I’m not a cat person or a dog person. I like animals in general, but what happens to them when they’re around people, when they are “pets”?
In the average household, a dog becomes fawning and infantile and a cat becomes a rampant narcissist. People and animals are naturally narcissists at birth. For most kinds of infants, the way to survive your first days is to assume parents exist to make the world work for you, and if they don’t, to scream your head off until they notice there’s a problem. Round about the age of two, most of us humans discover that our parents’ ability to bend the world for us is limited. Most two-year-olds howl in terror and rage until they get over the shock. Unfortunately, if their parents are rich, randomly indulgent or abusive, some kids (and most domestic cats and dogs) fail to discover their own power, or to deal with its limits, and either remain fawning and infantile or launch upon a lifetime of narcissism.
In many cases, life will eventually force them to learn but some humans and most cats retain an insufferable sense of their own entitlement. This is in part due to the tendency of some people, mostly women, to dedicate their lives to smoothing the path for narcissists, never realising that the only thing they are preserving is suffering. From a dispassionate distance, it is easy to see that a narcissist is rarely happy, that they suffer constantly from their belief that the world will end – that they can and will destroy everything, including themselves – if they don’t get their way.
So why are narcissists usually (not always) men, and why do women (usually) pander to them? Do they even know that they do it? I suspect 99% of readers have already decided what the answer to that is, even if they don’t believe it, or don’t want to. Sexism exists. Patriarchy exists. We didn’t clear them out – if anything, they’ve been making a comeback. We all grow up steeped in the idea of women’s ability to ‘make things nice’, especially in the home. Latched onto this, for most women, is a fear that holding out against the cat, the dog, the kids, the family – anyone really – that failing to provide comfort for them all is a dreadful and doom-laden thing to do. What do we dread? That we’ll be unpopular? That we’ll end up alone, all bitter and ostracised? That our man/cat/dog will die if thwarted?
I’ve tested this. It’s not true
When we moved into our house, next door’s narcissist believed it was allowed in too. First it waited, paw raised, by doors and windows, then it yowled and scratched, then it went into a massive sulk and took to crapping on the doorstep.
Then it gave in. It still tries to sneak in sometimes, but the yowling, scratching and crapping stopped. It is possible to say “no” and have it accepted. The pressures won’t entirely go away – we do live in a patriarchy after all, so men feel entitled to women’s help, and a capitalist one, so many people are brought up too rich, too indulged. But you can say “no”, you can go your own way, and nothing terrible happens, usually.
Me and him
My man is not a narcissist but he does sometimes disappear in a dark cloud when the world won’t bend to his will, and I sometimes find myself acutely distressed when I can’t make him happy. When we two want different things, we tend to swerve wildly to and fro for a while, until we both manage to push our heads through the neurotic mass of societal conditioning, and start negotiating like grownups.
Some women go to the other extreme – perhaps they come from abusive families, or have been attacked or raped – you have to build that consideration into every equation, it is just so appallingly common – so they won’t give an inch to any men at all, or are routinely rude or manipulative towards them. All of us – all of us – have imbibed more of the assumptions of society’s hierarchies than we usually realise, and the vast majority of women have at least a little of that inner dread of what might happen if they aren’t seen to be trying to make the world work right for everyone, especially the men around them. That does not go away if the men around them happen to be wearing dresses. It resides in your soul, right next to, and feeding off, that instinctive emotional trigger that flips when you hear a baby wail.
But here I am, nearly sixty, and pretty damn good at saying “no” to dogs, cats and men, beginning to crawl out of a lifelong tendency to fall into passive-aggressive obstruction when “no” fails, and yet I still have friends, and I have a man. A good and independent man, and whenever I go into a house where a cat lives, that cat seems determined to win me over. Courage, sisters, the world will not end if you stand up and point out your boundaries. In fact, after a spell of yowling and scratching and crapping on your doorstep, it will (grudgingly at first) accommodate you. Life will get a whole lot more interesting, and you will maybe make some real friends. Stay alert though, because your narc will be quietly waiting for you to leave the door open…
The 26th of January
The week beginning 26th January 2019 has been designated as the time for women to stand up, and speak, and for men who see the problem to stand up for women.
Start thinking now – what do you want to say, where, and who are you going to speak to? Do you prefer to work alone, or gather some friends first? Are you a speaker, a writer or one who thinks actions speak louder than words?
Here are some resources to help you make your plan.
Verna Myers on tackling your biases
Brene Brown on vulnerability
Graham Linehan’s Christmas message
And if you haven’t done so yet, watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette.