How to deal with an inept parent

Soumyaguna asks:

I have always wanted a good father, at least a sensible one whom I could look up to.

Until now, I have been thinking maybe I have given less effort, or maybe I’m not understanding mine, but his ego is so big and it has overshadowed him as a father, a husband, and most importantly his humanity. 

He’s very good for others, very helpful, calm, understanding and every good thing possible, maybe because he feels they’re his family and we are nothing.

No matter what I do, he is never gonna appreciate or satisfy or even congratulate one of us.

Everyone I try making a step ahead towards him, he does something to push me back 10 steps away, but now I feel I have lost him for life.

Now maybe he’s just my biological father and nothing else.

He wanted me to learn scooty, he taught me how to, but then he wants me to drive only the way he says. The second I started driving he was screaming for no reason and kept on saying you are not driving, not driving, like this, like that, more than I could take. I got scared of such nonstop poking continuously, and in that nervousness, I got unbalanced and he had to take over. I started driving again after a year and today again it happened; he just started off with his babble. I was asking him not to, saying I’ll drive nicely, at least trust me once, but he again gave me an anxiety attack.

I don’t know how can someone be so egotistical that they can’t even understand a normal thing.

I now feel it would have been better if I didn’t have him in my life.

He’s the worst thing ever happened in my life

Hi Soumyaguna –

There’s an old saying, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives.”  I’d add “you can pick out puppies too!” but you get the idea.  And it’s true – everyone is stuck (and/or blessed) with the family they’re given.  

It’s also normal and true that every human goes through a time in their lives when they can’t stand their parents, and when their behavior makes them intolerable to their parents too.  With most people, there are more than one of those times!

And it sounds to me like you’re dealing with both of those issues right now.  An imperfect father, and a tough specific time.

Now of course I don’t know him at all, but from what you say, he sounds like a very good man to the world, who’s just inept at his relationship with his child or children.  That’s what I mean by “imperfect.”  I’d love to improve him, but unless he starts writing me too, I can’t do much on that count.

What I can do is to suggest to you that you try doing something extremely mature.  Many people don’t achieve this till their 40s or so, and lots don’t ever accomplish it.  And that’s to look at your father as a complex person, with strengths and faults, and accept him as he is.  

Why is that so hard?  Because you have ingrained in you a sense (every child is born with this) that your parents are perfect.  And as you get older, and see how imperfect they are (and everyone is highly imperfect!), that gets enormously frustrating!

There’s lots of filmed record of Adolf Hitler with children.  He seems very kind, supportive, and fun with them.  And most people consider him the greatest monster in the history of humanity.  Again – people have strengths and weaknesses; your dad isn’t as good with you as Adolf was with those kids, but your dad hasn’t murdered half the continent either!  

Your dad is a LOUSY driving instructor!  TERRIBLE!  But I’m sure he sees it a different way.

True story: a few years ago, my human friend Handsome needed to make some extra money, and found out that a friend of his had a daughter who was struggling in her learning to drive, so he took a job to tutor her at it.  He was surprised to find that she was actually quite good for a beginning driver, and just needed a few pointers to help her become that much better.  He and she talked about how odd this was – why had her parents thought she was so bad at it?  Then one day he went out to lunch with his friend, her mother.  And she was a HORRIBLE driver!  Distracted, even dangerous!  SO much worse than her daughter!  He found this hilarious – and, credit to her – so did his friend.  The fact is, your parents changed your diapers, they taught you to walk, they taught you to speak; and after all these years, they still see that completely helpless little child when they look at you.  How comfortable would you be seeing a 3-year-old driving?!  That’s probably what your dad sees in you now!

In other words, just like Handsome’s friend, your dad is condemned to being a really lousy and inept driving instructor – as well as failing at letting you know what he really feels about and toward you.  And this last one, I promise you, is a lack in him that causes him great pain.  The lack you feel is matched by so many others in his life.  Have you ever heard that beautiful song “To Make You Feel My Love?”  He can’t achieve that at all!

I’m not telling you to not be angry with him.  You get to.  You deserve to feel his love, and he fails at that.  

But this is who he is.  And you have the rest of your life ahead of you, and I hope will find the love you haven’t felt many times over.

So do your best, my friend.  You deserve better.  But Handsome deserves a dog who doesn’t shed everywhere and never pulled him down a hill so hard he nearly broke his arm and doesn’t bark super-loud right next to his ear — but he’s got me instead.  And loves me more than life.

