Love – Pets, Parents & Partners

Everywhere we are inundated by songs, stories, and movies about love.   Yet still people wonder “What is love?”  Still people go out looking for love.  Still people in their 20’s, 30’s, 50’s and beyond claim that they want to “find someone to love”  or “fall in love”.  What frustrates me most is how many people think of love as a mere feeling.  Or how often people (or songs) claim that “my love” (i.e. feelings) should require, expect or demand some response from “you”.

Love is what you do.

Love is what you do.

I can understand why young people are confused.  (I remember in my tweens asking my mother and other adults “How will I know when I’m in love?” and being blithely told, “Oh, you’ll just know!” with a secret look that I now realize was bluster to cover up their own ignorance.)  MOST, not just many, adults go through life and NEVER actually experience real love.  I’m going to save you from that sad fate.  I’m going to tell you the secret.

Love, like happiness, is something you MAKE for yourself out of thin air.  Only you have to CHOOSE to make it, you have to decide and then commit to loving or make a determination that you WILL love someone.  Because the truth is love is NOT something you feel. Love is something you DO for another person.

Real love is unconditional.

Real love is unconditional.

Love is what you CHOOSE to do when another person’s happiness is as important to you as your own.  When you realize that someone makes you happy whenever they feel happy and you feel yourself drawn in to that whirwind of happiness, then you dedicate yourself and your actions to helping that person along the road to happiness – that, my friends, IS LOVE.  So love is an action.  Love is a dedication to action that empowers and enhances another person’s life.  Without ACTION there is no love.

That’s a hard concept to grasp.  But it is the truth.  Without action there is NO LOVE.  You cannot claim to love someone if you are not taking action for their happiness and lifelong benefit.  LIFELONG benefit.  That’s right, I went there!  This is exactly why children get spoiled if you give them things but not attention, or if you indulge their whims, without looking out for their health, safety, and manners.  Manners and self-control is what children NEED to make true friends and have happy satisfying lives.  If you indulge children but neglect their long term happiness, they become spoiled.  They act like brats.  But the secret is this:  you can indulge your kids or grandkids all you want as long as you also give them what they need for long term happiness:  attention, health, safety & manners.

Love is empowering.

Love is empowering.

Raising kids is how most people learn true love.  I have been attacked and badgered by folks who want to claim that the love we feel for children is intrinsically different than the love we feel for a romantic partner.  This is a delusion.  If you want to learn how to love, raise a child or even a pet.  But be sure you don’t spoil them.  Spoiled behavior is your sign that you are indulging YOURSELF without thinking of the long term well being of the pet or child.  Children and pets who are actually loved will not become spoiled.

So why do so many people think the love we feel for our romantic partners is different?  Because they have never actually loved.  What they FEEL is DESIRE.  Desire takes many forms (sexual, affectionate, attention) but it is not love, it is selfish.  Love is something you do for another.  Desire is something you feel.  It’s really that simple.

So if you have never taken action for the long-term happiness and benefit of another person, you have never experienced true love.  Please, do NOT go out looking for a romantic partner.  Please, do NOT adopt a pet or a child. If you have never loved someone, do NOT focus your selfish desire on some other person or you may well ruin their life, along with your own.  If you have never experienced true love? Work on YOU.

Work on COMPASSION – the ability to put yourself in another person’s place and feel what they feel, understand their motivations and their shortcomings and actually care about their happiness.  Work on WISDOM – the ability to project into the future and predict the outcome and then choose to do the thing that benefits that other person the most.  Work on COURAGE – the ability to ACT in spite of fear.  If there is no fear, there is no courage.  Courage is what it takes to change desire, or any warm feeling for another person into real love.  Because without action there is NO true love.  So work on YOU, before you draw another person into your life, canine, feline, or human.

Love is giving.

Love is giving.

Lastly, love is NOT limited by like.  You may LIKE someone you do not love or love someone you do not particularly like.  For example as adults, many of us LOVE our families of origin but, alas few of us actually LIKE them.  Like is what makes you want to spend time in another person’s company, share activities and conversation.  Love, is a decision and a dedication to that decision.  To me, love is easy but like is rare.  Love never gives up and I never actually stop loving anyone that I have ever loved.  But like, well, that is based on behavior.  So I can fall out of like in an instant if I lose respect for someone or their behavior.  Love is not conditional.

