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When You’re Giving Reassurance, It’s Important Not to Make It About You

When You’re Giving Reassurance, It’s Important Not to Make It About You

I’m just sitting there, minding my own business reading a book, when one of my cats wakes up from sleep yowling and crying.

“He’s had a nightmare,” my partner Justin says, scooping the cat up in his arms.

And as I write this note, Justin’s holding the cat and comforting him. “He’s happy and purring,” Justin assures me. Tells me it’s clear that our cat feels safe and loved. All that.

But it’s hitting me kind of hard. Let me explain. How is it that a creature that has no language still has to experience something shitty like nightmares? How unfair is that?

Yes, I know that nightmares are theorized to be lessons, cautionary tales, some kind of vestige of evolutionary self-protection tapes that play while we’re asleep.

Tapes that say, “Run away from that predator. Stay away from heights. Whatever you do, don’t fall.” And some of them can be much more sophisticated, as human beings are such social animals — “Don’t embarrass yourself because humiliation will lead to exile. And exile means death.”

We aren’t meant to survive on our own. We didn’t evolve that way. There’s a reason that survivalism is a niche hobby/sport, one considered hardcore by most. It’s difficult. If humans don’t have to go it alone, they generally don’t.

Anyway, I know all of this. That nightmares are lessons, but still… it seems cruel that my cat should have them. Especially as he can’t tell me what they were. And I can’t listen to his retellings and walk him through the kind of reassurance I would give any human friend.

It’s such a small thing. But it gets me thinking… that there are situations where we’re forced into supporting in a way that feels inadequate to us. But it means everything to the person that we’re supporting. And we have to remember that that’s what matters and resist the urge to center the reassurance around ourselves, the form we’d prefer to provide or receiving some kind of closure after we support, a satisfying sense that we helped, that we were part of that other person’s recovery.

Or cat. Or dog. Or whatever.

What matters is they feel safe and loved. Not that you got credit for it.


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