Feelings and Lessons from Dogs

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Something I’ve been working on for the past *mumble* years is calming down, softening, and just generally chilling out. My emotions come fast and loose and when emotional I don’t hold back. It has led me to say and do some things that I have regretted, hurtful things or things that when looked back upon reveal themselves to be entirely irrational.

Living in a culture I did not grow up in has made this process of softening unique. I wonder if I would have come to the same conclusions about the soft, gentle, even-keeled person I want to be (but most decidedly am not) if I had stayed in the States. It’s something I’ll never know for sure, but it makes for a fun thought experiment.

One of the ways I practice cultural literacy is, when I feel a negative emotion rising (frustration, impatience, indignation) I look around and see if anybody else seems to be feeling the same way. Usually, nobody does, and it’s just me, huffing and puffing in the middle of an unorganized Christmas program with everyone else enjoying watching the back of some other kid’s parent as they stand in the middle of the crowd to record on their cell phone a 1 minute performance.

It’s true that I have giant swings of emotions that cause me to act out (except for when I don’t, because I am learning!) but it’s rare that negative emotions stick around for very long. I’m an Enneagram 7 which means my desire and goal ever and always is to swing back around to happy, comfortable, positive, optimistic, and at peace. So I tend to get over the frustration, impatience, and indignation pretty quickly.

The other day, however, someone did something that made me mad. It made me so mad. I’m still kind of mad thinking about it now. I was mad for hours after the event. I could feel the anger in my stomach like I can feel it creeping back in now. So mad! Fortunately the mad hasn’t taken over, but it’s lingering, this anger.

This morning during my devo time God said, “Hey, you should pray for that person who did that thing that made you mad.” I said, “You mean like, pray that they realize how crappy what they did was and that they apologize and make it right?” And God pursed His lips and looked down His nose at me just like how I look at one of my students when they’ve said something dumb. So I wrote this person’s name down on my “Pray” list. *huff*

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I used to feel really bad and terrible for leaving my dogs for long periods of time. I used to beat myself up by asking myself: if you’re not with your dogs 12 months out of the year, are they even really YOUR dogs? Or are they just dogs that you sometimes live with?

In 2017 I left my dogs for three months and I said I would never do that again. I just felt too bad. But I did it again this summer and it was actually totally fine. Because my dogs are animals and everybody’s friends and as long as they have each other, daily meals, and a comfy place to sleep they are good to go.

I know this because when I get back from being gone for a while (I recently was out of the house on a 1 week babysitting gig, for example) when my dogs see me they are ECSTATIC. So happy. They are so glad to see me and have me back and take turns laying on top of me. The only emotions they feel (that are observable anyway) when I get back from being gone for a while are JOY.

My dogs don’t hold on to their negative feelings. They don’t hold a grudge. They aren’t mad at me for leaving. They don’t let their anger fester for days so then when I get home we cannot go back to our way of life. They do not resent me.

I want to be more like my dogs in this regard. I want to take each new moment and be excited about it. Like my dogs, I want to say (even if only in an imaginary conversation), “Hey. Remember when you did something crappy to me and it hurt my feelings and made me upset? Well that’s in the past and my human is here now and it’s October which means November is next and there’s fresh chili and apple cinnamon candles so I’m going to go be excited about those things now.”

I’m not going to reach out to this person who did something that made me mad. I went over what they did and my response in my own mind and with a trusted friend and I don’t have anything to apologize for in my reaction. Sometimes this isn’t the case, but since it is, I am going to, like my dogs, not hold resentment for things that have happened in the past, but instead look around and what is exciting and happy and gorgeous about right now.

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There are times in our lives when things hurt and they hurt for a long time or someone does something that makes us really really mad and that anger burns for a long time. Because of my personality and (more impactfully) my very charmed life, I do not have a lot of experience with these kinds of hurts and angers. The kind of negative feelings I’m talking about in this post are the kind that should be fleeting. The kind of reactions and feelings we often give way more time and energy they deserve. Feel your feelings, but don’t let your feelings be the boss. Right? Something like that?

If you’re not sure how to feel your feelings or not let your feelings be your boss or not be consumed by the negative feelings, I recommend seeing a therapist. It’s literally their job to help us figure out our feelings and which ones are worth holding on to.

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