Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM. 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

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Family Secrets: How to Overcome their Toxic Legacy  December 14, 2015

 

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.

Paul Tournier

 

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

Robert Frost, The Secret Sits

 

 

In families where there is addiction, abuse, criminal behavior, or mental illness, there is usually a code of silence that dictates the actions of the whole tribe. This unstated but powerful family trope has the potential for creating an internal shame-based environment that perpetuates a sense of worthlessness and can leave a legacy of self-destructive behaviors and difficult relationships.

 

What motivates people to keep family secrets? Fear of social rejection, fear of rejection and criticism from the family, fear that articulating these truths will somehow make them more real and demanding of attention (whether by oneself, other family members, or the authorities). Yet, the path to releasing shame, cultivating self-acceptance, and creating a new life paradigm is through speaking one’s truth. By openly acknowledging the challenges of your unique childhood you unlock much of the power those secrets had over you, and can connect with everyone else who faced similar issues. Instead of feeling isolated and unfit for human company, you can re-join the human race.

 

Of course, after years of denial and keeping secrets, it is not easy to start speaking honestly. Thankfully, there are ways to heal from these patterns and their fall-out. 12 Step programs provide support as you navigate unfamiliar emotional seas. Therapy bolsters you as you become your authentic self and learn to speak your truth, while shedding light on family dynamics inculcated at a very impressionable age. Therapy can also help you deal with the parts of you that feel disloyal when choosing a different path from the one you were taught at home. In addition, it can assist you with the emotional, physical, and behavioral reactions that come from unleashing a boat load of family secrets. These consequences can be very hard to handle as they often include outright denial of events, and pushback from people who have known you one way and resist your changing. (A therapist can also help you with the cascade of feelings these reactions might trigger.)

 

If you grew up in a family with big secrets you were trained to deny your reality. If your childhood included abuse you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress. Luckily, there are a number of incredibly helpful ways to heal through much of that trauma.

 

The more people refuse to keep family secrets and open the gates to their truth, both past and present, the more likely everyone will realize: we all suffer, we all feel rejected, we all face physical, emotional, and social difficulties. The sooner that happens, the greater the likelihood we can create a compassionate world for ourselves and others.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Emotional Reverb with a Side of Overwhelment* September 17, 2013



Some days, it may seem as if you are boxing with your brain. The hits keep coming, and it’s all you can do to fend them off. Perhaps, you are orchestrating a life that is overflowing with responsibilities. Do you put a ton of pressure on yourself thinking everything has to be done perfectly? Maybe, you are taking care of an elderly relative, have a health crisis, or financial worries. Whatever the onslaught looks like, you can always choose to be present, even though it is not easy when the present feels overwhelming. At those times, practicing mindfulness is possible but difficult. By focusing on your breath, acknowledging the challenge du jour, and reminding yourself you are here for the full buffet of life, not just the dishes you like, you can re-center yourself.


When you want to stop the world and take a break but there’s no way you can make time to meditate, do yoga, read a book, or watch the clouds, you can find refuge in the breath. While many recommend deep, slow breathing to calm your nervous system; sometimes, it is simply too hard to do. If that is the case for you now, it may be best to first ground yourself. If you are standing, feel the earth under your feet and remind yourself you are connected to all that is. If you are sitting, notice where your body is touching the chair and allow it to sink in a little deeper. Then, imagine the breath is coming in from your left nostril and going out the right. Then, it comes in from the right and goes out the left. (You can find a detailed description of this pattern in the chapter called Breath Work.)


All stress is exacerbated when it reverberates, hence my coining the term: emotional reverb. It describes the way minds and bodies have a tendency to repeat thoughts and feelings, on both emotional and physical planes, even when you consciously know that repetition is unproductive. Rather than stay mired in a cycle of incessant unhelpful thoughts and feelings, you can switch gears. If you are reading a book but find your thoughts wandering into troublesome territory get up. Bake a pan of brownies, take a walk, call a friend, do some errands, or listen to upbeat music. Anything to break the rumination.


It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by life. A multiplicity of challenging things all occur at the same time leaving you feeling tired, frazzled, and wondering if you can cope.


If you have a tendency to be perfectionistic, you are probably increasing your stress and feeling even more cooked. The pressure you put on yourself to excel ratchets up your tension and activates your sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or freeze). At the end of the day, even if you accomplished your goal and everything worked out beautifully, you may still feel overwhelmed because of that unrelenting internal perfectionistic, critical voice.
The first thing to address, believe it or not, is not actually feeling overwhelmed, but seeing if you are putting yourself down for feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps, you hear an inner cacophony of self-criticism, like:

I should be able to handle this without feeling as if I’m imploding.
What’s wrong with me? The littlest thing sends me over the edge.
I should be more resilient, patient, and calm.
I’m such a mess, I just can’t cope.