Someday you might even feel that way about your dad.  But not now.  And that’s okay.

Just get through this.  (And find a better driving instructor!!!!)

Love,

Shirelle

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

The Pain Worse than Pain – the struggle against stress

            I lost my best friend.

            I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to come up with a way to sugarcoat that, but I can’t find one.  Aria’s cancer got better, then worse, then better, and then lots worse, and finally her human friends had to kindly help her go, so that she wouldn’t suffer more. 

            I’ve told you many times that all dogs hate war.  Well we’re not too fond of cancer either, let me tell you!

            You all know about how much I loved her (and still do), and how much her life was dominated by fear and pain from things she suffered in her early years.  If there’s one blessing to her not being here, it’s that I do believe she’s free of those completely at last, and living in pure fearless joy.  Just what I’m always wishing for you.

            So I don’t know that I have a lot else to tell you.  I’ve told you about her life story – and anyone who wants to know more can always check out the book A Dog of Many Names which tells about those first years, before she was named Aria.  And anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved knows the pain of grief.  Nothing for me to teach you there.

            But I do want to share something her human friend Ugmo wrote to me.  It’s not something he’s proud of, but he’s okay with me sharing it as he thinks it’s pretty universal, and might help somebody get through a tough time in a better way. 

            So I’m going to go do what I’ve been doing a lot lately – and just lie in my yard and feel the ground, and miss my friend horribly.  It’s the only way I know to truly get through sadness like this – to feel it fully and connect as deeply as I can with the earth that gives and takes all her beings.

            And let Ugmo talk with you about what he learned, in this most painful time of his life.

Hi Shirelle –

I know you miss Aria like blazes.  So do I.  It’s hard to wake in the morning and expect her lying on the bedroom floor, or to open the front door and look to see where she’s hiding from the squirrels – and in each case, to be reminded that she’s not there, and never will be again.  It’s just been a couple of weeks, but my eyes are already tired of crying.

But I have a strange confession to make to you.  It’s not as bad for me now as it was before.

Grief is pure.  Missing is awful but simple.  Crying is searing but relieving to my whole body.

What I’m not experiencing now is stress.  Stress that was mixed with grief and terror, so much that I almost couldn’t take it.

As you know, Aria got diagnosed with her cancer about five months ago.  And no one has ever found a cure for this specific one, Hemangiosarcoma.  Other cancers might be eradicated by operations or chemotherapy, or even improving a diet and exercise.  But not this.  Medication and good energy work can slow it down, but it shows back up eventually.  And once it gets to an essential organ, it’s just a matter of time.

That’s what happened with Aria.  She made it about four months, but then, on one awful day, she got very tired and lost her appetite, and I took her to a veterinarian who found that her liver was bleeding, and told me it was hopeless, that we needed to let her go that night.

You hear about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Well I guess I’d had all my denial and anger and bargaining already, so I went straight into depression and acceptance.  I sat in the lobby weeping, waiting for her friend Fifi to show up, as she’d want to be there for the end.  She arrived, and we took Aria into a small room and covered her in kisses and hugs and telling her all the lovely things we could. 

And she… got better!

Seriously, she improved.  Her strength came back a little, she seemed happier, and when the veterinarian came in to get her, she looked down and said “That is not the same dog!”

So after seven hours in the Emergency Room, which I’d expected to include putting her down, we took her home.  It was hard to sleep, because anytime her breathing shifted, I’d wake to see if she was okay.  At one point that night, I was sure she was going down again and ready to take her back to the doctors, but again, she recovered.

In the next few days, this all continues, including my sleeplessness.  She’d seem better, but then refuse to eat, so she got weaker and weaker.  I’d annoy or anger her by trying to get pills down her throat or putting food in front of her nose that she used to love but now found disgusting.  I got to where I was more scared that she’d starve herself to death than that the cancer would get her.  And I could feel that she was feeling my frustration, and afraid of it.

And so I found myself wishing she’d just be done.

Shirelle, this is why I’m writing you.  Because I couldn’t believe that that thought was able to come into my mind.  I loved – and love – Aria more than anything on this earth.  And I wanted every second I could get with my pup.  Nothing in me wanted her gone.  Except that something in me… did!  I could feel it.

What in the world was that?

