Hunt as a Pack, Just Don’t Cling to the Pack

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IMG_1659I just took my two dogs, Reilly and Hope, to a nearby river to swim, run and chase ducks. I was amused to watch Hope tag along after the more experienced Reilly. Even though Hope is not a good swimmer yet, and Reilly swims like an otter, Hope tries desperately to keep up. (Check out my Facebook page for a video.)

Of course, Hope is trying to learn how to hunt from the master, but she also is playing out a need to belong that is innate in dogs, as well as humans.

As I write in “Pack Leader Psychology,” “This desire to belong, get along, and cooperate is deeply engrained in human behavior through the evolutionary process. Because of the benefits, evolution has encouraged the tendency among many types of animals to join a tribe, herd, or troop. Many of our human social pacts are engrained codes that encourage us to fit in and group together. In fact, an ancient saying notes the human need for community: ‘One man is no man.’”

An urge to belong, called “social affiliation,” leads to positive prosocial behaviors such as altruism, caring, sharing, and nurturing. However, in today’s society this drive for acceptance and approval has been taken to an extreme. It has caused three major types of misbehavior that I describe in my book.

“Submissives” are overly needy for approval and they behave in pleasing and appeasing ways to gain that acceptance. “Dominators” use the “fight” response to fend off criticism which feels like rejection to them. “Avoiders” withdraw and isolate to avoid social interactions that may end up causing them to feel shamed or rejected.

All three of these behavior patterns are signs that the normal need for social acceptance has gone haywire. The urge to belong to the pack has misfired. I explain in detail why that is in the book, with low self-worth at the core for these types of non-Pack Leader people.

For “Dominators” their low self-approval and neediness for external approval causes them to fear criticism and rejection. This fear can be so strong it leads to behaviors that are self-fulfilling. When “Dominators” lash out at others frequently, refuse to accept blame or accountability, and behave in emotionally dramatic or controlling ways, they actually drive away the very people who could provide the feeling of belonging they so desperately seek.

I have seen this play out in many people in my life, including my abusive ex-husband who drove me out of his life with his jealous, intimidating rages and manipulative behavior.

Certainly, it is natural to want to belong. But when one’s low self-worth causes an overwhelming need for approval by others, this is when misbehaviors arise that cause problems in relationships and can even result in what the psychiatric profession labels as “mental illness.”

James Holmes: Shame Causes Violence

August 1, 2012

After the shooting incident in the Aurora movie theater everyone asks: “Why? How could someone do that? What would make someone go that crazy and hurt and kill so many people?”

The pundits jabber and I heard many say essentially, “We can’t ever know what made James Holmes do it.”

While it is impossible to parse out all the causes, I can point to one very clear cause:  James Holmes felt shamed, rejected and criticized. In my book “Pack Leader Psychology” I explain how the fear of exclusion is so powerful in driving human behavior. We really don’t like to feel as if we are getting kicked out of the “pack.” Evolution has primed us to want to get along, fit in and belong. The need to seek acceptance is a major motivator of human behavior — I contend THE major motivator. (Sorry, Freud, it isn’t sex!)

Note these facts: Quite soon after the shooting it was reported that Holmes had recently quit his doctoral program.  I knew that was key.  I guessed he’d experienced some failure or setback in the program. Sure enough — today I read that he’d purchased an assault weapon hours after failing a key oral exam. Holmes felt rejected, shamed and criticized by his failure on that exam. He had no ability to accept personal accountability for his actions, so he lashed out at others.  An example of an extreme  “Dominator” as I label them in “Pack Leader Psychology.” Because of their low self-worth, these people have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. Rather than self-blame, their response tends to be to blame others or react with a “fight” response.

I contend that what distinguishes most of these “going postal” incidents is the person experiencing a sense of rejection. The primal urge to get along kept us safe in our caveman days, but today it can be overblown and cause unhealthy emotional responses — even to the point of senseless violence. Of course it makes sense to the perpetrator. The violent reaction felt like the best way to defend against what felt like very hurtful, shameful, embarrassing information — by lashing out at others.  Because Holmes clearly didn’t feel he had the emotional tools to handle the criticism.

I’ll bet a look at other aspects of his life will turn up many incidents where he lacked accountability for his actions.

The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership

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Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

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Welcome to the inaugural Pack Leader Psychology blog post!

I’m very excited to begin this new adventure that has been about six years in the making. I have written a non-fiction self-help book called “Pack Leader Psychology,” and this blog is the first step in introducing the ideas in that book to the public. A full website will follow soon and the book is now available as an e-book on Amazon (Kindle fans!). Print and e-versions on B&N and other sites will be due shortly.

So what is the book about?  Tough to shorten 230 pages down into a few paragraphs, but here goes:

“Pack Leader Psychology” recounts the lessons I learned while becoming a pack leader to my dog, Reilly, that helped transform me from a submissive, abused wife into a calm, confident, independent and assertive human pack leader. Read More