Category Archives for "Growing Up"

What to do when self-consciousness makes you lose sleep

Arty asks:
School is starting very soon for me. I’m going into 8th grade! Lately it’s been really hard to go to sleep. I’m actually typing this at 3:39 am. I talked with a friend of mine earlier and we started talking about uniforms and stuff. (I go to a small private school) I wore my uniform and she wore hers. As usual I looked stupid in mine. My skirt was basically at my knees which isn’t too horrible but I feel like it makes me look old. And I just hated how I looked in it. Now, I’m not exactly a pretty girl. I’m overweight. Not extremely but enough to make me self-conscious. And I also have acne and pimples and stuff. It’s not super horrible compared to others but still.  And compared to my friends who all look amazing! They all have mainly clear skin and are fit and everything, I feel like crap. So my self-worth has really just gone down the drain. Anyways going back to my friend, I told her some of this. How I don’t look very pretty and I’m ugly compared to her and stuff. And throughout it she’s like ‘What no! Ur not ugly!! Dude I feel the same way’ and stuff like that ,and I kept telling her “Dude you’re literally gorgeous and I feel like whenever someone says ‘ur not ugly’ or ‘ur super pretty’ they’re just lying,’ and she was like ‘I feel the same way!!’ And so the call ended and everything and I was feeling better. But then I started overthinking hours after the call, and realized that throughout that conversation, she didn’t once call me pretty or anything like that. She just kept saying I wasn’t ugly!  And I feel so selfish saying this since she was just trying to help, but not once did she compliment me or anything. And so I realized that she really doesn’t think I’m pretty. And I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this – I just really need to rant and get some advice! So then I keep telling myself, who cares what anyone thinks! It literally does not matter! And everyone is also worried about how others perceive them. And with this new worry along with my stress of starting a new school year and leaving friends behind, and hoping that I still keep in touch with lots of them. It hurts. And also with just wanting to cry, to sob, to scream, to shout. But for some reason not being able to cry or shed tears – it’s just really piling up. I tried talking to another friend and I told her “I hope ur not still mad at me” (we got into a fight earlier) “cuz I really need you” and she was like “I’m here, what’s up” and usually I can talk to her. I can be honest with her and just tell her. But I was too embarrassed I think, so I just asked her about sleep pills and she said “you don’t need sleep pills, you just need to let go of some stress. And then she was like “I’m a little upset with you dude.  You say you need my help but don’t want it. Maybe you should think about what you say before you say it next time,” which made me feel even worse. I just didn’t wanna pile up more stress on her. Her mom has cancer and money is low and they’re in debt and on top of all that she cuts and stuff so I just didn’t wanna bother her with anything else. And she was being sweet about it and stuff, like “I can’t force u to tell me but I can’t help u if u don’t” so I have half the nerve to go tell her everything, but I’m too scared.  Honestly this was just a rant for me, but I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what you think I should do. Should I talk to my friend or should I get some insomnia pills?  How do I handle the stress better, and how do I get myself to cry? I know you don’t have all the answers, but I hope you can let me know soon!

Hi Arty!

So first of all – I love hearing from you, and it’s totally fine to write me and rant.  No problem at all. So don’t worry if you don’t have an exact question.  Sometimes the most useful thing a dog can do is just be there to hug and cry into their fur, I know!  I’m happy to be that!

But I will talk about two things here.  Your self-consciousness and your sleep.

First, about the self-consciousness.  You are going into 8th grade, so I’m guessing you’re 13 years old, is that right?  Your body is changing more and faster than it has since you were a tiny baby, and more and faster than it ever will again.  This is the biggest lasting change you’ll ever go through (unless of course, heaven forbid,  something happens to you that causes a permanent injury!).  Most particularly your hormones are exploding, which causes weight gain and skin issues.  Now I don’t know what you look like, and as a dog I judge people by other things than looks anyway.  But I can say it’s totally normal that you’re going through a phase when you don’t look as pretty as you did a couple of years ago, or as pretty as you will a couple of years from now!  My human friend Handsome told me that he was a “late bloomer,” so his face didn’t break out till he was two years older than you.  Meaning that you might go through this now and then look a lot better than the kids like him in a couple of years!  But in the meantime, of course I’ll suggest you do things for your health that improve your looks, like exercise more, drink more water, keep sugars and caffeine down and please please please don’t start smoking or vaping, as those will only make things worse.  Will these guarantee a perfect complexion and a model figure next month?  No.  But they will keep you heading toward the best you can be.

Now one thing we dogs have over you humans is this whole self-consciousness thing.  Because our brains are smaller, we literally Don’t Have it!  Humans tell me I’m a beautiful dog, but I’m not aware of that beauty, or of the beauty in any other pooch.  I call my human Handsome because I love the way he looks and smells, but is he someone others would call Handsome or Plain or Ugly?  I don’t know – or care!  He’s gorgeous to me!  