Ask yourself if any of those statements are really true.

Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, why shouldn’t you? Torpedo those perfectionistic thoughts that just add emotional bricks to your load by challenging your unhelpful beliefs as vociferously as you can.

Where is it written I should handle all problems with poise and equanimity?
What 11th commandment says I shouldn’t feel stressed when responsibilities fill my days?
Must I feel competetive with other people’s ways of navigating life?
Isn’t it enough to have so much on my plate without adding a hefty portion of self-downing?

(Please refer to Albert Ellis’ book: HOW TO STUBBORNLY REFUSE TO MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE ABOUT ANYTHING, YES, ANYTHING! for a detailed and pragmatic way to tackle unhelpful thoughts.)


Think of all the times you have felt buffeted about by life’s slings and arrows. Somehow, you managed to deal with every single one. Yes, there were moments when you felt touched by grace and sashayed through a troubling experience. Then, there were times you gritted your teeth and suffered through each miserable second. Either way, you survived.


In the throes of overwhelment, it is all too easy to forget your resilience. Resilience is not about gliding effortlessly through stress; but, knowing you can withstand something scary, unpleasant, or debilitating. Like your self-confidence that grows with each new accomplishment, resilience increases every time you navigate a challenging situation.


Last but not least, lack of rest and downtime contribute mightily to feeling overwhelmed.

Try this little self-assessment: Take a piece of paper and write down everything, even the littlest things, you have done since waking this morning. Ask yourself: Is there any way I could have omitted something and just sat quietly for five minutes?


Recently, I did my own experiment. I had five minutes and spent them sitting with my eyes closed focusing on my breath. First, I equalized my inhales and exhales; then, I lengthened the exhale until it was twice as long as the inhale. The benefits were obvious and immediate. I felt calm, centered, and relaxed. You would think I would have taken that mini-break every day since; but, alas, I have not. It’s all too easy to let life intrude. I’ll just do one more thing. Why? Since no one dies with their in-box empty, it might be the illusion of control. The more we do, the more we delude ourselves into thinking we have things covered. In some ways, that’s true, since procrastination often leads to more stress. The key is balance. The sweet spot of greater inner peace lies between too much activity and too little, too many things to do versus too few. As paradoxical as it sounds, having the strength to rest takes a great deal of focus and self-discipline. I invite you to join me as I make rest more of a priority.


(*I know overwhelment is not a word, yet; but, as the daughter of a lexicographer I am putting in a plug that it becomes one. Without it, all other options are wordy, cumbersome, and awkward.)
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

How Your Tone of Voice Effects Relationships July 5, 2013



If you can remember everyone’s behavior is a reflection of them and not you, even when the fall-out directly effects you, then their tone or attitude doesn’t have to send you into a tailspin.


The benefits of shifting cognitive gears and thinking, “This has absolutely nothing to do with me,” are truly beyond belief. Instead of taking things personally, you detach with love from other people’s issues, agendas, and projections. You become less defensive, reactive, and easily angered. Reframing your thoughts does not come easily or naturally, and takes a bit of practice, so let’s get started.


Say, for example, someone close to you takes a tone you think is sarcastic, impatient, or condescending. Does that press your buttons? Does it trigger past memories of someone, perhaps a parent, who took that tone and catalyzed feelings of shame, embarrassment, ineptitude, or unworthiness in you? If so, join the club. Everyone has had those experiences. Of course, that doesn’t make it good, just part of life. The question is: How can you deal with it?


First, remind yourself:


This is not about me.

This is not about my parent.

I am no longer a child.

I do not have to take this personally, even if it feels like an attack.

This is not about my past. This person is not consciously trying to press my buttons. Perhaps, they feel threatened, angry, or vindictive and are unconscious of how those emotions might be influencing their behavior.


Even if they are saying things in a tone of voice that reminds me of old pattens and pain, I do not have to react without recognizing I have a choice. I can choose to see their behavior as a reflection of them, not me.


If someone’s tone is consistently pressing my buttons I can talk with them, look at my own responses, and own them. By taking responsibility for my emotional reactions, I reclaim my power over myself.


