Category Archives: self-fulfilling prophecies

Be Careful of What You Wish For


When we have a dog, we usually endeavor to train the dog to sit or stay and reward the dog for the obedience. After repetition and praise, we all are successful. (Don’t bother with cats. You are their staff.)

When we call the dog and the dog comes, we reward the dog with a treat or a loving, non-aggressive response, and the dog feels safe and sometimes this safety is enough to feel rewarded.  After repetition and praise, we are all successful.

When we do this with a horse, the horse gets a carrot or treated kindly with love.  Request, praise, repeat.

When we do this with a dolphin, the dolphin gets a mackerel.  Request, praise, repeat.

This is called conditioning. This is called training.  This is also known as positive reinforcement.

What about when we have a dog that does something we don’t like? Say your dog poops in the house.  When we discover this, usually a while after the poop deposit, many people will chastise the dog, shove the dog’s nose in the poop and think they’ve trained the dog to not poop in the house.

Not so fast.  They’ve trained the dog to stay the hell away of the person who just called the dog.  

When we do this with our children:  when we discover they made a mess hours or several moments after it happened and we call them and scream at them for messing up, we are conditioning them to fear us when we call them.  If we do this enough, those kids will be afraid to move and will think everything is their fault.  And when they get their chance: they’re vapor.

When we tell the child that their grades are unacceptable and that they are lazy, they learn that only negative behavior gets a response.  So they keep that up. 

“Leave me alone!” 

When we freak out and get upset that a child or a dog or a horse or a dolphin doesn’t stay out of our things, or doesn’t mind their own business when we are on the phone or when they take something that doesn’t belong to them, we are training that child or mammal to not only respect our @)(*%@ privacy, we are training that child or mammal to stay away.  The mammal learns fast.  The mammal learns that even the remotest bit of toe-dipping into our pool of existence becomes one of trepidation.

We are turning our intrepid, innocent, loving, wide-eyed and imaginative children, or mammals into reactive, fearful, apprehensive and unsure beings.  We want our privacy, our things, our stuff respected, our “zones” of existence to be so separate and different than theirs. We get so much privacy that they never want to come back for fear of a negative response.  

Children and dolphins and dogs and horses aren’t born afraid.  We teach them this.  

We beat them down emotionally or otherwise to a point that we get so much privacy that they condition themselves to just stay away. Mission accomplished, right? 

~ ~ ~ 

If you are an adult child of a parent who wanted, craved and demanded privacy or who abdicated their parental obligations to a nanny or other surrogate and today you have a rocky relationship with that or those parents, don’t despair.  You were trained to give space.  You were trained to defer.  You were trained to not get involved.  You were trained to stay out.  Could your reactions now as an adult be that you are riddled with guilt and sadness for how things could have been if only you’d been a better kid to be invited?  I will recommend that you let it go.  Don’t sweat it, move on.  But that’s tough too.  But if you give yourself the gift of remembering that you weren’t born to fear or resent or to feel guilt, you will remember that you were conditioned.  We are not formed in a vacuum. 

But if you are an adult who craves your privacy and your “me” time and all the rest so you can be your creative best self,  be careful of what you wish for.  You want privacy?  You want your things left alone?  If you train enough, you just might get it and you’ll be left alone.  Now no one will disturb you.  Ever.  So when you’re 85 in a rocking chair wondering why no one comes to see you, remember this post.  You created this dynamic.  And again, if you’re the kid of a parent like that: you were trained.  

The good news: this can be reversed at any age.  But we all have to be willing to allow it.  Pride screws everything up.  Get out of your own way. 

thank you.