Growing up in suburban Connecticut I was no stranger to electric fences. There were dozens of rambunctious dogs in the neighborhood, and all of them would stay safely within the boundaries of their owner’s yards, thanks to an invisible electric fence surrounding the property.
The entire concept of an electric fence is a little cruel- When an excited dog attempts to run outside of the yard, perhaps to chase the paperboy, the dog experiences a zap by the invisible electric fence each time he or she passes the boundaries of the property. The zap doesn’t injure the animal, but it does cause the animal to associate the zap with leaving the yard. Eventually, the dog learns to stay within their owner’s property to avoid being zapped.
I must have been fascinated by this as a child, as I’ve related it to almost every negative pattern that I’ve outgrown/overcome. I’ve applied the Electric Fence Analogy to relationships, to my career and even my eating disorder as a young adult.
In relationships, the Electric Fence analogy works like this: In my early 20’s I was in love with someone who couldn’t reciprocate the feelings. He cared as much as he was able (not much), but he would always let me down somehow. We would only see each other a few times a year and when we did it would be an adventurous reunion- like a wild vortex of fun. I felt beaming with love, but these reunions would always end with a deep “rabbit hole” conversation with the same conclusion that he couldn’t commit. Every time this happened, I felt excruciating pain and sadness.
Each painful conversation was a zap by the fence. After years, I wondered how many times I would have to be zapped before I’d finally learn to stay away. When would the reunion no longer be worth the zap?
Eventually, the zaps became more painful and the reunions felt less magical. The last time he reached out I felt myself being sucked back into the vortex. I expressed concern to him through a text message and his response, so self-absorbed, was the tiniest zap I needed to finally block him from my life. Like the dogs of suburbia, I finally learned to stay away for good simply to avoid further pain. It was a vibrant and victorious act of self- love on my end, too. High-five, self.
How does this relate to you? I don’t know. For starters, this analogy can be applied to almost all negative behaviors.
When I had an eating disorder, the zap was everything I hated about it- from the secrecy to the feeling overeating, to feeling overly full. If you’re constantly falling into a negative pattern and want out, start noticing, really noticing, the bad parts. Do not deny any bad part; recognize all of them. Process how bad it actually is. Perhaps you could write a list of everything you don't like about it. Hang out with the bad parts so you realize how much they suck. Feel the pain you need to feel so the zaps teach you to stay away from the fence. You will end this negative pattern when whatever you’re seeking is no longer worth the pain. Perhaps you will re-pattern yourself as I did.