Category Archives for "Life Skills"

How to help someone having thoughts of suicide

PERFECTION asks:

My girlfriend sometimes has suicidal thoughts.  Is there anything you can suggest to her, like a book?

Hi PERFECTION –

Scientists will argue that some non-human animals can choose to end their lives out of grief or misery, but for the most part, humans are the species prone to such thoughts.  While we dogs, if we’re lucky, end our lives with a willingness to transit to the next world, you don’t see us choosing to go, or even thinking about it.  No, to us, life is too precious.

But our brains aren’t as big as yours.

You brilliant folks have such greater senses of the past and future, of the importance of certain situations, that we simply can’t grasp.  So if I love someone and want their love, and they reject me, I feel horribly sad and hurt, but the idea of that meaning I should run into traffic just never comes to me.  And since we pups don’t experience shame (that requires more self-consciousness than our brains hold), we would never think of jumping off a cliff because we’d failed at something we were trying to do. 

But your brains think that way all the time!

People who aren’t remotely upset will find these thoughts going through their brains – I could open that door from this airplane and jump out!  I could eat that bottle of pills and never wake up!  I could turn this car around and speed into oncoming traffic! – and never really consider doing any such thing.

Most people have the experience of actually considering suicide, like your girlfriend, because of feeling awful and/or hopeless.  They’re sad, they’re humiliated, they’re fearful, and they don’t see any good way out of it.  In these cases, the trick is to simply remind them of something that matters to them.  I know a guy who would feel that way, but then remember his niece, whom he loved very much.  And he’d make himself picture what it would do to her if he killed himself – how she’d be so devastated and perhaps wounded forever.  And that’s all it would take.  Note that he wasn’t arguing that he was incorrect about anything bothering him; it was just that he’d rather live with whatever’s awful than to take a chance on hurting her.

The bigger danger is when someone is so depressed that they can’t even conceive of something like his love for his niece.  Their world is awful, they see no way out of their problems, and they’re so overtaken by their depression that nothing else matters.  That’s almost always what’s happened when someone actually follows through by trying to kill themselves. 

If this is the case, a friendly talk or a book won’t be enough. They need professional help, and right away.  A qualified therapist, and possibly some antidepressant medication, are your best bets to help them through this.  But be warned – they may not appreciate your advice.  After all, suicide is what seems to them to be the solution to their problems; you’re trying to take that away!

I’m assuming your girlfriend is more in the “considering” than “dangerous” category.  I don’t know any books for her, but I can recommend two of the greatest movies ever.  One you’ve probably heard of, It’s a Wonderful Life.  It tells of a man who feels he’s such a failure that he tries suicide, but a guardian angel comes to show him what his world would be like without him in it, giving him a sense of his own meaning and worth.  The other is a great Japanese film, Ikiru, which means “To Live.”  It tells of a man who’s not only dying of a disease, but whose life has become so drab and meaningless that it’s almost not a life at all – and what changes in him to make him a very different sort.

Neither of these movies (and this is why I like them so much) say that the person is wrong to see things the way they do.  They just argue that if you look at your life in a different way, it can all gain meaning and purpose, and thereby joy.

So I’m really suggesting two tactics for you:  First, remind her how much she means to you and to others in her life, and how devastating it would be for her to do such a thing.  And second, to show her these movies, to help her find her own meaning in her life.

But I have a third, and I’ll bet you can guess what it is:  GET HER A DOG!  No way could she want to end things if each morning greets her with a wagging tail and a cold nose!  And she’d have someone every day saying “You’re the most important thing in the world to me!  And you’re the greatest!”  I always argue we’re the best antidepressant a person can ever have, but we’re also unending proof that our person has meaning and worth.

And we’re never wrong about that!

So at least try my first two suggestions, and if it’s possible, go for the third.  As she improves and learns to love her own life, she’ll also love you like crazy for doing this!

All my very best,

Shirelle

Should I stay with my parents while dealing with Depression or Anxiety?

Lolida asks:

How do I tell my parents that I have depression and anxiety disorder? And how do I tell them I want to move out and go somewhere?

Hi Lolida –

I’m just a dog, but my human friend Handsome is a licensed psychotherapist, so I’m going to pass this question on to him, to start:

Hi Lolida –

I’m sorry you’re feeling so awful, but before you do anything drastic, I urge you to get checked out by a professional.  This is for a couple of reasons.

