Belonging

In the early days after Dali came to live with us, my husband was sitting on the floor playing and cuddling with her.  I was on the couch, looking on, and longing to be with them.  I had a felt sense that I would be welcomed if I joined them.  I hadn’t had much of a sense of belonging in my life and Dali brought that when she joined our family. 

Years later, before we welcomed Oskar home, a neighbor said to me, “Dali has an air about her that says that she belongs to a family.”  My heart filled with joy.  Dali had given me the gift of belonging and I had been able to return the favor.  

Dali treasures her sense of belonging.   One evening, we had to take Oskar to the emergency animal hospital.  We were going to leave Dali at home, but she ran out the door.  I knew she wasn’t going to run away.  She didn’t want to be left behind.    And as almost always, Dali got her way and we went as a family to take care of Oskar.

Dali has other things she does to try to keep us together as a family.  When we’re getting out of the car or going to the car, Dali will herd me and my husband to make sure we stay together.  If my husband is going to walk Dali and Oskar, Dali will come sit next to me, and look at me mournfully, as a way to get me to go on the walk, as well.  When I do decide to join the outing, Dali literally jumps up and down for joy. 

The desire to belong is a fundamental motivation.  When we have a sense of belonging, we are more confident, better able to handle difficult challenges, and we can manage our emotions in a way that feel less like a roller coaster and more like a rolling brook. 

The desire to belong is found in other animals, as well, and strong bonds benefit other animals in similar ways as humans.  For example, studies have shown that cows are more resilient and less frightened by new situations when they are with their friends.  They also learn more quickly when they are with other cows than when they are alone. 

In The Inner World of Farm Animals, I read about a female cow who gave birth to a stillborn calf.  Although weak from medical complications from the delivery, she traveled a good distance though many fields to find her own mother.  The next day, they were found together, the mother comforting and grooming her distraught daughter.

Belonging is a powerful force.  Belonging sustains us.  Belonging gives us the strength to be ourselves.  Belonging provides a source of acceptance and comfort.  Belonging need not be restricted by boundaries of race, gender or species.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

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Everything is OK

Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back.

Dali, Oskar and I were taking our early Saturday morning walk.  Sometimes we are out before 7 am.  It is one of my favorite times of the day because it is quiet and peaceful.  We had made it to the grounds of a church about a mile from our house.  Dali and Oskar were busy exploring when a woman walked by, headed toward a bus stop on the other side of the property.  She shouted out to someone who had passed by just a bit ago.  (I guess Dali, Oskar and I aren’t the only ones who like to be out early.)  It was quite a jarring sound in the soft, silent air.  Alerted to danger, Dali ran to see what was going on.  She stood next to me, ready to take action if need be, and she turned around to check-in with me.  “It’s okay,” I said.  Reassured, Dali went back to scout out the smells around the bushes.

It is very fulfilling to know that I am a safe haven to Dali and Oskar, meaning they will turn to me when they are feeling threatened.  I also feel deeply appreciative that I am a secure base to them.  In other words, my relationship with them provides them with a foundation to explore the world and solve problems. 

They also are my safe haven and secure base.  I was running a supervision group out of my home and the participants were flexible enough to allow Dali and Oskar to join in on the learning.  During one of the sessions, I was feeling anxious, unsure of myself as a teacher.  Luckily, Dali was by my side and I started petting her.  Here was someone who was happy to be with me even when I was feeling insecure.  My anxiety subsided.  And sometimes, when I’m very afraid like when I’m flying and there is a lot of turbulence, I think of Oskar licking my face and it helps me get through these stressful moments. 

I am lucky to find this security in some of my relationships with people, as well.  When I am feeling at my worse, my husband almost always lets me know that he has had similar feelings about himself.  When I don’t feel so alone with painful feelings, my sadness eases.  I have learned from my husband the power of letting another know how I can relate to their difficult experiences.  I even do that with Dali and Oskar.  When Dali is wants to go one way on a walk and I want to go another, and in the rare times that I don’t acquiesce, I will say to her “I see you Dali.  I see that you’re unhappy.  You didn’t get to go the way you wanted to go.  I understand that disappointment.  It is unfair.”  Just being seen and understood helps her mood.

Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back.  Couples therapy can help partners find that safety in their relationship.  Individual therapy can help people begin to feel safe about sharing their distress with another and be able to take these experiences to other relationships.   When we feel safe and know that another is happy to see us, even when we’re at our worst, we can go out into the world and explore, the way Dali went back to seeking out adventure when I let her know everything was OK.