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

 

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

 

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

 

 
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