I was at a meeting one night not too long ago, and a woman shared a story about a dog study she once heard about. I doubt it’s a true story, but the lesson rang loud and clear for me. I’ll do my best to summarize in my own words what she shared that evening:
A researcher sought to learn more about loyalty. He gathered three dogs, and three volunteers. He asked each to bring home a puppy and follow his EXACT instruction.
Volunteer 1 was instructed to love and praise the dog no matter what. Whether the dog peed in the house or followed all the rules, PRAISE was all he got.
Volunteer 2 was instructed to beat the dog no matter what. If the dog chewed up the sofa or followed all the rules, BEATINGS was all he got.
Volunteer 3 was instructed to praise and beat the dog, with no rhyme or reason. Meaning, if the dog peed in the house he may be praised, or if the dog followed the rules he may be beaten.
Which of the 3 dogs do you think was reported the MOST loyal after the study concluded?
The theory behind it is that dog 3 never knew when he would get love OR beatings, but he knew he would at some point again receive love, so he kept working for it, hoping and waiting, remaining loyal… THROUGH ALL THE CONFUSION.
What I took from this “study,” was an understanding of why we as people, too, stick around even when a relationship is unhealthy for us. We wait and hope for things to change, to get better, to be how they once were that that one time not too long ago, when it was pleasant. We remain loyal and overlook the pain of the beatings, praying that if we act right, look right, sit right, shake right, piss right, obey right, and behave how we are told to, that we will be loved. We begin to protect ourselves by pretending things aren’t as bad as they once were and pretend things are better than they actually are. We lean into what’s familiar, even if what’s familiar is confusing.
Fortunate for us we aren’t dogs. We don’t have to be obedient and we certainly don’t have to behave or abide to earn love and affection. We are able to break free from something or someone that abuses us, then loves us, then abuses us again. We no longer need to live uncertain, confused, or scared of abandonment. We know that the pure essence of love is that it doesn’t have to be earned at all.
We can decide in THIS moment to let go of the chaos, the drama, and the hate cycles we punish ourselves with. We can decide to no longer return our battered selves to what is comfortable yet unhealthy, and begin leaning into what is unfamiliar… love, grace, kindness and acceptance by others and most importantly FOR ourselves.