Although I have never witnessed this in person, I have been told that when an animal gets its paw stuck in a trap, it will bite and attack the person who tries to free it. You really can’t blame the animal: it is blinded by pain and fear, seeing the world through the height of its flight-or-fight response. Instincts like that run deep.
As evolved as we may consider ourselves to be, we humans do exactly the same thing. In our quest to live designed, loving and fulfilled lives, we must learn to recognize when someone we know has their foot caught in a trap.
For example, a client once told me about a visit home in which she found herself fighting with her mother throughout the whole trip. It sounded like her mother was in a grade-A bad mood. She got “irrationally upset” when the family decided to go to a restaurant that wasn’t her first choice. She snipped at her daughter for messing up the kitchen. She “bugged” her daughter to see if she had implemented the retirement plan that she had recommended last time they had spoken. My client responded to her mom’s irritability with irritability, and by the end of the visit, tensions were high.
This is a classic example of a human with their foot in a trap. The extreme or irrational behavior can be a flag, signifying that the person is in pain. Since my client’s dream included a loving relationship with her mother and the ability to resolve conflicts with grace, I sent her back into the fire for investigation. Sure enough, my client found the trap around her mother’s leg, so to speak. It turns out that her mother was having a difficult time with her boss at work, who she felt was ignoring and belittling her, and “walking all over” her. This tension had filled her life with a low level of dread and anger. This, my friends, is an animal with its foot caught in a trap.
In the case of a trapped animal, you may want to calm the animal down with some water and a nice meal. With some of the people you love, water and a meal might work, too. If not, then the solution is usually to get curious about the person’s situation, (instead of reactive), ask the right questions, and actually listen to the answers. Once my client was able to see her mother’s situation from this perspective, she was able to find compassion and figure out a way to support her mother in the way that her mother most needed it. She didn’t fix her mother’s problems at work, but she did make her feel better. Instead of what could have become the beginning of an ongoing adversarial relationship, the series of interactions was a catalyst for deeper love and affection.
If you think about it, this ability to step back and wonder about another person’s experience is love in motion. This form of love is actually something you can learn, practice, and master. It’s pretty heroic to care about other people’s pain, but it’s pretty rewarding too. If you walk around in your daily life looking for trapped animals, you will be surprised how many you find. And how often you act like a trapped animal too. Noticing when you or someone you love is in the fight or flight response is just the awareness that’s necessary to interrupt a negative cycle from beginning.
Are you or anyone you know feeling like a trapped animal at the moment? Leave a note here. Just the act of noticing it opens the possibility of freedom, compassion, and choice.
Want to learn how to fix the “pain” and tensions in your life? Sign up for one of our Design Your Life Weekends this fall in New York, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, London, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.