Mallow: Softening Animals' Hearts  

by Jennifer Arnold

It is my belief that animals want to enjoy social relationships and have friendly conflict-avoiding interaction with other individuals, whether they are of same or different species. Most experiences demonstrate the amazing capacity of animals to adapt to new situations and encounters without overt struggle. However, in this chaotic and stress-ridden world, there seems to exist a constant emotional tension that could give cause for caution and a rise in self-preservation.

From observing animal behavior, it appears that many species approach new situations and social interactions from a Safe-or-Dangerous perspective; in other words, every new thing or being that an animal comes into contact with must be assessed for its level of threat to that animal's survival. Wild animals show this more readily, and often remain safely far from any possible conflict.

We see varying levels of Fight-or-Flight response in animals with different levels of socialization with other animals and people. When we see domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and horses, with heightened reserve from social contact, we often see an accompanying level of fear which may be irrational, but real nonetheless.

Often an animal has not had proper socialization or compassionate desensitization early in its life, during the time when the initial ‘Safe or Dangerous' qualifiers are being placed on general categories of things in its environment. If a puppy under the age of 4 months has a terrifying experience of rough handling by a hat-wearing human, for example, it may fear all people in hats for the rest of its life, or until it receives some compassionate desensitization and re-association training. Conversely, a puppy older than 4 months who has never seen a person walking with a cane may forever be extremely cautious around people with canes, because it had not entered its experience early enough to be considered ‘normal' or a part of its known world and is therefore suspect. All animal species and all individuals within those species have their different time frames and thresholds for stimuli acceptance.

Due to early or experiential fears, even as early as birth, an animal may withdraw and close itself off to interactions with others--almost creating a protective shell or emotional barrier to ensure a sense of safety. An animal may feel vulnerable when there exists the potential of others to be "Dangerous" somehow. Some of these animals may seem shy or reserved, others aloof. Still others express their fear through hostility, to back away from any conceivable threat coming their way. Some animals appear merely to distance themselves in order to shield themselves from the emotional nature of others, as if the emotional energy is too much to bear. For whatever reasons this barrier to interaction is created in the hearts of these creatures, it renders them unable to fully enjoy relating to others in their world. Just as much as they are ‘safe' from any pain resulting from exchange, they are held back from the true joy of what relationships can bring to life.

Unfortunately, I think many of our pets are animals who are innately social beings, whose ancestors depended upon acute sensitivity to members of their groups, packs, or herds, for survival. Dogs, for instance, are often painfully aware of their human family members' emotional lives — their empathic ability in the wild is crucial for the evasion of predators and for the success of a hunt. Even a little tension in human family members is picked up, sponged, mirrored, or otherwise reacted to by our furry friends.

I suspect that this heightened sensitivity to others can be overwhelming at times and could cause an animal to shut down in order to filter it all out a bit. And since the emotional lives of people can be so complex and exaggerated, with our behavior confusing and inconsistent, our animal companions must sometimes find that emotional distancing protects them from pain and stress. Different species have different systems of body language and emotional cues, as well, so with all of us sharing homes with multiple species, daily interaction holds its own challenges for the heart.

In my flower essence therapy practice I have found Mallow to be a wonderful catalyst to melt down the barriers and soften the emotional shell surrounding the hearts of these animals. I see Mallow as bringing the ‘warm fuzzies' to an individual's experience. It is a gentle but pro-active essence — not pushing an animal, but nudging it into learning that open interaction can feel safe and rewarding.

I believe this new-found openness feeds itself exponentially in the animal's heart. The joy felt from allowing the walls to come down and welcoming others in is so reinforcing that the animal responds surprisingly quickly and with profound results. Some clients report they can create stronger emotional bonds with their pets, which opens the stage for better training, communication and a more active life together.

When Mallow is combined with other fear-alleviating essences, such as Larch and Mimulus, animals can feel safe in trusting their owners over their own irrational response patterns. Mallow is a nice complement to Quaking Grass for balancing group functioning and to Oregon Grape for softening the urge to be hostile in the face of fear.  Pet owners report their touchy, rigid animals, who had always ‘been on guard,' really relax from Mallow treatments.

When our pain-filled, stressful and cold world drives us to shut down our hearts and batten down the hatches, I see Mallow as preserving the warmth and tenderness required to remind us of the joy and love we can feel only when together. It can be the key to the lock on the door for many who put up the ‘No Trespassing' signs after experiencing fear and pain.

Read the interview with Jen Arnold


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