The Guilt Machine
by John Flores
Our guest blogger, Aileen Cronin, is back with another great read!! Thanks for everything you do and for just keeping it real! Oh and for providing material while I get over my writer’s block! Enjoy, everyone!
My last blog, I’m a Pit Bull Advocate That Was Mauled by a Pit Bull, led to a flurry of emails, messages, and comments from people who had a similar experience and with each communication I was reminded that I had spoken about the unspeakable and people wanted to know how I was able to recover. There was a common thread with those that had reached out, we were women that were now left feeling guilt for what had happened and they were hopeless for their future with dogs.
The Guilt Machine is that state of mind that I believe absolutely depletes each and every one of us of any ability to improve our current state of being. People around us pick up on this. Sadly, it is the one’s closest to us that take advantage of this state of mind. We tend to stay in these relationships much longer than is healthy because they make us feel we “owe” them. This can leak into our business arrangements, leaving us feeling as though we have no ability to say “no.” In an effort to protect those who perceive they saved us, our moral code is tested through our behavior. This behavior comes in the form of questioning our judgment, life goals, and we learn to ignore that feeling in our gut that says we are headed in the wrong direction. Major life events leave us open to such attacks on our soul, whether inflicted by the hands of others or some form of our own self-abuse. I now know this happens so it is my responsibility to safeguard myself.
Being mauled by a powerful breed, I was left unable to care for myself on my own. The word “powerless” doesn’t do justice to describe what it was like to need help bathing, taking care of my dogs, running errands, and finding a way to recover. Paralysis seems to be the only word to describe that time in my life. I had always been a person who wanted to help others and for the first time, I had to allow others to help me. The people I connected with experienced the same category of vulnerability. How I was taken advantage of and manipulated is not the point I’d like to share with you today, it’s simply a glimpse into the types of behavior this life experience led to. I never wanted to be the one in debt, so I began my cycle of “over-payment” for the debts I had incurred. Once the experience had passed and the physical wounds had healed, the Guilt Machine cycle of behavior had already begun and I was having difficulty finding a new way of being.
Just the other day, my mentor, Linn, reminded me of one of my favorite School of Dog Psychology quotes, “In order for one thing to change, everything must change. In order for everything to change, one thing must change.” Change was the only thing that brought me to a place of healing. Looking back, the most rapid period of growth occurred when I followed through on my commitment to leave the state of California and every negative feeling I had about it behind. It is important to know my decision to leave was a choice to do what was best for me and my dogs, it was not a form of escape.
I sold my house, left behind my budding business and made my big move to Mesa, Arizona. This was the first time I’d had such a huge life change and the Guilt Machine was pointing out that I was all alone. I
remembered I was responsible for two dogs and that grounded me. I was going to need to re-build my business, build a life, and utilize this unique opportunity to work with my dogs in a completely new environment. I planned my move strategically for maximum benefit with minimum interruption. With the lessons I’d learned in California placed in my designer handbag, I was determined to make things different this time and not repeat my mistakes. Nothing went according to plan, there was a series of what I can only describe as disasters that were making my re-building efforts futile. The hardest disaster to cope with was a flood that destroyed everything I owned at the house I was supposed to move in to, all the lessons I had learned were in that designer handbag in the first box I opened and they were destroyed. I threw my life in a dumpster and lived on a friends couch until I could find a new home. My friend, Abby Cohen, the founder of an amazing rescue opened her home to us with no expectations. The best I could do was keep my emotions far away from Titan and Little Guy as they lived there alongside the Standing Proud Pit Bull Rescue adoptable dogs. Even though I was 150 feet away, Titan was receptive to my energy and it felt as though he knew I was waiting for my forever home, too.
In finding a position of balance to maintain I’m much more discerning with who is allowed in my inner circle. I have bravely provided my address to 4 people, 6 if you include my parents. I’ve learned to set boundaries with my clients. I’ve learned to fill my calendar with things I enjoy like working out, social hour with friends, and helping people with dogs. I remember asking Linn why this was all so exhausting and he responded, “You’re learning to layer your life.” What that meant to me at the time was I was working, building a social life, and enjoying solitary time all simultaneously but it has a different meaning as I reflect on it. I was learning to be open but protect myself, to embrace the part of me that wants to help people but only with those who will use that help for positive change, and to honor that gut feeling that says “you’re going the wrong direction.”
Since I shared my deepest, darkest, most fragile moment with the world – I’ve felt empowered to move forward once again. I had walked around for years with what can only be described as panic resting on my chest and it’s gone now. The truth is who I am as a person, what I’m going through, how I change, and the time it takes for me to make a change is all the dogs see. They don’t understand floods, moves, or guilt, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to be compassionate about any of it. We “happen” to them whether we intend to or not. Like Linn says, “How do we want to be perceived? We are being perceived 100% of the time.”
Since we’ve moved to our new home, Titan and Little Guy have grown, too. We’ve had time to heal as a family and I’ve bravely worked with my most difficult dog, Titan, in challenging new environments. My happy go lucky dog, Little Guy, has begun therapy work with autistic children. We continue to rehabilitate, board, and work with clients. The Guilt Machine was not limited to my emotional state, it convinced me to let the dogs annoying behaviors slide because they work so hard everyday. I’ve since turned the Guilt Machine off, the fact is, they do help me with other dogs and they are to be held to the highest standard. This is what we were born, trained, and prepared for – it is the only way of life that works for us. When living life the way it was meant to be lived, there is no fertile environment for negative emotions to thrive.
The short answer to how did I recover? I keep moving forward one step at a time, no matter how great or small. How did the dogs recover? We keep moving forward. I am always aware of my responsibility to my dogs and this is why when I find myself in emotional turmoil, I distance myself from them. My emotions are not to be their burden. We recover quickly, primarily because we’ve chosen a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, I highly recommend you find one. Don’t find someone who says all of the right things, find one you trust completely that holds you accountable to what you say you want. If you don’t trust your mentor that is your gut telling you that this is not the right mentor for you.
In the digital age we have given the Guilt Machine a whole new platform to thrive. We gingerly examine
who walks the most dogs, takes the best pictures, goes the most places, or has the most followers. If, as dog owners, you only see perfection, how can you trust that professionals have experience with the issues you are experiencing. I want you to know, I am not perfect, I struggle just like everyone else. It is my struggles that allow me to help you create the life that works for you.
For behavior modification and training inquiries please contact Aileen Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Educational Opportunities contact Linn Boyke at email@example.com
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