know Rachel, a prominent Vermont artist and author. She understands suffering and creativity and is using her gifts for good, not just argument.

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From India: The First Piece Of Art

The First Piece Of Art

Maria took her beautiful new fabric into the Schoolhouse Studio yesterday and was silent all day, I had this itch to go in and see what she was working on, and I was amazed by this very beautiful, elegant and dignified piece she had been working on the center from fabric brought home from India.

She isn't certain if it will be a hanging piece, or a quilt, or some other thing, but I thought it was a spiritual and very powerful piece. She's mulling it over, I wanted to share it. It's the first piece to emerge after the trip to India. It's going to be an exciting time in the studio.

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Touches Of India: The Sari Curtains

Touches Of India

More beautiful touches of India coming to the farmhouse. One by one, Maria is replacing the yellow curtains that have been hanging for three yeas and replacing them with the green and blue material  used in the making of Sari dresses in India. They are very  beautiful, a whole new feeling for the living room.

The last yellow curtains came down yesterday,  you can see the last one in the photo above to the right.

Posted in General