Death of a Pet



Sadly, my lovely dog Dave died a few weeks ago after being ill for about a year. He was with us for nearly eleven years, which didn’t seem anywhere near long enough. He was a constant friend, a playmate and loving companion and we miss him very much.

Attachment to animals

As the first intensity of my grief is fading, I have been thinking about people and their attachment to animals.  I can remember my uncle and his budgie;  he would sit with it on his finger for hours talking to it,  it would walk on his shoulder and then on to his head.   As  was growing up I nearly always had a pet:  a gold fish, a budgie, then a dog.  As I grew older and had my own place first I had cats, and now I have dogs.   Animals have always been a huge part of my life and many people have similar experiences,  where animals are a large part of their lives from childhood through to adult hood.  I think that our relationship with our pets and animals is a very significant one.  It offer us an experience of connection, contact and what it feels like to look after and care for another creature that is vulnerable and dependent on us.

Grieving Process

Part of my grieving process has been to talk to friends and family and remember Dave. To talk about how much I miss him, how painful it has been that he has died and as I have talked about him people have shared their thoughts,  feelings and experiences of their animals too.

A colleague talked about how dogs look at us, the warmth of their gaze as they stare into our eyes. Another shared her thoughts about how deeply we love and attach to our pets.   She believes it is a relationship that is less complex than with another person, because with a person we  may defend ourselves against being vulnerable in case of being hurt and may protect ourselves by being defensive.  Not so with our animals. I think we love them as they love us –  unconditionally.

What part have animals played in your life?  Have you any stories of family pets or animals you have known that you want to share?



Two things have been happening in my life over the last few weeks that have prompted me to think about what Eric Berne wrote about our needs and drives in terms of Hungers. I’ve been tweeting on Twitter, connecting with lots of great new people and unfortunately one of my lovely dogs has been quite seriously ill, so I have been unable to get out and about as much and doing a fair bit of dog nursing.

You may be wondering how this is all connected.  Well, Berne described four hungers:

  • Stimulus-hunger : as the need for mental and physical stimulation, variety, challenge and touch.
  • Structure-hunger: the need to structure time and space.
  • Recognition-hunger: as the need for acknowledgement from others of our existence.
  • Position Hunger: The need for an overall framework for interpreting self, others and reality.

What he also said was that if each of these hungers are not satisfied we will often try to make do by substituting one of the others.


I’ve been finding Twitter a great source of acknowledgement from others – strokes if you will (see blog entry Appraisal Blues for explanation of strokes). And this has been really helpful for me whilst I have been unable to get out and about as much so I think have been substituting my stimulus hunger needs with more recognition. And this has helped me deal with short term changes in my life.

Different Needs

What motivates each of us is different of course, the mix of hungers for each person varies greatly.  So for example,  I am self employed because my need for stimulus in doing the work I have chosen is greater than my need for structure  – to be employed doing it.  Some people love acting spontaneously – stimulus hunger, others prefer to plan – structure.  What I think it can be useful to have an awareness of these needs and drives in ourselves and consider how we meet them.  Make adjustments if we need to and be aware of how the balance between hungers may change if something happens in our lives to impact on how we get these needs met.

What motivates you? How are you meeting your needs for structure, stimulus, position and recognition?



Fun in the Sun

In just a few weeks the long summer holidays begin. Will it be a time of fun in the sun or a stress ridden nightmare with the kids hanging around the house driving themselves – and you – up the wall?

What is stress?

Why do we feel stressed?  Stress has its basis in ancient instincts for self preservation – the flight or fight mechanism where the body prepares to defend itself.   Thankfully, modern life does not present us with many situations where we need to run away but the mechanism still remains.   Periods of stress can result in tiredness or difficulties in sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, difficulties in concentrating, worrying, impatience and irritability. However,  research into the effects of stress has shown that people who are experiencing something positive at the same time as a stressful event can find it has less impact.   The level of stress is also dictated by how the person views an event.  So, doing something enjoyable and changing your perspective can reduce your stress levels.

Here are a few ideas on how to make this summer holiday more fun for the kids and  you.

Realistic Expectations

Be realistic in your expectations of your family and yourself.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, after all, it is part of being human.  Be aware of your inner dialogue – what internal messages are you saying to yourself?  For example, it might be helpful to change negative messages to positive, such as  –“ I am easy going, calm and relaxed.”  Have someone to talk to and share your concerns, difficulties and successes.  And make sure that you reward yourself for being relaxed and calm.

