Archive of ‘Empathy’ category

Losing A Pet

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve always been an animal lover from an early age. There was always something about animals that has continually drawn me in. I love looking into the eyes of an animal and knowing they see me too as my raw authentic self. Animals see us for who we are – truly human. They not only see us as our authentic selves, but they also harness a great capacity to love us just as purely as they see us. It’s a beautiful relationship that is unexplainable, intangible, and yet more real than many of our human relationships.

I was 23 when I got my first dog on my own. As soon as I saw her big brown eyes, I knew she was meant to be mine. Heidi was full of spunk and energy. She had a rough start to her life, and she was unsure of how to trust other humans and animals. I knew, under all that fear,  she had a big open heart and was yearning for the opportunity to be taught basic needs like love, safety, and companionship. We set out on our own adventure together, just her and I. Over the years we conquered many fears and had many laughs. She gained a few furry siblings and learned how to be a great big doggy sister. Her intelligence was unmatched as she learned commands, tricks, and even found her own way home after a Beyonce concert (That’s a story for a different post!)

Similarly to human relationships, our relationships with our furry companions also come to an end. The death of a pet is a very real, painful, and surreal experience, much like grieving a person, marriage, or job loss. The transition of losing a pet is incredibly challenging and often misunderstood. Unfortunately, I’ve had to walk this journey recently as Heidi has made her transition across the Rainbow Bridge. In my grief, I’ve noticed several things that were really crucial for me in my healing process. 

Self Care Is A Must

I can’t stress this enough – please take care of yourself in the same way you would if you were experiencing a loss of any other kind. Your body and soul will require comfort and nourishment during the time after the loss of your animal. You may find yourself feeling tired, tearful, sad, angry, confused…. All of which are normal and valid experiences of grief. Allow yourself time and space to operate at a lesser capacity than normal. Try to get an extra few hours of sleep, or have a satisfying comforting meal. Some other examples of self care for people include meditations, exercise, tending to a garden, reading a book, seeing a therapist, or journaling. Whatever your form of self care is, utilize it and allow extra time in your day for more than normal. Be kind to yourself in this tough time. 

Reach Out For Support

Grief is an incredibly isolating experience. Each person’s grief is solely their own, both in the way it is experienced and the way it is processed. However, there are people around to lean on during that time. Take advantage of your loved ones who are ready to support you in your own process. When Heidi passed, I knew there was nothing anyone could do or say to fix the pain I was feeling, but the outpouring of love and support was so helpful in those first few weeks. I had people reach out via text and snail mail to send their condolences and favorite memories of Heidi. Friends showed up with dinner at my home and sent cookie care packages to show they care. I definitely needed that love and support in that time, and I am so grateful I had people in my support system show up for me. I made sure to connect with friends and family who had also experienced the loss of a pet to feel understood and validated in my feelings, and I created boundaries around those who I felt may not have understood as well. It’s perfectly okay to limit time and energy with those who aren’t as supportive to protect your own well being and health. Set kind and firm boundaries with yourself and others around the support you need in your grief. 

Find Ways To Honor Their Memory

Just as we hope to have meaning with our own lives, it’s important to honor the meaning our pets’ lives have for us as well. Finding creative ways to honor your animal’s journey and the love you shared can be incredibly healing. Some great ideas include planting a memorial tree or garden, donating some money in their name to a local animal shelter, painting a rainbow and portrait on a canvas, or creating a digital scrapbook with pictures and videos of your life together. Create a tangible way to revisit all of your special memories with your beloved furry family member so you’ll always have a piece of them with you. 

Losing an animal is never easy. My heart goes out to those who are struggling with the loss of a pet. You deserve to be held in tenderness and compassion during your grief. Be sure to seek out counseling if you believe you could benefit from extra support and coping skills regarding the loss of your pet. There are some great resources available for those who are grieving over the death of an animal that I have found incredibly helpful during this time. 

Books: 

Always By My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I’ve Loved – Edward Grinnan

Dog Heaven – Cynthia Rylant

The Loss Of A Pet – Wallace Sife

Podcasts:

The Pet Loss Podcast

Healing Pet Loss Podcast

Written by: Sara Balkanli, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


How To Stop Being Mean To Yourself

“I’m such a burden.”

“I failed the test again. I’m never going to get any better at this.”

“They cancelled plans – they must not like me.”

“Everything I say sounds so unintelligent. I’m such an idiot.”

Any of these statements sound familiar? These statements are examples of negative self-talk. Self-talk is your subconscious inner dialogue that you engage with everyday. The average person has about 6,000 thoughts per day (Murdock, 2020). What do you notice about how you talk to yourself? How do these thoughts make you feel? If the answer is sad, unmotivated, upset, angry, or anything similar to these feelings –  chances are you are being mean to yourself.

Why are we mean to ourselves?

