Kick The Cat Syndrome

by Annie Kaszina on December 10, 2006

Have you ever suffered from ‘Kick The Cat Syndrome’?

I’d love to say that I never have but, of course, I
have said: “I am only human”. That’s
one of the key refrains of “Kick The Cat Syndrome”. I’m sad to say that at one stage in my life both the refrain and
the syndrome felt quite familiar.

One reader describes this syndrome more tellingly than I
could. Like many of us, after an
abusive childhood she fell into other abusive relationships. She writes:

“I’ve had so much anger bottled up in me, and
recently it was me who lashed out in anger at someone else .. mostly because he
wasn’t being honest with me .. but even so, I don’t want to end up being an
‘abuser’ !”

 

There are, of course, different ways of lashing out
at ‘The Cat’. You can do it both verbally and
physically. Neither one is particularly
desirable – although a physical expression of rage appears less
justifiable.

‘The Cat’ may be either
the abusive partner or someone else who just happens to cross your path when
you are already primed and ready to blow. (For cat lovers let me apologise and
specify that we are absolutely not talking about a real cat.)

What it is about, as my
reader rightly observed, is already having had a bellyful of ill treatment (and
I use the term bellyful advisedly, it’s no surprise that abused women are often
Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers) and then the abuser adds another outrage on
top of it.

That most recent outrage
lights what we in the UK used to call ‘the blue touch paper’ and we blow.

Sometimes it feels safer
to explode at someone who did not cause the mountain of hurt in the first
place, because they are less likely to respond in a way that will be dangerous
to you.

You’ve reached the stage
where one way or another you were bound to explode or implode: either you vent
your feelings on another person or it feels like you will be shattered into a
million tiny pieces by your own unspoken pain and fury.

Does it do any
good? No. It may just make you feel better for a very short while. Like comfort eating, the sense of
satisfaction ends with the action itself. An isolating sense of shame follows quickly in its wake.

The truth is it’s not a
nice thing to do and it doesn’t fit with your picture – and more to the point
your deep-rooted and accurate beliefs – about yourself. It happens because it is a pattern you have
learned from the abusers in your life, just as I learned it from the abusers in
mine.

What you see – or, more
correctly,
interpret – from their behaviour is that this kind of behaviour
is sanctioned. It must be, mustn’t it,
or they wouldn’t do it? And don’t they
always justify it somehow or other? Some of the trusty old favourites include:

  • I’ve had a hard day
  • You drive me to it
  • If you hadn’t done X, Y or Z…
  • How do you expect me to….?
  • You don’t know what I have to put up with

You get the picture?

Actually, their
behaviour has been sanctioned, repeatedly, by you, because in the end when that
kind of emotional hurricane occurs, you try to batten down the hatches and wait
for it to pass. It has also been
sanctioned by a lot of other people, less central to the abuser’s life, who for
one reason or another, either sidestep or overlook it. So you sanction this behaviour and also
acknowledge its power.

When we fall into ‘Kick
The Cat Syndrome’ it is fuelled by the belief that such behaviour is somehow
vindicated by past hurt. It may also
feel preferable to the sense of powerlessness of the victim.

Further there is a kind
of logic to it: he kicked me, so I have a right to kick the next person. It is all too easy to become one in a never
ending chain of Cat Kickers.

So how do you kick the
syndrome?

First, you start to
break free of the abuser’s pattern in your own head. You identify the behaviour when the abuser perpetrates it and you
remind yourself that it is infantile, unacceptable, damaging – and you have a
choice. You don’t have to behave that
way.

Second, you start to
honor your own sense of hurt. Anyone
who has been in an abusive relationship has been sorely deprived of the love,
respect and consideration they need and deserve. That deserves to be acknowledged.

Conventional wisdom
focuses on that loss: reminds us that what we wanted was not to be had in that
relationship and those months or years.

Conventional wisdom
doesn’t tell us –
because
it doesn’t know
– that our subconscious
mind and our feelings live in the now, the moment. (Although,
consciously too many of us spend way too long focused on the
past or the future.)

So here’s the thing: you
can start to heal old hurts in the present by deliberately parenting that hurt
self in a loving way. There is the
hurt, damaged, needy you, but there is also the caring, loving, resourceful,
supportive you that you share with friends, children and other loved ones.

You can start to allow
that mature, loving resourceful you to – metaphorically – put a comforting arm
around the shoulders of the needy you. You can start to offer that needy you words of comfort that will
percolate through to the hurt and help to heal from it.

This is work that I do a
lot with abused women which is very powerful. In the absence of having someone work through it with you, you can take
the time out – maybe only 15 minutes at a time – to do it for yourself.

Third, you can work with
someone who can understand and help you work respectfully through the
hurt. Just talking it through with
someone who will support you and will not judge can divest these old patterns
of much of their explosive charge.

Cats – and dogs – that
have been ill treated by their owners, can heal from the trauma, given love and
time. So too can you. What’s more you can use the miracle of
language and your own enduring resources to heal faster and more completely
than they can.

© 2006 Annie Kaszina

 

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