Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness?
Jonathan Safran Foer
We often talk about the unconditional love that we receive from dogs. Instead let’s talk about how dogs can help us to discover and connect with who we truly are. Dogs have so much to teach us if we allow ourselves to learn from them. Their pure light and love is palpable. They are incredible beings who do not judge or criticize, they just love who and how we are. No questions, no expectations, they just enjoy being with us in the moment.
Looking at Life Through the Eyes of a Dog
Everything is fresh and exciting to a dog, even if they have done something dozens of times before. They miss us when we are gone, and give us attention when we return. Most dogs are open playful beings and like to cuddle. They are always true to themselves. Is this the kind of being you might like to be?
When my sweet precious black lab, Keegan, is lying in her bed belly up and all four paws to the sky, I have a visceral response. My heart opens to unimaginable proportions and my whole being responds. Notice what happens for you when you are in the presence of a dog. Is this how you would like to feel more often?
Do You Need “Dog Therapy”?
So often we lose touch with our authentic selves as we get caught up in the demands of the day to day. What we might truly feel is buried under what we feel are expected adult behaviors and how we must act to appear responsible. But sometimes, truly being with a dog can be therapeutic for us.
Do you sometimes feel that you have lost your sense of humor, or never really had one in the first place?
Do you find yourself so caught up in life’s routines, and fast paced lifestyle, that you walk around the world feeling oh so serious, or wearing a scowl on your face, or perhaps even more concerning—no expression at all?
Do you ever think that all the warmth inside has drained from you, or there was never any warmth to begin with, and just rigidity and a sense of detachment from self or others?
Do you ever feel that you are just walking through life on automatic pilot and not really feeling or experiencing the world?
Interacting with a dog might help us relax and regain that comfort level with our authentic selves. Enjoying time with a carefree dog can allow us to relax. Our troubles melt away as we become playful. In fact, being silly with a dog is encouraged and met with their unbridled enthusiasm. Often, we then find that enthusiasm contagious and rediscover our sense of humor and joy for the little things in life. Things we may not have noticed, or embraced, as we hurried through our day.
For more tips on how dogs can help us to get in touch with our authentic self, please click on the link below for my complete article.
People who need help often look a lot like people who don’t need help.
Glennon Doyle Melton
Therapy is a time where we are not taking care of anyone else. We are taking care of ourselves, giving us the gift and opportunity to focus on us. What we think, what we feel, what we want, what we need. Just like a massage is a way of taking care of, and soothing our body, therapy is a way of taking care of our emotional body and massaging our souls.
A Gift We Give Ourselves
So many of us turn to therapy to help us find a way of balancing job, career, intimate relationships, family and self. Some of us turn to therapy to receive help with more effectively managing our stress. Others seek therapy to help develop better communication skills within a relationship with our partner. Some of us want to become better parents and find that therapy is an arena to share frustration and develop improved parenting skills. Some of us seek therapy because we are going through a life transition and want to find a smoother way to move through it and explore possible new avenues. Some of us feel that there’s something missing inside even though our lives externally appear to be working and we want to discover what that is to live a more fulfilled life.
Everyone Needs Help Sometimes
For many of us asking for help feels hard, and sometimes impossible. If asking for help from a loved one and from friends seems difficult, then it is no wonder that asking for help from a psychotherapist, or couple counselor feels daunting. We live in a culture that overtly, or covertly, states that independence is to be revered and defines independence rigidly. The reality is, we can still be independent men and women and need help sometimes. Some might feel that taking care of our mental health needs on our own is a sign of strength, and that seeking help with a therapist, or counselor, is a sign of weakness. Often needing help is confused with being needy. They are not the same. We all need help at times and deserve to have it.
No Crisis Required
Therapy has become less of the ‘dirty little secret’ that we don’t talk about. I love how therapy has become something that many of us are more accepting and open to. Psychotherapy is no longer only something someone seeks when in a crisis, or when we have experienced trauma, depression, panic attacks or a major loss. Therapy has now become something that is sought out, and embraced, for non-crisis oriented life experiences. Every day, normal experiences—which are just as important.
For more tips on how therapy is the ultimate way of taking care of ourselves, please click on the link below for my complete article.
All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.
Leonardo da Vinci
Often there may be a distortion, be it big or small, regarding how we see ourselves, others, or our lives in general. This distortion, or as I call it, the story we tell ourselves, frequently leads to emotional pain, increased anxiety, and potentially depression. That is because feelings aren’t facts.
