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.

Why Do Most Therapists Care So Much About Your Childhood? September 16, 2016

Filed under: Childhood's Impact on your Life — chocophile @ 5:32 pm
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“What’s past is prologue.”

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

 

The thing about the past is that it’s not the past.

Irish saying

 

 

People are often deterred from starting therapy because they think they will have to dredge up unpleasant things from their childhood, which can feel daunting. Yet, childhood experiences will surface, as they typically influence your present relationships. That doesn’t mean you have to excavate every disturbing event from your past, but it usually includes dealing with the issues and patterns that keep paying undesirable emotional and behavioral dividends in the present.

 

If you are working with a seasoned therapist you trust, the journey is fascinating. After all, who or what is more interesting than you? Good therapy helps you develop compassion for whatever you went through, as well as appreciation for how resilient you are, both of which can lift your spirits.

 

It’s perfectly natural to have some anxiety about retrieving unhappy childhood memories as you might fear being flooded with feelings of worthlessness, rage, depression, and anxiety. Fear of being retraumatized and feeling as helpless as you did growing up is a real concern that deserves attention. Therapy can help you manage those concerns, while only going as fast as you feel safe to go.

 

No matter how inconvenient and annoying it is to have childhood issues still affect you as an adult, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Imagine you plant a tree. Every year as the sapling grows you force the trunk in another direction. One year you bend it to the right, the next you bend it to the left. After a decade you let it grow straight. For the entire life of that tree its base will be jagged. No matter how big and strong the trunk grows, the base will never be straight. The tree is incredibly healthy, but its early years are still obvious to anyone looking at it. Humans are far more complex than trees, and can cover up the effects of their early years in myriad ways; yet, those childhood experiences exert an influence.

 

Another reason therapists care so much about your childhood is evidence gleaned from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) which showed definite links between the amount of adverse childhood experiences and an increased incidence of health, mental health issues, and social problems. You can take the ACE questionnaire here: http://www.acestudy.org/the-ace-score.html. (You can read more about the study here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/the-adverse-childhood-exp_1_b_1943647.html)

 

Of course, you did not need to have major traumatic childhood experiences to have issues. New research talks about the difference between what researchers are calling “little t” and “big T” trauma.  “Little t” are things like incessant put downs, devaluing you as a person, snide remarks and sarcasm, while “big T” usually refers to war, rape, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse. Their findings show how anything that feels like family betrayal can actually be worse, long term, than cataclysmic events. The theory is family betrayals, or betrayals by an intimate, go to your very core and make you feel unsafe. Unsafe in your body, unsafe with people you desperately want to trust, and unsafe in your world. After all, if you can’t trust your family, whom can you trust?

 

It’s healthy to avoid pain, and revisiting traumatic experiences can be difficult. Luckily, there is a therapeutic technique called Internal Family Systems therapy that is both gentle and deep. It greatly limits the chances of being flooded with unpleasant or disturbing memories and their attendant emotions. IFS allows you to get to know your various parts, how they might be polarized, and whom they are protecting (vulnerable child or teen parts that still carry heavy emotional burdens). In addition, it helps you appreciate all the creative ways your protective parts have been trying to keep you safe, even when some of them have used alcohol, drugs, random sex, gambling, hoarding, etc. to keep your emotional Mount Vesuvius from erupting.

 

If the idea that you have a multiplicity of internal parts seems alarming, think of all the times you said something like: “Part of me wants to go to the movies, but part of me knows I should study for that exam tomorrow.” It’s second nature to notice different parts of you that want different things. What is less intuitive is how some parts use extreme behaviors, emotions, and thought patterns to protect you from feeling shame, grief, inadequacy, worthlessness, etc. IFS puts you in the driver’s seat. You control how fast you want to go, and if you start to feel flooded with an unpleasant emotion your therapist can help you unblend from the part creating it.

 

Of course, IFS is not the only path to freedom from the effects of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Mind-body practices like yoga are extremely helpful in creating a new internal landscape, while fostering a different relationship with your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

 

Philosophical approaches like Buddhism can help you sit with unpleasant emotions, watching them come and go with curiosity and interest, knowing they won’t last. Buddhist techniques also help you reframe whatever painful experiences you might have so you can see and experience them differently.

 

For those of you who have often thought people should just stop blaming their parents and get on with life, I am not suggesting anyone blame their parents. This is simply a way to explain how childhood experiences have a long term influence. While you can work wisely with them and feel better, it’s impossible to completely overcome their effects.

