Dealing with our (unmeasurable) inner pet
Animals are lovely. But when you have a pet you can see first hand how instinctual they are. When they are hungry, they ask you for food. When they are happy, they cuddle. When something concerns them, they hide. Even if some of us struggle to, loving animals is not that difficult. As they are fairly clear about their needs, you only need to pay attention to them and try to satisfy them in a way that balances the short- and long-term wellbeing of your pet.
But hey, humans are animals too! While obvious, this was an important realisation for me. Each of us is, in some way, his or her own pet. Yet, sometimes we find loving ourselves to be much more difficult than loving our pets. Realising this helped me. An important part of self-love is to simply care for our inner pet: pay attention to the needs that him or her expresses — which, if we don’t ignore them, are usually pretty clear — and try to satisfy them in a way that balances our short- and long-term wellbeing. While there is more to self-love, this is an important component. Often, we decide that our inner pet should not be treated kindly. It is rather strange that we treat ourselves in a way in which we would never treat those around us, such as our pets.
Realising this, however, led me to another reflection. If each of us has an inner pet, then inside of us there must be an inner pet and an inner human. In other words, living a human life is like playing a multi-part play, where there is a single actor that plays a lot of different parts, constantly and suddenly changing personalities, accents, tones and behaviour. Yet, this idea of a multi-parted human never clicked with me. I just don’t feel like there are these discrete parts that take the stage in rotation. That really does not sound like what I experience.
As with most complex phenomena, it seems inaccurate to describe human experience and behaviour using a discrete set of categories (ie the parts). I would guess that, as with other complex phenomena like brain activities and artificial neural networks, our behaviour may be better described as a weighted combination of many variables. In such a model, our inner pet would just be a subset of variables that represent how much our physical and mental states (and their interaction with the environment) trigger our instincts.
But then, if we adopt this model, what does it mean to treat our inner pet kindly? It means to change the behaviour we have (as in, re-wiring ourselves to adopt a weighted combination of the more rational elements of our self) in response to the more instinctual behaviour that we exhibit (the weighted combinations of the more instinctual elements).