Love is active and continuous and everlasting.

Love is active and continuous and everlasting.

Ideally, a good romantic partnership will consist of love and like.  You may decide to break up with a partner when respect or like fades, but if you truly loved, you will continue to love them….from an appropriate distance.  Likewise, because the children and pets we raise are people we choose, we must have the courage, maturity, and decency to simply DECIDE to love them.  Therefore, you are never allowed to STOP loving pets or children.  You ARE, however allowed to take a break from their company when their irritating behaviors or whiny voices or ever-present demands make you want to scream.  Don’t scream.  Don’t hit.  Don’t punish. Dont blame.  DO give yourself a break!!




How to Raise Children and Pets

First: Get Control

Before you acquire a new baby  (human, canine or feline) you must completely outlaw violence. Using any form of violence on a tiny vulnerable mostly helpless person who is programed to love you no matter how awful you are, will only teach your young charge one thing: violence.  If you were hoping to raise a violent individual who would destroy your peace and happiness, there are many already available for adoption from prisons and pounds.  Go adopt one. Bring it into your happy home, give it access to your most precious possessions and then go to sleep with it in your bed.  How does that feel to you?  Frightening?  Insecure? Desperate?

Right.  Those are exactly the reasons you should outlaw all forms of violence before you begin to raise a baby anything.  Like it or not, if you try to “teach” with violence you will simply create a dangerous adult being who bullies other people and makes them feel frightened, insecure, and desperate.  Granted, there are a few remarkably powerful and golden hearted individuals in every species who can endure violence when they are most vulnerable and still grow up to resist inflicting any form of bullying or brutality on others.  But realize that their parents are NOT responsible for their decent noble spirits.   They were born with it.

So before your youngster is brought home engrave these behaviors on your heart as unacceptable:

1. Spanking, hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking or any form of Physical Violence.

2. Shaming, yelling, humiliating, undermining or any form of Emotional violence.

3. Bribing, bullying, demanding, controlling, sass, sarcasm and any other form of Childish Behavior that you don’t enjoy in strong aggressive teenagers.

You MUST outlaw all forms of these behaviors in YOURSELF and any other caretakers or you will be teaching these behaviors to your youngster who will then grow into an adult and inflict the behaviors on YOU and others.  Remember also that one day you may well be the vulnerable one in the equation.  It really is that simple.  Young people learn to use the behaviors we demonstrate in our treatment of them.  They learn to be the people WE are.  Nothing more and nothing less.

If you don’t want a child who hits, never hit your child.  If you don’t want a child who bullies or manipulates, don’t bully or manipulate your child.  If you don’t want a child who screams at you or her teachers, or spouse don’t raise your voice at the child.  If you don’t want a teenager who lies, cheats, talks back, backstabs, you get the picture?  To raise the kind of person you will be proud of and want in your life, YOU must BECOME that noble person and demonstrate how that person would negotiate the challenges of life every day.

If you are the sort of person who likes to use and defend gentle euphemisms such as “spanking”, “swating their bottom”, “disciplining” instead of the words like “violence” and “child abuse”, then you will need to eliminate those lies from your vocabulary.  I know that’s how you were raised.  I know you want to honor and defend your parents.   Your parents did the very best they could.   Honor your parents by doing even better.

Now, if you are feeling angry at this point and beginning to compose a heated response to my words, that’s fine.  That’s fair.  Write and post your remarks.  Call that therapy.  If you are feeling desperate and out of control at the thought of never using any of these violent tools to control a young person, that is simply because you were never taught any real tools for discipline.  And it is also because you were raised to believe you can control other people.  You cannot.  You can only control one person in this whole world: Yourself.  Obviously you can’t do that very well, none of us can. But realize now that any ideas you had about controlling small people WILL NOT WORK.

Here’s where control comes in in the whole business of childrearing (or pets):  BIRTH CONTROL.