 

“Your suffering is your benefit,” is a Buddhist phrase often invoked as a reminder of the hidden gems in even the worst pain. Tibetan Buddhist monks go even further with their practice of seeking out suffering. No, they are not masochists, they simply believe suffering ignites the fire of compassion for yourself and others. Just as in the Buddhist practice of loving kindness, or metta meditation, you start with yourself.

 

For more information and guidance about metta meditation see these links:

http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_in.htm)

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Breathing: 10 Breaths to Create Joy February 16, 2015

Filed under: Breathing: 10 Breaths to Create Joy — chocophile @ 4:31 pm
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Humans needed to survive in harsh conditions since our earliest cave dwelling days. As a result, our brains got very good at sensing danger. If we had a traumatic event, or even a close call, we had to learn from one experience to avoid those situations and any that looked like them in the future. A great survival skill, not so great for living anxiety free day to day.   To counteract that natural predisposition and create new neural pathways of joy, try the following:   Take 10 slow breaths whenever you are happy.

 

Contentment also counts as happiness, at least, according to the Buddha. Following his example, you don’t have to wait until you are completely blissed-out, everyday little joys are ripe for reinforcement.   When you eat that first strawberry of the season, laugh out loud while reading a great book, notice the birds singing, watch children play, hear your favorite song, try something new and are surprised at how much you like it, get kissed or touched by a loved one, figure something out that eluded you, find yourself happy for no reason, or anything else that floats your boat, STOP and take 10 slow breaths while focusing on your happy feelings. You might even see if you can notice where in your body you sense them and breath into those spaces. For the fullest positive effect cultivate a feeling of gratitude.

 

Our brains are wired to remember dangerous, bad, or threatening situations. It’s called the negativity bias. That ship has sailed, it’s simply how we’re designed. Since neurons that fire together wire together, you can create new neural pathways through this practice. Not only will you feel better in the process, your amped up joy will strengthen your resistance to stress.

 

If you want a more physically oriented practice that helps you access good feelings when you are feeling depleted or down,  try this yogic Breath of Joy:

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Effects of Abandonment on Adult Relationships: Ambivalence and Attachment Issues August 11, 2014


There must be something in the human brain that makes it enjoy playing with different, often opposite, ideas simultaneously. Ambivalence is incredibly helpful when we are brainstorming or problem-solving, less so when assessing the value of relationships. Fortunately, this natural proclivity to complicate our lives is beneficial. Unfortunately, it can also be time consuming and draining.

When it comes to relationships, if you have a history of abandonment in childhood (not only obvious neglect or abuse, but emotional unavailability, or over-controlling parents) you might feel predisposed to staying in a relationship that no longer works for you; or, embark on one unlikely to satisfy your emotional desires. (I know some might call those needs, but I subscribe to the idea you have only a handful of true needs and the rest of your longings are actually desires. Why? Because by calling wishes needs you ratchet up how crucial something is to you. If you think you desire something and you don’t get it you are disappointed. If you think you need something and don’t get it you can feel devastated.)

Looking back on your childhood, if you regularly experienced any form of abandonment, you are most likely seeking what you didn’t get from your parents: consistency, reliability, and attention. It can be difficult to see over-controlling parents as abandoning, but they are. Their invalidating behavior implied you were not able to make decisions for yourself, thereby leading you to believe you needed them for everything and couldn’t cope. This is just as damaging as neglect in that both sets of parenting behaviors create a sense of insecurity and anxiety.

In addition, over-controlling parents are often co-dependent and live their lives vicariously through their child. This puts enormous pressure on the child, as all children are born with the desire to please as a way of insuring their health and safety. If this type of parenting is successful for the needy parent, the child ends up either achieving what the parent pushes, or rebelling against it. Either way, as an adult, that person is often unaware of what he or she really wants. This encourages ambivalence and difficulty making decisions.

Since no relationship is perfect, it is natural to have moments when you question why you are with someone and other times when they seem like the sun, moon, and stars. Those are normal fluctuations of intimacy, the waxing and waning of interest in any long-term relationship. Natural ups and downs are nothing to be concerned about, as everyone has them. However, if the legacy of your childhood has you continually swinging from one extreme to the other, you might want to pay attention.