Our inner dialogue is shaped in childhood by the way we internalize how we are spoken to by people around us – caregivers, parents, peers, teachers, relatives. Maybe you had a teacher who said you just weren’t a good writer after failing one too many writing assignments. Maybe your parents dismissed your feelings a lot. All this to say – even though we may have internalized negative thoughts about ourselves for years, we can change these thoughts to positive self-talk statements:

1. Start with awareness.

As with any change we take on in our life – we first need to be aware that there is something that just isn’t working for us anymore. The purpose of explaining the “why” above is to create space to use curiosity (not judgement!) to discover where your inner critic comes from.

2. List evidence against your negative belief about yourself.

You may notice that you say, “I’m such a burden,” a lot. What is evidence in your life that shows that you are not a burden? Maybe you have friends that initiate plans with you. Maybe you have a partner that always asks and genuinely wants to hear about your day.

3. Create a new, positive self-talk statement based on the evidence you listed.

With the example above, the evidence shows that “I am loved”

4. Review the list of evidence often.

Keep a running list of evidence against your negative belief on your phone so that you always have access to it. Look at the list even when you are not being mean to yourself.

5. Practice self-compassion.

It takes time for these evidences to replace your long standing negative self belief – it’s like teaching yourself an entirely new language! Be kind to yourself as you navigate this process by using positive self-talk statements: “I’m doing the best I can.” “I can do this.” “I believe in myself.”

Practice using curiosity to identify your self-talk and how the statements make you feel. Therapy can support this process by providing a safe space to explore where your inner critic comes from and work on creating positive self-talk statements to replace negative ones. Wishing you healing on your journey to self-kindness!

Resources:

Murdock, J. (2020), Humans Have More than 6,000 Thoughts per Day, Psychologists Discover. https://www.newsweek.com/humans-6000-thoughts-every-day-1517963

Written by: Sarah Shah, M.S., LPC-Associate (she/her) supervised by Martha Pasiminio, LPC-S


An Attitude of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb

One of my first jobs was as a waitress at a local seafood grill. There I learned the nuances of customer service and to not take things personally. Our motto was “the customer is always right”; however, sometimes the customer was quite grumpy, carrying in the weight of their day into the restaurant and our interaction. In those interactions, I could choose to internalize the customer’s frustrations or to offer kindness. I call this “choose your ‘tude.” I continue to use this as I strive to choose an attitude of gratitude by cherishing the good and seeing challenges as learning opportunities in my personal and professional life. Research shows that one key element to happiness is appreciating the good that we might be taking for granted, and there is science to support how gratitude supports happiness.

Gratitude; more than being thankful.

Gratitude is a multifaceted source of happiness and well-being. It goes beyond just listing things you are grateful for. The leading researchers on this topic created a definition of gratitude that is twofold; appreciating and attending to the good things in your life and recognizing that these things come from an external source (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude is described as an “empathetic emotion” whose practice can positively impact our social, physical, and emotional well-being. 

Gratitude is powerful.

Gratitude helps fire neurons in your brain that contribute towards positive thinking and feelings of happiness. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for the “feel good” emotions and support a lift in mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A study that incorporated fMRI scans found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters showed greater activation in the area of the brain associated with learning and decision making (Brown & Wong, 2016). This suggests that this activation of the brain has lasting effects and can alter the way the participants see the world. The benefits you get from activating gratitude include (but are not limited to!) reduction in stress, increase in empathy, better sleep, enhanced resilience, increase in motivation, and improved relationships.

Gratitude opens up more room for positivity.

The intent is to help steer the focus on what you have instead of what you feel you lack. When you are thinking about the things, people, and experiences you are grateful for, it becomes harder to ponder the negative (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). While the idea of practicing gratitude sounds simple, it can be challenged by competing priorities, a flux of emotions, and feeling drained. Some days we just don’t feel that grateful. The cool thing about practicing gratitude is this practice can help shift your mindset, helping you feel more positive emotions, which has a ripple effect and supports resiliency. 

“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment” – Naomi Williams

Gratitude can be unique.

There are various ways to express appreciation and incorporate this practice into your own life. 

  • Take a moment to reflect on fond memories
  • Start a daily gratitude journal
  • Thank someone for their kindness; verbally, through a thank you note, call, or text
  • Incorporate saying what you are thankful for at mealtime or bedtime
  • Meditate; focus on what you can hear, smell, see, and touch
  • Pay it forward to someone else (coffee is on me!)
  • Take time to appreciate small moments
  • Make a vision board
  • Create a gratitude jar, fill it when you feel inspired
  • Volunteer or donate to an organization in need
  • Use a gratitude app like Happyfeed
  • Listen to a Podcast focused on Happiness and Gratitude

I am grateful for the start of a new year and the opportunity to connect with our community. Now it’s your turn; what are you grateful for?

Resources:

Brown, J. J., & Wong, J. J. (2016, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377. 

Harvard Health Publishing (2011, November). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

Written by Janet Mize, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

1 2 3 4 5