Holistic Divorce Counseling

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

Ditch Your Assumptions and Create More Fulfilling Relationships June 5, 2015

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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Isaac Asimov

 

“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”
Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

 

 

 

Considering how your mind was designed to process information every waking second, it comes as no surprise that it often corrupts incoming data with misinterpretations. Add to that your desire for closure, and you jump to conclusions all day long. The problem is, many of those conclusions are right. That’s a problem because you then go blithely on creating stories in your head and believing them. This causes an incredible amount of unseen damage, as each assumption begets a string of additional assumptions until you are in some nether world of your own making that might be galaxies away from the truth.

 

Since each head is its own universe, and you can never truly or fully know anyone else’s mind, your assumptions about other people’s motives are bound to be wrong a good deal of the time. The damage those assumptions make is unfathomable.

 

In addition, you are always projecting your own unacknowledged thoughts and feelings onto everyone in your orbit. What makes that especially pernicious is how easy it is to ascribe incorrect motives to other people’s behaviors. Then, act as if those imagined motives were true.

 

If you want better relationships check out your preconceived notions. Put them through the wringer of reality. Remind yourself you never really know what’s going inside someone else’s head no matter how long you have known them. There are always thoughts and feelings they haven’t shared with you. It’s sheer hubris to think you ever fully know another person. Contrary to what you might believe, this awareness will not make you cynical, but open. Open to looking at everyone, including those people you have known for ages, with new eyes. It will encourage you to ask more questions about their current thoughts and feelings rather than assuming their past thoughts and feelings are indicative of how they react now. This, in turn, will improve all your relationships as most people like to be asked what they think. It makes them feel valued, respected, and heard.

 

Asking is not easy; but, as Michael Ruiz said, it’s the antidote to assuming. It’s so darn difficult because the ego gets in the way. The ego loves when you make assumptions as it thinks it’s all knowing and powerful. By asking and checking out your assumptions, you give the ego a rest. It doesn’t like that, but it can learn to lessen its endless natterings and interference. That allows fresh data to enter your cranium where it can create new ways of looking at others, yourself, and the world.

 

It takes courage to change, and nothing has more pervasive ramifications than thinking differently; especially, when it comes to your assumptions.

 

As a yogi, I am naturally predisposed to noticing how yoga catalyzes change and growth. Here, it allows the incessant chatter to calm down a bit. How exactly does that work? Try doing a yoga posture and not paying attention to your body. You will fall down or hurt yourself. Yoga forces you to pay attention to something other than the fluctuations of your mind. In time, that becomes a habit. It also encourages patience with yourself as you navigate difficult postures. This, in turn, helps you extend more patience to others. Listening and asking questions takes far more patience than assuming you already know what someone is thinking and feeling.

 

Similarly, meditation helps open your mind as it makes you aware of the constant stream of ever-changing thoughts and feelings. If your mind works like that it stands to reason other people’s minds do, too. They are also constantly rethinking things and processing emotions. Meditation keeps you aware of your own mind’s proclivities as well as other people’s.

 

If you still want to assume things, why not just assume the best? Try it for one day and see if you don’t find life and all your interactions far more pleasant.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Getting Over the Shame of Divorce May 4, 2015

 

 

“We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.”
― Brené Brown: I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame

 

 

While it’s easy to feel ashamed of many things in life, the process of divorce and its aftermath vie for a top spot on the list.

 

Triggers for feeling shame over a divorce include:

One-time friends who avoid you like the plague because they either think divorce is contagious or you will want to relieve them of their mate.

People who are suddenly wary of you. You are not to be trusted. You’re too needy, damaged, on the brink of sudden impoverishment, or a bad person (whatever that means).

Maybe you are unconsciously tapping into some unhappily coupled person’s misery, thereby making them feel threatened. What do threatened people do? Attack. But “nice” people don’t attack in any obvious way, they do it by avoidance and implication. They shun you like the plague and imply you’re defective, all to assuage their own (often barely conscious, and certainly unpalatable) dissatisfaction with their relationship or fear they will end up alone.

 

What creates that shame? Both internal and external messages, like:

 

It’s easy to think you “failed,” since people will actually ask you questions like: “How do you feel about your marriage failing?”

 

And the ever popular: “In retrospect, do you think you made a mistake getting divorced?”

 

In addition, there is the inner cacophony of self-doubt and self-downing that plagues all but the most resolute divorcing and divorced souls.

 

A more subtle aspect of the aftermath of divorce is heightened self-consciousness, similar to what you may have felt in adolescence.