If you had controlling parents it is easy to see how you might equate controlling behaviors with love and care. Yet, another part of you, a more independent part, could crave autonomy. That part might easily rebel against anyone’s attempts to mold or control you. In general, while people do like a bit of nurturing from their partners, they do not want so much that it seems oppressive or stifling. If you grew up in a home with over-controlling parents you might feel as if your approach towards adult love relationships teeters from one end of the spectrum (loving the attention) to the other (resisting anything that even remotely looks like control). Naturally, this back and forth can feel like ambivalence. If you experience that in your relationship you may want to seek out a qualified therapist, as childhood issues are difficult to work out on one’s own.

To make things even more complicated, if you grew up with controlling parents you may have lived with anxiety about not pleasing them, or feeling as if they would not love you should you not follow their plans. This also makes adult relationships challenging, as you can be extremely sensitive to the slightest hint of a loved one’s rejection or disappointment. Once again, playing to your audience and not being true to your own wishes and desires.

Everyone has issues and triggers, and there’s some co-dependency in almost all relationships. The only time to be concerned is if they are getting in the way of your goals, whether at work, with your health, finances, social or love life.

What looks like ambivalence may really be fueled by deep-seated fears of abandonment. The ego loves to feel as if it’s running the show and can be very sneaky in its methods. It also likes black and white answers. For instance, it may seem as if you are choosing to end a relationship when, in fact, the ego just wants you to feel as if you are in the driver’s seat. You leave before someone someone might leave you. Yet another reason why it is so important to examine your history in relationships and your current motivation to stay or go.

Ambivalence is pretty easy to assess; but, how do you know if you have abandonment issues?
Reflect back on your childhood:

Were you cared for in predictable, loving ways?

Were your physical needs attended to in a timely manner?

Were your ways of being, your thoughts and feelings, respected and valued?

Were you heard?

Were you seen?

Did you feel as if your parents reliably had your back?

Were you encouraged to pursue your interests?

Were your successes celebrated?

Did you feel loved, cherished?

Of course, not even the best parents are always loving, aware of their child’s needs and desires, and attentive. It is what happened to you and what you felt most of the time that is important, as that is what shapes your view of others. Your childhood experiences with people, whether are they are trustworthy, for example, has direct bearing on what kinds of adult relationships your will forge.

Luckily, none of this is set in stone. With therapy it is possible to overcome many of the influences of the past. Internal Family Systems therapy, Object Relations Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, yoga, meditation, yoga nidra, and many of the body oriented therapies can all be extremely helpful in creating the relationship with yourself you wish you had had with your parents. As you find within what you have been seeking outside yourself you become more and more capable of the true depth and intimacy you seek in relationships. It may be enough to create it with yourself. For many who have felt abandoned as children, it feels quite nourishing to connect to people platonically and/or romantically. To others, it feels most soothing and fulfilling to seek union with a higher power. Whatever your path, it takes great courage to explore your inner landscape and commit to personal evolution and self-compassion.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Shanti, Shakti, Prema, Bhakti Meditation For Centering December 31, 2013



This is a very short, restorative, centering meditation you can do sitting on the floor, sitting in a chair, or even lying down.


To start, center yourself with a few deep diaphragmatic breaths, making each one a bit slower and more relaxed than the last.


With your hands in prayer, and thumbs touching at the third eye, quietly whisper or think the Sanskrit word SHANTI which means peace. Do this a few times while you focus your attention at the third eye, a little above and between the eyebrows.


Move your hands, still in prayer, to your lips and whisper or think the Sanskrit word SHAKTI meaning power. As you breathe, allow yourself to feel your own power and commitment to what you want in life.

 

Now, with your hands in prayer at your heart whisper or think the Sanskrit word PREMA, for love. Breathing slowly and mindfully, focus your energy on your heart and your intention to deepen your compassion for yourself and others.

 

When you are ready, with your hands at navel height, place the back of your dominant hand in the palm of your non-dominant one, cradling it. Whisper or think the Sanskrit word BHAKTI, for devotion. As you breathe calmly and slowly, remind yourself where you want your energy to flow by asking: “To what am I devoted?”



Rest your hands in your lap, or if you are lying down, on your lower abdomen, and feel the effects of this soothing practice on your body, mind, and spirit.


If you would like some music in the background, I recommend the GRACE CD by Snatam Kaur, especially her track: LONG TIME SUN, a classic Kundalini chant, in English; or, the LOVE IS SPACE CD by Deva Premal.

