Lessons from the Menagerie

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We all have pre-recorded messages playing in our heads, from long ago. Often the messages are less than approving. Think back to your childhood peeps. “Watch where you’re going, Don’t put that in your mouth, etc.” Many of them percolate in our brains before our conscious memories manifest. They are buried somewhere in our minds and are VERY real. Keep in mind that although my mom was awesome, not every parent balances criticism with words of encouragement and approval. Sometimes, even with loving parents, we grow up uncertain of our worth and for the introverts, feeling kind of unlovable and left out.
All of the self-criticism and cynicism we develop interferes with the warm, loving relationships we crave throughout our lives. The big question is, are relationships that important? The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed people for seventy years. Some thrived, some sank. The common factor among the ones who flourished for decades was that they all had fostered warm, fuzzy and supportive relationships.

I suck at relationships. I do. I happen to be the most loyal and trustworthy friend ever, but I am awkward. To those who don’t know me, I put on a brave face and force the party girl out. As a child, I was always the one who was picked last or left out of Red Rover or Tag at recess. Some of that still resonates in my adult life. BUT, now I have another side of life that is warm, comfortable and loving and filled with happiness and unadulterated joy.

Let me tell you about my menagerie; I introduce to you Lady, Screech, and Roberta.

Lady is about two feet tall, fuzzy and, very white apart from one apricot spot. Rewind 11 years and it was love at first sight. She was scared, exceptionally well-groomed and dropped a hacky sack ball in my lap. She bounced around frantically, tail wagging so furiously that I thought it would fall off. I only went to look, but around midnight, Lady joined the family.

In no time at all, I found out why dogs are referred to as woman’s best friend. Lady was entirely in love with me, and soon that feeling was mutual.

If I had a particularly frustrating day, Lady didn’t care. She’d jump on me as soon as I came in the door, bouncing like Tigger way up past my shoulder, tail wagging at furious speeds, yapping with delight, trying to lick my face, zoom up and down the house before repeating her performance.

Sometimes work was bad. Sometimes, I felt left out from the social groups. Lady didn’t care. She still doesn’t. To her, I was still the most beautiful person in the world. She still burst with joy when I got home, buried me in licks, desperate for me to pay attention and play with her. Most of all, she’d bring her beloved purple sheep for a game of squeak and fetch. And when I am low, she cuddles her warm little body with mine on the couch, looking at me with those big, expressive brown eyes.

Honestly, I don’t even have to leave the house for her to find me fascinating and utterly lovable. When I leave the room or head upstairs, even for a minute, she is still busting out of her fuzzy pink skin with joy at seeing me again. It is as if she sees something in me that I cannot. It’s taken me almost a decade to learn the lesson Lady has been teaching me. Smart puppy. Good dog,

It’s pretty basic peeps. Keeping up with the Joneses is an endless game. And at the very root of it is that lost child’s longing for approval. Think about how often you’ve said to yourself: “If they knew the real me they wouldn’t like me.” Or “If I were making more money/got that promotion, then they’d respect me more.” Just stop right now. One of my friends is always questioning, reading self-help books to analyze and improve her “self.” We all long to be perfect, flawless, and get annoyed when we aren’t where we imagined we should be at this point in life. So I ask you…what would my sweet Lady say?

I bet she thinks, “I don’t care if you have to lose a few pounds or get a raise, right now I love you, and you are the only person worthy of my doggie love.” How about “Yes, you get moody and anxious too often, but you have my respect and devotion.” The key is folks; Lady loves me for who I am, what I am, and unconditionally.

Let’s talk about the crazy cockatiels for a moment. They are needy at times, but always ready to play or cuddle when I am at my lowest. They don’t care if I am fat, thin, poor, rich, working hard or hardly working. They want to share their love and have their feathers skritched.

And so, the more I learn to accept myself, flawed and imperfect, the more relaxed I am becoming about painful emotions and setbacks in my life. I have also become more accepting and loving toward others. This, in turn, means that they respond to me with warmth. And so, that lonely child on the side of the playground is now more self-accepting, despite her flaws and can be a source of comfort, love, and joy to others. This breeds good relationships.

Supportive relationships, as research has found, are the key to wellbeing. They help keep your body and brain working well for longer. At our cores, we’re all hot messes, and we fall short of our aspirations. That’s being human. And it’s OK.

The birds and Lady want you to know that you are lovable.

 

Stay motivated and caffeinated!

 

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