Friday, September 11, 2015

Coddling is not comfort

A friend posted a comment over on the RC FB page in response to yesterday's post about comforting fearful dogs. Basically, she said that comforting one of her fearful dogs in pretty much the exact same way as she did with her other dog actually makes her dog worse. My initial response was, "Nope, wrong, comfort is awesome," but I've internet-known this person for years and years, and I know she's sincere.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that comfort is a lot like that saying, "One man's treasure is another man's trash." In other words, it's subjective. We all find different things comforting, so yeah, actually, comforting one dog the same way as you might another is not always going to be successful.

Here's a personal example:

I have PTSD, a mental illness that sometimes causes me to have panic attacks and depressive thoughts. I'm a lot like our dogs, actually. If someone were to sit down with me when I was in the midst of one of these episodes, touching and hugging me, feeding me chips and jelly beans, I would enjoy it. I would appreciate their efforts to comfort me, and I would LOVE all the attention (and food). But I don't think it would make me feel better. I tend to be easily sucked into self-pity, which usually leads to a downward spiral for me.

What does make me feel better is spending time with my friend Laura. Laura is incredibly practical and no-nonsense. I cannot even TELL you how many times she has literally drug me out into the woods to go hiking when all I wanted to do was lie in bed. She's not a touchy-feely person, and I can count on one hand the number of times she's hugged me. She doesn't spend a ton of time talking about my problems with me. She does not "comfort" me in the traditional sense. In fact, she might even appear cold, distant, or callous.

She's anything but. My friend Laura has consistently given me an amazing gift: the gift of her presence and her time. She has made a lot of sacrifices in our friendship, and she knows that "comfort" is not coddling. It's not catering to my every emotional whim. It's not treating me with kid-gloves or being excessively careful.

Instead, she knows that comforting someone is not about what you do, but instead about the end result. Comfort should soothe someone's soul and reassure them that they are loved. Above all, comfort should express a sense that we are in this together. Yes, life is hard sometimes, but no, we do not have to face it alone. And that's what my friend Laura does for me. It makes me feel better every time.

So... don't get caught up in what you're doing with your dog when he's scared. My dog is not your dog; what each one needs when they're upset is going to be different. Don't think about comforting them in terms of any specific action. Instead, offer your dog your love and presence in whatever way helps him most. You know, like Laura does.

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