 

Note:

I made a six minute audio version of this meditation that anyone is welcome to have by emailing me at: info@nicoleurdang.com.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Things I Keep From Myself June 18, 2013



“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development.
To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life.
It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis


“And that is how we are. By strength of will we cut off our inner intuitive knowledge from admitted consciousness. This causes a state of dread, or apprehension, which makes the blow ten times worse when it does fall.”
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover


We all do it: deny certain things just so we can get through the day with less stress, fewer negative interpersonal issues, and a minimum of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps, we stop counting how many drinks we had, how much money we spent, or how many chocolates we ate. It is all in the name of avoiding the truth. What truth? The truth that we may find our job meaningless, haven’t the slightest interest in our mate, feel overwhelmed from the demands and responsibilities of raising a family, experience physical aches and pains we ignore, drink way too much caffeine, take a plethora of medications to quiet the demons, and live with an inner cacophony of self-criticism. Those certainly sound like a boat load of genuine issues, and they are. However, they are also capable of distracting us from our deeper unconscious conflicts.


Some people carry their issues to the grave through denial, while others choose to face their fears and do the scary work of plumbing their depths through self-awareness. It is extremely frightening to acknowledge how much you might dislike your mate, feel ambivalent about child rearing, or work in a soul deadening job; however, allowing anxiety (about the possible fall-out of looking at your life) to stymie your ultimate growth could ultimately create more pain.


My mother likes to say she hates change even when it’s for the better. I know she’s not alone in that view. Unless you are an excitement junkie, you probably agree with her. Facing the hard realities of life, with its potential for intense upheaval, is typically something we go into kicking and screaming. Who wants to clean up the mess after an emotional tsunami? No one. The good news is just the way you have to pulverize everything to make a great smoothie, things may be smashed to bits, but there will be gains you can’t even begin to imagine. Focusing on possible losses only delays your growth. That’s OK, too, as we often have to feel a situation is untenable before we actually do anything about it.


Bear in mind, it is natural to live with some denial. If we didn’t we would feel constantly overwhelmed and too numb to do anything. Give yourself credit for having the courage to plumb your depths, and lavish yourself with compassion as you gently explore some of the following options for getting more in touch.


Ask yourself: What am I avoiding facing?

This is a very tough question.

A portal to it may be asking yourself when do I feel my most difficult and challenging emotions?

Is the situation triggering guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, or a combo plate?

Is there any pattern I can discern?

What might I be denying that I am distracting myself from seeing?

A good way to ferret that out is by looking at your favorite addictions, habits, and dependencies.

When do you most typically engage in them? Are there certain triggers that activate those behaviors?
If so, simply delay your usual habit for five minutes and see what emerges.

You might also want to try writing down your thoughts and feelings before engaging in your addiction, during it, and afterwards. I know this will intrude on the mind-numbing loveliness the habit engenders, but the insights you gain will be worth it.


If all that seems too heavy for now, you might want to try asking yourself what is really going on when you feel any unpleasant emotion, even something as mundane as frustration, annoyance, or irritability.

What are you thinking? If you are angry, you are probably demanding you, others, or the universe be different.

Experiment with allowing life to be unpleasant, difficult, annoying, frustrating, and disturbing, because, it will continue to be.
You will be a much happier human if you can adjust to reality, since reality is not about to re-orient itself to suit your desires or demands.


Last but not least, you can try making a list of “100 things I might be denying.” There probably will not be 100, but this particular exercise is an excellent way to tap into your unconscious mind.
Here’s how it is done:
Number a piece of paper from 1-100.
Title the top of the page: Things I Might Be Denying.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and write as fast as you can without any censoring. Repeat any item as many times as it occurs to you.
The idea is to allow your thoughts to flow. At the end, look over your list and see if any themes emerge. What emotion(s) do they typically trigger?


If you are dealing with an addiction try a 12 Step program. It will not only provide a way out, but give you a room full of other people with similar challenges who can truly relate with compassion and empathy. These days, you can even do a virtual meeting through teleconferencing.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

No mistakes, only lessons. March 27, 2012


Panoramic awareness is based on a certain amount of trust, or optimism. Basically nothing is regarded as a failure or as dangerous. Rather, whatever arises is experienced as part of a creative and loving relationship toward oneself.

Chögyam Trungpa

 

There are no mistakes. All of life is a blessing given to us to learn from.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

 

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

John Powell

 

From a very young age we are trained to seek out and notice everything that is wrong. Beginning with our earliest days in school, we are told how to correctly spell, add, subtract and multiply. This vigilance for mistakes can be extremely helpful; however, there are times when it is inhibiting, like when the art teacher corrects our drawing, or the music teacher tells us the song we wrote is too weird. Of course, not all teachers take that approach, but if they do, it cramps our creativity. Picasso’s lopsided faces or Loudon Wainwright’s lyrics never would have gotten “A”s.