 

Naturally, thinking you are a failure, maker of big mistakes, unworthy of people’s attention, and out-of-step with most adults can lead to feeling shame.

 

But, what is there to be ashamed of? What you did took courage. No one gets divorced unless their relationship has ceased to work. Staying in an untenable, unhappy, soul-stultifying relationship is clearly the sadder choice. It may appear easier in the short run, but takes its toll in the long run.

 

If you are plagued by feelings of shame and critical internal messages, cognitive behavior therapy can help.

Let’s look at some possible thoughts that could create disturbing feelings, including shame:

 

I failed, therefore I am a failure.

People will know I failed and think less of me.

People will see I am alone and think something’s wrong with me.

People will think I am unlovable or defective.

That will prove I am deficient, less good, less worthy of happiness, and deserving their pity, criticism, and condescension.

 

The only thing to do with unhelpful thoughts is to challenge them until they lose their power to wound and stifle you.

 

You might choose to think:

 

I did not fail. I succeeded in taking necessary steps to free myself from a relationship that no longer served me, or allowed me to grow into the person I want to be.

People may think less of me. What a great opportunity to learn to care more about what I think than their opinion of me.

How can I possibly know what anyone else is thinking?  They may actually be jealous of my new-found freedom.

The only thing my divorce proves is that I am no longer married to that person. It says absolutely nothing else about me. Furthermore, I am clearly efficient in taking care of business when I have to, whether that was initiating the split or picking myself up after it.

If people pity, criticize, or condescend to me that is a reflection of where they are. All three are good ways for them to distance themselves from whatever my divorce catalyzes in them. Once again, it’s not about me.

How does feeling ashamed help me? Why not cultivate thoughts of victory, empowerment, self-sufficiency, independence, flexibility, openness to new experiences, and unconditional self-acceptance? At least, those will make me feel optimistic, bouyant, and at peace.

 

In addition, divorce can be a tripwire triggering old feelings of shame from childhood. If that’s true for you, please talk to a therapist or counselor. Divorce is very good at re-awakening feelings of abandonment and their attendant notions of not deserving happiness. Working through those issues to a place where you can feel safe and whole feels a boat load better than wallowing in shame. Luckily, you get to choose what you want to think and how much energy you put into remaking your life. Acknowledge how difficult and disturbing it is to deal with the fall-out from divorce; especially, if it engenders feelings of shame or reactivates old thoughts of unworthiness. The good news is you can take that irritating grain of sand from your divorce and turn it into a luminescent pearl of courage and resilience.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Overcome Victimization and Become More Resilient March 15, 2015

 

 

Many therapists say you have to let go of the victim role to heal more fully. While that is definitely a good goal, it is also important to understand how you were victimized. Why? Because your path to wholeness depends, in part, on cultivating compassion for that child, teen, or adult who was mistreated, neglected, or abused.

 

There is a crucial difference between identifying as a victim or someone who was victimized. Seeing yourself as a victim will block your evolution. Yet, it is important to acknowledge how you were taken advantage of when you were either powerless to fight back, manipulated so well you thought you had no recourse, or not ready to take the necessary steps to leave.

 

Current research finds betrayal by a family member can lead to deep post-traumatic stress. As brutal as war and other atrocities can be, they are not personal. Even though family abuse is not personal in that it is all about the abuser’s issues, it feels personal. You did not engender the abuse, but its fall-out definitely effected you. Physical and emotional abuse are such violent acts that the mind and ego can’t really make sense of them; especially, if they happened in childhood.

 

Though there are many books on dealing with toxic parents or relatives, few talk about the way abuse can continue into adulthood.  The family bond is so strong that separating yourself can feel like an emotional amputation. Typically, it’s only done when the pain is so great it feels like a matter of life or death.

 

Ronald Fairbairn, a Scottish psychiatrist of the mid 20th century, wrote on Object Relations Theory trying to make sense of how a child reacts to abuse. Part of his hypothesis was that the child develops what he called the Moral Defense when faced with upsetting, abusive, or neglectful parenting. According to Fairbairn, even a young child understands that he can’t take care of himself. He needs his parents to survive. When they act in abusive ways, even when their behavior is not necessarily directed at him, like yelling at each other, he thinks there can’e be anything wrong with the people I need to care for me, so there must be something wrong with me. This is an unconscious thought, and a very strong concept that has far reaching effects.