Ground Rules

Agree the ground rules with your partner or with yourself.  Discuss these with the kids, involve them in the decision making process and get their agreement.  Make it clear what you want.   Tidy rooms, no stuff left all over the house, what time to be home, how much TV and computer time etc and in return they get some of what they want.  Set the consequences for not keeping to the agreements.  Make those consequences something that mean something to each child and that is appropriate for their age.  Remember to praise the behaviour that you want.


Have fun together by spending time as a family doing things.  As well as all of the things to do that cost money there are lots of things to do that cost very little.  Here are a few you may like to try:

  • go to the park and have a picnic,
  • make food together – pizzas, cake or biscuits,
  • play music and dance together,
  • play board games or cards
  • or organise a game of rounders or cricket or just get out into the fresh air as anything involving exercise produces a “feel-good” factor in you and kids, and tires them out! You will have plenty of your own ideas, and so will your friends, so get together and put them into practice.

Most importantly give yourself permission and make time to relax. This might mean anything from a quiet coffee and magazine to time exercising, taking long bubble baths or even time chatting with friends and connecting with people.

Following some of these suggestions may mean changing the way you do things but starting with a few small steps is more likely to succeed than big steps that are more challenging. And as with learning anything new it takes time and repetition, so why not start planning how to have a less stressed summer now.

What ideas do you have for a stress free summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.

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Big Skies and Bluebells


April Bluebells

The bluebells are in bloom at Lincare woods.  Every year since I first discovered them – and I only moved to Chesterfield a few years ago – when mid April arrives and there are signs that bluebells are on the way I’m a regular visitor looking out for the first hints of blue.

The way they carpet the earth beneath the beech trees with a hovering blue that’s mixed with the white stars of the wild garlic, and then as the sun is shines though the early beech leaves, which at this time of year are an intense lime green,  I feel truly peaceful and at home.

Special Places

And then I had a wonderful weekend in Northumbria. The weather wasn’t great and I find it really doesn’t matter up there, the amazing beaches that stretch for miles, the big skies and space to breath are enough.

Room for three

Saturday morning saw me walking from Seahouses to Bamburgh along the beach with my dogs.  It was was pretty much deserted so more than enough room for the three of us.  There is something about space that I find very appealing, its something I like exploring in my painting as well, I think it may be openess lets me connect with myself more readily.  And maybe this is one of those times when “why” really doesn’t matter, I just know that I always come back refreshed and rejuvenated and looking forward to my next visit.

Do you have somewhere that you like to visit?  Or a place that is special to you?

Take your time.

I recently submitted some paintings for the Great Sheffield Art Show and the night before the submission date  I was rushing to finish a final painting.  I had originally decided to put forward just five pictures and then as the date approached I thought  – I can try to get another piece completed if I “hurry up”.  Needless to say the picture was not accepted and looking at it when I got home I could see why.  As I look back I know as  I was “hurrying” my ability to critically evaluate it was affected.

Messages in Childhood

One of the key ideas in transactional analysis is that we take in messages as children from parents and significant adults.  These messages then become strategies, ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that we use, both to be ok in the world and as ways of adapting to get our needs met.  There can be many different messages that we take in and doing things quickly – or “Hurry up” is a common message that people carry and one that I often talk about with people I am working with.


One of the ways that I come across a “Hurry up” message when I am providing counselling or therapy is with the person who is impatient to make changes in their life.  We live in a society where so  much is almost instantaneous – emails, text messaging, entertainment, 24 hour shopping – that sometimes there is an expectation that we can make personal changes at the same pace, forgetting that some of the thinking, feeling and behaviours we want to be different may have been with us for a long time and will take time to change.

Along with this of course is what happens when we hurry – like me with my painting we don’t always think as  clearly and our capacity to evaluate a situation may be affected as our primary drive is to hurry and in so doing  we may miss important aspects of our experience that we can learn from.  All in all it really is ok to take our time.



I’ve just returned from a a great trip to Krakow in Poland.  Part holiday, part work  I’m feeling invigorated by the experience.  The work aspect involved my taking part in a workshop that will mean I can work as a Transactional Analysis supervisor and trainer of other psychotherapists;  an important and exciting career development for me.  What impacted on me most from this experience were two things: having a sense of the truly international membership of Transactional Analysis and secondly, that in spite of language barriers and cultural differences, there are often ways that we can communicate with others.