And there’s no time in a human’s life when they’re more self-conscious than their teen years.  Right where you are!  So it’s normal to feel like you’re the ugliest person in the room, or the least liked, or the one everyone thinks of as dumb.  And let me tell you – you’re wrong!  Because everyone else in the room feels the same way.  Your friend was telling you the truth when she said she feels the same fears you do.  Now was she purposely avoiding telling you you’re pretty, or did she just not think of it?  I don’t know.  

But here’s what I do know.  You Will Get Prettier.  Your face will clear up, and if you choose to work at it, your figure will improve.  So no matter what you think of yourself today, this all can get way better.  

Now onto sleep – It’s also normal for teens to have sleep issues, and especially to feel the need to stay up late and sleep in late.  But you do want to – for your studies, for your looks, and just your health in general – work to get your sleep patterns at least a little closer to school hours.  Worries and stress will always make anyone have trouble falling asleep, but I know a few tricks you can try to help you doze off earlier.

First, stop all electronics at least half an hour before you want to sleep.  Yes, that includes your phone!  The light from them seems to make lots of people’s brains stay awake.  Instead, do all the electronic stuff you want earlier, and then stop, get yourself ready for bed, and climb in with a book or a magazine.  Why?  The reflected light from pages affects you differently from the radiated light of a phone or tablet or computer.  Reading printed material will actually get your eyes tired instead and lead to your falling asleep.

If that’s not enough, though, here’s an idea I like a lot.  Lie there in the dark, and ask yourself two questions:  What was the worst thing that happened to me today, and what was the best?  As your mind works to answer each, it will have to scan over your whole day.  And in doing that, it might uncover something you’ve forgotten.  “Oh, I was supposed to call my aunt back!”  “Oops I have to do that one page of homework!”  Then just turn a light on, write that thing down, and try again.  Often you’ll fall right asleep then; your brain hadn’t let you go unconscious while that issue was still there unremembered!

And if that’s still not enough?  That’s when I’d say you might consider talking to a doctor.  But until then, I’d focus on the effects of electronic light and the stress of too many things being on your mind.  

Okay, Arty, that’s a lot to take in, I know!  

Oh, but there’s one bit that pulls this whole letter together.  Did you know that the body burns off lots of fat while sleeping?  And that getting good nights’ sleep is as helpful for weight-loss as exercise?  And did you know that getting lots of sleep is great for your skin too?  So ironically, fixing the one issue here is going to help the other!

I won’t tell you to just have fun in 8th grade.  You’ll be self-conscious, tired, and go through some rough experiences I’m sure.  But I can and will urge you to try as best as you can to break through all that, and connect with friends, enjoy growing up, and laugh as much as you can.

After all, laughter is one of the few joys in life we dogs don’t get to experience.  And since you don’t get a tail to wag, you really ought to indulge it!!

All my best,

Shirelle

Why do our parents irritate us so much!

Akenn asks: I really love my parents and they love me too but sometimes they bring out the worst in me.  Why am I feeling this?

Hi Akenn –

What you’re describing isn’t just normal, it’s universal.  It’s been true as long as parents have had children.

Think of it like a computer.  If you got a completely unprogrammed computer, and started to program it, you’d give it certain orders, right?  Like “When I push 3A, it puts out a beep” or “When I write out 1382721, it skips down three lines.”  Right?  So from then on, any time anyone pushes 3A or 1382721, that computer will do those things.  Okay?

Well you’re the same way.  You were born largely unprogrammed.  And the programming started immediately.  And all that data was entered by your parents!

Now everybody (yes even me) has qualities that can irritate or anger someone.  Maybe someone has a slightly grating voice.  Or gets upset in an annoyingly passive-aggressive way.  Or loses their temper too quickly.  Or even makes an irritating sound when they chew! 

Now most people would just shrug off these qualities.  “Big deal, I like being around _______, so I’ll put up with that about them.”  But not when it’s your parents!

You see, when you were a little child, you saw them as perfect (the way I see Handsome, and he sees me).  But as you got old enough to think for yourself, those qualities in your parents started to bug you more.  But you still feel you should see them as perfect, as a good kid. 

And when you mix those mild (or bigger) irritations with voices inside you saying you should see these people as flawless, you’re bound to get SUPER IRRITATED!

And then we get back to what I said about programming.  Because now, while your friend’s parent will have some irritating qualities too, they don’t bother you nearly as much as your parents’ silly quirks do.  And – and here’s the bad news – for the rest of your life, those weird things about your parents will keep showing up in other people (friends, coworkers, spouses!) and bug you even more!

And in the meantime, you correctly say they “bring out the worst in” you.  What’s the worst?  Oh intolerance, judgment, even cruelty. 

And how do I know all this about you?  Because, as I said before, this is true of EVERYBODY!

So what can you do about it? 

Struggle.

Yes, as you get older, you’ll learn to accept your parents more, especially as you meet more people and learn more qualities that bother you.  You see, your parents might chew too loudly, but someone else will really betray you, or rob you, or lie about you… and suddenly those qualities of your parents, which will always bug you, won’t seem like such big deals.  And your parents’ great qualities – their love for you, the fact that they took care of you as a child, the qualities you share – like senses of humor or love of art or music or sports, whatever it is – will become more treasured to you.

