Feeling Understood

Dali and Oskar can have strong opinions about where they want to go for a walk.  Most of the time I will go the way they want because I want them to be happy and be able to make some choices in their lives (I am well aware that I decide much of what happens in their lives, but that is for another blog post).  Sometimes, though, I am clear within myself that I am not going to go the way Dali and Oskar want and have another direction I want to take.

This happened the other day.  Dali and Oskar wanted to head downtown and I did not.  I said “let’s go” and headed the way I wanted to go, but they stayed put and turned away from me, looking in the direction that they wanted to walk.  Very clear, nonverbal communication.  🙂 Sometimes I will get frustrated and simply go my way.  Typically, Dali will sulk the rest of the walk.  She will walk so slowly it feels like she is walking backwards.  And she will stop to smell every blade of grass.  Oskar is much more flexible and will make the best of the situation.

Instead of going down their route, I said to them, “I know you want to go downtown.  I can see that.  I know it is disappointing for you, but we can’t do that today.  There is going to be a lot of salt and that is going to hurt your paws and we’ll be too far from home for mommy to carry you home and I can’t carry both of you.  So, we need to go this way.”  They intensely looked at me and then turned and willingly headed in the direction I wanted to go.  (Interestingly, research shows that dogs are more capable of understanding things from a human perspective than previously thought (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21411249).)

People – and other animals – need to feel that someone else hears and understands them before change is possible.  As a therapist, I know how true this is.  My experience is that if change is to happen, my client and I need to understand together how much it makes sense where he or she is at presently.   Then we can start to see doors to open for something different. I also see this in my relationship with my husband.  If I feel he understands me, then I can soften to understand him and then we can move forward.  And vice versa.   

In fact, understanding another’s perspective is one of Dale Carnegie’s principles in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  He quotes Henry Ford, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” 

When we’re calm and relaxed, it’s easier for all of us to do this.  It can take a lot of practice to be able to see things from another’s perspective in the heat of the moment.  The more I work on slowing myself down, the more fulfilling relationships I have with my husband, my dogs, my friends and family, and my community.  I believe it is worth the effort.    

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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. 

Good morning kisses

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When I wake up, Dali is there to give me gentle, good-morning kisses. It’s like she’s re-establishing our connection after we’ve been apart while sleeping during the night. She reminds me of our in-born need to be securely attached. I coo at her and tell her good morning and how pretty she is. She turns over so I can rub her belly.

I treasure these moments because I know how important I am to her and I believe she knows how important she is to me.

It doesn’t matter if we were mad at each other the day before. Dali certainly has her way of letting me know she is not happy with me. And Dali can be so difficult at times; I get mad at her too. We always come back to the bond between us that trumps all else.

I’ve learned from Dali how important these kinds of rituals are in couple relationships. They help us to honor who we are to one another, particularly during our comings and goings. When I know my husband cares about me and he knows I care about him, we can get through the hardships of the day much easier and indulge more in the joys of life.

Simply Being There

“We see you’re hurting, Mommy.  And we care that you’re sad.  We’re here for you.”  That is the message I get when Dali and Oskar rush to lick my tears away whenever I’m crying.  Their concern is very comforting.  I do feel better receiving their caring contact.   They sense my distress even if they are in another room and before you know it, they are there by my side.

There are times when I need to remind my husband not to try to fix things for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about something.  I tell him I just need him to hold me and understand how I’m feeling.

And there are times I have to remind myself not to jump to solution-mode with other people.  It can be difficult sometimes to sit with someone and be with them in their pain.

I’m reminded of the story of the four-year old boy whose next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman, recently lost his wife.  When the young boy saw the man crying, he went over to him, climbed on his lap and sat there.   After he returned home, the little boy’s mother asked him what he had said to their neighbor.  Her son said, “Nothing.  I just helped him cry.”

It doesn’t always take language to soothe.  And in fact, sometimes words get in the way.  I’ve learned from Dali and Oskar the power of presence.  Putting my heart in to being there with someone’s experience is simple and pure and one of the best gifts I can give.

We all need support. Nervous Dogs sometimes just need to hold hands with their owners while riding in cars.