I 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.”