            It was the voice of my stress, screaming so loud inside me that it overshouted my heart.  For moments, I’d forget what I wanted most – to keep Aria around as long as I could, and give her as much love as I could, and help her get through this as much as I could – and feel, instead, only how much I hated feeling all this worry, this helplessness, this confusion, this stress.

            Now, once I realized this, I was fine.  I still had all those awful feelings, but I never once again experienced wishing for it all to end.  In fact, I realized that I only had one full wish – I wished she had never gotten this cancer!  But since she already had it, I had to live with just partial wishes – that she’d get through the next day without pain, that she’d get a burst of puppy energy, that she’d eat, that she’d be happy a little bit more. 

            And those smaller wishes came true, many times.

            I’ve found, since realizing this about myself, so many others experiencing the same things.  Sure, everyone hates stress, but I mean people doing stupid, self-destructive things just to avoid feeling it.  Getting so uptight in a close game they make mistakes and make themselves lose.  Worrying about their teeth being bad so skipping going to the dentist for years.  Fearing they’re not attractive enough to compete with the best-looking person at school, so overeating and quitting exercise. 

            The only reason stress has all this power is because we let it.  The moment we see it for what it is, it becomes much weaker.  And when it does, we can begin again to live our full lives, with our full hearts. 

            Aria died, but I’m so glad I’m not looking back on my soul dying on her first.  Our last weeks were beautiful and joyous and sad and very close.  Stress had tried to take that away from me, but I’m so glad it failed.

            And today?  Well I’m the sad mess I described to you, but I know I’ll get stronger over time.  And Aria is… do you remember a song I played you once, Shirelle, called “Beyond the Horizon?”  That’s her now, I have no doubt.  Loving, feeling love, fearless, and knowing more than you and me put together!  And absolutely free from all the stupid stresses we suffer down here!

            I’ll see her there again, and I know you will too.  Wagging her tail in that circular way, lunging at us with those quick side-shot kisses of hers, and cuddling up for hours on end. 

            But here, for better and for worse, are just memories.  As Shakespeare wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow.  And that sweet sorrowful dog left so much sweetness and sorrow in my heart, and yours, and those of all who loved her.

            We’re the lucky ones, Shirelle.  We’re the ones with the beautiful pain.  I hope it never goes away.

            Love Always,

            Ugmo

Should you accept someone back after they ghost you?

Pkt asks:

My boyfriend ghosted me almost 10 days ago.  We were together for 2 years, and the  last couple of days I’ve been feeling really terrible. We did have a few small fights before he ghosted me, but we sorted them out so I thought everything was fine (and it actually was; we had a really good talk just a day before he blocked me everywhere). So when he blocked me I panicked. I texted him on snapchat and finally he replied by saying “he doesn’t wants to be in a relationship anymore.” That’s the only thing he has said I asked him what happened, but he never replied. I just don’t understand. In the past he did say that our relationship doesn’t have any future, as we come from extremely different family backgrounds, and our families would never approve of it, so he was worried about it, but we are just 18 now and I feel hopeful that maybe in the future they might approve of it. I’ve assured him many times that, no matter what, we will find a way to be together and I’ll be always be there for him. A month ago the same thing happened; he told me his family found out about us and so we broke up. But a few days later he told me that he lied, his family doesn’t know anything, and he was just irritated. We met after that and sort of patched up. After that everything was pretty fine. We did have some small arguments and he kept complaining that he is tired of “my behaviour” and how dumb I am, and how he needs to explain everything to me. He feels like I should automatically understand everything that’s going on in his mind. I am so confused right now. I feel like he at least owes me an
explanation. I don’t know how to move on if I don’t get a closure. I even asked him if I have done something that hurt him, but he just replied “no.” But still I feel like it’s my fault and his silence is just making me restless. Today I called him from my mom’s phone (because he has blocked my number) but he didn’t pick up. I’ve tried everything I could to try to talk to him and make this work, or at least find the reason behind all this. I’ve tried my best to be a better person for both of us, and I’m still trying. All I wanted was for him to be a little bit patient for me, and it’s still not enough. I just want to know what happened.  So how do I let go?
I feel like this is so wrong, like how can he just walk away like that? He knew how much it would hurt me if he just left me like this, without an explanation, but he did it anyway – and it hurts terribly. Is it even worth trying now? Should I give up trying to reach to him? Have we really broken up? What do I do if he ever comes back (I don’t think he ever would, but I’m a very hopeful person)?

