Do you have a feral cat in your family? In other words a teenager, who spits, bites and scratches your eyes out as soon as you approach them? Does ‘connecting’ with them seem to be beyond the realms of possibility?
Do you feel rejected, inadequate? Do you wonder what’s wrong with you to justify such a reaction? Do you find it hard not to take it personally? Do you feel inept as a parent? Do you wonder how you could have spawned such an animal?
Do not despair, your situation is not unusual. I know I used to be a feral cat and so did a number of my friends.
Why did I behave in such a way?
At the time I couldn’t have told you. I was just so, so angry, and what was worse I didn’t understand why, and that made me even more angry. I hated the whole world. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I couldn’t bear anyone near me, yet what I desperately needed was a hug, some comforting kind words, an acknowledgement of my confusion, but if you’d have given it to me I would have probably eaten you alive!
I thought I was mad until I talked to some of my teenage friends. Although we had all behaved like feral cats, the cause wasn’t always the same. There were a number of different reasons.
Paul was being bullied at school. He couldn’t understand why he reacted to the bullying so badly. He even helped others to cope with being bullied but when he himself was the victim, he just couldn’t cope. This really frustrated him. He felt a fraud. How could he advise his friends when he couldn’t prevent himself from suffering the effects of bullying? Why did this particular bully affect his self-esteem so badly?
He was so ashamed. The only way he knew how to react was by overcompensating. He couldn’t ‘fight’ the bully so he ‘fought’ everyone else, especially those who were close to him. He was so angry with them for not realising how much he was hurting which made him even angrier with those he loved.
Experiencing the dreaded hormonal changes! The mood swings were a nightmare, especially when you had no idea when they were coming or why they were happening. It was terrifying! You were angry and irritable for absolutely no reason. The sun could be shining and you’d be as miserable as sin, wanting to murder everyone who said the wrong thing to you, sometimes even when they said the right things too! What made you so mad was “Why can’t everyone see that I’m not OK? Why is this happening to me? I didn’t ask to be a teenager. Why the hell do I have to grow up anyway?” And for the girlies who suffered from pre-menstrual syndrome – “Can’t you tell God was a man. Guys would die if they had to have periods.”
Others triggers were: exam stress, struggling with schoolwork, or pressure from their mates to ‘fit in’, take drugs, smoke, drink, diet, wear the “right” clothes, be part of the gang. Some were really struggling with their sexuality and identity.
You wonder why we all behaved like vicious animals that had been cornered?
We were terrified, we were frustrated, we didn’t understand.
We didn’t have a solution because we couldn’t even see the problem.
So you ended up on the receiving end. Not your fault. You just happened to be there. So how do you tame this frightened beast? How do you offer this ferocious animal some comfort? The answer is “You can’t” (unless you want to get you head bitten off)! That is, unless you can see past the ferocious cat and know that there is a terrorised teenager behind that front.
So, how do you achieve that without getting mauled to death?
- Keep the feral – sorry teenager – at arms length. Do not encroach its personal space or back it into a corner.
- Gently and softly coax the feral into trusting that you do really want to help it. No bullshit, no conditions, be genuine.
- No matter how long it takes, keep your distance and keep up the coaxing until the cat is ready to trust you and move towards you.
- Don’t ever breach trust by believing that you know better than the feral. At this moment you cannot underestimate its fear.
- Let it know that as soon as it is ready to come towards you that you will be ready to listen to its fear. You will be ready to hear its fear. You will be ready to encourage the feral to overcome its fear or at least discover its source. Remember you are not a feral now, and even if you were once, times change, society changes, cultural behaviour changes, the world changes, and so do teenage issues. Your teenager is not you!
- Above all remember that the solution lies within the feral. It needs your support to get to the solution but it is not something you can just give it.
- Remember if this behaviour is new to both you and the feral, give yourselves time; expect to take two steps forward and one step back. If you are afraid of making a mistake and scaring off the feral forever then back off and take time out until you are feeling more confident, more ready.
- Once the solution is found, never, ever, think about kicking the feral back for scratching you. Just give it enough support to develop trust between you so that the next time the feral is corned. It will be easier for it to approach you for some help and comfort.
In time you will realise that you have grown to unconditionally love this feral who used to spit in your eye. And when your feral has its own young, you can pass on the benefit of your experiences of taming the angry teenager!