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:


Loving-Kindness Meditation

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


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


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


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.

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 constantly 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 all 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-revelation. 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


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