My cat, Tommy, is now about 2 years old which is like 14 in human years but in many ways, cats are more like adults very early in life. A cat might mate at an age as young as one-year-old. Our culture would never want a seven-year-old or even a 14-year-old to have a child. But I digress. What can we learn about social anxiety from my cat? I am acutely aware of the needs that people have, children, young cats in terms of nurturing to feel safe. This helps us and all social creatures feel confident and at ease. So, I wonder how the cat did not get nurtured enough prior to my adoption.
I think the previous owners were very good and caring people. Still, even I might have not done enough to help my cat feel more confident. It takes courage to admit that. We often think we have to be perfect or we are a failure. Metaphorically, I am like a mother or father to my cat - both. I figured if I said I was a mother (or father) to a cat that might seem weird to you the reader. It is undeniable that early life experiences shape our personality and psyche in ways that are unlike the experiences later in life. Doctor Spock's old ideas about parenting have been found to be very unhealthy upon further research and insight.
I knew all this when I tried to be a good parent to my cat. I avoid punishment and attempt to reward alternative behaviors. I don't yell or induce any form of fear in my cat. I pick him up and he begins to purr in my arms even if he has been almost asleep and at peace on a comfortable chair. Like the shy boy that you see at school, who you think is aloof, we just want human contact and to feel like someone will pay attention to us. If I am watching a show in bed, Tommy loves to cuddle up next to me and within moments he is purring.
If I get up my cat meows as if I am going to leave him. If he thinks I am not paying attention to him, he will leave and find another room where he can find a comfortable place to fall asleep. What does this have to do with social anxiety? Well, it is the feeling that when we think that a person has lost interest in us we begin to think that we are not of any interest to you and that we are bothering you when you want to be alone or away from us. We feel like a pest. So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, choosing to be alone doesn't mean that this is what we want. It is undeniable that fear of rejection exists. Given time we learn in our relationships that we don't need that constant attention to know we are welcome and not being ignored.
The idea of punishment is also a problem as well. Intuitively it seems strange to cause fear in a child or in a cat. Striking a child seems bizarre. Similarly, striking a cat feels unnecessary and mean even if it is with a newspaper. Animals lower on the evolutionary chain may require that kind of learning style to avoid bad behaviors. However, mammals are social creatures and there is so much more we can do to help us to learn. I don't even shout, for the most part, other than to get my cat's attention.