First, everyone gets depressed and anxious – and we especially have in this crazy pandemic time.  But that’s different from having a true diagnosis of Anxiety or Depression.  If you are suffering from a severe case of either of these, you should get under the care of a therapist at least, and perhaps consider medication as well, at least while these feelings are at their worst.  And I also urge you to NOT try to self-medicate yourself through these.  Drugs and alcohol and such have their place, but you don’t want to take a chance on making your bad situation worse by using something in the wrong way.

And second, I think your question about moving out is fully dependent on what you learn about your condition.  If you’re working through a serious depressive or anxious disorder, that may not be the best time to take on a huge move.  But if you’re in the shape to do it, the move might be the best thing you can do to break through that depression or anxiety, just by creating a change.  I don’t know enough about you to make that choice.  And that’s why I’d love you to see a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or even psychiatrist, to help figure out just what condition you’re in and what you’re capable of.

I don’t know where you live, but if you need help finding someone, maybe I can help.  Just let Shirelle know and I’ll see what I can do.

Isn’t he nice?!

I’m not sure I can add much to what he said, Lolida.  Except that, whether you’re living with your parents or out on your own, the best antidepressant or anti-anxiety med I know of is a DOG!  We pooches cheer EVERYONE up, and remind anxious folks what really matters and what should and shouldn’t be worried about!  And licks in the face are simply great for EVERYTHING!

So follow his suggestions, but once you do, think about mine.  A wagging tail cures a lot!

Love and Best Wishes,

Shirelle (and Handsome)

Does a cheater deserve a second chance?

Lena asks:

I am currently in a relationship, that is almost shattered. Recently, my boyfriend admitted that he cheated on me, and now I find it hard to process and put up with. He asks me to think about it and give him a second chance. I find it very hard to forgive and forget this. 
The person is actually my ex-boyfriend, who I was in a relationship with 2 years ago. We broke up. But, time brought us together, which made me feel like this was God’s plan and things were going to work out with him.  But now I’m in distress. He is also a very spiritual and good person, and regrets deeply on what happened. But I am really hurt by his actions and words. I need advice on whether to carry on with this relationship or just break up with him.

Hi Lena –

We dogs trust very easily.  A person gives us a treat, or even a pat, and we’re liable to believe everything from them.

Or, to be more specific, we PUPPIES are that way. Whether we keep that trust or not is completely up to how we’re treated by the humans we then meet.  A scream or a smack and we trust a little less.  One kick in the side and we lose a lot.  A true cruel beating, and we may never be able to fully trust again.  (My friend Aria lived just this life, and you might want to check out a book about her journey, and what it took her to dare to trust again, A Dog of Many Names). 

And in truth, you humans are pretty similar.  Babies are born helpless, and learn to trust those who care for them – usually their parents. Then later, with far larger brains than ours, humans learn specifics of trust.  Sometimes wise – don’t take candy from strangers – and sometimes very unwise, like don’t believe a person of this or that race.

All of us spend a lot of our growing up dealing with these questions, and usually we have most of it worked out by the time we reach adulthood.

Except when it comes to romance!

As you’re discovering, trust is a whole new game when it comes to letting someone all the way into your heart. 

You say this guy is a good man.  I believe you.  Good people make mistakes all the time.  What we don’t know is exactly what “mistake” he made.

Was his mistake that he broke your trust by giving in to selfish irresponsible desires he will work to prevent for the rest of his life?  Or does he see it as that he made the mistake of getting caught?  Or that it was a mistake to mess around with that particular person?  Or that it was a mistake to have desires at all?!

You ask if you should break up with him.  Honestly, I can’t answer that question; only you can.  But I do believe you should give him a chance to win your trust back.  If he can do it – if he can explain what he did and why and why you can trust that he won’t do something like that again – then maybe you two can have a great future together.  But if he can’t…  if your hurt is too deep for you to ever trust him again, or if the things he says don’t sound convincing to you…  then maybe you’re both better off apart, as sad as that is.

My human friend Handsome has a pretty simple rule about this: if someone hurt him by cheating on him or some other error, and he trusted that they learned from it and really wanted him back, he’d happily welcome them into his arms again.  “But if they kick Shirelle, they’re out!  I can never trust them again!”

We all have rules and boundaries, and that tells you something about his. 

To close, I’m thinking of two great sayings.  First, an old line that everyone deserves a second chance.  And second, one from a great poet, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them the first time.”