The phrase, feelings aren’t facts, is commonly used in 12-step programs, yet it is profoundly true for all of us. This phrase uses the term, feelings, in such a way that it is not about emotions such as sadness, grief or anger. Instead it refers to our beliefs, perceptions, interpretations and thoughts. It speaks to the ways in which we experience ourselves, or others, in a subjective way.
Perception is Reality
When we say, for example, “I don’t feel good enough.” How could this statement not create further unease? Although others in our world may perceive us as amazing, or more than good enough, it is what we tell ourselves, even if it is not a fact, that emotionally distresses us.
This may be further exacerbated by making comparisons based on our assumptions about other people. We may tell ourselves, “That woman has got it all together. Look at her. How come I don’t?” This story may also not be a fact, yet because we believe it is, it may further exacerbate, or contribute, to the wearing away of our self-esteem.
Fact or Fiction
When we operate from a place of misconception, distortion, or fiction, then we walk through the world from this place. This can produce a distortion of ourselves, of other people in our lives, or the world in general. If we function from a place of fear, anxiety or anger our perception of reality can be tainted with negativity. These painful feelings, although triggered by non-facts, can still ultimately affect us.
Another person’s comment may remind us of something that occurred in our history. Accusations and judgements that occurred in our childhood, or adolescence, that were not resolved may influence our interpretation of circumstances in our current lives. The other person, and even ourselves, may have no idea this unresolved issue has influenced our perception unless this interaction is explored or clarification is sought.
We Believe What We Perceive
Our internal process, or how we internally experience or interpret something, is often more about our history as opposed to what the other person may truly mean. The stories we tell ourselves about what the other person means may negatively affect the relationship.
Often we use the word feeling for what is not a feeling. For example, I feel that you are accusing me of lying. It is important to differentiate this thought from the feelings that are triggered by it.
For more tips on separating feelings from facts, please click on the link below for my complete article.
The soul would have no rainbow, had the eyes no tears.
John Vance Cheney
When I say, I love to cry, I do not mean that I love to feel sad, hurt, grief, or disappointment. What I mean is that I love that I have a vehicle (tears) to move my sadness, hurt, grief and disappointment out of my body. I am grateful that I have become comfortable enough with crying that tears just naturally come when they need to.
In a recent article, I spoke about how much I love to laugh. Here I will be talking about how much I love to cry, and how cleansing, and important, it is to do so. Tears are our bodies way of releasing sadness, emotional pain, grief, frustration, anger, and yes, joy.
Have you ever been so moved, or touched, by something someone said, or did, or experienced something so profound that you noticed you were tearing up? Did you allow yourself to cry freely, or did you suppress, or hide, your tears? So many of us find crying, or being with someone crying, uncomfortable.
How many times have we heard as a child, or adolescent, or even adult, “Don’t cry”? This response implies there is something wrong with crying, that it is not okay to do so, or even more so, there is something wrong with us because we are crying. As opposed to the reality that tears are a natural response to distress.
Others of us have heard, or been asked, “What are you crying about?” Again, a clear message that something is wrong with the person who is crying. Or in dysfunctional families, some of us have heard, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
The Cleansing Gift of a Good Cry
Allowing ourselves to cry when the tears want to come is a gift we give ourselves. If we are with someone who feels the need to cry, allowing them to do so, and holding the space, is a gift we give them. So many of us push back our tears hoping we can contain them. Others feel sad, hurt, grief, and yet the tears are stuck and don’t come. Our culture doesn’t encourage and support crying, it’s just the opposite—it discourages it. How many times have you noticed oneself, or someone else, crying and the person is immediately handed a tissue? This nonverbal gesture implies, wipe your tears.
Your Tears are Welcome
In my psychotherapy office, although there are tissues on every table, I do not hand them to someone out of concern that they will misinterpret that I’m wanting them to stop crying. Instead I encourage someone who is crying by saying something like, “Just let that come. Your tears are very welcome here. It’s okay.”
Often, when I say this, the tears come in full force. Later when we process what happened I hear something like, “This is the first time, or one of the rare times, someone has been okay with my tears.”
For more tips on the cleansing gift of a good cry, please click on the link below for my complete article.
You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Many of us trust too easily only to discover that we were betrayed. Others of us don’t trust at all. Trusting too quickly, or not trusting at all, usually says more about us than about the other person. Trust is not something that we want to automatically do when we meet someone. We also don’t want to automatically mistrust someone either. Some of us experience an involuntary response to trust, or not to trust, and neither one of these extremes serve us well.
Trust is something that takes time. It’s a process.
