During a date one night with a new romantic interest, the person I was seeing shared a story with me about a stray cat that once had gotten into a 10-inch wall space between his house’s original foundation and its addition. For the better part of a year, he never really saw the cat and the only evidence that the cat was even there was the daily disappearance of food he provided. Because of this, the cat became known as “The Wall Cat” and up until the shy feline finally decided to grace other members of the household with its presence, it didn’t have any other name.
Too often in our lives, we treat others and invest in them like they are wall cats, pouring ourselves into their growth and well-being while neglecting our own needs and dreams until we forget what we want and who we are all together. Unlike the wall cat, however, people don’t always heal over time, eventually showing themselves and giving back. Instead, they hide behind a myriad of walls of their own making and continuously take from those around them with no intention of ever letting down their guard and contributing to the well-being of those closest to them. Fear, anger, defensiveness, criticism, and keeping a safe distance have worked well to protect these people from additional loss and pain and behind those walls is where they remain. It’s how they survive.
“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.” ―Norman Mailer
There is nothing inherently wrong with investing in a wall cat. Maybe that’s your dream. If so, there are many practices to go into and volunteer opportunities for that purpose. However, entering into personal, intimate, and romantic relationships with the purpose of helping or healing another person is unlikely to be the win/win we expect or hope to find in such relationships. When it comes to romantic and life-long partnerships, specifically, we often go into them with the hope that each person will benefit and be enriched by the relationship. After all, these are the people with whom we are going to spend most of our time and the ones to whom we will give and invest the most. These are the people who (not only) will seek refuge in us, but in whom we will seek refuge, ourselves. This is simply not possible with a wall cat.
Overall, when we give beyond our means or neglect ourselves in the process of helping others, we may eventually find that we have nothing left to give. And that’s what happens when we invest in those who continue to take, but offer nothing in return. In healthy relationships, both parties feed each other and because of this, both parties have enough energy, love, and inspiration to give. When one person gives and it’s not enough or appreciated, the system fails and at least one person is going to have the rug pulled out from underneath him/her. Maybe it’s the person who had become dependent on taking from the other person or maybe it’s the person who invested everything in the other partner or relationship with little to no personal investment in himself/herself. Or perhaps it’s both.
“Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time and energy needed to develop yourself.” ―Denis Waitley
So how do we avoid such situations, make sure such a scenario doesn’t happen to us, or what do we do if it does? First of all, for anyone who’s already been in a “wall cat” situation, you already know the result. If you were the wall cat, it’s highly likely you’ll just go find another wall to live in. I sincerely hope you don’t, but I’m not a professional and, therefore, not here to help you. You need to help yourself. I’ve already had my share of wall cats. What I would like to do is invest in those who (like me) already know how to invest in others, but need to learn to invest more in themselves. Because, by investing in ourselves, we are more confident, have more to give, and encourage others to invest in us. By investing in our own needs, hopes, and dreams (in addition to the needs, hopes, and dreams of others,) we are basically telling others that we are worth their investment, as well. We are telling others that we are confident in who we are and our own abilities and they, in turn, are more likely to be confident in us. If we then can make sure that the people in whom we are investing are doing the same for themselves, us, and the partnership, we just might have a chance at finding fulfillment in our lives and relationships….assuming that’s what we all really want.
But, what do you want? Who are you and what specific needs, hopes, and dreams have you neglected? Write them down and then invest in them. Make those your wall cat, because those are the ones you should feed even if you don’t yet fully realize it. They need you in order to heal, grow, and thrive, so that they can contribute and give back…and if you give yourself to them, I am confident that they will do just that.
“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” ―Stephen Covey