Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM, LMHC. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Accepting People As They Are June 26, 2012

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.

Variation of an excerpt from “The Serenity Prayer”
Reinhold Neibuhr

People are who they are and they will show you who they are. To be mad at them for expressing their true nature is like being angry at birds for flying.

Of course, accepting this can be extremely difficult and frustrating. Most people want to think they, or the force of their love, can change someone. Others believe if their partner, child, or parent loved them enough they would alter their behavior. While some simply can’t accept how family, friends, or co-workers behave, persisting in blaming them for not changing. All variations of non-acceptance are rooted in the ego’s unrelenting tendency to take everything personally and think those near and dear should conform to your expectations.

The good news is: it is not about you! That is not a judgment of your value, simply an acknowledgment of how strongly each soul inhabits itself and its own way of being in the world. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that unique package of thoughts, feelings and behaviors is driven to express itself 24/7. (Even if someone manages to suppress their true nature, by middle age it will break through those dams and assert itself even more strongly.) Again, this is all about each person being his or herself, not about how wonderful a sister, brother, daughter, son, employee, parent, or partner you are.

Since everyone has an ego, it is incredibly easy to think other people’s behavior is a commentary on how they feel about you, but it really is about them, not you. Just like you, when they look in a mirror they see themselves, not the significant people in their life, no matter how central those folks might be.

What complicates this is how other people’s behavior, even though it is all about them, affects you. If a drunk driver plows into your car you are definitely affected by their action, even though its creation had nothing to do with you. Similarly, if your friend, relative, or partner behaves badly towards you it may be very unpleasant, but it really has nothing to do with you. I know this can seem a little mind bending, and you might think, “Well, what if I did something bad, like gambled away all our savings?” Again, you can’t cause a reaction in someone. They create it themselves; otherwise, everyone would respond exactly the same way to all situations. In fact, people may react differently to the same situation at different times in their life, depending on their mood, hormones, diet, age-related issues, health, etc.

Not only is their behavior not about you, even when it looks as if it’s directed at you it is still about them. If someone behaves insensitively, or cruelly to you, it is a reflection of them, not you. Even if you behaved badly first, their reaction is theirs to own.

Often, the more loving, supportive, and generous you are the more likely it is that people will take advantage of you. If you seem to frequently encounter that dynamic  it is far better to learn to set boundaries and develop assertiveness skills than to bemoan the fact that others don’t behave as you would, or you would wish them to. Accepting people as they are, for who they are, is not an easy task; but, once you detach a bit from your ego and resist the temptation to equate their behavior with their love (or lack of it), it becomes possible. Even a little taste of accepting others is a heady experience. Just imagine how free you could feel if you let people be themselves. You may not like them, you may say good-bye to some, you may see others less frequently; but, at the end of the day, not only will you enjoy what they bring to the table you will also find you accept your own sweet self more easily.

It is also wise to remember how most people don’t wake up, rub their palms together, laugh devilishly, and plan ways to harsh your mellow. They are simply trying to get through their day with some equanimity, kindness, and ease. They may accidentally bump into you, step on your foot, or unleash some pent-up anger in your direction. It probably wasn’t with any conscious intention to hurt you. Yes, it still smarts and annoys. Perhaps, during those moments when you want to retaliate, you might conjure up an image of a time you accidentally lashed out at someone with displaced fury or ignored their smile when your mind was a million miles away. Wouldn’t you want them to have some compassion for you, and cut you a bit of slack? Gift your open-hearted understanding to anyone who inadvertently projects their issues onto you and watch how it heals both of you.

Another antidote to those situations is to behaviorally be the change you want to see. Practice awareness and set an intention to connect with anyone who crosses your path, whether family, friend, or stranger. Give what you seek and, miraculously, you will find it reflected back to you.

While changing oneself is challenging, thinking you can change someone else is a bee-line to misery. Even if they do change, they are likely to go back to their old ways. People can ditch an addiction, develop an exercise habit, change their diet, and even stick with those things, but changing their personality is quite another matter, and not likely to last because personality is pretty hard-wired.

What you can do is shift the focus to you, change your perspective and your behaviors. Sometimes, associating with a different group of people, whether a self help oriented one like a 12-step program, or a social or special interest group through meet-up.com, or your local religious community, can kick some new ways of thinking into gear, and allow you to let go of old, unhelpful perceptions and behaviors. You may not be able to change someone else, but you can certainly change the way you perceive their behaviors.