Trust is a process
When I say, trust is a process, it means that it takes time to get to know someone. If we enter a relationship at a slow and steady pace, we will discover more about who the other person’s true self. We can then determine whether they can be trusted with our feelings, and our shared personal information, because our trust is the greatest gift we can give someone.
Finding the Balance
Some of us were betrayed early in life, and we don’t trust easily because of that. Others so desperately want to be in a relationship, or a friendship, that we rush to trust someone to make that happen. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity, and time, to get to know that person to determine if they are trustworthy, or not.
In adulthood, often not being able to trust a friend, or a potential romantic partner, may be because we have been betrayed in our childhood, adolescence, or at some time as an adult. The person desiring our trust may very well be trustworthy, however we may not be able to recognize this due to our history.
Our Past Relationships Reflected in The Present
One of the first big tasks of our lives is establishing trust versus mistrust. As a child, we develop a sense that our needs will be met, versus a sense that they won’t. Our view of the world is often determined by how secure we feel that we can rely on others for our expectations to be met. If we have had good, consistent relationships in the past, we may assume as much from our current and future relationships, and trust too easily based upon this experience.
If our parents, or our experiences in past relationships, were inconsistent in meeting our needs, we may fear current and future relationships will respond the same way. We make ourselves vulnerable when we trust. Withholding our trust may be used as self-preservation to protect us from being hurt again. How can I trust myself from past mistakes?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Sometimes it is challenging to differentiate to determine if we are not feeling trustworthy of someone else. Is it about them? Or is it about our own history? So many times, I have heard during psychotherapy sessions that, “My friend is talking about other people and I’m uncomfortable. I don’t know if I ought to trust them or not.”
For more tips on establishing trust, please click on the link below for my complete article.
Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.
Do you find it hard to admit to yourself, or to others, that you made a mistake? Or, when you do make a mistake, do you beat yourself up mercilessly and give yourself no slack for it? Do you judge others who make mistakes and give little space for their humanity?
The reality which none of us like to admit is that all of us make mistakes. If we didn’t, that would mean that we were perfect, and perfectionism does not exist here on earth. We’re all human. Some of us may attempt to strive for perfection, however this is an unrealistic goal.
It Wasn’t Me
So many of my clients, and the people that I come in contact with, struggle with admitting mistakes. Some may be challenged by either judging one’s self, or others, for mistakes, or by not being able to take ownership of one’s own mistakes.
Do you find yourself blaming others for your mistakes?
I would not have made that mistake if…
It’s not my fault. If my boss didn’t …
If only my partner hadn’t…
Do you measure your self worth by the number of mistakes you make, or not make? Is it hard to simply own a mistake and say,
“I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better next time.”
Being the Bigger Person
I was inspired to write this article when I heard about the mistake that was made recently on the Oscars announcing the incorrect best picture of the year. The graciousness of the “La La Land” Producer, Jordan Horowitz, impressed many. When he was informed that the coveted award was not his, he simply stated, “I’m sorry, there’s a mistake, ‘Moonlight’, you guys won best picture. I’m going to be very proud to hand this to my friends from, ‘Moonlight.’”
He didn’t seek someone to blame, but instead acted incredibly courteous in a moment that had to have brought much disappointment to him, and the rest of the cast. Would you, or I, have been able to act with the same cordiality in such a moment? That may be determined, in part, by the environment, and the people, who raised us.
What we were taught as a child, an adolescent, or an adult, about mistakes helps to shape our beliefs about them. We must first consider, when growing up, what we were taught about mistakes. Was it communicated verbally, or non-verbally, that it is okay and human to make a mistake? Or were you ridiculed, or punished, for them?
Methods in which we might judge ourselves, or others, may be overt, or covert, and may also be quite subtle to the point that we aren’t aware of our behavior.
Oops, I made a mistake
As an adult do you find that the people in your life—partner, friend, or family, have little tolerance for mistakes and you are always apologizing, explaining, or feeling terrible or not good enough? Do you recognize any of these ways of communicating that a mistake has occurred? Consider whether you think such words to yourself, say them to others, or someone in your life says something like this to you.
For more tips on learning to accept mistakes, please click on the link below for my complete article.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
How many times have you thought, or heard, someone say, “I hate change.”
Change seems to be one of those words, like confrontation, that makes us shiver. Somehow it seems to have a negative connotation, like it’s a bad thing. It’s something to be avoided. It’s something to fear.