So who is this guy, really?  Do you know for sure?  If you do, then base your decision on that.  And if you don’t… then maybe it’s best to give him a chance to prove himself.  It’s what he wants. 

But if so, let him know this other truth… you only get ONE second chance!  Maybe that lasts the rest of your lives, and maybe it lasts one week till he blows it again.  After that, he’s asking for a third chance, and that might well be more than you’re willing to give!

Hoping for the best!

Shirelle

The Discomfort Zone … choosing your life path

A few weeks ago, Handsome was talking with a friend about a tough situation they were in, and they said they knew they needed to get out of their “Comfort Zone” and fix it.  Then they took a pause, and said, “But wait, I’m not comfortable at all!” 

We often hear about “Comfort Zones.”  Situations that are easy to stay in, while we know we’d be better off if we made the difficult choice to get out of them.  For me, lots of my learning as a puppy fit this – it might be comfortable to lie on the forbidden couch or pee inside the house, but I was better off improving my behavior!  Humans might find a situation like staying in their parents’ home, staying in a go-nowhere job, or avoiding a difficult conversation to be Comfort Zones.

But what I see so often is what I’ll call DIScomfort Zones!  Situations one stays in that make them actively miserable. 

For example, if you have nice parents who treat you well, and it’s comfortable to live with them although you know you need to move out and start to live your own life, that’s a Comfort Zone.  But if you’re staying with parents who abuse, shame, and harass you… you’re in a Discomfort Zone. 

In dealing with my Pack members, where I see this most often is young relationships.  Whether friendships or romances, people will stay with others they might not think the best of or get the most out of, just because that’s the way things are.  And really, that’s fine, until something changes.  But it breaks my heart to see you guys stay with people who treat you badly.  Who ignore you, who put you down (not in fun ways), who cheat on you, who blame you, who make you feel horrible about yourself.

Either zone requires strength and hope to leave.  But with a Discomfort Zone, I also think it’s really important to look at the question of Why:  What has kept you there?  What do you get from it, and what’s so scary about being out of it that you’ve stayed?

In the relationship question, what is it that keeps you with those friends, or in that romance?  Is it love, or is it maybe a deep-seated fear that you’re not good enough for someone else?  That no one else is going to accept you?  That this crumminess is as good as you’ll ever get?

And if that’s the case, then I want to challenge you to do one thing for me.  I’m not telling you what decisions to make in your life, but I do just want you to look at that question anew.  Really ask yourself – Is This True?

If you’re thinking no one else could love you, ask yourself why you have that belief.  Who told you that?  What about you is so unlovable?

Now I need to take a little pause here:  If this is just that you’re feeling your relationship isn’t good enough because the other person doesn’t have a billion euros or look like Ana De Armas, that’s another story.  You might be correct to think you’re not that very rare individual who’ll land someone with gifts such as those.  But if you’re thinking no one worthy could love you, or even like you, please look over your past.  Have you had other friends?  Has someone else been interested in you?  And if so, doesn’t that prove that you don’t need to stay in your Discomfort?

You see, the superpower of Comfort Zones and Discomfort Zones is in their telling you “Don’t think too much about this!”  If you’re staying out of shape because it’s easier to sit around watching YouTube than to go for a run, that’ll work until the day you start wanting to be stronger and fitter so much you turn that iPad off.  And if you stay sedentary it so much that you start having back problems and can’t stand what you see in the mirror, then it’s even more so: Once you ask yourself about the choice you’re making, you’ll start making a different choice!

Now again, I’m never going to argue anyone out of a true, considered choice to stay in an uncomfortable situation.  The selflessness that leads one to a life of austere help to others, the nobility of defending your homeland against attackers, the deep love of taking care of ailing family members… these are virtues, not flaws.  I bow to you for them.

But even with those, it’s good to step back and look at your choices.  Because maybe doing so will help remind you of just how great you are!  (I’m happy to do it too, but can’t be there with you all the time!)

Life offers joys, comforts, discomforts, and horrors.  Everyone’s.  All I’m pushing on you this month is to do what I do when I’m sleeping somewhere and it gets a little too sunny – so I wake, get up, and move to a shadier spot and go back to sleep.

To get conscious just long enough to do what’s best for you.

And do it Often!