Transactional Analysis

The European Association of Transactional Analysis has over 8000 members and there were people from Germany, Belgium, England, Scotland, Ireland, Russia, Italy and the Ukraine on my workshop.  Some speaking English, others communicating through a translator. What struck me was, that in spite of the language and cultural differences, we had a common framework that we could use to communicate through Transactional Analysis (TA).  In some ways that does make this a unique experience, and even with TA there are national and cultural differences and I found it fascinating to explore this with my colleagues.

Cultural Differences

Since I’ve been back I’ve been thinking about this experience and how we communicate in a more general sense with others.  Are we aware of the similarities and differences between us?  How often do we make assumptions about others?    On this workshop there were people from 8 different countries where cultural and language differences were very clear: every day in our interactions with people, at work and out and about, we make contact and are communicating with people whose “culture”  is likely to be different to ours.  Sometimes because of a difference in country of origin and sometimes just because they were born in a different part of town.

Nesting Instinct

Psychological Well-Being

I love watching the birds at this time of year.  Blackbirds, blue tits and robins grappling with twigs and long strands of grass as they fly off to build their nests, making a safe place to raise their young.  I think that our “nests” are also really  important, not just for those of us with families, but for all of us.  Sometimes we  may not fully account how important the space where we live is to our psychological well-being.

Feeling Peaceful

We recently had an extension built to our house.  The builders did a great job, in spite of this, it was still a disruptive and unsettling experience for me as our space was filled with noise, dust and dirt.  So I’ve been thinking a lot about how important our own “nests” are, not so much in terms of expensive decor or labour saving gadgets, more about the connection we have to ourselves and the space around us.  How we can be  impacted and unsettled by a disturbance in our environment, whether at work or at home.  And of course the opposite is also true – having a space that is nourishing, that helps in the process of feeling connected to ourselves and our environment can be an important element in feeling well and being peaceful.

Supportive Homes

In the hectic busy activity of our lives we don’t always see this link and perhaps where we live is just somewhere to eat and sleep.  Yet my recent experience showed me how much more significant  the place where we live can be.  So an invitation to reflect: the next time you walk through your front door pause for a moment on the impact coming home has on you.  Is this how you want to feel? If not, what can you do that might make a difference and make coming home a positive and nourishing experience that supports you and your well being.

Appraisal Blues?

Salary Reviews

For lots of people this time of year is often salary and appraisal/personal development review time, a time when it’s possible to receive lots of what Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, called Strokes.
Stroke is the word that Berne used for the very early needs we have as babies and children for touching, cuddling and physical contact with people. As adults we still have these needs for contact and we learn to substitute other forms of “recognition” in its place. So a stroke can also be called a “unit of recognition.” There are different kinds of strokes. They can be verbal – “I like your jumper” or non verbal – A hug. They can be positive or negative, and conditional or dependent on the receiver doing something – “That’s a great report well done!” They can also be unconditional “Thank you for being you.”


Unfortunately in today’s more difficult employment climate there may not be so many “strokes” available as organisations are cutting back, in some cases making redundancies, there is less security and many of us are being asked to do more.
For lots of us work can be a hugely important source of recognition and strokes and when these are not so readily available we might feel de motivated, stressed and our mood may suffer. So here are five suggestions to help you keep up your stroke quota by freely giving and receiving strokes:
1. Give and receive a big hug from a family member or close friend at least once a day.
2. Notice every stroke that comes your way – even the smile from the person you pass in the street. You may want to keep a note of them in your diary or a notebook.
3. Fully account for the strokes you are receiving. Sometimes we shrug them off or dismiss them. Take a moment to allow yourself to fully experience the recognition you have been given.
4. Say something appreciative to a work colleague every day.
5. Take a break at least once a day and do something for yourself. It may be something like a cup of coffee and a 10 minute read of your favourite magazine, or a walk in the fresh air.
I think that it’s when life is more difficult that we can forget to do the simple and obvious things that can help us keep our equilibrium and maintain a positive state of mind.


I’m new to blogging so will have to see how this all goes.  I want to publish something weekly or fortnightly and usually ideas or thoughts on something that may have caught my attention in the media or that I may have been thinking about.  The themes will mostly be about personal development in some way, and I’m hoping that people will find what I am writing useful and will be able to use these ideas and suggestions for themselves.