 

In addition, Fairbairn talked about the hopeful child and the wounded child. When the parents behave kindly, even if it is seldom, the child thinks (usually unconsciously): “Everything will be alright now,” and becomes hopeful. When the parent is abusive or neglectful, the child thinks: “Oh, no, everything is horrible and I can’t stand it,” which creates a wounded feeling. Typically, that internal switching, from hopeful to wounded and back again, persists throughout childhood. The wounded child is unaware of the hopeful child and the hopeful child is unaware of the wounded child. Emotionally, he feels like a ping-pong ball. What keeps this pattern going is something Pierre Janet called the splitting defense. This enables each part to feel completely split from the other. One goal of therapy is to help these two very disparate parts dovetail. That way, when the adult feels wounded he understands that it’s temporary. Right around the corner is something to enjoy. Conversely, when he feels overly optimistic, he knows to temper that thought (which can lead to impetuous behavior) with a dose of realism. In adults, this splitting is seen in black and white, or all or none, thinking. It’s pernicious effects are more obvious when the person becomes flooded with a sense of despair because they can’t see any other possibility. (Internal Family Systems therapy is incredibly helpful at being gentle, deep, and supportive with any trauma, and helping this disparate parts weave together.)

 

The ego wants to maintain a sense of control, even when there was no way a child or teen could have had control at the time of the abuse. Sometimes, this results in the adult saying things like, “I chose to keep it going. I could have ended it. I liked it. It was my fault. I was too seductive. It wasn’t so bad.” In the short run, all of these ways of reframing the past serve to retroactively make the person feel stronger by implying he had a choice. In the long run, they add to the pain, by blaming the person who was victimized. Even if it feels empowering on some level, it’s a hollow victory. There is still that wounded little child or teen who now feels doubly abandoned. First by the perpetrator and then by self-blame and a lack of self-compassion.

 

What can be done to help shed the view of yourself as a victim while still acknowledging having been victimized? A combination of yoga and good therapy goes a long way towards changing the relationship you have with yourself, and making it safe to be in your body-mind. Different people respond differently to various types of therapy. Even the same person at different times of his life can respond differently to different approaches. I am partial to a combination of Internal Family Systems therapy, Rational-Emotive Behavior therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, mindfulness, breath work, and Yoga Nidra (you can read my short article on Yoga Nidra here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/yoga-nidra-for-relaxation-insomnia-and-posttraumatic-stress-0202154).

 

It is also crucial to give grief its due. Understand that you are grief stricken. Your grief can come unbidden any time, though it will lessen over the years, it will never fully leave you. Think of it as another way you can feel compassion for that little child or teen who endured mistreatment, neglect, or abuse. It’s also important to remember that grief is a shape-shifter. It can manifest as sadness, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, or feelings of worthlessness. So, if one of those difficult emotions arises, be extra gentle with yourself and don’t assume you are necessarily feeling anger, per se, but grief that’s appearing as anger. That’s an important distinction as it helps you normalize your feelings. Everyone feels grief. It’s a natural reaction to loss; and, all trauma involves loss. It could be the loss of boundaries, loss of control over what happened to your body, loss of feeling safe, loss of trust, etc. Allowing yourself to grieve those losses is crucial to feeling more in control of your present and future. It even helps you leave the detritus of the past behind and move towards freedom from victimhood. Yes, you were victimized, but you are not a victim.

 

How you identify yourself sets the stage for your recovery. Picturing yourself as capable, strong, creative, self-compassionate, curious, intrepid, open to what the Buddha called the 10,000 joys and sorrows, and focused on this moment, will all accrue to feeling more and more resilient.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Gaining A Foothold Amid Chaos January 16, 2015

 

 

“Pain is not punishment, pleasure is not a reward. Both are just natural occurrences. Kindness, kindness, kindness.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to a bride and groom at their wedding.

 

 

Sometimes, life can feel like a whirlpool and you are being dragged into the vortex of hell. Hell might be dissonance in a relationship, financial or physical woes, or lack of purpose. Intense anxiety comes from thinking you can’t handle it and catastrophizing about how much worse things will get.

 

At those moments, the last thing you want is to delve deeper, or even allow the downward spiraling energy to carry you along, but that is exactly where freedom and relief lie. For what is at the end of any plunge but solid ground?

 

Allowing yourself to surrender to the inevitable, whether it be the dissolution of a relationship, facing an illness, dealing with debt, or acknowledging a sense of purposelessness, all have the capacity to jolt you into a new way of being with yourself and the world.

 

Unfortunately, the natural tendency is to fight tooth and nail to avoid an emotionally chaotic landslide. But fighting reality only creates more pain, anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.