That is all.  Get used to it.  You will NEVER control your child or pet.  However, if you can learn and exercise a high degree of SELF CONTROL, then (and only then) you will teach your kids and pets to do the same.  But if you find yourself trying to control other people at work or at home this is a sign that you should keep up the birth control and avoid getting pets who don’t live in a glass tank, because you are not prepared to parent.  People who want to control others are people who lack self-control.  Plain and simple.

Of course, we ALL grapple for control at times and it always seems like we need to control people around us or our environment.  And we can change both our environment AND the people in our lives.  The thing is we change others ONLY by changing ourselves.  How we say and do things can completely change how others react.  That is what parenting is really all about.  Whether we parent little humans or fur babies, parenting is all about becoming better people ourselves.  Its a great challenge AND its a great opportunity.

So let me say again: If you are not ready to become a better person yet?  Spay, neuter, use birth control.  Then volunteer at an animal shelter or a kindergarten to get your baby fix.  When you ARE ready for a lifelong commitment to improving your personal best as a human being, follow the steps below.


Discipline is teaching self-control

Discipline is teaching self-control

Second:  Set your Goal

Whether you have chosen to raise a small human, small dog or small cat, recognize the FACT that they are only small and inexperienced.  They are NOT toys.  They are NOT simpleminded.  They are NOT lesser beings.  And they are NOT going to stay small, inexperienced, or babies.  It seems most of the problems created by parents are simply because we raise those small people to be babies rather than raising them to be competent adults.

Likewise, most parenting problems can be solved by always honoring the innate personhood of your small charge.  And by constantly reflecting on how your actions will train your small person to be a decent adult.  Here are some examples:

Cute is its own reward

When raising a child, puppy, or kitten, never reward it for being cute or babyish.  Of course cuteness is an evolutionary survival mechanism that keeps small people alive through the difficult early years when they have so many needs and demands for our attention that we can scarcely pay attention to ANYTHING else.  In short, cuteness is YOUR reward for all the attention your small person is sucking up.  It is only natural that you desire the reward of cuteness and want to encourage it.  But you MUST be responsible and control yourself.  Do Not become so selfish that you encourage cuteness and doom your baby to suffer.

Feel free to enjoy your reward of cuteness.  Feel free to hug and love on your small person in gentle ways.  Just control yourself a bit.  Do Not give treats for any form of cuteness.  Give smiles, give hugs, give pats and cuddles.  Then pull yourself together and let that awesome cuteness encourage you to do what is best for the future of your small being.  Like teaching them good manners so that others will want to love them and be around them, even after they have lost their fluffy cuteness.

Kitten behaviors are NOT so cute in grown cats.

Kitten behaviors are NOT so cute in grown cats.

Reward Strength & Independence

Most of us adults wish we could be strong, independent, wise and self-controlled.   Why then, would we encourage the exact opposite in our small beings?  This is simply another example of accidentally rewarding childishness.  We feel so good when our little ones want to be with us, prefer our company to most any other, depend on us and show gratitude for each little thing we do for them, that we may accidentally slip into rewarding these behaviors.  Soon, without meaning to, we are rewarding weakness and discouraging strength.

So it is our job to control ourselves and our selfish impulses to be needed.  Teaching your little ones to be competent adults means teaching good manners.  This is true for ALL babies, human and otherwise.  Manners are NOT for you and they are NOT optional.  Manners are what we teach for the happiness of our babies.  This means teaching your puppy to wait patiently to be petted rather than charging and jumping up on friends and newcomers.  It means teaching your kitten to play without claws and teeth (kitten teeth and claws are so soft and cute that it hardly seems a problem, but grown cats that don’t control their teeth and claws will make your home a living hell.)  And it means teaching your child to wait quietly for your attention unless there is an emergency.  Actually, it means kindly and gently teaching your child good behaviors throughout its life with you.  Remember always – your little one does not know s/he will soon be a grown adult but YOU do!  Therefore it is your responsibility to teach adult norms and behaviors.  Likewise, it is your job to be patient and remember that those norms do not come naturally.  They must be taught with understanding and kindness.  Never laugh at your child’s ignorance.  They only lack experience, not intelligence or feelings.

Venting strong emotions makes kids strong, NOT WEAK!

Venting strong emotions makes kids strong, NOT WEAK!