 

If we choose a profession like medicine, law, accounting or plumbing, we are again trained to seek out and eliminate what is wrong. Of course, you want your dentist or electrician to notice what’s amiss and fix it, but perfectionism in all areas of life is stifling. If you think you have to do everything perfectly from your first attempt, you won’t try many new things, and your days will be less rich.

 

On a more global level, we watch or read the news and learn of wars, floods, financial collapses, famines, and, once again, focus on everything that is broken or hurting.
It’s no wonder we see ourselves as lacking and needing repair.

 

What if you took the radical approach that you are perfect just the way you are, right now? Yes, you, with all your thoughts, feelings, talents, yearnings. You are whole, complete, and fine just as you are. You don’t need to lose weight, make more money, have more friends, or meet your dream partner to feel good and peaceful in yourself right this minute. You can choose to go against all that training of looking for defects and focus on the positives. In a way, this is similar to a gratitude practice, though in an evolved gratitude practice you can be just as thankful for the things you don’t enjoy as for those you love, since you assume everything is happening for your highest good.

 

By thinking you are complete as you are and you don’t need anything or anyone to make you better, you open your heart to your own sweet self, just as you are right this minute. You may not like everything about yourself or your life but you can work on accepting things and people as they are, including you.
Instead of doing a daily or hourly inventory of what’s wrong, look for what is right. By seeing everything as part of your journey, even when you you don’t like it, you can practice radical acceptance.

 

Here’s a different twist, try noticing what is upsetting as a way of reevaluating your judgment about your perception. It is a lot easier to accept things we deem difficult or unpleasant when we stop telling ourselves they should be different. Clearly, we don’t control the universe; but, we can learn to think differently about everyone, including ourself. By focusing on what is going well, and you can choose to view life positively if you change your attitude, you will feel more bouyant, open, and joyful. In the meantime, by embracing what you have previously shunned you welcome all life’s experiences, not just the puppies and rainbows.

 

Why not assume you are here for the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said. Practice a bit of Buddhist mindfulness, or yogic witnessing, and observe without judging or evaluating. This doesn’t mean you will welcome a divorce, bad diagnosis, empty nest, bankruptcy, or other big challenges, but you will approach them as opportunities to learn, grow, and experience life in this moment, in this body, on this planet.

 

We yogis like to say everyone is our teacher. Everyone and everything. Some lessons are very hard and others easy; with practice, you can embrace them all.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Restlessness, boredom, and groundlessness October 9, 2011



While there are a multitude of distractions and amusements available to anyone with a library card, it is not unusual to go through periods of boredom when not even the most scintillating book, movie, or conversation will sate the crankiness demon. At those times, it is best to stop whatever you are doing and simply sit with what is. Are you feeling annoyed, frustrated, agitated, sad, or self-critical? Welcome whatever comes up. Investigate it. Do something paradoxical and try to increase the feeling. This may sound counter-productive, but it will actually help you figure out what is going on. If you let yourself go deeply into your boredom the underlying issue will surface. Once it does, ask yourself how you want to handle it. Consciously choose to explore your thoughts and feelings though journaling, talking with someone (friend, relative, clergy, or therapist), or simply breathing, meditating, and allowing them.


Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to banish it immediately. By exploring what is going on right this minute, you allow yourself to relax with what’s coming up. It is only a feeling. You have probably felt every emotion before, whether fear, joy, anger, love, anxiety, sadness, or grief, and you’re still alive.


Boredom is often a code word for something else. It seems to appear when your internal state is so strong anything external loses its power to divert you. The irritability comes from wanting relief from those simmering uncomfortable feelings and knowing the only way out is through. When nothing feels right or good, just breathing can be a refuge.


No one likes feeling irritable, bored, or restless. Nor should you. Perhaps, the purpose of these annoying feelings is to wake you out of a funk. Sometimes, an unpleasant state of mind is necessary when routine ways of being and doing have sucked the novelty out of life. Variety does spice things up, and without it living can lose its luster. Whether it’s trying different foods, listening to new music, taking a drive to an unknown locale, or going to an art opening, mixing things up helps you thrive. In addition to creating new neural pathways, unpredictability and spontaneity create a sense of surprise and delight. Of course, it has to be the right amount. Too much novelty and you feel groundless, too little and you’re bored.


