My friend, Chris, told me about you and how you help people and other animals with some of their problems. I have one big problem! I am scared of the other cats in my family. For a long time, I hid away from them. I would stay in the bathroom on top of this tall cabinet or hiding in the bottom shelf of the cabinet. Chris would sometimes close me in the bedroom for the day so I could lie in the sun and snooze on his bed. He sometimes plays chase the laser light or knock the pingpong balls around with me.
I have finally come around to hanging out in the hallway or on a shelf in the living room. (I am so glad I finally have the nerve to move around some in the house!) My problem is especially with these two cats. One of them sits and waits on me to chase me. I scream like I am being killed when she catches me off guard. The other cat is really mean. He will just stand over me and YEOWL like he is going to kill me.
The one thing good in all of this is that Chris does not let them attack me. It is a big relief! The thing I don’t understand, though, is that he still seems to care about these two cats. Sometimes he will yell at the YEOWLER, but even after that he is kind to him.
Help me understand this and figure out what to do about these two felines. They just make my life so hard.
Dear Timid Me,
I am sorry that you get bullied in your own home. As you might guess from my name, I have some personal experience with bullying. When I was five years old, I became a victim of a neighborhood feline bully. We got in a big fight and he split my leg bone in half (I had to have a cast on for six weeks!). It bled and hurt me a lot and I began to hate all male cats including Quiz who had joined our family by that time (Quiz already was a little bit of a challenge to me.).
After getting my leg broken, I was dangerous to Quiz. I did become a bully in the complete sense of the word. I wanted to hurt him and get him out of my life. Karolyn intervened and separated us. I was no longer allowed to go outside and Quiz lived in the large entry way to our house and could roam outside. I, because of my bullying, angry behavior made Quiz’s life much lonelier. Now, I am sorry about that, but not when I was in the material world. No sirree! I had no empathy for Quiz.
Lack of empathy is at the heart of the bullying problem. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and have some understanding of what they might be feeling and/or needing. Humans and other animals learn empathy by having others show empathy toward them. When this does not happen, humans and animals can become shut off from their more tender feelings and become callous towards others. If they see other people (or cats, in my case) are more vulnerable, they can become mean to the other person because they don’t like to be reminded of their own needs that did not get understood. They want to smash that neediness out of the other person and/or mock the other person for being so vulnerable.
It is a good thing to be vulnerable like you are, Timid Me. It is just important to keep working on being braver and keeping your distance from bullies. It sounds like you have done a good job of protecting yourself in your family and of still finding ways to venture out and create a better situation for yourself. As you get stronger, the bullies in your family will have less ability to upset your life. It is a good thing that Chris protects you from the two bully kittens. It is most important that caretakers and parents make the point clear to the bullies that bullying will not be allowed.
In addition to some natural consequences to the bully (e. g. having privileges removed and short isolations from others), it is extremely important that the bully also be treated with respect and caring. Bullying behavior is, in a way, a natural consequence when a person or animal fails to feel safe and cared about in their environment. Being aggressive toward the bully will only isolate the bully more from others and make him (her) angrier and more alienated. This can lead to more bullying and, only too often, dangerously aggressive behavior. The bully needs to be helped to understand his behavior and to begin to understand and feel understood for the origins of the desire to bully. When this happens, the bully can begin to heal from past experiences where he did not feel understood or get his needs met. Once he can allow himself to feel his needs and vulnerability, his bullying behavior will lessen. I think that Chris might understand this in his continuing caring about the two kitties in your family that do bully.
I hope that this helps you feel supported and cared about by me and helps you understand more about bullying. I do want the very best for you and for your whole family.