Shirelle

How to get over someone who treats you badly

Blessing special asks:

How do I get over someone I really like?  After we spent time for the first time (cause we have been talking for a while), we finally met through a friend of mine – but even before we met he didn’t want any strings attached even though we liked each other. And then it wasn’t all good because he’s this kind of bossy type that always wants to do all the talking and giving out instructions. I always try not to make mistakes because he doesn’t hesitate to judge my mistake or point it out, but I really liked him because he was cool. As well we had some great moments, but when I got back he no longer talked or called me as before. When I asked, he said I wasn’t the vibe he needed, and it really hurt me so much!  I have been trying to get over it!

Hi Blessing special –

I have seen this same situation so many times.  We dogs tend to fall in love with whoever takes care of us, but you humans have a crazy tendency to fall in love with people who treat you horribly!  I’ve seen it in so many letters, and even at home.  I remember a few years back, Handsome was just nuts about this woman who had many wonderful qualities but treated him horribly (not abusive, just pulling him in, pushing him away, back and forth).  Eventually she broke up with him and he was simply devastated.  A friend of his said the words I couldn’t speak, “I know you’re heartbroken, but I have to say I’m glad she left you.  I couldn’t stand to watch her keep hurting you anymore.” 

So lots of people will tell you their suggestions on how to get over this guy.  “Eat a tub of ice cream.”  “Go out with ten other guys.”  “Dye your hair light green.”  I can’t say which of these will help or won’t, but I do know that the only way you’ll truly get over him is to make a change in your attitude toward yourself, where you say, “It doesn’t matter how great he is in other regards.  I deserve someone who treats me well.” 

And what does “treat well” mean to you?  Does it mean showering you with jewelry and flowers?  Writing you love songs?  Taking you out lots to help you escape from the boredom of your job?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I can tell you what it doesn’t include: “No strings attached,” bossing you around, judging your mistakes, ghosting you, or saying “you’re not the vibe I need!”  In other words, you deserve someone who’s at least better than this guy!

Blessing special, you are a special blessing!  Any guy who can’t see that isn’t worthy of you.  And the only one making you be in relationships that feel bad is you. 

So my answer is to like yourself better, and value yourself more.  You wouldn’t accept a person kicking a dog, so why would you accept a guy who treated anyone that way, especially you?

You deserve better.  If you don’t know it yet, take my word for it.  You do.

And the day you learn that is the day you’ll be over him – and anyone else like him – forever!

Here’s hoping it’s soon!

Shirelle

How to stop overthinking

Alllyyyy asks:

I’m a overthinker. I always overthink in every situation. My mind is always disturbed by this overthinking.  Nowadays I’m not able to sleep properly either, from this overthinking.  Please suggest to me what to do.

Hi Alllyyyy –

I have to admit, to us dogs’ eyes, all you humans overthink all the time! That’s one of the biggest differences between us. 

But maybe it’s better to say, you guys think way too much about the wrong things!  See, we dogs don’t have a big sense of the past or future, not nearly as much as you with your gigantic brains.  We stay centered in the moment.

Just as an example, imagine someone gives you a big piece of pizza.  Your mind is going to go ten directions at once:  “Wow, I love pizza!  Yum!” “Why did they give it to me?  Do I trust them to not be drugging or poisoning me with it?”  “If I don’t eat that now, they’ll take it away and I’ll never get it!”  “If I eat it, I’ll gain weight.”  “I wonder if this is as good as the pizza I had at that place on Main Street I loved so much.  I wonder if they’re still in business.  I need to find out.  Maybe if so, I can go there next week.  But who would I take?  Maybe that new coworker who’s so cute?  But I don’t know if I’m good enough for…”

Now, do you know where our minds go?  “YUM!”  And it’s gone!  No more thinking, no more questions! 

Now does that mean it’s easier to sneak a drug into our food than yours?  Sure!  That’s how Handsome gives me my supplements every day (but don’t tell him I’m onto him please)!  But yes, that also means it’s easier to hurt us than you.  And also, our way of thinking would never get us a date with that new coworker, or even finding out if that pizzeria is still around.

So your thinking has a lot of strengths, and there’s no reason to try to stop them.   Most of the time!

But sometimes, you do need to just give it a rest.  To live in the present, to center yourself in your body, to empty your brain of all…

Is this sounding like something familiar to you?

