Tag children

Resilience IV – Is my dog unhappy?

In an earlier post, I summarized the ABC resilience methodology described by the authors of The Resilience Factor.  In this post, I’ll introduce a very simple example of a belief that seems to affect me on a fairly routine basis.  I will likely progress into more advanced examples in the future, but this is an easy one to explore and share this particular analysis methodology.

Adversity: My dog is staring at me and I am not sure what he wants to do.

Belief: What does he want now?  I need to focus on other things right now and I am not sure I really want to go outside again.

Consequences: A combination of frustration and guilt, and sometimes even anger.

While it’s perhaps easy to see why I would feel frustrated and even guilty, I have often been puzzled why I sometimes feel angry – sometimes to the point of being stressed out!  Let’s explore what these emotions are really saying about my belief system in this particular case.

Question: I take care of my dog almost better than I do myself.  Why does his staring bother me so much?

Answer: Because I don’t know what he is feeling and whether he is bored.

Question: Let’s assume he is bored, what is the worst part of that for me?

Answer: If my dog is bored, then I think he is unhappy.

Question: What does that mean to me if he is unhappy?

Answer: It means that I am not taking as good care of him as I should be and he deserves more than I may be providing.  It may mean that I am not doing a very good job at being a pet owner and that ultimately I may not be able to achieve a good balance between work and personal life if and when I do have children.  In some respects, I feel helpless.

It’s a safe bet that some pet owners don’t experience these feelings, but I am sure that many do.  Guilt, I think, naturally comes with having children or pets.  If you truly care about your pets and/or children, you are always going to want the best for them (i.e. their happiness) and thus any activity that impacts those feelings is going to result in some feelings of guilt.

As it relates to my feelings of anger, clearly these feelings are inward-facing.  My dog has done nothing wrong, and frankly it is unlikely that he is bored; perhaps he is staring at me out of pure affection? (or he just wants another treat!)

My anger is primarily about not being able to understand or satisfy a need that may not necessarily be there in the first place; feelings of helplessness are a natural byproduct.  At a much deeper level, it’s about potentially failing later on in a future partnership or family environment either due to a lack of understanding and/or an inability to make a positive impact / change (i.e. will I be able to attain a balance between my personal interests and those of my wife’s and or children’s?).

As you can see here, by taking a closer look at my emotions surrounding this particular adversity, I’ve learned quite a bit about this seemingly innocent dynamic. Given this in-depth analysis, however, it’s clear that this belief needs to change.  Being resilient in this case means the following:

  1. I’ll never understand what my dog is thinking, so yes I will perhaps always feel helpless but I can do what I can to ensure his happiness.
  2. Achieving a balance in this relationship (and in future relationships) is a simple means of establishing “boundaries” (in this case a loose schedule) and continuously measuring against those same boundaries to see what is working and what isn’t.
  3. There are some things in life that I will be able to change and many others that I will not.

While this is a simple example of approaches recommended in the text, you can see just how much information is uncovered and whether existing beliefs should stay or go.