Not taking things personally, allows you to better evaluate what is wonderful about the relationship and separate it from those aspects that are merely a reflection of someone else’s demons, like their addiction, for example. (See If You Love an Addict.)

If you look back on any long term relationship you have had, you will notice how many times someone has shown you their true nature. Of course, if you were young, you may have thought you, and the force of their love or your love, could alter them. Even if you succeeded in bringing out some latent qualities, their deepest personality traits will ultimately surface. The one thing you can trust is they will be who they are meant to be, whether that’s Cruella De Vil, Mother Theresa, or, thankfully, all the options in between.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Turn Your Obstacles Into Opportunities June 20, 2012

Filed under: Obstacles into Opportunities — chocophile @ 7:36 pm

One of my favorite yoga teachers, David Magone, talks of turning obstacles into opportunities. It’s uncanny how you don’t really have to wait to get psyched to deal with something because an obstacle is a motivator in and of itself. That very roadblock will jump start change and push you into learning new skills and ways of being with yourself and in the world.

If you practice yoga, you have probably experienced numerous frustrating times while learning a new pose. Even more annoying are those experiences of approaching a tried and true pose and finding it challenging. Both are easy to view as obstacles. Yet, wouldn’t the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you do finally get it be marred if there were nothing to overcome? What adds to these kinds of experiences power is a combination of renewed knowledge, some might call it faith, in your ability to conquer ignorance and fear, with a sense of mastery and appreciation for your potential. That heady brew of thoughts, feelings, and new neural pathways in the brain prime you to be more open to life and whatever challenges present themselves in the future.

In Hinduism, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is known as the remover of obstacles. But you don’t need to be a god, or invoke one, to practice thinking differently and turn roadblocks into pathways. (On the other hand, if you would like a little assistance, you may want to look at the mantra section and try out: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha, which specifically invokes Ganesh’s power/energy in removing obstacles. Mantras are not magic, even though they may seem a little woo-woo. They may work by auto-suggestion. Repeat a concept 108 times a day for 40 days and it is bound to influence you.)

One of the most difficult hindrances, is the challenge of accepting what seems undesirable, or even abhorrent. Ultimately, there is no trick or specific technique to transforming what is seen as horrible into a benefit; but, by choosing to think differently, in time, shift happens. Here are some tried and true affirmations that can help you re-program your brain.

Everything is happening for my highest good.
This challenge will bring me unexpected benefits.
Not only can I stand what I don’t like, I can use it to transform myself.
Everyone is my teacher.
Right this moment, I am handling things.
Gandhi was right: I can be the change I want to see.

Lest you think this is a lot of hooey, current brain research shows we can actually build new neural pathways in the brain by thinking and acting differently. The old pathways don’t disappear, they fade away, but not completely. With any new stressful situation, they reassert themselves. That’s why, even if you have been sober for twenty years, some cataclysmic life event can make you think of taking a drink. Similarly, if you have post-traumatic stress and you face a new stressor, it’s as if all the old demons have come home to roost. (Of course, you now have new reserves of strength that make choosing wisely a bit easier.)

After reading that, you might wonder, “Why bother?” The compelling reason is that you not only build emotional muscle by re-training your brain, body, and emotions, you strengthen it for any future onslaught. Not to mention the good feelings that come from self-mastery, self-determination, and self-nurturing, all of which are crucial in starting and maintaining these transformative practices.

While cognitive restructuring, a fancy name for changing your thoughts, is essential, it is also very helpful to have physical and spiritual practices to help support your journey. The physical components of good self-care are, essentially: exercise, nature, a healthy diet, some daytime rest, and enough sleep. The spiritual aspects might include: prayer, meditation, mantra work (see the chapter on Mantras), walking a labyrinth, journaling, gratitude practices, music (listening, playing, singing), nature, joining a sangha, attending religious services, volunteering,

Acceptance can be very difficult because it is all too easy to block it with internal demands. People shouldn’t act that way, life should be fair, I shouldn’t have to deal with this, I can’t stand this, The sooner you dispute some of these unhelpful, but fairly ingrained beliefs, the sooner you will enjoy the peace that comes with accepting what you don’t like, respect, or want in your life.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Intuition: Learning To Trust Your Inner Guidance June 10, 2012

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
Alan Alda

Intuition is like wisdom, it builds over a lifetime. While people generally have no trouble enlisting their intellect to make decisions, using intuition is slipperier and more elusive. Western culture typically trains us to trust our brains and distrust other ways of knowing, which can be very limiting. Intuition is the dynamic blend of knowledge from all sources, not only intellectual and historical. Your body, and each of your five senses, remembers things on a cellular level that resist description and purely cerebral understanding.

