I recently stopped at a country store and as is typical for me, asked a woman who was standing outside with a dog, the name and breed of her dog. She explained that Sophie was a rescue dog of mixed breed. When I asked how old, she picked up the dog, held it to her and said, “ She is seven, but forever a puppy.”
It occurred to me that what she had just said was actually the way most of us feel about the pets we love. Regardless of age, they allow us to enjoy the physical, emotional and even neurophysiological benefits of loving and being loved by them in a special and dependent way.
“Is Anyone Else Angry?”
Trauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.
Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.
Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.
Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response
It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.
The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.
Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.
One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …
Nationally and internationally, the most endorsed response in the early aftermath of a disaster is Psychological First Aide. Used by those responding to disasters, it is a set of guidelines that you can learn to use for yourself and others.
Just as knowing certain aspects of Medical First Aid can help you minimize injury and reduce future medical complications, knowing and using certain aspects of Psychological First Aid can help you reduce the emotional impact of a disaster and its consequences.
Here are Five Steps for Using Psychological First Aid
I. Establish Physical Safety
Families have moved in together in arrangements they never would have dreamed possible-as a way of keeping each other safe.
II. Establish Psychological Safety
Few would argue that this is a country involved with pets. With 93.6 million cats, 77.5 million dogs, and a wide variety of other pets, there is an increasing appreciation of the growing trend in pet ownership, recognition of pet expenditures that outspan the rate of inflation and mounting evidence of the physical and emotional benefits in having pets.
One trend that is less noted but emerging in this “state of the pet nation” is an increasing number of grandpets – The pets of your adult children with whom you have a special bond and connection.
A closer look at situations involving grandpets suggests that the care and connection to grandpets is more than an easily dismissed event or another version of “ you do what you have to do for your kids.” Rather it seems there is a confluence of needs faced by parents, adult children and pets for which grandpetting seems a workable solution.
For example, in this era…
These are situations where having and keeping a pet in a safe and loving way can be a challenge. These are situations where the needs of a pet can be a dilemma for one family member and a way to feel needed by another. These are the situations where families who might not talk enough or might not agree on anything will agree to care for a pet.
On May 8th, 2012, award-winning author and illustrator of the children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, died. He was 83. In a postscript written about him in The New Yorker this week, Mariana Cook revisited some of what he had offered in a 2009 interview. In that interview, Sendak shared his feeling that it is hard to be happy and that some people find it easier than others. He ended with the question,
“Do you believe it when people say they are happy?”
In one of the final interviews Maurice Sendak allowed with Terri Gross on NPR in late 2011, he said something different, “I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people.”
In his words, this very creative man underscores the challenge, complexity and possibility of happiness.
Resonating with this, I recently wrote a blog for the final newsletter of “This Emotional Life” entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness: Your Inalienable Right.” In it I draw upon research that suggests happiness is a “many factored thing.” Often considered a sense of well-being, I add that, as such, happiness is neither a static place, nor one that is incompatible with tears or challenge.
If you and your partner find yourselves battling over throwing out the garbage or doing the laundry, you are not alone and neither may actually be to blame. A closer look may offer some understanding and some alternatives.
The Division of Labor
What may seem, however, like an easy division of labor, “you shop” and “I’ll cook” is actually not so easy. In fact the notion that a perfectly balanced list could or should exist is a myth. People just don’t function that way.
Numerous studies have identified exercise as a key factor in reducing depression symptoms. A recent study heightens the argument by finding that as compared to age, race, gender, body mass index cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, it was the sedentary lifestyle of a depressed person that alone accounted for about 25% of the risk of heart-related deaths. The message is that we need to move because our lives depend on it!
The problem is that when you are depressed often the last thing you want to do is exercise.
Given the despair, lethargy, self-doubt, exhaustion, disinterest in activities and shame experienced with depression, the suggestion to exercise feels like adding insult to injury. “I’m not exercising because I’m depressed.”
Knowing exercise could help, but feeling unable to do so often adds to the self-recriminations and low self-esteem of depression. In one case, the more the young woman watched other family members exercise – the less possible it felt.
Given the recent discussion of the pros and cons of medications and treatments for depression, it seems clear that people need to have information and treatment options. It also seems important to stack the deck toward feeling better with anything that might work for you. If you have wanted to exercise but find it impossible – here are some suggestions.
Katie and Rob, a couple in a second marriage for both, never planned to have a pet. They cautiously agreed to take Penny, a little terrier, when a relative became sick. Of course, they fell in love with her. When I asked them how Penny had impacted their relationship, their answer surprised me.
“Penny is our peacemaker. Before Penny we would stonewall each other and not speak for days after an argument. It is funny what happens now – after an argument one of us will start talking about Penny to the other to break the ice. We never planned it – we just do it and it works.
The concept of the “Third” comes from relational psychology, specifically the work of psychologist, Lewis Aron who drew upon Jessica Benjamin’s work and applied the concept to couples. Aron offered the conceptualization of the see-saw. He considered that often two partners are stuck at opposite ends, moving up and down in terms of their own perspective, needs or opinions, but actually going nowhere and locked into a pattern that can’t bring them together.
In terms of couple’s therapy, Aron identified the therapist as the “third” to open the space. A closer look at partners and their pets invites us to consider that in an unexpected and uncanny way – pets also serve in that role.
Historically we know of the value of dogs in firehouses, on police canine teams, on farms, ranches, and certainly as companion dogs to those with physical disabilities.
Recently the diversity of workplaces that benefit from pets have expanded and while cats, and some birds have an important place next to the many professionals and business owners working from home, dogs seem to have found their way into the office.
Is this about pets or people? Is there an emotional reason that an individual or a couple starts with one pet and ends up with many more?
When I have raised these questions with pet owners and pet professionals, the reasons given are as complex as the people and pets involved. Overall, however, they reflect the reciprocal mix of needs, emotions and love inherent in the unique exchange that people and pets share.
It Starts With the Pets
Many people start adding an additional pet as a companion to the first. As one owner said “It broke our hearts to leave Callie alone all day so we got a second dog to keep her company.”
While many will own that they may be projecting their human fear of loneliness – the reality is that most pets do enjoy the company of other pets and owners are delighted to see dogs play together, cats scheme together, everyone fight over food and then curl up and sleep together!
One owner who lived with dogs his whole life described that he always had two dogs. He always had a puppy with an older dog both to enliven the older dog (which it inevitably did) as well as to reduce his own dread of loss.