There’s a fabulous scene in the movie, Finding Nemo when the seagulls are introduced. They’re squabbling, en masse, over what they think is food, and, as they swoop in and try to grab it, they shout “Mine!” “Mine!” “Mine!” “Mine!” As I write this, I can still hear those screaming seagulls in my head, the scene is so powerful and has become so iconic.
If you are possessive about something that you own, you do not like lending it, or even sharing it with others. Usually, when folks use the phrase “being possessive,” they’re being critical — possessive people are considered insecure and controlling. Being possessive means you’re selfish about people or things in your life. You cling to them tightly, saying “Mine!” For example, you’re being possessive of your car if you won’t let anyone else drive it. A friend might be possessive of you if she gets jealous when you hang out with other people.
Can a Bird Own Anything?
This morning, my 25-year-old African Grey was playing on the kitchen counter with an Amazon delivery box (a cheap “toy” that she can destroy, a parrot’s typical behavior, without my being concerned about the cost to replace it) while I made her breakfast, her standard fare of snap and snow peas, apple, grapes, cherries, and multi-colored peppers. This is our morning routine. If my husband is up early enough, he’ll play games with her, like “Flap Your Wings” and “Build a Home Base” and “Fetch,” believe it or not.
Todd was up at 5am. He offered Sushi (yes, I named my pet after my favorite food) the plastic cap from a Campbell’s Slow Kettle Style soup container. (Again, an inexpensive “toy” that she can do whatever she wants to.) He tossed it to her. Well, she grabbed that lid and dashed away from him, along the countertop. Fearful that she might bite him (which she rarely does but it happens when she’s fearful, for example), I commented “You’d better watch it.” The behavior she was displaying signaled that she would nip him if he tried to snatch the cover back, even though he just intended to play “Fetch” with her.
His response was perceptive: “That’s how deeply ingrained possessiveness is. Even birds, who can’t really “own” anything, recognize when something is “theirs” and when they don’t want you to take it away!”
Divorces Can Trigger Ingrained Possessiveness
So what does this have to do with divorce? Most of us in any given moment have some degree of insecurity surrounding our close relationships. These feelings can spring from deeper struggles we have with trust, low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or loss of intimacy itself. In a divorce, in which the loss of intimacy and control is imminent or has already occurred, such deep-seated emotions often lead to a desire to control, if nothing else, then at least your possessions. And, if you don’t want the divorce, you may be unsure that you’ll get your needs met. So you cling to your possessions instinctively, in order “to survive.”
Everyone knows that materialism is linked to comfort, don’t they? Do people value their belongings more or less depending on how loved and secure they feel in the moment?
Well, “yes,” it seems they do. I deal everyday with clients who just can’t seem to let certain things go in their divorce negotiations, no matter how financially ill-advised that position might be. So, in my experience, the answer is “yes.”
And research shows I’m right. “People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort,” Edward Lemay, assistant professor of psychology at University of New Hampshire, explains. “But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance and comfort, those possessions decrease in value.”
What Is Their Real Goal?
So naturally the reverse is also true. Our emotional reactions are sometimes so deeply embedded that it’s difficult to deliberately re-focus on our real goals in any divorce interaction. At least humans can be deliberate and rational about it, sometimes. In our collaborative divorces, this is why we focus our client on the brightest future he or she can envision. This enables him to set aside his sense of loss and allow him to make better decisions about his possessions.
Was Sushi’s real goal to keep the soup lid? Or was it to keep my husband’s attention so that he continued to play with her? Hard to be sure…. With her, it’s hard to be sure. With my clients, it’s a whole lot easier!
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Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.