In the moment, when you feel your sympathetic nervous system engaging its flight, flight, or freeze modes, consciously take a deep, deep breath. Feel it infiltrate every cell as you inhale and relax each one as you exhale. Feel yourself grounded in your seat or feet, connected to stability and firm resolve. Your agenda is to keep breathing, feel secure, and only speak once you have thought about your response. This may mean there are longer pauses between their remarks and your retorts. Let that be just fine. It’s not chess, and no timer will chime if you take a few extra seconds.


By allowing yourself to notice your reactions on physical, emotional and cognitive levels without rushing to react, you can calm down and process what is happening.


Assume the best. Choose to believe this person is not trying to push your buttons. However, if you know they are itching for a fight, let that be another reason to keep calm.


If you feel threatened, ask yourself: Is there any real danger? Naturally, if you think someone might assault you get away as fast as possible. More typically, it is emotional pain or interpersonal conflict we want to avoid. If that is the case, remind yourself how you have lived through plenty of pain and conflict in the past. While it wasn’t pleasant, you survived. That should help calm you even more, enabling you to respond thoughtfully, rather than lash out defensively. Later on, when you can leisurely assess the situation, you may decide to spend less or no more time with that person; or, if they are very close to you, you may want to work through things. That may mean talking about it once tempers cool, or enlisting the help of a therapist.


Another way people typically get defensive is when their expectations meet reality. Expectations are a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for disappointment on a good day, and anger or depression on a bad one. If you keep cultivating unrealistic expectations about all the people in your life you will find yourself reacting badly to their tone of voice or attitude.


Perhaps, you discussed someone’s sarcastic or condescending tone of voice and are surprised when they talk to you that way again. Just because you alerted them to their verbal patterns does not mean they will change them. Thinking other people will adjust their habits to suit your desires is a guaranteed path to disappointment, as is trying to motivate them to want to change. Rather than embark on a fool’s errand, you might want to work on the only person you can change: you.


Last but not least, resist the urge to think, “If they really loved me they would change.” and “They know how much this bothers me. Obviously don’t care enough to behave differently.” Those thoughts may sound rational but aren’t. They are a perfect example of unrealistic expectations and assuming you know what motivates someone else’s behavior. Since each head is its own universe, you can’t possibly know. Resist the urge to analyze other people’s actions and erroneously attribute negative motivations to them. Sometimes, people are just oblivious, distracted with their own issues, or forget how much something bothers you. Hard as this may be to believe, even if someone adores you, you aren’t the center of their universe every minute of every day. They are.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Holidays II: Embracing Reality December 16, 2012



Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just “real life.”
Tara Brach
The holidays have an uncanny way of triggering grief. Once accessed, this deep sadness can have a boomerang effect as it sweeps up all past losses bringing them right to your emotional doorstep. Naturally, this dustpan of misery can feel as if it coats every cell of your body-mind. Tough as it is, the only way to get through it is by feeling your feelings.


While it is natural to resist pain, stuffing your feelings doesn’t eradicate them. In fact, unacknowledged grief typically surfaces as another emotion or undesirable behavior. This persistent shape-shifter may show up in the guise of anger, depression, anxiety, worthlessness, or guilt. Physically, it can create aches and pains, stomach issues, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, lack of appetite, addictions, etc. So, rather than trying to banish grief from your emotional vocabulary try allowing it some expression. You might want to do something really radical and embrace it.


Accepting grief, loss, and sadness requires a fundamental shift in your expectations of life, starting with the notion that you will not always feel good, you won’t always like what is happening, and, sometimes, reality bites. Contracting against and fighting what is true for you now only produces more pain. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, closing off to pain increases your anxiety about it the next time it shows up. Welcoming scary, unpleasant, or challenging feelings is not intuitive to Western minds, yet it can strengthen your resilience and make you feel more in control. You may not be able to change a difficult situation, but you can open to it. True acceptance entails an element of surrendering to life, rather than muscling through it, with all the tension and resistance that implies.


In yoga, one of the major focal points is finding the sweet spot between effort and surrender. You don’t want to tighten up so much your body goes rigid with effort, making you lose your balance, or create an injury. On the other hand, letting go completely also throws you off balance and prevents you from entering the posture mindfully. The same is true in day-to-day life. Surrendering to what is enables you to work towards accepting it and doing whatever might alleviate your pain. Yet, there are times of despair and grief when the only option is allowing your experience, just as it is, until it stops; and, it will stop.


When anything, and holidays are notorious for this, can push your grief button, remember: you are here for the whole experience of life. Yes, the loneliness, illness, money worries, disappointments, losses, anxiety, insecurity, relationship issues, depression, shock, betrayal, as well as the wonder, unbounded joy, sense of oneness, peace, grace, smiles, hugs, and all those times you have the guts to radically open your heart, even though it has been through the ringer.


