Human Psyche as Cat Litter Box
I won’t out the client who came up with this metaphor last week – of the human psyche as a cat litter box. But I’ve been a psychotherapist for a quarter of a century now, and an owner of several generations of cats for almost as long, and I can fully appreciate the complexity and relevance of the comparison.
Cats are very clean animals, as most human beings try to be. Cats do their business (if not outdoors in the hydrangea bushes) in a thoughtfully provided litter box and then scratch and paw to cover over their offerings. It’s hard to tell at first glance if the litter box has been used recently or not.
Human beings also try to take good care of themselves and then carefully groom themselves to be presentable in public; mostly we can’t tell if there is shit hiding underneath our carefully groomed personas.
So the metaphor seems apt. Psychotherapists guide clients in carefully, consciously, compassionately, exploring the layers of inner workings of their minds and layers of inner wounds of their hearts, looking for the pee and poop that accumulates in the natural process of living and metabolizing the nutrition/experiences of the day.
This metaphor gives me an opportunity to normalize how normal it is to find layers of what can’t be digested and used as nutrition for blood and bones, for relationships and career plans, in the cat litter box or in the litter of the psyche. Normal. Healthy. No worries. Just clean up regularly and go on bouncing through life, chasing mice or chasing hopes and dreams.
I love a cartoon I saw – the cat sitting on the floor near the litter box, the owner saying sternly, “Don’t you even consider thinking outside the box.” Cats do, of course, and we clean that up without scolding. I would often use this metaphor with clients dealing with emotional spewing from another person or even spewing themselves – our bodily functions are normal bodily functions. Perfectly okay. We do get potty trained and learned to do our business in the toilet, not in the living room. People understand the need to treat normal bodily functions and normal emotional experiences with respect and to skillfully manage those daily occurrences and not “leak” or spew onto other people.
So psychotherapists help clients safely peer and inquire into the layers of the psyche to discover what undigested or unresolved bits of experience-memories-beliefs-patterns might be causing dysregulation, discomfort or distress now. It’s our job, our calling, It’s sacred work.
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach offers a guided meditation called R.A.I.N. (Recognize, Allow, Inquire, Nurture) on Blame to normalize and bringing compassion to layers of painful emotional experiences that could upset our normal healthy functioning. Here’s the link to Tara herself guiding the meditation, skillfully leading the inquiry down through the layers and bringing compassion and peace of mind and heart in the process. May you find it helpful; most of my clients do.