Encourage Emotional Strength

Emotional strength is probably the most difficult to teach simply because most of us were not properly taught it when we were young.  So here’s the basic process:

1.Teach them to identify & express their emotions.

2. Teach them to vent their emotions.

3. Teach them to enjoy emotions in themselves and others.

Express and Identify – When a small being gets emotional simply help them name the emotion like this, “Are you feeling sad?”  Before long your youngster will be able to correct you when you are mis-labeling, like this, “No, I’m frustrated!”  Then you simply accept and acknowledge their feeling as valid, like this, “Oh, yes, it is frustrating.”

Vent – Once your child has identified their emotion and you have validated their right to feel, most young people will be satisfied and simply move past the emotional state.  It REALLY is that simple.   But sometimes when emotions are BIG they need to get the emotion chemicals out of their system.

Crying is one great way to vent powerful emotions.  A good cry can vent grief, sadness, frustration, shock and surprise, relief and even deeply felt happiness.  Far from weakness, a good cry is how the strongest adults vent powerful feelings safely.  So let your kid have a good cry.  A few encouraging pats and a bit of privacy are all they need.

Unless the crying goes on too long.  Then they may need to talk because they are likely feeling a tangled knot of emotions that they can only unravel by talking…or a sort of cry, talk, cry talk process.  BUT you have rights to feelings too!  If the crying is getting on your nerves – say so! Like this, “Feel free to cry all you want.  But please go cry in your room because I can’t hear it anymore without getting irritated.”  Saying it like that teaches your kid to respect other’s rights to vent while also respecting themselves.  Whatever you do, please DO NOT reward or shame ANYONE for crying.*

Running is also a good way to vent emotions.  Running and screaming, running and barking, running away and crying are all excellent emotional vents.  Jumping or swinging high on a swing, chasing or throwing balls, swinging a bat, splashing in puddles and so on can also be helpful.  Sitting still and pretending NOT to have emotions is not only unhelpful, it actually contributes to a LACK of self control in adulthood.  Too much restraint during high emotions by oneself or others creates a potential for violence.

Obviously the express and identify steps above are going to be a lot easier with small people who can talk.  With puppies, kittens and pre-talking humans its going to be on you to watch for cues and name the emotions as best you can.  So this is where your own self improvement comes in big time.  We all had difficult childhoods because childhood is simply difficult.  Now, as an adult, teach yourself to identify, express, and vent emotions even if its only so your fur or skin babies can have a better childhood than you did.  Try not to oversimplify. (as noted above and in other blogs many emotions can look the same without being the same.) And NEVER reward or punish feelings.*

Enjoy – positive emotions are easy to enjoy, but one little known fact is that ALL emotions end with a happy euphoria once properly vented.  So if you and your babies are identifying and venting properly even the dark and heavy emotions will give you a happy lift once the darker aspects of those feelings have passed.

Good discipline means NO punishment needed

Good discipline means NO punishment needed


*As noted above, emotions should neither be rewarded or punished.  This is primarily because all emotions contain their own rewards if you can learn to handle them appropriately.  Emotions will motivate positive action and positive feelings once the negative feeling have been vented.  They are perfectly set up to motivate learning, personal growth, and positive action.  But it is also important NOT to apply external rewards because it can encourage fake emotions or wallowing in emotionalism which will ruin relationships with others.

Emotions are neither wrong nor right, they simply ARE.  If you and your kids learn to handle them well they are excellent tools.  But there is absolutely NO way to bend emotions to fit what you think is right or wrong.  Feelings are messages from our bodies.  They should be respected, handled and learned from.  They should never be repressed and never used to control others.

There is another reason you should NEVER, EVER, EVER punish your kids.  Punishment is NOT discipline.  Punishment is what happens when discipline FAILS.  Discipline is teaching and learning SELF-CONTROL.  So if you punish your kids you effectively take away their opportunity for self control.  Better that you should punish YOURSELF if your efforts to teach self-control have failed and your youngster has misbehaved or run amuck.  Its okay to punish yourself a little because that is still a form of self-control. You can give yourself a little time-out and still feel good enough about yourself to learn better ways to teach discipline to self and others.