Yes, my friend, I’m going to recommend you try meditating.  I’m not pushing any religious or spiritual agenda on you, but if you can spend even two minutes every morning just closing your eyes, sitting still, and focusing on your breathing, that’ll be great.  If thoughts come to you, let them be there and go, and refocus on breathing in and out.  And if you have a little more time, try shifting your focus to what you’re seeing (I know your eyes are closed, but what designs or light do you see while there?), smelling, tasting, hearing, and touching.  And with each, putting your attention fully onto that sense.

See what you’ll have done?  You’ll have stopped those thinking wheels in your brain for just a few minutes.  And worked to build your brain’s “muscle” of being in the moment, focusing on just what’s there.

The strength you’ll develop from this won’t be that you get stupid or thoughtless.  Rather, it’ll be that you can direct your focus away from “overthinking” when that helps you.  To slow down panicky worrying, to stop yourself from ruminating over useless questions (which, in my experience of people, usually begin with “Does he/she like me?  What did he/she mean when…”)!!

Doing this won’t solve everything, but it will definitely help.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

And if that works, maybe you’ll learn our incredible ability to block out all thoughts but one for hours on end, usually involving staring at a tree and waiting for a squirrel to walk back down it!  Now that is a glorious mental skill!

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!

How to cope with the effects of a traumatic experience.

Shelby asks:

My life was normal until I was on my way to work, waiting for my shuttle service, and my phone got snatched. I have been living at my parents’ for so many years. But that night changed my life. I am so thankful that the robbers did not hurt me physically and just took my phone. Along with my phone is my ID which contains my photo, address, birthday etc. Ever since then, I’ve felt like someone is watching me always and is waiting for the chance to harm me again. And worst, I always feel like there are some people who will hurt my child too. I lost trust in everyone and I feel like any of them might harm or hurt my child or me. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus on my job. Please help me find the way to cope.

Hi Shelby –

You are dealing with something very specific, called Trauma.  People often refer to it as PTSD, meaning Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I don’t know that you’re having a real “disorder.”  You just are in the effects of this awful trauma.

Now let me make something clear about this – Trauma is not about what happened to you; it’s about the effect it had on you.  So when someone tells you, “You’re overreacting – lots of worse things happen to people every day,” it’s not that they’re exactly wrong, but they’re missing the point!  Yes, some people would order a new phone and shrug this experience off.  But they’re not you.  This incident cut to your core, making you distrustful of everyone and frightened of life.  The word psychologists use is “Hypervigilant,” meaning you’re always on the watch, and can’t relax and enjoy your life.

There are many treatments out there for trauma.  For some people, some deep breathing is enough.  For others, a massage, a glass of wine, and a good talk with a caring friend works.  Or of course I’m going to suggest a dog – both for the calming walks and for the barking protector with big teeth!

But for others, those aren’t enough.  There are psychotherapists everywhere who specialize in methods of trauma-reduction.  For some people, fascinating methods like specialized tapping on their face and body, or eye movements, can help heal the damage the trauma did to their nervous system.  For others, it might be a more in-depth work (perhaps the robbery triggered a memory in you of another violation to your safety when you were young, and accessing that memory will relieve your more recent anxiety).

I’m a pretty happy pup, and have likely caused more traumas than I’ve suffered!  But I have a few slight cases.  For example, when I was a puppy, Handsome tried to befriend me to a medium-sized long-haired black dog he loved, who attacked and tried to kill me before he got me away from her.  I was okay, but to this day, when I see a long-haired black dog bigger than me, I instantly fall onto my back and pee submissively, from the deep-seated terror in my memory.

There’s nothing wrong with your mind, Shelby.  You’re sane and smart.  But this incident has caused you the same sort of damage another person might get from an attack, a car accident, or being near a bomb explosion.  

I urge you to find a therapist of some sort to help you through this.  You’re not wrong to be bothered by being robbed, but you want to live a happier life in the future, and good trauma treatment can get that for you.

(Though I still say buying a dog is a GREAT idea as well!)

All my very best,

Shirelle

Because I Could … the danger of Entitlement

            A president, having lost an election, spreads lies about having actually won it, to the degree that hundreds of his supporters storm their own government in a failed attempt to take it over and undo the election – after which he denies any blame for it while many of them get arrested.

            A dictator bombards a neighboring country, arguing that they’re an urgent danger for having left his country and asking to join an opposing coalition – something they did a quarter-century ago.

            A popular successful actor, on the most honoring night of his life, hears a comedian make a dumb joke about his wife, storms onto the stage, strikes him, and yells obscenities at him before an international audience.

            What do these huge news stories have in common?