Maintaining emotional balance is not easy. Life, with all its demands, intrudes on the best laid plans. So, boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness appear. Re-grounding yourself can be as easy as feeling your body sitting, standing, or moving, eating something mindfully, looking out a window and really seeing what meets your gaze, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, writing in your journal, or anything else that uses some of that irritable energy. Even meditation, not an easy feat when you are feeling crabby, is helpful, since it reminds you this is merely a passing state you can label and release. Actually, you are not really releasing the state as much as your attachment to it.


Boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness are simply different terms for feeling temporarily stuck and uncomfortable. You will not stay in this state of mind. Everything changes, and that is what makes life so interesting. You never know what’s next. By sitting with what is, or actively shaking things up a bit, you practice mindfulness or self-determination. Sometimes, one will work better than the other. It’s always good to have a few arrows in your quiver since one day sitting with your feelings will be the right choice, and another doing something proactively will work.


The following grounding techniques utilize your ability to actively focus attention on something external to distract you from whatever thoughts and feelings seem unpleasant, overwhelming, or boring. (They are from another chapter called Grounding Techniques.)


5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.


Another 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 objects, 5 colors, 5 shapes, and 5 textures, then 4 in each category,, then 3, then 2, and 1.


Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.


Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.


Recite a poem you memorized as a child.


Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.


Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.


Sing a song.


Build a sanctuary in your head. Add as much detail as possible.


Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed. Breathe into that place.


Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.


Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.


Count backwards by threes from 100.


List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.


Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.


Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.


Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

How to Deal With Holidays After a Divorce, Death, or Move November 28, 2009

Filed under: HOLIDAYS — chocophile @ 4:05 pm
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As you know, the holidays can easily push all your emotional buttons; and, that’s for people whose lives are fairly balanced. If you have experienced a recent death, divorce, or move, your reactions may be more heightened. All that stress can make you extra sensitive to the wrong comment. While you can’t control what people say, you can remind yourself it is all about them, not you. Unconsciously, they suggest what they think would be good for them if they were in your situation. That’s why the best thing to say to someone who is suffering is that you are sorry they’re going through this difficult period, and things will change.  At least, those comments are irrefutable.


Expectations have everything to do with how you feel in any situation.  The holidays are no different. Images of Norman Rockwell paintings, with smiling faces around a festive table, can leave you feeling critical of what the holiday is for you now.  That might be self-criticism, and second-guessing decisions that brought you to a place of loneliness, insecurity, and grief. Allow yourself emotional space to be in this between time, straddling what was and what will be. Understand how whatever is happening now, in this holiday, is not the template for all your future holidays. Take a page from AA, and break up the day into small parts, taking it one minute at a time.


While you may be tempted to think your lack of enthusiasm for celebration is part of a trend, resist that impulse and remind yourself: It’s only one day. Unpleasant as it may be, it is part of moving forward.  Birth is always messy, painful, and ultimately ecstatic. Telling yourself your current feelings are temporary broadens your perspective and helps you stop awfulizing about your situation. It may be far from your ideal, but is it really 100% bad? This might be a good time to make a list of everything you are happy with in your life. Even a P.O.W. can be appreciative for a ray of light, a morsel of food, or a bird’s song, so focus on what is going well for you and what you can enjoy.


If you find yourself painting a rosy picture of past holidays, reach back and remember how things really were. If you need a reality check, try reading some of David Sedaris’ humorous reminiscences. No one has a perfect anything, and that includes their celebrations.  If you think you know a family that does, you simply don’t know them well enough.  Painting an unrealistically wonderful portrait of other people’s lives is unhelpful, as it leaves you feeling bereft, or singled out for misery.


Watch out for other negative thoughts, like comparing a perfectly fine holiday now to one you’ve embellished over the years as heavenly because you cultivated amnesia for past unpleasant events. This is a good time to take a page from Jean Vanier’s book and love reality. (Just for the record, he’s been working on that for 40 years with varying degrees of success, but it’s still a useful concept.)


No one knows the future, and it only upsets you to assume the worst. Make a conscious choice to assume the best; and, if that seems like climbing an emotional Mount Everest, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. It will pass. I promise.


As you release your old notions of how life should be you make room for how it can be. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have had some wonderful holiday times. Why not remember how you helped create them? By clinging to the past, and an image of what you think your life should be now, you resist new experiences you might like even more.