So now you have learned the basics.  You can focus on YOUR OWN learning and self-improvement.  You can sort and handle emotions.  And you can focus on discipline as lessons in self control reinforced by rewards. (But NOT punishment!)  From there you can find a variety of ways to teach your youngsters with positive reinforcement.  You can find some suggestions in the library, bookstore, or pet stores.  And if you are patient and give me even a little bit of encouragement and positive reinforcement, I will tell you some fun and effective ways I have learned to teach dogs, cats, and children of all ages in my next blog.


Four Types of ‘Fear’

There are different kinds of feelings and experiences that most people (because they lack the true definitions) clump together into one big pot and call: FEAR.  This is a disservice to those folks who have experienced Phobias and PTSD and paranoia.  Because plain old fear is kind of fun and easy compared to the other biggies I’ve named.  Plain old fear can be mastered, confronted and handled in a variety of ways that make us feel good.  But when a friend or family member goes through some of the other more intense forms, it LOOKS like plain old fear – except that it can’t be handled or mastered the same way and then that person ends up looking and feeling kind of like a big wimpy baby.

So let me define some of the more intense and much less manageable experiences that the uninformed among us still like to group under the label “fear”.   Please learn from these explanations and stop making yourself or others feel wimpy or inadequate or cowardly.  Understand that what looks like fear can actually be something much much bigger.

1. True Fear

True fear is a sensation caused by chemical messages in your body when your subconscious has noticed something that you need to be aware of and prepared for.  The message says, “Look around! Get prepared!” Its not always a snake that we’re about to step on.  Sometimes its a test or a presentation.  But the solution is the same: pay attention and get prepared.

True fear is helpful and reasonable.

True fear is helpful and reasonable.

This is the GOOD healthy kind of fear that keeps us alive and improving!  We perk up.  We look around.  We see whats coming.  We prepare.  Then we feel something called “relief” as the fear chemical goes away.  We may even feel pride as we see what we’ve accomplished and we hit the endorphin high.  We feel a wave of calm and we feel victorious!  True Fear is the kind of real-time experience that cool people like to have for breakfast.  Makes you KNOW you’re alive!


2. Phobia

This is a nasty trick that people mistake for fear because the symptoms are so similar.  The hair stands up on the back of your neck, mouth goes dry, pupils constrict, heart pounds, hands tremble and so on.  It FEELS an awful lot like True Fear, but its NOT.  Because NO amount of alertness, preparation, or reason brings relief.  It makes us feel stupid.

The cause of a phobia is something really bad that happened in the past that either killed you (in which case the phobia comes from a past life) or nearly killed you when you were young and vulnerable.  So now there’s some small broken off piece of your soul hunkered down inside you screaming its head off, “DO NOT GO IN THE WATER! YOU WILL DIE!” Only this broken piece of you is stuck in the past.  The water will only wet you.  And all the loud warnings in your head just make you feel like a baby or a coward.

Phobia is NOT fear.

Phobia is NOT actually fear.


3. Paranoia

This is the real ball-breaker.  Paranoia is caused by damage to the amygdala – the fear and horror center of the brain. It has NO external cause whatsoever.  Which is a problem, because we’ve trained ourselves to look for real causes to fear sensations and there are absolutely NONE.

Amygdala is the fear center of the brain.

Amygdala is the fear center of the brain.

The cause of paranoia is basically brain damage.  The brain may be damaged by powerful drugs, by a blow to the head, or by brain growth.  Graduate students and other people who push themselves past the brain’s limits often experience a breakdown during which neurons of the brain are literally broken down and rebuilt.  A bout of paranoia can accompany the breaking down.  Teens, whose brains are undergoing dramatic changes as they move from children to adults may also experience bouts of paranoia. Brain growth is an excellent thing.  But few in our society are educated in how the (often painful) process happens.  Ignorance of this process continues to hurt many people and to limit or even stop their recovery.

So as we go through paranoia we may find ourselves curled up in fetal position, shaking uncontrollably, seeing and hearing things that may or may not be real.  Ordinary events take on massively dangerous overtones.  People frequently have periods of black out during which they forget hours or even days at a time.

I have experienced paranoia myself during periods of rapid brain growth.  Once, I actually noticed that sinister music would play in my head randomly at odd times.  I would hear that drop to a minor chord that you just KNOW means that you are the last teenager in camp and you’ve wandered away from the group and there’s a maniac psycho killer in the shadows about to pop out and make you die in humiliating, undignified ways, right?  THAT kind of music!



