Emotions are something every human being struggles with keeping in check. We all have thoughts and feelings that, were they voiced to the world at large, might get us labeled as crazy, addicted to anger, or perhaps even some things that are worse. But in reality, these “extreme” emotions are simply a part of being human. Therians are no different, despite that we may think a bit differently that an average person from time to time, we still have powerful emotions that we must control. The difference is that powerful emotions can sometimes bring with them shifts – shifts that alter our perception of the world around us and even the very mindset that allows our human sides to coexist or overbalance with our non-human animal sides. These are known as mental and perception shifts.
I’ve chosen to cover the two together as one topic for the sole reason that they have a tendency to go together. I have experienced each independent of the other, but the majority of the time, they are complimenting shifts that can be quite overwhelming – even in their “lesser” occurrences.
We’ll start with a mental shift. This is described by most therians as a mental strengthening of their theriotype’s instincts, essentially. That which is always present as part of, or just beneath your human consciousness, becomes stronger and harder to ignore. This can manifest in a variety of ways, from (speaking from personal experience) a sudden powerful urge to be territorial, to a craving for raw or seriously bloody meat (and I love my steaks medium-well, to give you an idea how strange it is for me to order rare), to many other “symptoms” that are as wide ranging as the animals people have as theriotypes. Now, as I can only speak from my life, I’ll give you an example of a strong mental shift that I had fairly recently.
I hadn’t eaten in a very long time. I ate before going to a night class, crashed into bed upon coming home, got up and went back to school for a morning class, then stayed in the study center until mid-afternoon. I was broaching 22 hours since I’d eaten last. I go through a predictable pattern of hunger, usually. First, I’m hungry. Bearable, ignorable, normal hunger. Within a few hours it becomes impossible to ignore. I’m fantasizing about food. I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing. I’ve even caught myself drawing little cheese burgers and stuff in my margins when in this state. My mind might even disassociate to a point and one of my bonds have to come out to deal with control, but that’s another issue entirely. Usually, I eat when it gets to this point, because I hate what happens next. In the case of this day, I was in math class and couldn’t afford to skip out. The next stage is gut wracking nausea, which is only made better by the fact that I know there’s nothing in my stomach to come up. But if I reach this point, don’t talk to me, and don’t show me food – it’s the polar opposite of the previous stage. I CAN’T eat at this point, or my body will rebel and it’ll come right back up. Thankfully, it never lasts more than half an hour. By the time I was out of math class, I’d passed that stage. The next stage is acceptance, essentially – almost as if my stomach goes through the Kübler-Ross Model of grieving when I’m hungry. The initial stage of ignorable hunger is denial – I don’t really have to eat. The next stage is a combination of anger and bargaining, where my body is fighting violently to get food any way it can, trying to convince me to drop whatever I’m doing and get food NOW. Think of how wonderful these (insert different food cravings here) will taste, you should really eat now, you know… The nausea stage would be despair, my body giving up on the idea of me giving it food and is now violently rejecting the concept of eating entirely. And finally, I move into the acceptance stage, and literally STOP being hungry.
What does this have to do with mental shifting, you ask? Well… I went without food for so long that the wolf in my mind came alive with the realization that I may be in a famine situation. This is just a guess, mind you – Dire Wolf doesn’t think in human terms, even when she uses a human mind to do the thinking. And when I look back on how I’m thinking when I’ve mentally shifted, it isn’t like looking back on my memories when my body’s in the control of one of my bonds – THEY at least think like humans… Or something like humans, in the case of certain Time Lords who shall remain name and title-less, but I can catch the general drift. When I look back on memories accumulated within a mental shift, I find myself… utterly unable to translate it beyond its basest emotions and thoughts. Maybe that’s all that’s there, but that’s how it feels.
Anyway, on this day, having gone 22 hours without food, as I headed home (thankfully not driving this time), the famine-conscious wolf in my head came to the forefront and I regressed into a realization that I was going to be starving if I didn’t get food very soon, and food meant fresh, bloody, meat. I was human in thought enough that the first thing I remember saying to people when I got home was that I needed steak, and desperately. Now. Steak now. In my memories, I sounded kind of like a cave man, which is more than a little amusing. But it resulted in me getting a huge, bloody steak and eating the whole thing – which was more than anyone expected me to be able to eat. As I ate, a phantom shift came over me as well and I felt my muzzle, my teeth, tearing into the prey as I chomped down big bites of steak. As I got closer to the end of my meal and my ravenous hunger (which returned with the first SCENT of meat) was finally abated, the mental shift faded and I could suddenly think clearly and human-ly again. The phantom shift faded along with the mental, and I filed it away in my head that if I wanted an involuntary mental shift, I apparently needed to not eat for 22 hours.