 

Instinctively, humans are designed to avoid what is fearful. Since cave dwelling times that helped us survive and evolve. Yet, even thousands of years ago, the Buddha realized running from reality (unless it was from a hungry tiger) only deepened fear. While the Buddha was not privy to current research on neurobiology, he was ahead of his time.  We now know neurons that fire together wire together. Whatever you habitually do gets stronger until it becomes almost automatic. Thus, anxiety begets more anxiety until it can feel like living in a roiling sea of dread.

 

At first glance, it may seem that running away from what scares you, whether through an addiction or with other, less obviously harmful, distractions keeps the demons at bay, but avoidance only makes your fears grow until you can no longer deny them. The greatest kindness you can show yourself is letting go into the free fall of life knowing you will land on solid ground. The terra firma of your own center.

 

While it may go against your grain to face your fears, this habit develops courage, perseverence, and self-discipline, the very trio that help you navigate life more easily.

 

One way to strengthen your ability to sit with reality is to start small.

 

First, give yourself a cosmic permission slip to feel whatever is true for you now, and to feel it in your body, not just cognitively or emotionally.

 

Notice when you are disappointed. It could be your plans were cancelled, you sprained your ankle, or the grocery store was out of your favorite treat. Watch your reactions. Which parts of your body have tensed up? What are you thinking? Are you angry? Do you suddenly feel defeated? Are you projecting a bleak future?

 

Write them all down. Starting with your body, describe your physical feelings as best as you can. Then, breathe into the spaces that feel tight and see how they change. Next, look at your thoughts. Are they helpful? Are they true? What would  you prefer to think? Finally, go inside and feel your feelings. Where did they come from? The two most likely places are your thoughts and your past experiences. What happened in your childhood when your desires were thwarted? Remind yourself, you are no longer that little child. You have amassed a slew of coping mechanisms, new ways of thinking, and behavioral interventions (like talking a walk, breath work, listening to music, having tea, calling a friend, etc.), any of which can be retrieved when you feel out of kilter.

 

Do you have a history of trauma? If so, even the slightest current challenge can trigger a cascade of negative bodily reactions and unwelcome emotions. For example, someone canceling a plan because they are ill can bring you back to other times when you felt abandoned. This is an unconscious process that can flood your system with a variety of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. The good news is accepting what is true for you now and gently moving towards it shows you you can handle more than you thought. That said, if you were abused it is important to get some help. You do not need to navigate those turbulent waters alone.

 

 

NOTE:

 

Goethe once said, “Words are a raft when the mind is at sea.”

 

If you don’t already keep a journal, please get one and write in it. Many mind-body practitioners, including Dr. John Sarno and Dr. David Hanscom, attest to the value of journaling for treating a variety of psychogenic and auto-immune issues. A key ingredient here is to write out all your thoughts and feelings, no self-censorship. Psychologically, writing down whatever you are thinking and feeling cleanses it from your cranium.

University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing their impact on your physical health.

The act of writing accesses your rational, analytical left brain. This frees your right brain to create, intuit, and feel.

Writing also helps you:

Clarify your thoughts and feelings.

Gain self-knowledge; especially regarding people and situations that feel unhelpful, or even toxic, to you.

Purge stress.

Release the emotional intensity from feeling angry, grief-stricken, or overwhelmed.

Become more mindful and present.

Because writing uses both sides of the brain it is an excellent way to solve problems and figure out creative ways to deal with difficult people. You might even find your perspective shifting as you write.

Keeping a journal allows you to track patterns and growth over time. One of the greatest benefits is how your own notes remind you of all you have already handled in your life. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you can look back on previous challenges and see how you coped.

 

You might also like to keep an audio journal. Check out: Recording and Listening on this website for ways to embark on that journey.

 

Another wonderful, free resource is an app called the meditation timer. It has hundreds of guided meditations to help you discover the joys of being fully in the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were you cared for in predictable, loving ways?

Were your physical needs attended to in a timely manner?

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

Were you heard?

Were you seen?

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

Were you encouraged to pursue your interests?

Were your successes celebrated?

Did you feel loved, cherished?

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

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

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Mental house cleaning for a new lease on life April 12, 2014

 

What would happen if you never took out the garbage? Pretty soon, it would become intolerable. Yet it’s all too easy to let the inner detritus of negative thoughts and feelings accrue, building on each other until they create a malodorous mess. Actively cleansing your mind of unnecessary and unhelpful old material can give you a new lease on life and create space for alternate ways of thinking and processing experiences.