Intuition is multi-faceted, comprehensive knowing. It is the synthesis of wisdom, physical experiences, your own nature, personality, spirit, and myriad other ways life gets processed that defy understanding. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to fully comprehend something to employ it.

The following are a trio of techniques to enhance your relationship with your inner guru. With practice, you will come to trust and rely on your intuition, make better decisions, and increase your self-confidence.

TRAIN yourself to hear that knowing voice, the repository of your life’s experiences on all levels.
Practice deeply listening to your intuition and sitting with whatever comes up. You may not be ready to act, but you can be aware.
Each time you tap into your gut feelings you enhance the communication between your conscious and unconscious mind.
The goal is to appreciate this holistic way of knowing, even though you may never understand it fully.

TRUST in the mystery, as you allow messages from your brain, heart, and gut to converge and guide you.
Consciously choose to have faith in yourself. This radical choice grounds you more deeply into your unique ways of being in the world.
Develop appreciation for your inner wisdom. In time, acting on your intuition will become second nature.

TRIAGE. Sit with a question until solutions appear. They will.
Be patient, not every situation requires immediate attention.
Some things are like tea, they need to steep for a while.
Waiting can be like a buried seed in winter. It appears to be unproductive, but it’s gathering steam to burst forth and flower.

Whatever you decide, don’t ignore the whisper or the roar. It’s very easy to push these tendrils of intuition back underground, as fears trigger suppression of that inner voice. The fear might be of the unknown, of taking a chance, of trusting oneself rather than others, of upsetting your status quo, of failure, of success, of standing up for oneself, of what others might think, of disappointing someone, etc. All conspire to keep you from following your gut. They are just distractions from betting on yourself and life. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about living fully, which is different for everyone. In “Romantics Anonymous,” a sweet little French film, the male lead says he was incessantly told by his father, “Let’s hope nothing happens to us.” It may be amusing in the movie, but it’s a recipe for a very constricted experience of life. (See “No Mistakes, Only Lessons” chapter.)

All too often, the things you ignore come back to bite you. The bite may manifest as interpersonal conflict, work issues, depression, health problems, anxiety, avoidance, inner dissonance, addiction, suicidal thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. It takes courage to listen to that inner teacher and act on what you hear. Sometimes, the immediate result doesn’t feel good. There will probably be some emotional, behavioral, and life changing consequences since intuition is typically activated when an important decision needs to be made. Don’t mistake unpleasant, scary, or threatening fall-out as proof you shouldn’t have listened to your inner GPS. It’s just your body, mind, and spirit adjusting to something new. These repercussions might last minutes, weeks, or years, depending on how many aspects of your life were affected by your decision and to what degree.

In our culture, patience is not a virtue it’s practically obsolete. Buck the tide. Be gentle and tolerant with the time it takes to make changes and adjust to them. Practice meditation and yoga to cultivate the art of sitting with frustration and not knowing. As you do, you will become more comfortable with allowing growth and change to unfold in their own good time, rather than forcing them into some rigid or limited idea of the only options you can see now. (See “Responses To Get Over It Already.”)

Another useful technique is to use your body as a way to connect more deeply with your intuition. When you have a sense of something being right, or not right for you, go inside and find where you feel that physically. Is it in your chest? Your gut? Your lower back? Some people use this as a short cut to intuitively knowing what they don’t want to do. For example, you may say yes to something and immediately get a pain in your neck. With a little practice acknowledging that pain, you can say no to what triggers it. That may require some assertiveness skills, especially learning how to disappoint someone tactfully and with resolve.

What might interfere with listening to your intuition? Mindless activities, or anything done in a rote, unconscious way, like addictions. The purpose of all addictions, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, is to push unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of your conscious awareness. So, if you have been entrenched in an addiction, or any other obsessive-compulsive behavior, this work may seem daunting. In time, as you deepen and strengthen your recovery, you will begin to hear your intuitive voice. It’s a slow process, so be patient. If you haven’t heard it for years, it will be a faint whisper. Later, as you develop more trust for your inner guidance, that little voice will get louder and louder, until it is almost impossible to ignore. Making decisions becomes easier with this deeper synergy between your heart, mind, and gut.

What you appreciate grows. Be grateful for your ability to sense situations, people, and your path. If you can only tune in to the tiniest whisper, be happy with that. If you are not ready to let your inner guru guide you, just wait. Eventually, you will come to trust your intuition and reap the rewards of following it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


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