Now, while I never lost my humanity in a mental shift, I have heard of some mental shifts that are so total that a therian can be a danger to themselves and others while under them. This is why my main focus in this article is not how to cause these shifts (they tend to be triggered by high emotions or bodily needs that your animal-side likewise feels strongly about) but how to control them when they happen. Also, not every therian experiences mental and/or perception shifts.
A trick for controlling the shifts when you still have enough of your human mind left in focus to realize what’s happening is to focus on solely human things. Video games, TV, things your animal-side might not have any clue about. Meditation may also be useful, if you can give your animal-side what it wants in the dream-like world of a meditation rather than trying to find a way to translate it into the “real world.”
A perception shift can be controlled in much the same way – however of the two types, this is the more dangerous to the world around you (and also the rarest – I’ve only ever experienced full perception shifts while in a state of deep meditation or a dream, never in the waking world, and I can’t think of any instance that I’ve read or heard about that’s lasted beyond the jolt of realization that one is in a human body). This is a full shift in your very way of perceiving the world from your normal human perspective, to that of your theriotype. To see why this could be dangerous (I know, there are those who are probably thinking – “oh, but I’d LOVE to perceive the world as my animal side! To think like my true self, to see the world through the animal’s eyes” – believe me, I used to think like that as well before I reconciled my human and animal selves), allow me again to give you an example from my own life.
This was several years ago, back when I was regularly attending Howls (therian gatherings in real life) in my area. All the discussion was about therianthropy, the food was outdoor grilled meat, and one of the main activities was stretching out on the ground and napping. I was feeling very in touch with my dire wolf self at that point, and I relaxed into it completely. I fell asleep on a bamboo mat on the ground, beneath the shade of a large tree. In my dream, I was wholly wolf, at home in my Pleistocene environment. The dream felt like days, but my human perception of time was non-existent. I was me. Pack was family. Life. I was safe. There was food. I hunted. I killed. I lived. I was wolf.
And then my then best friend woke me up by shaking me awake. And I responded as any startled large animal would – I didn’t do the human thing of gasping or jerking or saying “What?!”… I lunged and snapped. She reeled backwards, and the ONLY reason I missed sinking my teeth into her arm was that my body wasn’t jointed the way I thought it should be, and my face did not actually protrude the extra foot into a muzzle that I could’ve snapped properly. Had I been laying in a more lunge-friendly position, I might have hurt her. With or without the muzzle. Thankfully, hitting the ground from my failed lunge snapped the human part of my brain back into full control. I’ve never allowed a dream perception shift to take over that fully again (and believe me, controlling it is something like lucid dreaming… it isn’t easy, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing).
However, that is why a perception shift is dangerous. You are, mentally and in your perception of the world, fully your animal type. For prey, this could mean suddenly leaping up and trying to run away – startling at loud sounds, etc. For predators, this could mean hurting someone who’s come to bring you a cookie. (Which was why she was waking me up.) Or even hurting yourself – what if I’d been head first aimed toward the tree I was napping under and had plowed into it’s trunk? I could’ve given myself a concussion.
The difference between the mental and perception shift is subtle – in the mental shift, you retain the ability to function in the human world, around your animal consciousness. But with a perception shift… that’s gone. The safety net that will stop you from biting a stranger, or going running out into traffic in a panic is nowhere to be seen. Analogously, a mental shift is like a horse being controlled by a rider. The horse might spook and try to react, but the rider is there to rein them in and reassure them, and keep them on the right path. But a perception shift is like a wild mustang being dropped in downtown Manhattan. It’s going to panic, it’s going to react – and anyone who gets in it’s way or tries to stop it is going to be run down or otherwise hurt.
For this reason, I warn to guard against perception shifts, and to carefully control mental shifts when you recognize that you’re having them. They can be wonderful, and tempting, but ultimately you have to force yourself to remember that you are, in physical form and mind, human. This is a necessity for every Therian who shifts regularly. Be on guard – or one day, the wolf at your door may be you.
In the next article, I’ll be examining dream and astral shifting – another topic that can get confusing. Until next time!