Hi pkt –

Of course I don’t know your boyfriend, but two things really stick out to me here.  One, that he has told you that he believes your different backgrounds would preclude your families accepting your relationship, and two that he seems to think he’s told you more than he has, as if he’s expecting you to have read his mind.

These two things together make me think that his family has made very clear to him what he should be doing, including in relationships, and that he’s unhappily decided he needs to obey their wishes and cut things off with you.  And that, very importantly, he thinks he’s explained this to you – even though, for you, he hasn’t explained enough!

So if I’m right, when you write him and ask what’s going on, he just finds it irritating, thinking you ought to know exactly what’s happening since he’s explained it all – Even though he really hasn’t!

And if I’m right… then my advice is to let this go.  And let him go.  Not so much because of whatever differences your families might have, but because he’s not mature enough yet to handle such a situation.  He’s frightened (ghosting is an act of fear) and trying to do what they say is right.  I’m not saying he’s wrong to obey his family, but a more mature man would have handled this in a much clearer, and braver, way. 

There may be a day in the future when he realizes what he’s done.  And that day he might well come back to you, either just to apologize for doing such a clumsy job of things, or to try to restart the relationship.  And if and when he does, I hope you accept his apology, and maybe even him.  We all have to mature at the rate we do (I didn’t stop biting Handsome’s ankles till I was about three!), and he doesn’t sound like a bad guy.

But he’s not what you need right now, or what you deserve.  My suggestion is to enjoy the memories of the times you had together, but now find people who are more able to handle life’s difficulties in a strong and open way.

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

Does wishing for things push them away?

Bts army asks: I like to create fake scenarios in my mind about how my future will look or how I want it to be. Sometimes I think doing this will take me further from achieving, but other times think that I’m creating my future, so it’s okay. But I feel like I am not enjoying the present as much and, honestly, there’s not much to enjoy. So what should I do? How do I stay happy with things I have, even if there isn’t anything great going on?  How do I stop myself from expecting so much from someone or from something?

Hi Bts army –

As you probably know, lots of people believe in something called the Law of Attraction.  According to this, if you put your mind in a position of believing something good will happen to you – or even more so, that it’s already happened – and feel grateful about that, you will attract that good thing to you.  So “I’m grateful I’m a millionaire,” or “I’m grateful I got the job I wanted” or “I’m grateful I married the person I most love” helps make those things happen. 

I’m a believer in this, but more in the way that it avoids the opposite from happening.  I can’t be sure that positive thinking will bring what a person wants, but I know very well that negative thinking will push those good things away.  “I hate that I’ll never have enough money” keeps money away.  “I hate that I only get crummy job offers” will keep away that dream gig.  And most of all, “I hate that I only meet losers, and that everyone remotely worthy is already married or attracted to the opposite sex from me!” will definitely push potential partners away!

And of course the whole concept of prayer, which people have been doing for millennia, is based on this.  “I believe that if I pray for _______, it has a better chance of happening.”  So prayer then puts you in the mindset that that good thing is coming.

Where I disagree, of course, is, as a friend told me years ago, “God is not a vending machine!”  Envisioning something doesn’t make it come true, and prayer doesn’t automatically manifest what you want.  I think of it more like a garden – you plant a seed (wishing for something) and then treat the soil with just the right amount of water and sun and maybe nutrients (belief, faith, clearing space for that thing you want in your life), and there’s a really good chance that seed will grow.

To use myself as an example, I’m a very optimistic pup.  Now wishing for my human friend Handsome to come home from work sooner won’t necessarily make it happen.  But when he does, if I show him how happy I am to see him, he’s more likely to pet and play with me.  And hanging around the kitchen with my eyes wide, and maybe sniffing at my bowl, will help him remember I haven’t been fed all day, which will likely get me a treat and then dinner!

So do I think your envisioning what you want will bring things to you sooner?  Maybe, especially if you act on it.  Do I think it’ll push things away?  No, not at all.

But can your envisioning be one of the reasons you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated?  Sure!

If I don’t think about Handsome not being home, and how much I want him to come back, I won’t feel bad about it.  If I don’t think about how much I’d love a nice snack, I won’t feel bad about not having one.