There’s no denying it’s tough to navigate the high seas of life’s challenges. Nobody enjoys being drenched in emotional, physical, or spiritual misery, which the holidays can easily catalyze. But it is part of life. As long as you are here, the best you can do is not add to your pain by fighting your current reality.


Try reaching out. There are plenty of other souls finding the holidays challenging and many would welcome the chance for some venting and compassion. If you don’t know of others in the same boat, seek out different supports: a therapist, web communities, free podcasts on Buddhism and meditation, religious groups, or meditation sanghas. Just going to your local library or coffee house can prove you are not the only one flying solo. Try a meet-up group (http://www.meet-up.com) as a way to connect with people interested in making new friends or doing some activities you also enjoy.


While the focus here has been on accepting the reality of this moment, whatever it is, it is equally important to remember your perspective, feelings, and bodily sensations shift every second. Sometimes, simply waiting for shift to happen is all you need to get through miserable moments.


Copyright Nicole S./ Urdang

 

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 ploughs 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.


Even if you are the most loving, supportive, generous soul on earth some people will just take advantage of you. If that seems to happen frequently, 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 might want to retaliate, 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 of being. 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

 

Calming the Emotional Chaos of Grief January 31, 2012



A death, divorce, illness, sudden unemployment, or any major loss, creates chaos in your life. This emotional fracturing, as well as the practical aftershocks of dealing with estates, lawyers, housing, finances, doctors, etc., often yields intense feelings that can be overwhelming.


When you think you simply can’t assimilate another thing, it’s crucial to just stop. Even if you have never meditated, simply sitting or lying down and paying attention to your breath will calm your nervous system and give you the literal breather you need.


Sometimes, it’s too hard to stay still, so take a walk; but, it is imperative you give yourself a break from the internal chatter, and incessant activities that may be consuming every waking moment. When you think you don’t have a minute to sit, lie down, or walk, that’s when you desperately need the break. Take it and watch the world continue to spin on its axis.


A big part of healing through grief is connecting with yourself while putting all the parts back together in a new way that makes you feel safe and whole.


As you know, this process of reconnecting all the emotional, physical, and spiritual dots can be an exhausting and chaotic ride. One minute, there’s a sense of control and growing mastery, and the next, you’re surfing a sea of feelings.


Part of the immediate task is showing up with what yogis call Beginner’s Mind and Witness Consciousness. Beginner’s mind means cultivating an attitude of openness when approaching something new, without preconceived notions, just as a beginner would. This particular grief experience is terra incognita; you haven’t had it before. By abandoning all your ideas about how you “should” feel, or behave, you allow yourself to safely feel what is true in this moment. That cosmic permission slip, coupled with open awareness, allows you to fully experience this moment, and all it entails emotionally. While you may want to run from it as if it’s a hungry tiger, the only way out is through. Avoidance may provide short term relief, but often brings long term pain.


Witness consciousness means retraining your mind to detach enough so you can have some objectivity. It is practicing watching something with a neutral perspective, and not identifying with it. Both of these yogic techniques encourage you to leave your ego outside the door. You will never totally succeed in completely detaching from your ego, but these practices allow you to experience the freedom and joy of not taking everything personally, while enhancing your chances for greater inner peace.


Beginner’s mind, witness consciousness, and self-compassion are the trifecta for healing from almost anything. They shore you up, increase your perspective, and allow for enough detachment to see things more clearly.


Just as in yoga, where each visit to the mat reveals something new, the process of unraveling the threads of grief is fresh every minute. Whether it’s a crying spell, a fit of anger, guilt, or deep sadness, recognizing how each one is unique keeps you open to the process of change and transformation.


The chaos of grief is caused, in part, by the old issues it triggers, like abandonment and post-traumatic stress. During times of acute emotional turmoil, being exquisitely gentle with yourself can ease the pain. Recognizing unhelpful thought patterns, and challenging them as vociferously as possible, will also make you feel better and more in control.


The chaotic emotional fallout of grief can also be assuaged by establishing simple routines, like having a tea break at the same time every day, getting some exercise, listening to soothing music (see the chapter on book, CD, and DVD recommendations for ideas), meditating, calling someone supportive, eating at regular intervals, watching the sky, spending time with your pet, or anything else that’s readily available. The simpler, and more easily available the activity, the greater the chance you will make it a habit and it can reliably calm the chaos.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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