So it’s going to be fine.  All will be alright.  Just try to take a deep breath when your dad turns that same turn of phrase he always does, or your mother cuts vegetables in that particular way.  There will be a day, maybe not too long from now, when you’ll actually treasure the irritation!

Now I’m sorry I have to go, since Handsome’s calling me.  In that same way he always does with that tone of voice that is so demanding and unfair and bothersome…  the love of my life!

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do if you’re an introvert in a job for extroverts

oceanne asks:

I have started a job for a company as a promoter – my first job. I wanted to try because I am a university student and the hours were good for me. But I feel like it is not made for me. I am big introvert and I underestimated its impact on my mental health. I used to suffer from social anxiety. It is less now. Today, when I came back from work, I cried and I don’t know why. When I told this to my parents they told me that it was no big deal. But I feel that this is draining me. I’m asking myself if I need to keep the job or quit?

Hi oceanne –

You are not alone, oceanne!  So many jobs require people to put out bright excited social energy, while so many people are shy or nervous or, like you, just introverted.  There’s nothing wrong with being introverted; as I’m sure you know, that’s just considered a personality type, like extroversion – neither better nor worse.  But just as a pup like me would hate a job restricted to a cubicle where I couldn’t run around sniffing and licking people, you’re finding it hard and draining for you to work in promotion while you’d rather curl up with a book!

I do have a story for you though, about my human friend Handsome.  He’s always been a friendly guy, but mostly kept to himself (or home with me!).  And while he enjoyed socializing, he always had great anxiety about going to parties.  You see, he had this great fear of starting conversations with people he didn’t know, as they might not want to talk with him, might prefer to be left alone, might be cold and rejecting to him.  

This would present problems in his different jobs, and even more so in his social life, as you can imagine.  It reached a peak one night when he was having a birthday party at a restaurant.  Some friends picked him up so he could have a few drinks without worrying about his driving, and on the way, while talking with them, he almost fell asleep!  Not because he was tired, or because they were boring – he could tell, it was because of his anxiety about being at the party.  But all the guests there were friends of his who he liked and had invited, so what was he anxious about?!  What in the world was he to do about this?!

Well, right at that time, he was entering a new career, where he would need to market himself to others in the field regularly.  And specifically, he knew it would be good for him to go to big meetings every few weeks where he’d have to introduce himself and make himself known.  This terrified him!  But he also realized, this was his chance to finally beat this problem.

He forced himself to attend every one of these meetings he could.  And at each, he’d sit at tables of people he didn’t know, and make sure he talked with each one.  He’d stutter, his voice would crack, but he’d do it.

And you can probably guess what happened:  first, he found that everyone else there felt just the same, and were glad that he’d “break the ice” by talking with them.  But then, over time, he developed a reputation – as the friendly social guy!  The one who was at ease talking with everyone, the one lacking in social anxiety!

And one other thing happened.  You’ve likely heard of the Myers-Briggs test, a series of questions which determine, among other things, whether one is an introvert or extrovert.  Well he’d taken it in the past, and it correctly showed him to be introverted.  But after a few years of this work, he was in a situation where he took it again, and this time it put him right in the middle – half-introvert half extrovert.  His work to overcome his anxiety had actually changed his personality and the sorts of social occasions he enjoyed!

So, back to you.  What I’ve told this long story for, oceanne, is to tell you that it’s your choice!  You can live a happy life as an introvert, in which case you probably will want to change jobs pretty soon. Or you can work hard to change how you’re seen, and get more comfortable as a promoter, and maybe even start to enjoy it after a while.  

The big question, my friend, is what you’d like to be.  Would you like to be able to do more things socially, or would you prefer to stay by yourself more as time goes on?  

If you want to change, my advice is to do what Handsome did – grit your teeth and engage in every social event you can.  And see what changes come.  But if not, if you’re happier with the way you are, just know there’s nothing wrong with that, and you can find all sorts of jobs, and friends, and romantic partners, who fit that perfectly.

You’re fine, oceanne.  Choose that future and embrace it!

All my best,

Shirelle

Juicybest asks:

I’ve been single for some months now but there are two guys currently trying to get me to be their partner. I’m confused on who to choose, because frankly speaking I don’t want a boyfriend.  Just one whom I could end up getting married to.  And they are both sweet people. Is there anyway or anything I could do to know who amongst them is the best choice for me?

Hi Juicybest –

Thanks for your question about the two guys.

I’m very glad that both these guys are sweet people, because you deserve to be treated well!  But I’m going to disagree with your question.

You ask me which of them “is the best choice for me.”  But I don’t know if either of them is.  Does one of them make you laugh so hard things come out of your nose?  Does one live a life you find inspiring?  Does one treat someone in his life so well that you know he’d make a good partner for you, or perhaps even a great father to your children?  Does one love (or at least tolerate) the music and movies and books that matter most to you?  Does one of them treat your family members well?  And maybe most important of all, does one make you feel excited at the prospect of seeing him?