 

Just the way too much clutter actually inhibits the flow of chi (energy) in your home, mental clutter can block the flow of all thoughts (including neutral or positive ones) while allowing some of the persistent (usually negative) ones to take up residence.

 

In yoga we often talk about the Monkey Mind. The mind’s tendency to jump around like a little frenzied chimp. In fact, one of the major goals of a yoga practice is to quiet the mind and fully inhabit your body and the moment.

 

One sure-fire way to create a more cluttered cranium is to obsess about how awful it is to have unwanted thoughts. There’s nothing horrible about it, it’s simply the way the mind works, taking in all sorts of material whether relevant or not.

 

You can start this emotional house cleaning by grabbing a piece of paper. Using the following categories as a starting point, ask yourself if you are harboring any:

 

Negative thoughts about your:

body
past
future
relationships
work, or lack of it
finances
personal habits
creativity
intellect
patterns, habits

 

If you find some, and I can’t imagine a person who has none, write them down. Look at them. Thoughts create feelings. Are these thoughts helping you? If not, try the next exercise.

 

180° SHIFT:

Ask yourself, “What am I feeling now?”

Is it anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, or something else?
When you think “I feel my life is out of control,” or “I feel like a failure,” those are actually thoughts, not feelings.

 

If you find yourself mistaking thoughts for feelings you can clarify between them by asking:
“When I tell myself my life is out of control or I am a failure, how do I feel?”

 

Another way to separate a thought from a feeling is to remember there are really only a handful of major negative feelings.

 

To make things even more complicated, some things that sound like feelings are really physical, not emotional. When I talk about feelings I am speaking of emotions.
There are even certain words, like boredom, that masquerade as a feeling, and can fool you into thinking you are bored. In fact, boredom is almost always a code word for something else, like loneliness, grief, depression, or anger. (Check out: Boredom, Does It Really Exist?)

Clearly, it is not always so easy to identify a feeling; yet, negative ones like anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, and worthlessness usually make themselves felt fairly strongly.

 

Once you have identified your negative feeling, ask: “What would be its opposite?”

Allow yourself the opportunity to really think about the 180° opposite and explore what that might feel like. Sometimes, that’s all you need to do to create a major shift. On other days, you may not feel like making the effort to alter your mood. That’s ok. Letting yourself feel your feelings, while remembering they will change, can be just as freeing as actively working to shift them. (You may want to re-read that last line as it’s easy to forget.)

 

Luckily, once you become aware of the whirlwind of internal thoughts you can usually calm them by putting the focus on your body.

 

Body Check-in, or Notice and Name: (This technique is also mentioned in the chapter: Self-Soothing.)

 

Do a slow body check starting at the crown of your head and working down towards the soles of your feet, or vice-versa. As you navigate your awareness to the various parts of your body ask:

 

“What am I noticing here? Is it tightness, tension, itchiness, heat, cold, shakiness, expansion, contraction, discomfort, twitchiness, or obstruction ? Is there pressure, pain, a particular shape, motion, texture, color, heaviness, lightness, buzzing, singing, humming, scents, emptiness, numbness, burning, etc.?”
Once you describe it, just sit with it.

 

Then, allow whatever is true for you now to be. Breathe into that space as you tell yourself it’s ok. Allow the breath to soften and soothe any tight areas. No agenda, just allowing and watching to see what happens.

 

If you are feeling particularly open minded, you may want to ask that part what it is trying to tell you. You might ask what it would like from you, or what it wants you to know. (I know this sounds a bit unusual, but it really helps take the focus away from intellectualizing to paying attention to the way your unconscious mind can communicate via your body.)

 

By taking the time to plumb your depths you can cleanse your inner abode of unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Of course, it’s impossible to do a clean sweep, as nagging thoughts and feelings like to camp out in the nooks and crannies of our body-mind. These exercises, if done regularly, create a dialogue between you and your various parts allowing them to feel increasingly comfortable with the vicissitudes of life.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Self-Soothing February 18, 2014



Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Haruki Murakami


If you grew up in a family where there was little nurturing, or unpredictable nurturing, especially during the first 18 months of life, you may have a difficult time self-soothing. Alternatively, if you were lucky enough to have had parents, or any caregiver, who was adept at calming you down with a hug and loving, kind words, you have taken in those behaviors and can claim them as your own. When life gets challenging, you know how to emotionally realign.


If it wasn’t merely the absence of loving interaction in your childhood, but the trauma of abuse or neglect, it can be extremely hard to imagine you deserve to feel good about yourself. You do. The past doesn’t have to be your future, no matter how long you have been feeling unworthy.


