A middle-aged woman went to the zoo one day. The woman was feeling depressed because she had recently ended an abusive relationship. By her own admission, she had been in many abusive relationships with men who were argumentative, had addictions, and who were highly critical.
When she came to the tiger’s pen, she stood at the cement barrier and looked into the area where she saw a tiger napping on a large rock. The woman put her hands on the top of the wall leaned over it, and assessed the 12 foot drop, the water crossing, and the 15 foot rise on the other side of the moat. She mentally measured the distance she would have to cross to be near the tiger. She pushed herself up on the wall and began to climb over. People nearby began to scream warnings to her, that she was entering a wild tiger’s den, that she was in danger if she continued, and one woman even grabbed her arm screaming, “Don’t do it!” Still, the woman brushed off the attempts of others to sway her from climbing into the tiger’s den and continued.
The woman leaped down the 12 feet to the ground and landed miraculously uninjured. She began swimming the moat in the direction of the tiger who now had been awakened by the people screaming from above. She exited the water and she walked up the 15 foot rise till she stood at the bottom of the tiger's rock. The tiger lay within the woman’s reach and she began to speak to the tiger,
“You’re a bad tiger. You shouldn’t scare people and try to eat them. People don’t feel safe around you. You roar at them, you strike out with your claws, and you will chase them down if they run. That’s not civil of you and you are just being a bully. You are an abusive tiger that should act more like a kitten. You should be ashamed of yourself. Stop being abusive. You need to change.”
The tiger stood, looked down at the woman, and turned his back to walk away. The woman quickly grabbed the tiger’s tail and continued her rant with even more conviction and passion, raising her voice at the tiger, “Don’t walk away from me! You are an abuser! I’m not safe!” The tiger began to run in an attempt to escape the woman’s yelling. But the woman’s rage increased and she held onto the tiger with even more conviction and emotion, now screaming at the top of her lungs, “I don’t feel safe!! You are an abuser!”
The tiger, in frustration at not being able to escape the woman’s grasp, finally turned on the woman and struck her down with one swipe of his claw. As the woman lay there, seriously wounded, she said,
“See? I told you I wasn’t safe. I told you, you are an abuser.”
Months later, after the woman recovered from her physical injuries and having found a support group dealing with co-dependent behaviors, the woman began feeling better about herself. To see how far she had actually grown, she went back to the zoo and stood in front of the tiger’s cage. She stood at the tiger’s boundaries; the wall, the 12 foot drop, the moat, and the 15 foot rise, and looked into the cage. The tiger was laying on the rocks much as he had the first time she saw him.
The woman felt compelled to enter the cage and apologize to the tiger and explain how much she had learned about herself and share how much she had changed over the past few months. So the woman pushed herself up onto the wall, and as people ran toward her, she said, “It’s okay! I’ve changed! I’m not going to grab his tail.”
She dropped the 12 feet, swam the moat, climbed the slope, and stood at the bottom of the tiger's rock. She began talking to the tiger with calmness and compassion. She explained her journey of self-discovery, how she realized now how wrong she was to pull the tiger’s tail. She wanted to reconcile their relationship offering the tiger a chance to admit his wrongful act of striking her with his paw, even though she realized it was in response to her pulling his tail.
The woman put her hand out toward the tiger as if to shake his paw in an effort to move toward building a friendship of mutual understanding. The tiger quickly struck her with his claw and she pulled her hand back, hurt and bleeding. The woman began screaming at the tiger, “How could you do this to me? I came here with compassion and a willingness to confess my faults, and share with you how sorry I am.”
The tiger got up to leave and the woman grabbed his tail, “How can you leave! Why won’t you accept my apology? Why won’t you talk with me? Why are you walking away from me?” The tiger began to run and the woman continued to hold the tiger’s tail, now with both hands and planted her feet attempting to keep the tiger from leaving, all the while screaming at him, “I can’t believe how hurtful you’re being! I don’t understand why you continue to walk away from me, when I come to you with love in my heart!” The tiger turned around and again struck her down. As the woman lay in the dirt bleeding and seriously wounded, she said, “I don’t understand why you continue to abuse me!”
Several months later, the woman recovered from her near-death experience. After completing a year-long course on Boundaries, participating in three groups sessions a week, and seeing a therapist on a regular basis, the woman was feeling more healthy than ever. Excited about the changes in her life, the woman returned to the zoo.
The woman stood at the boundaries of the tiger’s cage. The tiger lay on the rocks below much as he had done the previous two times. She stood behind the boundaries and began to yell to the tiger though cupped hands, “I have so much more clarity as to why I kept entering your cage. I wanted to connect with you. I wanted to build a relationship with you and have you love me. I was not a safe person to be around because I brought out the worse in you by pursuing you. I should never have pulled your tail. That was wrong of me. Can you forgive me?”
As the woman spoke, the tiger looked up at her. She noticed his response and believed he could hear the tenderness in her words. He stood and moved toward her. He jumped down from the rocks, cautiously going down the slope, hesitantly swam across the water, and came to the 12 foot drop below the woman. The tiger looked up at the woman and began to purr.
The woman felt such compassion toward the tiger for the efforts he made to come see her. She was so overwhelmed by her need to connect that she climbed the wall and jumped down to the tiger. As they stood looking into each other’s eyes, she stuck out her hand in an act of friendship. The tiger struck her down and stood over her. The woman pleaded with the tiger, “Why did you strike me down? Didn’t I change? Didn’t I do everything to make this relationship work?”
The tiger responded, “Yes you did. But, I’m still a tiger.”
Does this story remind you of your relationships? Which are you: The woman or the Tiger? To learn more about co-dependency or to connect with a therapist in your area, please call Encouragers today.