If you were stranded on a deserted island, then yes, I’d agree that you’d have to decide between these two guys.  But you’re on a planet with over three billion male humans!  And you’re asking which of these two is the right one for you? 

Maybe one is just that great.  Or maybe both are – I don’t know.  But my advice is to enjoy their attention and see if, at some point, one of them gets you flipped.  Until then, I’d worry that you’d just get involved with this guy and then meet someone else who does knock you out, which would only result in hurting a good guy.

I know you’re tired of being single, but treat yourself with enough love and honor to wait for someone great enough to deserve you!

All my best,

Shirelle

Sorry Not Sorry … the nature of regret

            Handsome recently told me about a fascinating movie he’d just seen.  Hard to describe, but in many ways, it was fundamentally about the nature of regret. 

            We dogs don’t deal a lot with regret.  Or rather, we don’t deal with it for long.  We’ll regret something we did because of its immediate consequences (whether that’s the punishment sort, like when I steal food off Handsome’s plate and he yells at me and makes me go outside, or the cause-effect sort, like where I stick my nose too far to sniff inside a hot oven and… OW!), but we don’t carry regrets on for days, or months, or years, the way you do.

            So I look on the whole concept in a different way than people would.  And what I see is… mixed.

            Okay, first let’s talk about the good.  A person does something thoughtless or awful, that has terrible consequences.  They drive drunk and cause an accident with permanent injuries, or they say something hurtful that someone never gets over.  And having realized the effects of their actions, they make a change.  They stop driving intoxicated (or maybe stop drinking altogether), and hold back on comments that might be taken in the worst ways. 

            Well that’s great!  They’ve grown, matured, learned… they make themselves into better people, more useful citizens of their community.  Regret has prodded them to self-improvement. Fantastic.

            And then there’s the bad.  A person does something they regret, and it damages them forever.  A breakup goes badly, and the instigator says “I hurt someone I cared about, and feel awful, so I never want to try romance again.  I’m too harmful.”  Or on a more general level, someone does something they regret and never feels good about themselves after that.  “I’m just not a good person.  I make mistakes that go bad.”  You know the type – the person who never stands up straight, only smiles with a nervousness, and can’t accept a compliment.  It’s not their breakup or mistake that’s ruined their life; it’s their regret that’s done it.

            But then there’s another sort.  Let’s call it “Dramatic Regret.”  The person who wears their regret, makes a show of it, lets it define them by choice.  You know them too.  The girl who is always telling her schoolmates she shouldn’t have broken up with that guy, the young man who’s always putting on a show about what a bad person he is for having punched his dad.  The regret might be real, but, again, these folk tend to make their regret into a new set of clothes for themselves! 

            Of course, what’s the very best is when regret leads one to simply act in a way that undoes it.  I know that’s not always possible, but when it can, I’m for it.  When Handsome accidentally steps on my toes, I yelp, and he collapses down, hugging me, apologizing, and kissing the tops of my feet to make them feel better… it works!  Sure I don’t want him stepping there again, but all the pain has gone away, and I’m fine!

            So, about this movie.  It was hard for Handsome to describe to me, and it’ll be even harder for me to relate, but it’s about a good woman with a bland husband, a rebellious daughter, and a distant father, trying to get through her difficult working day, while facing economic difficulties.  But suddenly she’s enabled to see all the different possibilities out there – of her past choices and her present.  It’s confusing, and surprisingly violent, as she confronts all these different realities.  But in doing so, she grows to learn more about who she is. 

            In other words, to grow, she is forced to face countless regrets.  Even for things she didn’t know were choices she’d made.

            If you’re able to see it, I recommend this movie.  It’s called Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while it’s being compared to superhero multiverse stories, it’s really more unique than that.

            But if you miss seeing it, or you think it’s not your type, that’s okay too.  It’s YOUR choice, and you don’t need to walk around in regret about it!

            What I want most is for you to look at yourself, at your own life, right now.  And see what regrets you have.  Are any of them fixable, like Handsome kissing my toes?  Or “growable,” like the driver changing their drinking habits?  Or if not, are any of them unfair, just pulling you down?  Maybe you can let those go.  (Or are any of them ones you choose to indulge, for attention-grabbing reason?  PLEASE let those go!)

            As a human, you have a huge brain that holds incredible amounts of memory and imagination.  You will never be able to live with no regrets.  But if you handle them right, and carry just the ones that you absolutely have to, then maybe, just maybe, you can live as happy and constantly-refreshingly-happy a life as a dog.

            And that’s something you will NEVER regret!

2 Acts of Contrition – the importance of apology

In a popular movie of 1970, a famous actress tells her boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  A couple of years later, he was in another hit movie, where another famed actress tells him the same line, and he responds “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I agree more with the second one.

