We get to witness the social hierarchy at work here in real time every single day. Our pack of huskies has a pecking order, and the flocks of chickens, ducks and pheasant do, too. Even the wild birds at the bird feeders have one, and naturally it favors the larger, bossier birds like the starlings and collared doves.
It’s fun to watch now, but it wasn’t fun to be at the bottom of the pecking order growing up. I was the youngest of five siblings in a highly dysfunctional family who very much believed in social dominance. I was sickly as a baby, so I was at a disadvantage from birth, and they took full advantage of my disadvantage. My brothers and sisters made sure I was put in my place every minute of every day. It wasn’t personal, they did it to each other, too, but someone always got hurt in the process and that someone was usually me.
I rarely went without bruises or feeling as though I should have never been born. My nickname was “mistake” and it was drilled into me that my mom had made no secret during her pregnancy with me that she wished for a miscarriage (since abortion wasn’t legal yet).
It’s one thing to be bullied by your peers but when it’s your own flesh and blood it can leave lasting damage that some of us never really recover from.
Some families are just like that, I suppose. Maybe it’s one parent who wants to be alpha or “wear the pants” or maybe it’s an older brother or sister who dominates the entire clan. Sometimes they all constantly battle for top position, like in my family. Or, if the baby of the family is put on a pedestal it can fall to them to “rule the roost”, which is how my husband’s family was, but that isn’t what happened with me.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
As I grew older I found it more and more difficult to associate with bullies, whether they are related to me or not. I don’t want to be around people who want to put you beneath them rather than treat you as an equal. So, needless to say, I’m not close with my birth family and I am very cautious about who I allow into my life. My mom is dead now, but my dad and brothers and sisters still act as though there is an invisible totem pole and don’t understand why I don’t want to be at the very bottom of it.
After all, it’s my proper place. They decided long before I was (mistakenly) born that I belong there. Way, way down there where they can look way, way down upon my wretched self. Eventually I stopped bothering to try to climb up and decided instead to move sideways, a move that took them all by surprise.
It’s funny when I see one of the dogs try to usurp the alphas because they usually don’t get far. If they don’t stop, eventually a fight breaks out and we have to intervene, which doesn’t happen often. They generally seem to accept their place in the pack which keeps the peace.
The poultry work their pecking order out fairly well, too, without much help from us. Sometimes they will turn on each other to the point that it becomes dangerous or even deadly, but mostly it’s just a bit of squawking and a few feathers flying followed by some hurt feelings but then things settle down.
Too bad that’s not how it works in human families. Sometimes you just have to walk away and never look back.
That’s exactly what I did. 🙂