But I think the trick is to change how you think about those things.  Thinking “I want a big beautiful house.  So I’m miserable that I don’t have that house” isn’t working for you.  But what if you change it to: “I want a big beautiful house.  And the best way to get that house will be to get a great job I love and am good at.  And the best way to get that job will be to take this particular class.  And the best way for me to take that class is to apply to ten schools so I’m sure to get into at least one, but I’m going to hope I get into my top choice.”  That’s pretty good.

But then, while you’re doing that, you meet someone and get chatting, and you tell them about your dream and what you’re doing, and they say “Wow that’s amazing.  I’m actually hiring someone for just a job like that.  You don’t really need that class, since I already know you.  You can come start tomorrow!  And meanwhile, I know someone with a mansion looking for a house-sitter while they’re out of town for a year.  Would you be interested?”

And that’s possible.  BECAUSE you envisioned it, and owned your vision.  Is it a guarantee?  Of course not.  But it’s possible, because you have made it possible.

And there’s my advice to you, Bts army.

And my wish for you, that all your best wishes come true!

Shirelle

What to do when your spouse has unacceptable activities

Punita asks: This is my second marriage, and I am going through a bad situation.  My husband is a video game addict and smokes at home, and we have fights often.  Today I found he had plans to meet a sex worker, and I’m sure this isn’t the first time. What should I do? I am broken. I haven’t worked the past 4 months.  I am searching for a job. I have no savings. I really don’t know what to do or whom to tell, as my mother won’t be supporting me if I break this marriage – as this is my second marriage and I chose the guy.

Hi Punita –

As you well know, no marriage is easy or perfect.  Even my relationship with my human friend Handsome has some tough moments, and it’s easier than any relationship between two people could ever be (I find people and dogs to be far more accepting of each other’s flaws than either is with their own kind!).  But you’re in a particularly tough situation.  You clearly are saying you’d like to get out of this, or at least to be able to, but find yourself unable because of your jobless status and a lack of support from your mother.

So the giant question then is whether or not you can actually improve things.  Or, rather, whether your husband will allow things to improve.

You list three problems.  First, the smoking.  Of course that’s not only irritating but physically dangerous for you.  And do you two have children?  If so it’s particularly bad for them (and for dogs and cats too!).  I know smoking is a very hard addiction to break, but if you could just get him to be willing to go outdoors when he wants to smoke, that would improve your home in a gigantic way. 

Second, the video game addiction.  This is a very common problem today, and one where, unlike addictions to drugs or alcohol, it’s usually not necessary for the addict to completely eliminate the “substance” from their life, but just to give themselves limits.  Such as a person cutting themselves off from the games after two hours a day, or something like that.  

The problem for you, just as it would be if your husband were a drug addict, is that the only way for him to agree to this change is for him to admit he has a problem.  Does he?  Does he agree he plays too much, or gets too involved in the games?  Or does he think what he’s doing is normal and healthy and that you’re crazy to be concerned?!  If it’s one of the former answers, this is very fixable.  But if it’s the last one, there’s not so much you can do for now.

Then there’s the sex worker.  Okay, is he at least admitting that that is some sort of problem?  Even if he denies your suspicion that he’s done this before? 

If he’s not admitting any of these are problems, then yes, I agree, you should be looking at getting a job that will give you some choices in life.  But if he’s admitting any of them, then that gives you two a chance to work on things.

And here’s my big wish – if so, is it possible for you two to go into some sort of couples counseling?  A therapist would be great, but if you’re in a religious organization they’ll usually have someone qualified who can help too. 

The biggest question is Does He Want To Improve Things.  If so, the possibilities are endless.  If not, it makes everything far more difficult.

If I can help in any way, please let me know.

Thanks, and all my very best wishes,

Shirelle

How to free yourself from a toxic relationship with a narcissist

Hezlyn asks:

I know that am in a toxic relationship, recently found out my partner is a narcissist, they also admitted that they are, I truly know that they aren’t good for me. And the truth is I don’t want them either because I know I deserve better. But my question is, why is it that I can’t let this toxic person go? My feelings about them are always uncertain and confused; I don’t like the idea of them leaving me but still I don’t want to be with them.  Why can’t I let go?

Hi Hezlyn –

Of course I don’t know the specifics of your relationship, but I will tell you something I’ve found about human nature.  As much as everyone complains about narcissists, they also tend to be the most charismatic of people.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if Charisma is all about narcissism.