People say they’re sorry all the time, and even though they may not truly mean it at a deep level, it’s usually appreciated.  You interrupt a conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but…” and it’s accepted.  Or you bump into someone accidentally, and say “Oh, sorry!”  Now do you truly, in these situations, feel deep sorrow about your action?  Of course not.  It’s not that big a deal.  It’s just nice to say.

But with bigger deals, it’s often far more important – and more difficult – to express sorrow and remorse.  To feel and relay it to a degree that changes how others look at you.

This issue got on my mind recently, due to some international political scandals I heard about. On May 20, 2020, a world leader attended a party while making rules that people should stay in and not go to parties.  In November of that year, another leader did just the same thing.  And both then lied when they were caught!  And both got in trouble for their hypocrisy.  But today, one of them is hugely popular, while the other might well be dumped by his own party.  What’s the difference? 

I’d argue it’s all about apology.

In May of 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, attended a party at his home, while pushing the people of his nation to, in caution against the Coronavirus, not even attend funerals, much less parties just for fun.  When asked about the party, he said he hadn’t even known about it.  Then he was forced to admit he’d actually been there.

Then six months later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant, while he was pushing the people of his state to stay home and not go to restaurants.  When asked about it, he admitted going, but said that everyone had safely stayed outdoors.  Then when press photos of him showed that he was sitting under an indoor chandelier, he had to admit he’d been inside.

Two lying politicians, hypocritical about the rules they expected others to follow.  So what’s the difference?

Mr. Newsom began apologizing at once.  And then, for the next year, he constantly kept doing so, saying what he’d done was stupid, and made a strong point of not making a mistake like that again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson continued to avoid talking about that party, and has been caught at others, including a celebratory one the night before his nation’s Prince’s funeral!  Finally this week he apologized for the 2020 party to Parliament, and for the recent one to their Queen. 

Both politicians have faced public fury, and attempts from their opposition parties to replace them in office.  In Mr. Newsom’s case, it even led to a special election.  But by that time, he’d apologized enough, and shown his better qualities in contrast to his opponent’s ideas, and won a greater percentage of the vote than in the election that had originally given him the job.

While, in Mr. Johnson’s case, many members of his own party are calling for him to resign immediately.

Again, I’m not trying to say either one is a total hero or total villain here.  Both showed stupidity and arrogance in the first place.  But one eventually handled it right, and the other didn’t.  And as Mr. Newsom approaches his originally-scheduled battle for re-election, no member of his opposition party has even yet publicly announced they want to run!

What’s the difference between the two?  Mr. Newsom might just be saying and doing the things he ought to, but he appears to be legitimately sorry he went to that party, and to see how hurtful it was to the people of his state.  While Mr. Johnson appears to only be admitting his fault to get out of trouble, nearly two years later, in a way that no one believes.

Now I’ll give another couple of examples of what I’m talking about, a bit closer to home: These are about me!

For the first few years I lived with Handsome, I tore up, chewed, or broke more things in his home than I can count – from windows to album covers to plumbing to furniture.  And, young and headstrong, I could see that he was upset about them but didn’t really care all that much.  Sure I wanted him to be happy with me, but that was about it.

But as I got older, I wanted to be more careful.  To stop disappointing him.  To be more of a partner.

But things happen. And sure enough, one day I was near a window when a neighbor I loved to bark at walked by.  I jumped up to let him know I saw him and wasn’t going to take that lying down – and knocked over a large potted plant, that shattered onto the floor, spilling dirt everywhere. 

Handsome heard the noise and ran into the room, and stopped when he saw it, “oh NO!” he yelled at the mess.

Now, again, I’d done things far worse, but not at this stage in my life.  I felt just awful!  I bowed my head into the floor, my eyes squeezed shut, full of remorse and pain. 

And what did Handsome do?  Oh you can guess.  His heart just melted.  He came and hugged me and murmured, “Oh sweetie, it was only a plant.  I can clean it up.  It’s fine.” 

And it was.

A year or two later, a friend of his, one of my favorites, was at our place.  I’d brought her a stuffed toy, and she was playing tug-of-war with me with it, both having a great time.  But then I took a deeper bite to get more of it into my mouth, and accidentally bit her hand.  “OWW!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back. 

All over again, my heart just broke.  I loved this lady (still do).  The last thing I’d ever want would be to hurt her, or to make her not want to play with me.  So again, my head bowed, my chest hitting the floor, my eyes wanting to shut this truth out completely.

And again, she saw it and knew it was true.  She petted me and said “It’s okay, you knucklehead.  You just have to be more careful.”  And gave me a hug.

Boy did I lick her face clean that day!

The point I’m making in all this is about sincerity.  To say you’re sorry is a nice gesture, but to truly feel sorrow over something you’ve done to someone – that means the world.

In an old movie Handsome loves, a character says that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  Well, maybe that’s true.  Maybe a true apology is telling someone “I’m weakening myself to you, because I feel so bad about what I did.”

I certainly showed weakness about that plant and that toy.  And I’m not ashamed of it – I’m proud!