            I’ll answer in one word: Entitlement.  That’s the attitude one has when they think the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them, and, worse, that they deserve these special rights.

            You’ve likely known people like this, especially when you were growing up.  Some snotty kid in your school who thought they were “all that” and treated others with disdain or even cruelty.  (Maybe you were one of these yourself!)  But that’s childhood, when everyone’s supposed to go through bad phases and learn from them.  The problem is when we see these qualities in adults!

            But meanwhile, while it’s easy to despise spoiled brats, at any age, doesn’t our society also honor them?  That president and that dictator gained their powers by thrilling people with their senses of entitlement, creating a viewpoint of “If he can do it, and I’m on his side, I’ll be entitled too!  I won’t have to play by the boring rules I’ve had to before.  And even my country won’t have to!”

Now this brings up a question, though.  When a leader takes charge and directs their people through a difficult situation, making horribly risky decisions, is that also entitlement?

What about when someone sacrifices their own life for a cause, when none of their friends or family would have allowed them to do such a thing?

Or what about when a person walks up to a poor person on the street and insists on giving them their lunch?  Is that entitlement?

I will certainly argue that it’s not.  Rather, they show a viewpoint that they have the right to make choices for themselves, but each of these involves a thoughtfulness, a consideration of the greater good, that renders their action the opposite.

So let’s look at those examples I started with.  Imagine that president had said “I lost, but I think I can do a better job if they give me another chance.  I’ll run again, and spend the next four years giving people reasons to vote for me.”  Or if that dictator had said “I need to find ways to help that country, to encourage them to ally with us.”  Or if that actor had waited until later and publicly stated, “I thought that joke was stupid and even cruel.”

In each of those cases, the person would have still pursued their goal, but in a way that would have honored the rights and even lives of those around them.

            Now here’s another question: Is my writing this to you a sign of a sense entitlement?  I’m certainly believing my thoughts are worth your attention. 

But no, it’s not.  Because you have the right to click off this page, or shut down your computer, and walk away and grab a nice pastry any time you like.  If I barged into your home, jumped onto your bed, bared my fangs, growled while drooling onto your throat, and, keeping you terrified, demanded you listen to what I had to say about the Oscars Slap, then… yeah THAT would be Entitlement!

            So does that mean that nothing can undo the actions that these entitled men have done, or even some of the rotten things some people did as kids?  Maybe not.  But is there a way to undo entitlement itself?  To move on from it?

            I think so, and can think of one excellent example.  A couple of decades ago, another U.S. President was caught having had, and lied about, an extramarital affair.  He denied it for a long time, and confessed to it only when undeniable evidence proved him guilty.  Years later, he wrote an autobiography, and in it said some amazing words.  He said that he’d had the affair “for the worst reason in the world.  I did it because I could.”

            It was no big deal for him to confess to the cheating yet again.  But instead, he confessed to entitlement.  Something so rare as to be truly beautiful.

            Have you been guilty of acting entitled?  Do you have it in you to admit it? 

            If so, you will have redeemed yourself.  And you can move on into a world of bravery, humility, and strength.

            But if not, you’ll be stuck in it.  And even those who think you were right to… oh, to contest some election results, or attempt a takeover of your neighboring country, or stand up for your wife to a comedian…  even they will see you as less than they did before.  

            Because you have proved your truth.  And the truth isn’t just bad; it’s entitled, which might be the most disgusting quality a person can have.

            Look, if I climb onto a couch I’m not supposed to, I know I’m breaking the rules.  But nothing I or any other dog does comes from that entitled place (our brains just don’t work that way). 

So I’m not asking you to be better than us. 

Just… don’t be worse.

            All my love,

            Shirelle

PS: And just to repeat my last newsletter’s complete text:  ALL. DOGS. HATE. WAR.

Why can’t the people who care about us understand what we’re feeling?

Soumyaguna asks:

I want to know why do people tend to show their emotions to us and when we try to say what we have to, we are not understood.

Why do people not care about what the other person might be going through, especially when you are not just anyone….you are someone special.

To be clear, I’m tired of explaining myself every time….I’m tired of making others understand what exactly I feel and how.

But deep inside I’m very sad realizing that I actually don’t have even one person in my life who understands me or with whom I can share things, not even my closest ones.

I ‘m tired of this all happening to me all the time….I’m done with this and cannot take anymore, cause it is causing so much harm to my mental peace where I don’t know how to move forward.