As a creature of habit, aversion to the unknown comes naturally, and can protect you; but, it may also slow your evolution to the person you are becoming.  It’s natural to feel some anxiety about that, since you don’t know how that person will be. You might shift some values (see Challenge Your Values), like things you never enjoyed before, gravitate towards different people—anything is possible, and that can be scary. We like the familiar. As my mother puts it: “I hate change, even when it’s for the better.”


If you have a holiday that feels off or unsatisfying, remind yourself you were used to things being a certain way for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way for you now. Whenever you make a change, or one is foisted on you, it discombobulates your entire system.  That temporary awkwardness and dissatisfaction you feel is just that: temporary.  It won’t last. Another holiday will come, and, with it, the potential for something greater than you can imagine now.


To change your brain chemistry right this minute, you may want to fantasize about what that future holiday might be like.  Use all five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste) to paint a picture of your ideal celebration. Don’t relive one from the past, create a new paradigm. Go with your gut: it can be conservative or outrageous, it’s your fantasy.


If you think your former holidays were idyllic, great! That means you have created what you want in the past and you can create your new vision in the future. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet just means you need more time to heal. Take all the time you need. At some point you will be ready. In the meantime, practice viewing each unsatisfying situation as providing valuable data on what you don’t want. Eventually, your new vision will be so strong it will become your reality. Patience with yourself, and the sometimes agonizingly slow process of change, will make the journey easier.


Copyright Nicole S., Urdang

 

The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have May 31, 2009

 

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with you.  Considering that you are with yourself every minute of every day, why not make this your most loving alliance?

 

While there are many reasons for not having developed a great bond with yourself, there’s no upside in cataloguing them.  In lieu of focusing on the past, here are some ways to cultivate an enjoyable, dependable, tender relationship with yourself.

 

As the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you.  By fostering a gentle, patient litany of self talk you will reap more benefits than you can imagine. Think of all the harshness you have heaped on yourself. Perhaps, it was setting perfectionistic, unattainable goals, or an incessant catalogue of self-criticism. Decide today that you will counter those old tendencies towards self-downing with tenderness.  If you hear yourself being judgmental of the way you are handling some aspect of your life, stop, take a breath, and talk to yourself kindly, the way you would calm a child.  Those same messages will soothe you and, more importably, build inner trust.  In time, you will be able to count on yourself for compassion and self-nurturing.  You will be that safe haven for you.

 

It may sound banal, but taking good care of yourself begins with eating well, including treats.  Unless you are someone who eats to live, and doesn’t really enjoy your food, eating something delicious every day is another way you show yourself that you matter.  Getting enough sleep is crucial, too.  Just like the people who think they can have one drink and drive, while every study shows they are impaired, many think they can do just fine with six hours a night.  Perhaps, you are one of the very few who can, but most need seven to eight hours to function well.  Last, but not least, is exercise.  Move your body.  It really doesn’t matter what you do, but do something on a regular basis and it will improve your outlook, as well as your physical health.

 

Meditation is a wonderful way to befriend and better understand your mind.  What are its tendencies?  Do you focus on all the tasks that still need doing?  Are you preoccupied with everyone else’s problems, worrying day and night?  Do you live in the future, waiting for your ship to come in, lose 10 pounds, or meet your ideal mate? Whatever your predilections, you can learn to re-focus on your breath and quiet some of the incessant noise.  Meditation is also a great way to notice any tendencies towards self-downing, or habits of assuming the worst.  Once you see a trend you can actively work towards substituting unhelpful thoughts for positive ones. (See Affirmations.)

 

Even your sex life can benefit from a better relationship with yourself.  By getting to know your body’s reactions you can please yourself, if going solo, or help your partner understand what you like, if coupled.

 

Socially, you can develop comfort within yourself, so going out alone is not a hardship; but, something you might choose on a regular basis. After all, you are always available without prior notice and you already know what you like to do.  For many people, this is a very difficult thing to imagine, let alone practice.  I encourage you to bravely go forth: see that movie or art show alone, go out for a meal by yourself (you may want to start with breakfast or lunch as they are often eaten without company), take a beautiful drive or walk (you will notice more when solo), do all those things you know you would enjoy and you’ll probably end up making new friends (all those other folks who like the same thing you do and who didn’t want to call their friends to see who wanted to share the experience).  I am sure that right after people’s fear of public speaking (the number one anxiety in this country), is venturing out by yourself.  Wouldn’t it feel like a great coup to tackle that old irrational belief?  You know, the one that says you’re a loser if you’re alone. You’re not. One third of all adults in the U.S. live by themselves. 