A person who walks into a room carrying self-doubt, nervousness, shyness… they’re not going to be all that exciting.  But a person who walks in believing the whole world revolves around them, that they and their feelings matter more than anything else… they’re going to have some exciting energy coming out of them!  And that excitement doesn’t necessarily mean anything else – good or bad – about them.  Which makes things pretty tough.

Gandhi was very charismatic.  So was Hitler.  So is Beyonce and so is Donald Trump.  All I’m sure quite narcissistic, but a great variety in levels of goodness.

But you say this person is toxic.  So you want to get out.

Well the best way I know of, to get out of a toxic relationship with a narcissist, is to think of your feelings as similar to an addiction.  Did you ever have to quit cigarettes or cut down on caffeine?  These substances cause an exciting feeling in humans that you want to keep replicating, and the only way to quit them is to refuse to let them give you that good feeling anymore.  Because they’re causing you problems.

Well it’s the same deal with this person, or others like them.  You need to, crazy as it sounds, identify the great exciting feeling they engender, and then avoid it!  Tell yourself “I don’t want that feeling, at least not from this person, anymore.”  And mean it.  Change your viewpoint on that feeling from good to bad.

You can do it.  But you might need some help.  Ask a friend or two to be there for you when you start to weaken, to talk you out of it.  Just as an alcoholic might ask someone to keep them from ordering a drink.

The fact is, Hezlyn, you’re in a great place.  Realizing the toxicity of narcissists can free you to live a life in which you give YOURSELF more attention, and don’t just give all your best to them.  And with this, you can live a life based on what you want, what you believe, and what you care about.

So realizing it is the first step.  Now take this on.  The future is freedom!

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do with a friend who demands more of you than you can offer

Wretched asks: Hello Shirelle! It’s been a long time since I last reached out to you. Hope you’re doing well. Anyway, I am really conflicted right now if I should cut off my long time friend or stay as is. She’s been my friend for 6 years now but I feel more and more uncomfortable around her. I admit that I am also in the wrong here but this issue just keeps on recurring. I am not really fond of messaging people tho we’re the bestest of friends, 24/7. I prefer interacting with them personally but in social media, I am really cold. My energy is drained and I find interacting with them exhausting. So I only reply only when I’m at my best because I don’t want to give them a half-hearted reply. So this friend was hurt by this kind of behaviour of mine. Mind you that this was not the first time that it happened. She kind of noticed this behavior right from the start of our friendship. It’s just that I find it truly exhausting to explain this thing over and over again to her for the past six years. I am busy (which she was aware of due because of college) and was dealing with a lot of things personally (anxiety, depression and overthinking) but I still has to deal with her emotional baggage. I understand that I am not the perfect friend but I do hope that she somehow understands me. We’ve been friends for a long time already but why can’t she understand that I need a lot of space, me-time and my energy drains really fast with just interacting with other people. She always complains that I don’t reply fast (that’s because I’m not 24/7 on social media, I am always reading books) and that I always reply the next day (which is because she always message me at night and I had already told her that I’m already sleeping at 9 pm or 10 pm at most and I don’t really message them back if it’s way past that time. I think that’s called boundary.) So I knew her when we were teens and now we’re on our 20’s, but I feel like she hasn’t grown mentally and emotionally. I understand her trauma from the past but we’re already at the age that we are accountable for our actions. I just think that our values and goals doesn’t align anymore. I also get annoyed that she doesn’t seem to move on and let go of the me on the past. I’ve long changed from the person I was before and was unlearning bad behavior and such, but she still believes I am still the same person who she first knew. I just laughed it off awkwardly and let her be. But the thing is we were really close. I can’t cut her off nor put a distance between us because it would seem awkward to our friends. We are in group of four and my college friends are also kinda close to her so it would really be awkward if something happened between us that would sour our relationship. Is what I’m feeling right? I do have the strong urge to cut off our friendship but things will get messy.

Hi Wretched –

I have to admit, I’m a little perplexed by this one.  You two have been friends for six years, and are great when you meet in person, but she’s suddenly saying your friendship doesn’t count unless you spend more time on social media, and respond to her right away there?  I hate to think how she treats her grandparents!!

You say she hasn’t grown, and may well be right, but she does sound like she’s changed over this time.  And it definitely sounds like she wants to take charge in the relationship – not be equals anymore but define what you need to do and when.  We dogs have a similar issue, especially with friends of the same sex, where our whole pack mindset requires one member to be the Alpha.  And once that status is set, we get along great, but until then we’re likely to fight to determine who that is.  So it sounds like your friend wants to be the Alpha in your relationship, and you’re not willing for that to happen – and that’s fine.