Still, there are actual advantages to having experienced genuine paranoia.  Paranoia is so random, causeless, and absurd that when you’ve gone through it a few times you can actually begin to separate yourself from the emotion of fear.  You notice that its just a random set of physical sensations without any real cause.  You can step outside the emotional experience of fear and say, “How odd that my hands are shaking.  Funny how rapidly my heart is beating for no reason.  Why does this sweat feel cold to me, yet my face feels hot and flushed?”

When you reach that point simple fear starts to feel like a joke!  Phobias are like a walk in the park.  Even the next bout of paranoia becomes like a great roller-coaster ride.  You feel it coming and you buckle down the safety bar.  You keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.  On the first big hill you shout, “Woo-Hoo!” After a few turns you think, “How long is this stupid ride??” As you round the last few twists and turns you tighten your sphincter and try hard not to puke.  Then as it jerks into the station and slows to a stop you start to laugh like a maniac, slap some friends on the back and go check your shorts.  That is paranoia.

Paranoia roller-coaster.

Paranoia roller-coaster.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a special case that very few therapist even know how to sort out.  It can be debilitating but it doesn’t have to be permanent or incurable.  PTSD is similar to phobias in that it has a cause in the past (this life) and as with phobia the individual has suffered a painful emotional trauma that has broken off a piece of the soul.  However, PTSD is different in that the individual is forced to go back into the same situation that broke them over and over again.  Maybe its part of your job.  Maybe its someone in your home.  Maybe you live in a bad part of town.

Shattered spirit can be healed.

Shattered spirit can be healed.

Whatever it is you have to pull your broken parts together and face the risk of more trauma again and again.  So what happens is that broken part of you gets walled off in a room with no windows or doors.  Shut inside that small room that part of your spirit has no chance to heal or recover and now it cannot even be found.  The spirit does this because if its your job to face trauma, you cannot afford to have a phobic reaction that causes you to freeze and go fetal outside your workplace each morning. So the part gets isolated so that you can’t hear it screaming.

Our broken spirit gets locked down in PTSD.

Our broken spirit gets locked down in PTSD.

Instead of the typical phobic reaction, people with PTSD may simply experience gaps.  They often cannot remember the painful details of the traumatic event(s) because the memories are locked up with the broken shards of spirit.  They may quite simply be UNABLE to perform certain tasks or face certain situations.  Whenever they go into any situation that subconsciously reminds them of their trauma, they may experience an energy drain.  They may need time alone in a quiet familiar place after such experiences.  Because the traumatized part cannot heal, they may need quiet time after any sort of social or emotional stimulation.

PTSD can be healed and people can recover from any trauma no matter how deep.

PTSD can be healed and people can recover from any trauma no matter how deep.

What most folks, including many well-meaning therapists do NOT realize is that PTSD cannot be healed by force.   Traditional therapy says that talking about emotional trauma helps us to heal.  But this is the opposite of healing in cases of  PTSD.  Talking about the trauma actually introduces a new threat of trauma that can force the broken piece deeper into hiding.

Healing PTSD requires a gentle process of finding and opening locked rooms and then nurturing, and rehabilitating the broken shards.  In my practice, this happens quickly and almost unconsciously. Once the part has recovered then the person will spontaneously remember and want to talk about the damaging events…once.  From there, the memories can finally be put to rest, far at the back of the mind where the lessons are extracted but the experience itself becomes drained of its ability to cause pain ever again.  If a person continues to want to talk about their suffering, something has not been healed.

Remarkably, people who are able to recover from PTSD (or phobia, or paranoia) actually become stronger emotionally than the average.  Healing and rehabilitating their broken spirit creates a stability, a nobel depth of character and often a deep and resourceful cache of courage that unbroken people cannot attain.  Those who have been so harshly tested by life, with proper healing, become some of the strongest and most compassionate leaders among us.

If you know someone who has suffered trauma resulting in any of the more lasting forms of “fear” know that I am a therapist who can kindly and gently help them get their lives, and their spirits, back – whole and better than ever before.