 

Attending to your spiritual side, developing a deep bond with the ineffable qualities of life, and finding peace within are all ways of enhancing your joy.  Trust that you will find your way to that still, small place inside where all goodness dwells.  By practicing being there for yourself, in all circumstances and on all levels, you will watch joy ripen in your heart.  You can choose to feel truly loved right this minute. Don’t take my word for it, just go for it.  It’s a radical step, but one you’ll never regret.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, & Self-Acceptance May 3, 2009

 

Despite what you may have been lead to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance are all different and produce different states of mind.  Self-confidence is born of repeated experiences at which you eventually excel.  Self-esteem is based on thinking you are accomplished at something and that makes you better than someone else (essentially, you hold yourself in high esteem), while self-acceptance is unconditionally accepting yourself, right this minute, regardless of your talents and flaws.  

 

Self-esteem is the only one that can really wreak havoc on your sense of self, as it creates an emotional roller coaster. Let’s say you are rating yourself very well because you aced an exam.  Your spirits and ego are soaring; there’s no problem. But, now, it’s the next day and you find out you failed a test. The dark side of self-esteem rears its ugly head and triggers a barrage of self-abnegating thoughts.  Unfortunately, self-downing trumps self praise every time.  

 

Albert Ellis, the eminent psychologist and prolific author, said that the one thing you can do to enhance your life is to practice USA: unconditional self-acceptance.  This doesn’t mean that you love everything about yourself, but you accept everything.  Paradoxically, by accepting those traits you may not find especially endearing, you are more likely to change them.  You accept yourself unconditionally, but not all your behaviors, those, you can still rate.  (As someone recently suggested, rate but don’t berate.) If you find ones you like, great.  If you find ones that impede your relationships, vocation, or health, you can work to change them.  Because you have not reviled yourself for being fallible and engaging in some less-than helpful actions, you are more likely to change. Your ego is less involved in the result. You want to do something differently, but you know it’s not a prerequisite to liking and loving yourself, because you already separated your value as a human being from your behaviors.

 

Here’s a pop quiz to see if that made sense: pretend I give you a beautiful wicker basket. You may  not even like wicker baskets, but the craftsmanship is exquisite and you appreciate it. I start giving you fruit to put in your basket.  A cluster of dewy grapes, a brown, soft banana, a luscious looking pear, and a past-its-prime moldy cantaloupe.  What kind of a basket do you have?  If you answered, “A beautiful wicker basket,” you were right.  If you said anything about the fruit you were off track. Why?  Because I asked you about the basket, not what it contained. Practice thinking of yourself as the basket and all your traits, habits, talents etc. as the fruit. Just like with the fruit, you can ditch those pieces that aren’t useful, cook with those that still have some life in them, and add some fresh ones when the mood strikes.

 

Unconditional self-acceptance is a philosophical stance you choose simply because it will make you happier.  It’s no different from Louise Hay deciding that everything was happening for her highest good.  There may be no evidence to support it, but we get to pick what we want to think. It’s our choice to frame something as “good” or “bad.”   Why not choose those thoughts that make us feel joyful and optimistic?

 

One way to actively work to restructure one’s thoughts is to pay attention to all the times you think something disturbing.  When you notice those negative tapes playing, say “STOP!” to yourself.  Picture a huge, red, neon stop sign for extra emphasis. Then, consciously choose a happier thought. It may relate to something you were thinking, or it may be completely different.  If you were ruminating on a possible negative scenario in the future, imagine it working out just the way you wish it would.  There is absolutely no harm in this, despite all the superstitious junk with which we have all been indoctrinated. 

 

For most of my professional career, when people were worried about something bad occurring in the future, I have asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The idea was, if they could parse through the worst thing and figure out how they would handle it, they’d be prepared and more relaxed.  It’s not a bad strategy, but it focuses on the negative.  Now, I like to ask people to imagine what’s the best possible outcome.  I assume that if they have lived through everything that has happened so far, they can handle anything else that comes down the pike. In the meantime, they can dwell on wonderful images of things working out well.  This does not meant they don’t make an effort to improve their lot, it simply makes it more likely that their lot will improve. Generally speaking, people who assume the best usually attract it.

 

This brings me to an observation I have made regarding the whole Law of Attraction school of thought.  It’s not New Agey, at all.  It’s ancient.  It’s all about changing your thoughts, i.e.: cognitive therapy, and watching what happens.  Not only will you feel better,  but you will be more open to new experiences and to changing out-dated, unhelpful behaviors.  Give it a try and let me know what happens.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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