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What’s at the root of your overwhelm?

Overwhelm - how it can creep up on us

Reading the latest Psychologies Magazine (December 2018), I was drawn to the self-analysis quiz - ‘What’s the Root Cause of your Overwhelm?’  Answering the multiple choice questions I found I scored highest on ‘Perfectionism’. Reading through the other 3 categories I could just have easily identified with any of them! The others were self-doubt, over-thinking and people-pleasing.


The Creep

I have been staying at my mother’s intermittently over the last few months helping her get ready to move home. Staying with her means the daily routine for the dogs and I changes quite a lot. That’s not a problem. I’m happy to help.

I was on my last visit, before the big move. In the middle of the night I was woken by Jack, unusually, who wanted to get out to the toilet. Reluctantly, I heaved myself out of bed. He relieved himself. We went back to bed and I struggled to get back to sleep.

The next morning I was grumpy, the result of a broken night’s sleep. Keen to avoid more sleep deprivation I decided it was because of their changed routine. Their final walk had been too early. So I walked them later that evening. Neither of them did anything more than pee a lot (well they are boys!).  At 4 am Archie took his turn to wake me up. He was not content with being let out in the yard for a pee. Growling, in the dead of night (that's me that was doing the growling), I took him to the orchard and waited in the dark for him to do his business. We went back to bed, I was even grumpier.

At 7:00 am I was really wanted to stay a bit longer in bed  but Archie was up again, pestering me to go outside. In my own house this isn’t a problem, I can just let him out into the garden. At my mother's house I have to go with him because the garden is not enclosed and she lives near a road. So still in my pyjamas, I donned wellies and a raincoat and followed him out. I stood and waited in the grey November morning.

What was going on for me?

I was trying hard to ignore the feeling, but I was angry. I was angry towards him.

"Why was he doing this to me?”

“Didn’t he know I had a whole lot of other things to do today?.”

“Why can't he just go to the toilet when I take him out?”

I know, totally irrational, but I’m being honest!

These thoughts were followed by my familiar self-recrimination:

“why can’t I be a nice person and just look after my dogs? Instead I seem to nurse this resentment. Other people would be accepting and just want them to be comfortable.”

They had chicken for dinner the night before. I had previously wondered if Archie had developed an intolerance to chicken. But then again, dogs with allergies? Am I succumbing to the latest fad for pet owners?

'I knew there might be a problem,  I shouldn’t have fed chicken'.

Archie wasn’t even trying to pooh, he was just eating grass. So I knew he was self-medicating. Why was I angry?

Increasing Understanding

Eventually, with quite a bit of resistance on my part, I started to question the emotions I was feeling.  What could I learn? I soon recognised that I didn’t want to think about faults in myself.

‘I’m the creator of Anubis Therapy, an innovative way to self-awareness with your dog as your guide'

I needed to believe I was the expert, omnipotent! That need was incompatible with finding faults in myself! Hmm Perfectionism..a little synaptic connection in my mind with the Psychologies article the day before.

So I had a dilemma. ‘Knowing myself’ is one of the most important things I can do in my life. What anyone can do. It's what my therapy is about. Do I only want to know myself if it shows me that I’m super-duper great at everything?  A reminder that working on yourself is not always an easy route 🙂

What else was going on?   I acknowledged how it terrifies me that any harm will come to anyone I am responsible for, humans or animals.  I realised I was trying to block that fear from myself and instead blame it on Archie and his inability to toilet at the prescribed time! (There’s a great YouTube clip from Brene Brown on how we project blame on others to protect ourselves.  It has helped my understanding of blame)

I was blaming Archie and this situation for my frustration, but the build-up of emotion was actually to do with a whole host of other things that were unconnected. They were only connected in how they came together as the spaghetti junction in me: helping my mother clear out a lifetime from cupboards, visiting the solicitor, getting the dogs walked, organising removals and running my own business. All vying for my attention. While I desperately wanted do the best for everyone.

Letting Go

Then I tried to stop thinking and analysing it all. Archie continued to eat grass. I stayed present with the feelings. Gradually some tears squeezed out. Not a full release – so I know there will be more to come -  just enough to know that I’m on the right track., that there’s work to be done there.

A few minutes later, I’m relieved to say, Archie had managed to move himself too (all puns intended!).

I had managed to step a little closer to knowing (and accepting) who I am.

I am left wondering how our dogs’ digestive upsets can be caused, even just a little,  by the wider emotional landscape that they are being subjected to.

PS If you are interested in trying out this sort of analysis for yourself the process I use is described here  Self-Help for Dog Owners  (but only if you ever get annoyed with your dog!)

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