I fully understand why you’d want to resolve all this, to come up with some solution that makes it all okay and easy.  But I don’t think she’s going to allow that.  As you say, if you pull away or cut her off, that’ll make things messy.  And I’m not sure you want to do that anyway, as it sounds like she has other qualities that are great.

So here’s my advice for you, Wretched:  Keep things exactly as they are now.  But state your boundaries even more clearly.

What does that mean?  It means to write her a note and say something like “I know you want me to respond immediately to you on social media, but I need you to know that I’m only on there occasionally.  I’ll always get back to you when I can, but I go to bed before you do.  There’s no point in your getting your expectations up – I simply can’t stay up later.  I love you and will always be your friend, but I’m too busy to spend that many hours on these sites.”

Then if she complains again, you can just remind her that you told her this was exactly what you’d do!  And if she tells you you’re not cool because you’re not hanging out on the social media platforms she is… agree!  Tell her she’s right, that you’re too busy to be doing cool stuff like she is, and maybe even say you envy her about it.

I get this myself.  I only respond to emailed letters.  People ask if I can meet them on Discord and such, and I just apologize and explain that I can’t. 

I find that people accept it once I tell them this.  And I hope she is able to do the same with you.  But again, I insist, the only way it’ll work is if you write her something very clearly.  Not in a reply to her complaint, but all on your own. 

Hoping this works!

Shirelle

What to do when your Anxiety makes all the things that cause your Anxiety worse

Natalie1615_17 asks:

I’m a student, 17 this year.  Since last year my symptoms for anxiety have been obvious, I kept complaining about how my tummy aches, and mom just brushed it off, until, at the end of last year, things worsened and I was sent to the hospital immediately. The doctor diagnosed me with ibs-d which is over sensitive bowel movement that led to runny, loose watery stool. I was prescribed with 15 types of different pills, because ibs comes with nausea, bloating, gas, headache, vomiting. I wanted to end my life. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything. This year, school reopened, and I am stressed about it because I do not know how to deal with it. For 5 months, I have been missing school a lot, but still catching up with my homework and all, but my grades dropped drastically. Because of this, I’m getting yelled at constantly by my mom because she thought I was playing truancy, laziness and stuff. I just do not know how to tell my mom I have anxiety and stress, I just hoped she would understand. I have been alienated by my friends; my sickness also caused a big misunderstanding among them because they too were like my mom assuming I hate school. At this point, my mentality has been drained out and I’m just tired. I don’t know what to do anymore. At nights I spend my time alone crying, yelling, because of anxiety killing me.

Hi Natalie1615_17 –

As I see it, your letter can be summarized simply as: “I have high anxiety, and every symptom of it gets me more misunderstood and in trouble, which of course just causes me more anxiety.”  This situation would be intolerable for anyone; it sounds like one of those experiments where they would give dogs treats for doing certain actions, and then change the treats to punishments, and the dogs went mad.

I wish I could help more, but I do have two basic thoughts on this.  First, I think you should try a different strategy with your mother.  Stop denying that you hate school, or that you’re truant or lazy or anything else.  Just look your mom in the eye and say “Mom, I’m 17 years old.  Most kids my age hate school and are lazy.  Why do you think I’m different?” And let her answer.  My guess is that if you present her with the fact that everything she says about you is true for you and most kids, she’ll be more willing to consider that there’s something else going on with you.

And second, I urge you to find a therapist.  I’m not calling you “crazy” or anything like it, but you have two great reasons to see one.  First, your anxiety is impairing your life in some major ways, including your grades and emotional well-being.  But secondly, because your IBS is very likely anxiety-related.  If you can reduce your anxiety overall, you might well reduce the intensity of irritation and pain there.  It doesn’t have to be a doctor, or anyone hugely expensive, and you might not even need to visit them many times.  You just want someone who’ll listen and help you handle and reduce this anxiety, so that you can start enjoying your experience of what many consider the best years of a person’s life.

Natalie1615_17, there is no reason in today’s world that you shouldn’t be seen for who you are, and helped out with what’s going on with you.  Anything I can do, just let me know.  But just know I’m 100% on your side.

All my best,

Shirelle

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