So often we judge our fear of change and call ourselves names, by saying things such as, “I’m such a baby.” Or “What a wimp.” Judging our fear of change will tend to cement the fear into place as opposed to helping us tune in to that fear and discover what is at the core to help us to work through this fear.
What is it About Change that is So Uncomfortable?
As creatures of habit many of us love routine and predictability. Most of us find comfort in the familiar and resist changing our status quo. We must explore just what it is about change that makes us feel uncomfortable in order to begin the process of working through our fear and discover what spurs our anxiety at the very thought of a new approach.
Is your Fear of Change Rooted in your Childhood or Adolescence?
As a child, adolescent, or young adult, if we lived in the same place for a long period of time and were not exposed to much change, then change as an adult is unfamiliar and may feel uncomfortable. The thought of change may provoke anxiety.
If we experienced frequent change in our youth, and were not emotionally prepared by our parents to learn how to adjust to the new experience, then as an adult we may crave the need to stay in one place, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or relationship-wise.
We might have heard messages like… “Don’t do that, you might get hurt.”
Perhaps we had a helicopter Mom, or Dad, who hovered when we were exploring outside the family box of friends, games or activities.
We may have lived in a rigid and confining household.
Or our household was so chaotic, and inconsistent, that as an adult we crave “stability”. Even if what we are doing is not fulfilling and making us happy.
Is Fear, or Anxiety, the Primary Reason that Change Feels so Uncomfortable?
If we identify fear or anxiety as the root cause, then it’s important to know this, and honor these feelings. To connect with that part of ourselves, and look deep inside, so we can explore the origins. To begin to explore what that part of us has to teach us before we move forward to make changes.
Is it the Fear of the Unknown, the Unfamiliar, or of What Might Happen?
What if I make a mistake?
Is it that we believe that the enemy we know is better than the one we don’t and we have a fear of the unknown?
Often when we think of change, we consider the possible negative consequences of it, as opposed to the possible positive consequences.
For more tips on coping with change, please click on the link below for my complete article.
We don’t laugh because we’re happy—we’re happy because we laugh. William James
One of my favorite things to do is to laugh. I just love how it feels to experience that seemingly uncontrollable belly laugh that jars the body and the system and feeds my soul. It doesn’t matter what triggers it.
My Laugher could be triggered by:
Jimmy Fallon or Tina Fey
A funny joke a friend tells
My husband’s natural funniness
Something I’ve done unexpectedly that makes me laugh at myself
My dog, Keegan, running around with her squeaky toy shaking her head and booty
Watching a child dancing, or how they bask in the little wonders of the world
It just feels so delicious and there is no better emotional release, at times, than unabashed laughter.
Did You Have Your Daily Dose of Laughter?
Take notice, do you find yourself laughing often, or is this a rare occurrence? If laughter is uncommon, what may be standing in the way of your laughter, or the ability to find lightness in experiences?
We’ve talked before how tears are necessary and an amazing and important way of releasing pain, stress, or trauma. Laughter may be equally as important as a way of releasing distressing emotions. Our bodies may even crave laughter, even if we are not aware of it.
Laughter has been known to…
Release endorphins to improve mood
Increase tolerance to pain
Help enhance and or mend relationships
Improve relaxation and sleep
Embracing the Silliness in Life
I feel blessed to have beings in my life that just make me laugh. I do believe that I have manifested this for myself since laughter is so important to me. If laughter is significant to us, it means that we may want to surround ourselves with people and experiences that allow us to laugh.
I do love to share deeply with those in my life and equally love to laugh with them. This for me creates balance. Just allowing ourselves to feel the joy, the silliness, the playfulness, and the levity in our experiences.
Laughter helps us roll with the punches that inevitably come our way. The power of laughter is unleashed every time we laugh. In today’s stressful world, we need to laugh much more.
Enda Junkins, LCSW, LMFT, BCD. Known as the Laughing Psychotherapist
Seeking Out Our Inner Playful Self
If bouts of spontaneous laughter are few and far between, it might be helpful to be mindful of what we do find funny in everyday experiences. Or does life feel so serious that we have not found room for silliness, playfulness, or humor?
If we don’t know how to organically tap into our inner playful self, there are ways that we could explore what may help us to laugh.
Finding Your Funny:
Only we can identify what we find funny. If we don’t know what makes us laugh, we can take some time to connect and explore possible things that may help to bring out our laughter. If laughter never came naturally, we might need to do a little research to find our funny bone.
For more tips on how laughter really can be the best medicine, please click on the link below for my complete article.
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.
Martin Luther King Jr.
