Chapter 2: Moving on
“When you let go you create space for something better.”
Moving on… Alli physically recovered. She has some permanent scars on her neck but nothing that would negatively impact her activity level and lifestyle. She has been courageous and has done a tremendous job with building resilience and moving on.
Two days after the attack happened, Alli was brave to walk us back to the same place where she got attacked. I am not sure if she realized where she was walking. She appeared to be on an “autopilot,” and then she suddenly stopped when she realized where she was. Alli was hesitant at first and walked right next to us while looking around cautiously, ensuring no aggressive animal was sprinting towards her. We slowly walked forward while cheering her on and encouraged her to keep moving with a warm and cheerful tone. Even I felt adrenaline rushing back to my blood when I was at the place. I felt deep empathy for my cute, friendly, and loving dog Alli, and also anger at the Pitbull who attacked her and the owner, of course. I kept thinking about that lack of responsibility and accountability: “The owner and his dog disappeared without checking on Alli after the attack. What kind of a person would do that?” These are the thoughts that came rushing back to my mind. “Some humans and their lack of responsibility!” I was angry.
This walk repeated itself for about two weeks, but each time Alli became more at ease, relaxed, and confident. My negative feelings triggered by my memory associated with the place also started fading away; however, I realize that my brain gets more awake and looks out for danger every time we walk to that spot. Alli rarely wanders too far away from us when we walk that way, but her body language is back to normal.
One could argue that Alli staying close to us and not chasing after squirrels is the more positive and safer situation to be in; she misses on the fun she gets from the squirrel chase. Furthermore, while Alli has fully recovered physically, I wonder how this situation shapes her perception of pit bulls in general.
Do we ever recover from such attack/ trauma?
We may be brave enough to move on with courage in our heart, and our logic and consciousness can help us to reason that we are safe when no danger is present, are we truly able to overwrite our fears and feelings associated with such experience?
How does such experience shape our subconsciousness, and how we may perceive similar situations in the future?
How does what we have lived through shape the way we see the world around us?
How do we build the courage to move on?
Labeling and categorization:
Since the attack, Alli hasn’t met another Pitbull yet, and so I am not sure how Alli will react to any future Pitbull encounters. However, Alli was attacked by a German Shepard two years ago. They were playing around running in a dog park, as Alli typically loves being chased when running full speed, and for whatever reason, the German Shepard decided to put his canines into Alli’s ribs. Now, Alli has two canine marks on the side of her body as a memory. Since that day, Alli is terrified of all the German Shepards we meet, no matter how nice and friendly they might be. I don’t know how Alli recognizes that a dog is a German Shepard, but SHE DOES. Given this is how I observed the animal brain to work, it makes me wonder how a similar situation would translate to our human-animal brain that is much more sophisticated and complex.
How have past negative encounters and experiences shaped the way we see the world and specific types of people now?
Do we apply a negative bias to new people we meet just because we had a negative experience in the past with someone who fit our “Pitbull/ German Sheppard” categories? Is this mindset helpful?
Try this: When people plan to have kids, one of the first things they start thinking about is how they will name them. A list of names starts rushing to your brain, and then the elimination process begins. How about John? How about Nancy? Linda? Paul? Oh no, I met Sandra at school, and she was not my favorite. I cannot name my kid Sandra. (If you don’t have kids, the same logic and naming process may apply to your pets as well. I went through the same type of thinking with my dog, Alli.)
The danger of labeling and categorization:
We are born as our unique selves. Understanding reality and how we see the world around us is created via a complex equation of who we are — our personality, character, habits, and experiences. I believe that our memories and how we listen, understand, and experience the world shape our perception of reality.
Going back to my Alli — Pitbull/ German Shepard examples: For Alli, it probably doesn’t matter much. She will live for about 12 short dog years, and in her sadly short dog life, she may miss out on few fun playtimes with some Pitbulls and German Shepards who may be very kind and want to play with her, BUT how does this bias impact us, humans?
We attract what we think about:
Try this: Ever thought about buying a car? You went to the car dealership to test drive it and then went back about your life driving your old car because you needed more time to think about the big purchase. You continue to drive your old car around while thinking about your brand new car you just tested; you suddenly start seeing the new cars everywhere around you. It seems like the world suddenly transformed and this new car you have been thinking about is everywhere. It’s like every other or third person has it. How is this possible? This may be an example of a neutral or a positive association, but our brain works the same way, if not stronger, through our negative association side.
Our brain is like a magnet. It has the power to associate new experiences with the past and re-interpret things that people say based on a story that is playing in our heads. For most of us, the movie that is playing in our heads comes from the stories we have listened to since we came into this world (our family/ where we came from), and the story we have been telling ourselves (our own beliefs which may be shaped by what others told us). This movie in our head then reflects on who we are now; it drives our daily actions, beliefs, habits, the way we see the world around us, and shapes our path towards who we will become tomorrow.
What is the movie that is playing in your head?
Is it productive and aligned with the person you want to be?
Do you have a group of your own “German Shepards or Pitbulls” that may have attacked you before and you are now scared of, like Alli? How do you know that the next person you work for will not be just another “German Shepard that bit you before?” OR How do you know the next person you date won’t be just another “Pitbull?”
The fact is that you don’t. We never do! All we can do is do our best. We can do our research, learn more about people, work on building trust, and through the process, be hopeful and aware of our brain associating people to our predefined groups of “Pitbulls and German Shepards.” This awareness is fundamental as it allows us to test our logic and is the first required step that enables us to start our healing and re-wiring. The fact is that if we continue walking around the world believing that all Pitbulls and German Shepards are bad, most likely all Pitbulls and German Shepards will scare us. We will continue to run away from them, which will give us even more reasons to believe that they are evil. This thinking creates a negative and vicious cycle that never ends and is very difficult to escape. Our brain is like a magnet, and it has the power to attract what we think about.
What does your mind attract?
I have lived this in my tennis life. This example is one of the best I could think of, and that cannot be disproven. I have made this mistake too many times in my life. Here it is: I love serving. My first serve has been my best shot, and I relied on it extensively. My first serve helped me win roughly 40–50% of my serving games as it helped me set myself up for success during the rally and contributed to at least 1–2 “free” points a game. It also helped me win the most critical points (game points, breakpoints, match points) as it was the weapon I learned to use when I needed it. When I was in trouble, I worked hard to pull an ace or put my opponent into a difficult starting position.
However, no matter how great my first serve was and no matter how many times I may have hit an ace before, I always MISSED when I stood on the service line, and a thought came rushing to my brain: “Oh. Just don’t double-fault. What if I double fault now? What if I miss this serve? I need to hit an ace now!” EVERY SINGLE TIME I had this thought, I missed the serve, or I double-faulted. No matter how great my serve was and no matter how many aces and practice serves I may have hit before perfectly when my brain had these negative thoughts, it signaled my body and all of my tendons and muscles to freeze. It is like my body forgot all those previous aces and perfect practice serves. It is like I lost all of my hard-earned muscle memory. The brain gave a command to MISS.
How do we get rid of our bad experiences to live a better life?
How can we re-wire our brains to think more positive thoughts?
How can we build more good habits today to help shape the person we want to be tomorrow?
*Disclaimer: I have nothing against the name Sandra. This was a random selection. In fact, I quite like the name. Sandras, please don’t take offense from reading my story. Regarding Pitbulls and German Shepards — I think both breeds are strong-minded and need firm training, a high level of physical activity, and a strong leader to be excellent and loving family companions.