You see, Handsome and his friend both gained respect for me when I did that.  And Mr. Newsom gained respect from the people of his state when he came clean about that stupid party.  Maybe Mr. Johnson can gain some respect from this too – althought it might be too late for that.

So my doggy advice, if you find yourself in a situation where you should apologize?

  1. Apologize as soon as you can.  Right away is best.
  2. Don’t say anything you don’t mean.  Just tell your heart’s truth.
  3. Don’t make excuses.  (Mr. Johnson, in his speech to Parliament, said he’d only been at that party for “25 minutes.”  So?  Who cares whether he broke his own rule for five minutes or five hours?  It just made him sound insincere.)
  4. Don’t ask for forgiveness, at least not yet.  That’s immediately asking the person you hurt to do something for you!  If they don’t forgive you, you can ask later, but don’t make that part of the apology.
  5. And for crying out loud, don’t just go back and do the same thing again!

If you can master these, your apology has a great chance of being accepted.  And with that, your life will be able to move on from whatever it was you did.

Because in truth, love often IS saying you’re sorry.  And meaning it!

What to do when others are intimidated by your size and energy?

Arty asks: I feel very self-conscious lots of the time. I’m overweight, and I have pimples and acne. My friends also call me mean and evil (though that’s just one guy) and aggressive and sarcastic, to an extent where they can’t tell if I’m even being serious or not. Of course, I know that most of the time, when they call me that, they are just joking around, but sometimes I feel they are serious. One girl even tells me that my voice just sounds a way in which she can tell that I’m being serious. Sure I’m loud, sometimes I’m ‘energetic’ and sometimes I shout (in a joking manner). But overall, I feel like one day, I’m just gonna be abandoned by my friends and that scares me. What do I do?

Hi Arty –

So if I see this correctly, you’re bigger than your friends, and your playfulness can be overwhelming to the degree they don’t know if you’re being playful or aggressive?  ARTY YOU’RE ME!!  That’s just what I get in the dog park!  I want to play with everyone, but because I’m big and very active (I don’t have the skin issue, but no dogs do!), many of them get scared.  Both dogs and people!

While pretty much all humans get self-conscious, and dogs don’t, it does sound to me like you’re dealing with a problem that we dogs do face a lot.  Little dogs bark all the time, even bite a lot, and no one takes them seriously, just laughing at them and going “Oh you’re so adorable!”  Then a huge dog makes one friendly bark and everyone is terrified they’re going to get eaten!  You’d think this means us more-medium-sized dogs would have all communication perfect, but no, it doesn’t work out that way.

The truth is, Arty, everyone needs to adjust their energy somewhat to others.  I can’t run up and jump on everyone the way I’d like to.  Smaller dogs have to be more careful of people stepping on them than I do.  And you – you’re a big guy with a voice that somehow intimidates some people (at least that one girl).  So my advice is simple – learn to soften it.  Learn to approach people in a way that shows you’re not threatening them.

But also learn that these qualities are YOUR POWERS, and you shouldn’t shut them all the way down.  There will be times when it’s great that you’re big, and have that powerful voice!  Don’t give that up!  Think of the SpiderMan line, that with great power comes great responsibility.  I’m saying to, yes, take that responsibility – but for heaven’s sake don’t give up the power!

I once heard a great line, that the definition of a gentleman is a man who knows how to play the accordion and then doesn’t.  Yes that is meant to be silly (after all, lots of people love to hear accordions!), but there’s a lot of truth in it: Having the power to do something, and choosing when to do it, is the key to greatness.  It does no one any good for you to deny your strengths, but it also doesn’t help you if everyone is always afraid of your uncontrollable presence. 

So learn to be able to keep your voice down.  And learn to be able to hold back your sarcasm.  And (and this will take time) learn just the right amounts to let them out to serve your purposes.

If you can master that, you won’t just be Arty.  You’ll be an ArtISTE!

Best,
Shirelle

Should I be concerned if my child cries too much?

Mqasana asks:

I have a 11-year-old boy who is very troublesome. I love my first born child but he’s very disrespectful, doesn’t like to take bath to stay clean, cries at you when you talk to him, and his school is also trouble, he comes home late every day.
Where can I find a school that can help me and my child?

Hi Mqasana –

I can’t tell enough from your letter, but it sounds possible that your son has an actual emotional disorder.  The disrespect and hating baths are nothing out of the ordinary (both are true of me!), but his crying worries me more. 

I’m thinking less that he needs a new school than that you should ask if his current school if they have a counselor, and if not, if they can recommend one.  You might also consider taking him to a doctor to see if there’s anything physically wrong with him.

All kids go through rough phases, and eleven is a common age for boys to be problems.  But please find out if anything else is going on.  If so, there might be some treatment that can help him.  And if not… I don’t think it’s a new school that you want, but rather maybe a family therapist to help him grow through this phase.

Thanks and good luck!

Shirelle

What to do when you hate your father and think all men will be like him

Soumyaguna asks:

My problem is somewhat serious and hard to handle.

