For a long time, I identified as someone who feared dogs, avoiding them and any social event including them. When my son was little, I didn’t take him to parks, afraid if I did of unintentionally passing on my deep-seated fear. But our children are connected to us on an instinctual level, so naturally, he soaked up and internalised my hang-up and made it his own anyway. I found this emotionally draining and felt guilty about passing my worries on. The problem is my caution is not irrational, I had a negative experience when young and it defined me, more than I realised. Yet, I write this as I sit in my kitchen, my nose gently assaulted with the slightly whiffy smell of our cute as a fluffy button, puppy dog.
So, what changed and how did I get here? Well, when I was five, curiosity got the better of me. I was told not to peek into a certain garden. Naturally, I peeked. Unfortunately, I was bitten. My next memory is a trip to the doctor for a tetanus injection. It’s an event that not only left me terrified of dogs, but it also inhibited my natural curiosity. The belief I created that day and reinforced over the years is that being overly curious and disregarding your ‘elders’ leads to scary and quite possibly painful situations. But curiosity is vital for growth. Without it, humanity would still be happily living the single-celled life. Fortunately, my curiosity wasn’t completely quashed. Tempered with a higher than necessary level of caution for sure, but not gone.
All this to say that what happens in our very early days has a far-reaching impact on our personality. But we can change. Deeply rooted beliefs may be slow to change, but it is certainly possible. In my case, I made a conscious decision to finally do something about this restricting fear. Freedom is a big driver for me. Fearing dogs stopped me and my son from going where we wanted to go. It didn’t happen overnight, and that’s the point. It’s easy to think that if we don’t solve an issue quickly, then we’ve failed and are doomed to live with it forever. Not so. We just need to be patient and practice kindness to ourselves. Holding the parts of us that are struggling with the journey we’re on compassionately and taking baby steps towards where we’d rather be. It took 5 years of sporadic work to reach the point where I welcomed a dog into my home. I wanted to be able to take Archie to the park and to visit friends and relatives with dogs. What he and I have achieved is so much more.
We love our brand-new puppy, showing that change is possible, even with the most tenacious of beliefs about who we are, if we keep stepping into the idea of who we want to be now. We’re a doggy family now, and we’re all up for the challenge!
First published in Luminous Wisdom: SOPHIA November 2019