Things have just burdened me a lot, with piles of stress and a lot of complaints with close ones as they are the ones whom I care about and always will. But the ignorant attitude just isn’t going down well with me.

Hi Soumyaguna –

         I know you asked about a lot of things, but fundamentally it seems to me that you’re asking about the problem that people aren’t sensitively picking up on what you’re feeling, or even expressing, and seem to need you to spell everything out for them (if they even care then!).

         Of course I don’t know the people in your life, but I will point out something I’ve noticed about humans, which is that you guys have gigantic brains, and they tend to be filled with gigantic amounts of stuff!

         We dogs are relatively simple.  We feel every bit as deeply as humans do, but our thoughts tend to center on a smaller number of items: our safety, food, play, territory, and giving and receiving love.  That’s largely it.  Even the super-smart dogs you see doing amazing tricks in shows have been trained through love and food.

         Meanwhile, you guys have SO MUCH STUFF on your minds.  The same day your heart is broken by someone dumping you, you might have a big exam in a science class, you’re trying to remember all the lyrics to that new song you like, you’re trying to master how to drive your parents’ car, you’re struggling with conflicting feelings about your dad, you’re wondering if you wore the right outfit, and you’re responsible to remember all the different plays on your basketball team.  That’s SO MUCH!

         And my point is that that goes two ways.  When a dog is upset, we’re clear about it.  Maybe we yelp in pain, maybe we whine and lay our head in your lap, maybe we growl and snarl… whatever it is, it’s clear.  But you guys have so many subtler expressions – sarcasm and silence and distance and begging for attention (okay yeah we do that last one too). 

         But when it comes to understanding what another person is feeling, that gets many times more complex.  A person has to focus on someone else (and not that science exam or their jeans), and then read their feelings correctly, and then respond in a way that lets that person know their feelings have been seen in just the right way…

         It’s hard, Soumyaguna.  It’s hard for everyone.  All the time.

         But I’m going to make one big argument about your concern that no one understands.  With all the complexities of the human mind, the amazing astounding unbelievable fact is that people everywhere are mostly just the same.  There’s a reason certain movies or songs or shows are universally popular – it’s because everyone can relate to those feelings. 

         Now you might have people in your life who don’t understand WHY you feel the way you do.  But I promise, there’s no feeling you’ve had that everyone you know hasn’t also had.  Sadness, heartbreak, ecstasy, hilarity, loneliness, alienation… everyone’s been there. 

         So your job – and I know it’s hard – is to find a way to connect to other people’s feelings, even if your reasons are your own.

         Here’s an example.  A guy falls head over heels in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back.  In fact, they don’t share many interests, and she doesn’t treat him well.  She breaks up with him, and he’s devastated.  He goes to see a friend.  The friend gets annoyed with him for acting so glum.  Now we’re looking at just one of those “no one understands” situations, right?

         So our guy explains he’s just been dumped.  The friend says “Good, she was useless!”

         He explains that he loved her.  “Well that’s just stupid.  She treated you horribly!”

         He explains that that’s true, but he still loved every second with her.  “But that’s silly.  You weren’t doing any of the things you like to do!”

         He explains that that’s true too, but that his love for her was bigger than all that, and her leaving makes him feel hopeless and unlovable.

         OH OKAY!  That friend has felt THAT!  And that’s when that friend, if they’re a good friend, says “Oh man I’ve been there!” and tells them THEIR awful story about when they felt that way.  Maybe they have a couple of beers.  Maybe they talk till they start laughing about their awful relationships.  Whatever it is, a line has been crossed.  And our fellow doesn’t feel alone anymore.

         Sure he still misses her, and his heart still hurts, but connecting with that friend helped him move forward.

         But as you see, the friend didn’t get it at first.  It took some work to get there.

         Now Soumyaguna, you may be right about some of the people in your life, that they’re not interested enough in your feelings to care.  If so, those don’t seem to be the best people for you to put your trust and emotions onto.  Better to find someone who’s better at it.

         And you know where I’m going to go with this – there’s NO ONE better for this than a dog!  We may not understand your reasons or your stories, but we connect to every emotion you have, and WE CARE.  We care as much as we do about ourselves! 

         And unlike your human friends, we’re very happy to lick all the tears off your face!

         So please don’t give up on everyone, and give people the chance and the information they need to connect with you.  But if they can’t… just remember, we’re out here, always eager to give you just what you need.

         All my best,

         Shirelle