It’s about my father

Father has always been a Hero figure for almost every kid since their childhood reflecting strength and having a back every time and Mother being the righteous figure of nature, morals and ethics.

But for me these figures didn’t last long, not even 10 years.

I don’t know why my men are so dominating. My father may be a good father, but he was never a good MAN, husband or anything.

He became my example of how men are from the start, which I used to hate a lot.

Later I tried a lot to change my perception and try to understand him, but whenever I try to do so, I end up releasing new facts about him which leads me to hate him even more. 

This man has always tortured my mother mentally, hurts her, disrespects her. Whenever it has been in front of me, I have always stood by her like a pillar and yelled at him a lot of times. 

But every time he starts off idiot drama by saying, “yes when I’ll die, everything will be sorted.”

I’m always alone in this fight.

My mother doesn’t speak up for herself fearing maybe he’ll harm himself and things will go worse.

My elder sister also keeps mum fearing what if they part their ways.

But I’m not okay with any of this, why will she suffer every time. Whenever he is angry, frustrated, he takes it out on mother. He disrespects her so freaking much.

And above all this he talks nicely about mother’s friends, he kind of flirts with them too.

such an insult he is for me. 

I’m ashamed that this man is my father

I want to take a way out, I don’t know what to do.

I want my mother happy, I even want my father to actually die.

Please help me in taking out a solution which will be good for everyone.

Hi Soumyaguna –

I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.  In a way you’re dealing with something everyone has to go through, but you’ve got an especially awful case of it.

Children and Puppies are born programmed to trust and idolize the humans that care for them.  They believe those adults are perfect, because if they don’t, the world is too terrifying for them to survive. 

In dogs, this belief might last an entire lifetime.  In humans, though, we count on it going away eventually.  This usually happens in the teen years, when humans start questioning all sorts of authority – their teachers, their religions, their governments… and especially their parents.  We hear about it all the time, teens rebelling for no reason, driving parents nuts with their sullenness or anger.  “It’s a phase.”  Right?

Well in your case, no, it’s more than a phase.  You have some real problems about your father, and about your parents’ marriage.  And it drives you nuts that you haven’t been able to solve them.

And here’s the awful news.  Most likely, you can’t. 

Your mother has chosen to stay in this relationship, for whatever reasons she has.  And whether it’s due to his creating fear of him hurting himself, or just because she feels she doesn’t deserve (or can’t get) something better, that has kept this dynamic going.

But you do have a job here.  The job every person has in their family.  The job of making a life that’s better than the one you were born into.

In many cases, parents work terribly hard at jobs they hate so they can send their children to school to get better and better-paying jobs.  In others, parents dream of their kids living healthier lives than theirs. 

In your case, your job is to find – and create – better relationships than this. 

I promise you, all men aren’t like your dad.  (At the very least, I can tell you that my human, Handsome, is kind and generous to a fault, especially to me!)  There are men out there who are kind and nurturing and loyal and want nothing more than to make their partners and children happy. 

In fact… are you sitting down?…  MOST men are like that!

Your job – and it might be a lifelong struggle – will be to build relationships with men that aren’t like your parents’ marriage.  It won’t be easy.  You’ll find a guy who seems great and then for some reason starts acting just like your dad.  Can you change him?  Or do you have to leave?  You’ll have to decide those things for yourself.  (And just to be clear, even if you end up having romantic/sexual relationships with women instead, you will still have many other kinds of relationships with men – as coworkers, as neighbors, as family, maybe your sons!)

But no matter what, I promise you, a better life lies ahead.  And as you create it, your mother will watch you and, even if she can’t say it in words, her heart will be so happy to see what you accomplish.  And who knows, maybe over time your creating a better life might even inspire your dad to change his ways, at least a little.

It’s happened before!

So go forward with hope and love.  You can do this!

All my best,

Shirelle

How to stay positive in a negative-minded world

Katarina asks:

How does one stay positive when everything around seems so negative?

Hi Katarina –

            Out of all the questions you could have asked, about any topic, you have picked probably my favorite!  Because if there’s one thing we dogs are better at than humans (well, besides hearing, smelling, and biting), it’s this!

            Some dogs live in fear.  I’ve written a lot about my friend Aria, who’s suffered abandonment, beatings, all sorts of awful stuff.  And while she’s sweet and loving, and happy in her new home, she’ll always be scared of “worst circumstances.”  But even with that, she’ll never be “negative,” in the way people can be.

            You see, the problem with you people is that your brains are too big!  You remember so much about the past, and analyze it so much, and think so much about the future.  And you create.  You write novels and symphonies and design buildings and computer coding and put your imaginations on canvases and movie screens – all of which is just wonderful.  But that same creativity means you’re always going to be trying to figure out “what’s next.” 

            Now if your life had always been happy and joyous, that “what next” might be wondering what delights will come to you tomorrow.  You’ve always had great friends?  Well tomorrow you might meet someone just as flawless you fall in love with.  You’ve always been lucky and respected?  Then tomorrow you might get a high-paying job you’ll love.  You’ve always been attractive?  Tomorrow you might get even more gorgeous!

