I never have to tell Molly to listen to her inner voice and get in touch with her genuine needs.
If you’ve spent much time around cats, you know that felines are always in touch with their needs. Nobody has to tell them to what they need or what they want.
If they’re hungry, you’re going to hear about it. If they want to play, they’re going to interrupt whatever you’re doing. They have no sense of shame about demanding exactly what they want.
Humans are trained from an early age to be just the opposite. Children who ask too often for what they need or want are considered problem kids. They’re told not to be so selfish. They’re often punished for having too many needs and wants. They’re rewarded for ignoring their needs and putting others first.
It’s no wonder that many of us realize — decades into our lives — that we have a sense of shame about asking for what we need and what we want. Family and society have programmed us not to ask for much. Many of us eventually realize that we’ve subordinated those inner needs and wants for so long that we can’t even hear the voice that’s trying to tell us what’s wrong — or what’s missing.
I learned from an early age to repress my needs. I learned to perform in ways that would please those around me — especially my father and my teachers — in order to get the applause which I craved. I learned how to manipulate situations at school in order to be praised, but I never quite figured out how to get the praise and approval I wanted from my father.
If you spend enough time seeking what other people want — trying to make them happy in order to get them to approve of you — you slowly lose touch with what you really need and want. Before you know it, you feel guilty for having needs. Those needs become buried and hidden. In a real way, you lose a part of yourself.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve found parts of myself which were lost. I’ve discovered that things which I thought were part of “the real me” were actually just things I did for others’ approval. I’ve learned that the things that I really need are simpler than I realized — but sometimes harder to find.
I’ve regained contact with enough of myself that there are times when something real on the inside — call it inner voice or intuition or gut feeling — forces its way from the depths where it’s repressed. Like the pressure of deeply buried magma in the Earth’s crust, something pushes outward — trying to get my attention and warning me that a volcano is going to erupt.
When I still worked in politics, I had learned enough about myself to learn that I had to get out of the field, but I had trouble giving up the money. It was easier for me to listen to those who wanted me to do their work. I loved cashing their checks and I loved their praise. I loved it that they needed me.
Something on the inside eventually “went on strike.” It was as though there was a battle between the part of me that was programmed to please the world and the part of me which knew I needed to change what I was doing. Some unconscious part of me started sabotaging what I was doing. It insisted on being listened to — and it insisted that my real needs be met — instead of continuing to do what had always gotten me praise.
That was a painful period for me. I didn’t know how to listen to my needs and make a transition that I wasn’t prepared for. It was easier to keep listening to everybody else’s opinions and ideas. Listening to what my intuition knew was the most difficult thing to do, so I put it off for as long as I could.
Something in my gut is trying to tell me something again lately, but I’m having trouble hearing exactly what it’s trying to say. Very recently, I’ve felt that inner pressure building — as though something inside is warning me, “Listen to what you need or we’re going on strike again.”
I don’t consciously know exactly what it’s telling me to do, but I’ve become painfully aware — for a couple of years — of some of what I don’t need to be doing. I’ve tried to bargain with myself. I’ve tried to compromise. I’ve tried to tell myself that I would take this easier path or that easier path — because that’s what others think will work for me.
So I say that I don’t know, but maybe I do. Maybe it’s just an inkling. Maybe it’s easier not to see because I don’t know how do reach out and take the things my inner self needs. Maybe I’m still scared to admit how much I need things I fear I can’t have — because I still fear that I’ll somehow be punished for asking for more than I have.
I wish I could learn from Molly and my other cats. I wish I could just say — to myself and others — exactly what I need and I want. I wish I could reach out for what I need and want — and then be shamelessly persistent until I get what I want and need. One way or the other.
Some people think cats are arrogant or demanding. I think they’re just emotionally healthy enough to know what they want and need — and to ask for it until they get it.
I still have a lot to learn from felines, because my inner voice isn’t going to shut up until I learn to listen and deliver what I really need. And that is terrifying.
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