Everyone needs that sense of a secure home base. When we have it we feel safe to venture out into the world; when we don’t, we ‘cling’ to what we can, yet still feel afraid. That home base is not usually made of bricks and mortar, but is a relationship. The person we always feel ‘at home’ with. And that ‘person’ may have four legs. When people feel unsafe, animals may provide us with the way back home into safe relationships.
There is so much focus on independence nowadays, and the belief that this ‘independence’ is something that can be taught or somehow ‘pushed in’ from the outside through behavioural strategies such as rewards and consequences. But neuroscience – and attachment theory – tells us that this simply is not so.
True independence is something that grows and emerges from inside a person – when they are ready, and when they feel safe. We know that when babies are born early this does not give them an advantage – they are supposed to be safe in that womb for a certain time, and when the time is right they emerge as a separate person. Childhood is an extended, larger womb. A time when a child is intended to be held safely within a secure relationship – to depend – and then, when they are ready they emerge yet again as a viable, separate and independent person. True independence can’t be taught, it grows out of secure, safe – and yes, DEPENDENT – relationships.
When someone has such a relationship you can see, and feel, that true independence emerging and coming forth – they have a secure home base and from here are free to venture forth. When it’s missing they can’t do this and anything that ‘looks like’ independence is likely a defense and an effort to survive emotionally.
At these times the answer is to secure relationships, but sometimes the person is unable to trust for this to be real for them. This can apply to adults just as it does to kids! At these times sometimes an animal can provide that safety and help us start to trust in relationships again. We always aim for safe human relationships, but animals are often a good way to get us back there.