            But no one, and yes I mean no one, gets that life.  By the time you’re a year old, you’ve felt terror, betrayal, abandonment, and awful pain (between being born, weaning, and diaper rash, it’s a guarantee!).  Want to learn not to trust those you love?  Experience your parents telling you they’re having another child.  Want to know cruel deprivation?  Your babysitter says no you can’t stop for ice cream.  Want to know assault?  Your doctor gives you a lifesaving injection.

            In other words, things that are perfectly fine, even wonderful, can feel awful.  And your brain, in order to protect you from being surprised and devastated by these things, learns to assume the worst.  And with that, you become pessimistic and overall negative.

            A few years ago, Handsome met a woman and they both liked each other at once, and started dating.  And of course they both had other things going on in their lives.  But whenever he would change a date – “Oh I forgot I have to work late that afternoon, do you still want to meet for dinner” or “Hey my cousin’s going to be in town that day for just a few hours, can we meet another night?” – she would always respond, “Yeah, right.”  Like she knew he was lying.  Even though he wasn’t.

            And because of this, eventually he broke things off.  Not that she was mean to him – she was actually very nice to him considering she “knew” he was lying to her! But rather he just didn’t want to be in a relationship where he was assumed to be lying all the time, when he was actually telling the truth!

            Was she bad?  No, but clearly she’d been disappointed, and lied to, so many times in the past that she had learned to expect it.  She had been programmed into negativity!  Which made her not just believe negatively (as Aria does) but act negatively and thereby create a negative world around her.  She made Handsome, who had felt positively about her, feel negatively, and end their relationship!  And then be on the lookout for other women to do the same thing, so he could get out more quickly if they did!  Yes – her negativity made him more negative!

            And while she’s a particularly obvious case, all people share this.  This is the basis of all prejudice, when you think of it – people learn to believe this group of people is sneaky, that group is dumb, and that group is evil… while there’s always lots of proof that those beliefs are wrong.

            So what can you, or any human, do?  You can’t eliminate your own intelligence and live as much in the moment as a pup. 

            But you can make a choice.  You can choose, more than we can. 

            For example, if you were in that woman’s situation, you could think “I imagine he’s on a date with someone else.  But even if he is, that’s okay, as I’ll see him afterward.  After all, we’re just beginning our relationship; we’re not committed or anything yet.”  Or “He says he’s with his cousin.  Maybe I’ll call and see if I can talk with that cousin!  I’ll just tell Handsome that I want to find out what his family thinks of him!”  And then when Handsome does laughingly hand the phone to his cousin, who talks him up, she’ll know he wasn’t lying.  (Or if he got nervous and said no she couldn’t, she’d have every reason to keep doubting him).

            Here’s the truth – bad luck will come along.  It always does.  You’d be dumb to deny that.  But your life is worse if you spend all your time worrying about it!  Good things also come along, and that negativity can take away the joy they bring.  “Yes I just found a pot of gold and will be rich forever, but I know my friend still won’t return my call!”

            Look at it this way.  You don’t know exactly how long you have to live, but it’s a finite time, right?  Maybe you have ninety years ahead of you, and maybe just ninety hours.  But either way, it will end.  Would you rather spend them happier and hopeful, or mired in suspicion?  And would you rather people know you as someone who spreads joy or someone to avoid? 

            That’s your choice.

            You can’t control fate, but you can control what you choose to focus on.  When I first step out of our house in the morning I tend to stop, blown away by all in front of me.  The smells, the sounds, the sights, the feel.  I’m overwhelmed by all the new, the possible.  While most people rush out their door, griping about whatever is in between them and their car, not absorbing any of it.

            You say in your question, Katarina, that “everything around seems so negative.”  I say you’re right, but the most important word in there is “SEEMS.”  What about looking for the opposite?

            There’s a cold miserable storm outside?  Focus on the fact you have shelter.  You get a flat tire?  Focus on the fact that you know either you or someone else will repair it.  You have no food to eat?  Focus on the fact that you almost certainly will later.  You have no money?  Focus on how you can get some.

            Again, I’m not asking you to be unrealistic.  That storm is cold, that tire is flat, you’re hungry and broke!  But focusing on the negative means things will stay that way, while focusing on the positive enables change and improvement.

             And here’s the strangest thing about this way of living: you won’t be wrong!  For example, let’s say someone you love is ill with a potentially fatal disease.  You could choose to focus on the negative, assume they’re dying, and start grieving now.  Or you could focus on the fact that the doctors give them a 20% chance of survival, and do anything you can to help make that happen.  Now what will happen if they die?  Will you be “wrong?”  Nope.  You’ll still be right.  You had focused on hope, and now they’re truly gone.  And you can grieve your heart out.  But their last days alive were better because you were full of love and hope and appreciation.

            Katarina I’m not saying this is easy.  It’s not.  But it is, I truly believe, the best way to live. 

            It sure works for me!

            Wishing you the very best,

            Shirelle

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