How often have we heard, “Just forgive her.” Like it’s just something we can do automatically, like turning on a light switch. If it were truly so easy, we would probably just do it. However, it’s not. Forgiveness is a process.
Many religions decree that it is necessary to forgive to be considered a good person. Insisting that we can reduce our anger, or resentment, by forgiving others. Some religions, and even perhaps some people we know, may use forgiveness as a weapon to guilt us into forgiveness. Maintaining that withholding forgiveness makes us a bad person, or that we might never emotionally heal. The reality is that in order to forgive we must work through our feelings first. And whether we are able to forgive or not, does not determine the kind of person we are.
Forgiving Isn’t Always Easy
Therefore, many of us spiritual beings also want to be able to forgive, yet sometimes it is not so easy. There is a certain peace that comes with forgiveness. A releasing from a burden and often a gift of serenity.
Certainly, there are some things that are easier to forgive than others:
The harsh words a friend, or loved one, said in anger and now regrets.
Emotional wounds that have long faded and healed with time.
Mending a relationship that is worth more than the anger that severed it.
We may even need to forgive ourselves for some things:
The chances you wish you took earlier in life.
The things you didn’t say until it was too late.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
From my perspective, forgiveness may be something we really want to do, yet we struggle with it. But if it feels as if it is in our highest good to do so, then ultimately, hopefully, we will take the steps to work through the feelings standing in the way to forgive.
When we say, or hear, “I forgive you, yet I’ll never forget.” This generally means, that we haven’t really forgiven. There is still a level of anger or resentment we are experiencing that needs to be worked through. Saying it isn’t necessarily feeling it.
Although some believe that forgiving for our own benefit is selfish, I see it differently. I see it as self-caring. The person who wronged us may not even have the self-awareness to realize we still suffer from the wrong doing. For it to be truly forgiveness, it needs to be about us taking care of ourselves and not carrying around the anger, resentment, and hurt, that may eat us alive inside.
Steven McDonald was a New York police officer. Despite being shot by a 15-year-old boy in 1986, which drastically changed his life and left him a quadriplegic, he forgave the boy who shot him. He then spent his life traveling the world talking about forgiveness and peace. His speeches inspired love, respect, and forgiveness.
For more tips on forgiveness, please click on the link below for my complete article.
Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. Anne Roiphe
This article is one in which I have thought about writing for quite some time yet have postponed it because of the personal nature of the material and the intense feelings connected to it.
Yet, it is time. I feel ready.
The subject is too important to wait any longer to write about it. The recent death of Carrie Fisher and her Mom, Debbie Reynold’s reaction to it, and then her subsequent death a day later, compelled me to write about what it is like for a parent to lose an adult child through death.
This Isn’t Supposed to Happen
For many parents, it feels like an unnatural occurrence for an adult child to leave this earth before their parents. I so clearly remember three years ago watching my own Mom dealing with the devastating death of her son, my brother.
The death of someone we love is always profoundly painful, yet there is something even more emotionally horrific about a parent losing their own child.
So many distressing thoughts and unanswered questions may plague us.
“How could this be?”
“I’m not ready.”
“Why him/her and not me?”
“This isn’t supposed to happen.”
The devastation and disbelief that we could outlive our own adult child is unfathomable. The thought that this cannot be happening, that this is not supposed to happen this way is overwhelming and often debilitating.
The thought that one of our life’s dreams, to have a child to love, nurture and cherish has been taken, that this dream has ended, is unbearable.
The Loss of My Child
For many of us, wanting and planning for a child and a family, is one of the most significant and joyful decisions we make in life. Thus, losing our child at any age, this essential part of our family, often magnifies the feelings and complicates the grief.
Dealing with any loss, enduring any grief is huge, but there’s something about losing a child that magnifies the feelings experienced during the grieving process. This includes denial, anger, bargaining and depression.
“Part may occur simply because there is little recognition of the powerful bond that exists between parent and child even though that child is grown and independent.”-Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., professor of psychology and senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America.
Sympathy for the loss is often focused on the spouse and/or their children and not the parent of the adult child. Thus, there may be a feeling of a lack of support for their grief. The parent of the adult child may feel a lack of control if the spouse is managing the details of the burial and funeral.
As an aging parent, the loss of the adult child is just one more loss to add to many endured with age and further complicates the grieving process.
What is My Purpose?
The questioning of ones’ purpose in life is very natural when their role is changed and the anticipated joy of watching a child fulfill their life goals is taken. “How can I go on?”
For more tips on dealing with the loss of an adult child, please click on the link below for my complete article.