If you didn’t get loving reassurance when upset as an infant or child, you can still retrain your mind to quiet negative self-talk. Those internal diatribes often get triggered by a break-up, job loss, death, or bad diagnosis, and can easily activate anxiety, panic, or numbness.


Like anything else, the only way to get really good at self-soothing when you don’t have an inner template from infancy and childhood, is to practice giving yourself what you would ideally like from someone else. Learning self-calming techniques can be simple. The only way they get entrenched to the point you will actually use them in a crisis is if you practice them regularly, especially when life is not in turmoil.


Think of times when you have handled bad news. No matter how you dealt with them, you lived. No one says you have to navigate life’s stresses elegantly. Sometimes, just getting to the other side alive is good enough. So, please don’t trip yourself up by rating how you are dealing with a given situation. Give yourself credit for simply getting from one breath to the next.


While there are a plenitude of great ways to work with your thoughts from traditions in Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, there are times when you simply want to feel better immediately, without having to dispute whatever thoughts led to your disturbance. Having a cache of self-soothing techniques can be incredibly helpful.
Here are some I find especially good at calming the inner chaos:


First, remember these two truths:
All things end, the blissful and the miserable.
You can stand what you don’t like, unless you brainwash yourself into thinking otherwise.


In the Internal Family Systems model, we have a term called a “part attack.” It is when one part, let’s call it the “scaredy cat” takes over and floods you with anxiety. Of course, you could have other parts that inundate you with depression, guilt, worthlessness, or anger. Regardless of the specific emotion and the part involved, it usually feels very overwhelming. It can even seem immobilizing. When that happens, you can consciously call upon other parts inside you, like a resilient part, an inner loving parent, or any other part that helps you feel safe and heard. Let that part listen to the one causing the part attack. Hear all its concerns, validate them, and ask what would make it feel safe. As unusual as this technique may sound, it is incredibly soothing and effective.


Experiment with Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds. They are remarkably simple and no one will know you are using them, so they can be used when you are disturbed in public. Here’s a link to get you started: http://jsj-holds.blogspot.com/search/label/attitudes (once there, scroll down the page for photos and more detailed information).


Check out the chapter on this site called Breathwork. It is full of techniques to help you switch from your sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).


Use a technique I call Notice & Name. With compassion and curiosity notice where in your body you feel a particular emotion. Now, do your best to describe it. You can start at the crown of your head and work down to your toes or from the soles of your feet moving up to the crown of your head. Pay attention to any areas that feel tight, twitchy, hot, cold, obstructed, itchy, or tense. See if there is pressure, pain, a particular shape, motion, texture, color, heaviness, lightness, buzzing, singing, humming, scents, emptiness, numbness, burning, etc. Once you describe it, just sit with it. You might ask what it would like from you, or what it is trying to tell you. (I know this also sounds a bit different, but it really helps take the focus away from intellectualizing to paying attention to the body.)


Try a mantra. You can use English words and phrases like the ones found on this site under: Affirmations, Manifesto for Emotional Self-Care, and It’s OK Sweetheart; or, you can try one of the Sanskrit mantras listed under: Mantras. By repeating thoughts that run counter to your internal dialogue, especially if it’s harsh, you can actually create new neural pathways. In time, these become so strong they will supersede the old, self-critical ones.


Do some yoga. Even if it is just one posture. Not only will it calm your nervous system, and make you physically strong and supple, it will also help you meet your emotional and psychological issues with more awareness and compassion. By holding postures that don’t always feel comfortable you build up your frustration tolerance, and gain a new appreciation for your inner fortitude.


Try a wonderful meditation called : “Soften, Soothe, and Allow” by Chris Germer. Here’s a link to the free downloadable version: http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/audio/SoftenSootheAllow.MP3


If that seems like too much effort, use the simplest technique of all:
As you inhale say: Breathing in I am breathing in.
As you exhale say: Breathing out I breathe out.


It is incredibly difficult to grow up in a family where you have been unseen, mistreated, or physically harmed and come out thinking you deserve joy. You do. You deserve every goodness the world has to offer. After all, you weren’t born believing you were unworthy. People and experiences had to teach you that. Just as you learned one way, you can learn new ways of being tender and compassionate to your sweet self. I know it’s a ton of work. The good news, as the French psychologist Émile Coué said years ago, is: Every day in every way you are getting better and better. These self-soothing techniques simply accelerate the process.

 
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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