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.

Don’t underestimate your ability to handle life’s challenges October 12, 2016

 

 

Anxiety, anger, or any other negative emotional reaction is often triggered by underestimating your ability to handle life’s challenges and overestimating the severity of a possible negative outcome. In the midst of a crisis or life transition it is all too easy to be thrown off course. Whatever sense of emotional terra firma you felt can suddenly morph into quicksand. At those times, it’s important to remember your brain is hard-wired to ferret out all possible negative consequences and present them in rapid succession.

 

This hard wiring is known as the negativity bias. As unpleasant as it feels to be flooded with negative outcomes in a given situation, it’s actually what preserved the human race through millennia. Your brain comes equipped with an internal system looking for danger 24/7. In the days of wooly mammoths and saber toothed tigers this was a great boon. Now, not so much.

 

In addition, humans have a natural tendency towards one trial learning. When something really bad happens your memory automatically encodes it to last, just so you will be extra alert to the possibility of it happening again in the future and as prepared as possible. Happy things are wonderful but not necessary for your safety, so they don’t get encoded as quickly or deeply. The more traumatic the event the more thoroughly it gets wired into your memory.

 

While that unconscious process has been very helpful historically, in day to day life it can lead to a lot of anxiety and hyper-vigilance.

 

The good news is some researchers believe you can shift this innate negativity-positivity template by focusing on everything good. A 5:1 ratio is supposed to do the trick. While it won’t erase the negative memories, it can make you feel more emotionally balanced and shift your outlook.

 

The irrefutable fact is you have managed to live through every daunting thing that ever happened to you. Those experiences may have been super challenging, even physically or emotionally painful, but if you’re reading this, you are still alive. When life seems uncertain and you feel off kilter it is important to remember you are resilient. These days, there are a plethora of studies trying to quantify and parse out what makes someone resilient. The fact is being alive is unassailable proof you survived. That’s resilience. Whether you went through the experience kicking and screaming or with great equanimity and grace, at the end of the day you were still standing.

 

The following are a few techniques for dealing with those times when you think you won’t make it.

 

Decades ago, Dr. Albert Ellis coined the term: discomfort anxiety to describe the intense anxiety you can feel when anticipating any unpleasantness, whether in a relationship, at work, medically, financially, or socially. He suggested asking yourself:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Then, “What is the likelihood of that actually occurring?”

The final task was to imagine yourself coping with that outcome. Actually getting curious about how you would handle it, finding similar situations in the past you navigated and lived through, and even imagining different ways you could deal with this new challenge. It’s like training for a marathon, only this training is psychological and builds emotional muscle.

 

Another technique to help you remember your inner strength and coping capacity is to write a list of some major issues you have faced, whether vocational, medical, relational, financial, or emotional and how you dealt with them. The more you can remember and list, the better, as each will remind you of your flexibility and resilience which tamps down feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

 

There will be some days when you might simply let the hours pass without doing any major intervention, allowing what happened and just inhaling and exhaling. Even if you have successfully used some tried and true interventions in the past, like breath work, reframing your thoughts, or yoga nidra to calm your nervous system, this moment may be differently challenging and call for the super compassionate approach of soothing yourself with calming, loving words, plenty of rest, and healthy food. Getting through it and experiencing your emotions along the way is the holy grail.

 

There are times, though, when the only control you have is how you choose to react. People get divorced, lose jobs, have serious illnesses, lose loved ones, and experience financial reverses. Often there is nothing you can do about those shocking, tumultuous experiences. Grieve, rant, rave, cry, let your emotions flow.

 

Last but not least, ask for help. A friend, family member, neighbor, therapist, church mate, or a stranger on a hotline, can be there to support you. Asking for help when you need it takes guts, and only adds to your repertoire of coping skills.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

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
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

 

“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

 

Missing what you don’t really want August 11, 2016

 

 

How is it possible to miss something you no longer wanted?

Nyozi Adiche “Americanah”

 

We are hungry for what we have grown out of.

Mirabai Starr “Caravan of No Despair”

 

 

It seems so counter-intuitive to miss something you no longer want, yet it makes perfect sense once you consider the complicated nature of relationships and desires. Since no relationship is ever 100% good or bad, there can be a part of you that wants all the good things back. A part that misses the connection, history, habit, or feels lonely and grief stricken. In addition, that inner balance, between attraction and aversion, shifts in a nanosecond depending on your mood, hormones, blood sugar levels, and state of mind.

 

It is almost impossible to truly want or shun something 100%. Understanding there is, at least, a smidgeon of ambivalence in every preference makes the notion of missing something you mostly don’t want far easier to comprehend.

 

When a relationship ends you mourn for all your dashed hopes, the many fantasies you constructed about your future, and the loss of a constant companion. You don’t necessarily miss the person, in toto, though you will probably miss aspects of them.

 

Mirabai Starr says it well when she says you are hungry for what you have grown out of, as it implies you may not consciously realize you have grown out of it. Yet, the unconscious mind knows and shows you in dreams, not-so-secret longings, physical symptoms, and words that seem to tumble out of your mouth unbidden.

 

The same concept applies when you notice how your habitual ways of perceiving life, surroundings, friends, family, work, etc. get in the way of your deeper joy in the bounty of the moment, of thinking whatever you have is enough. What American hasn’t fed at the trough of longing? Advertising inundates you with desire for desire’s sake, so how could you possibly not crave things you don’t really miss or even truly want? Society trained you to constantly yearn for things and feel dissatisfied with whatever you have or experience in any given moment. This vague longing can easily infiltrate your life and lead to feeling depressed, anxious, worthless, and angry. It’s an easy step to believing the return of your absent partner will fill the void, heal you, and make you whole again.

 

Yes, something is missing. You have experienced a huge loss. Society led you to think you can fill the void with acquisitions and accomplishments. While those feel good in the moment, their joys often fade. Wanting what you have, being grateful for everything, even the sorrows that bring you to your knees, is a more reliable path to inner peace, self-acceptance, and embracing life on life’s terms. It’s the rare person for whom those are achieved and sustained with a new car, new spouse, or new job. Feeling your grief, even your longing, fully is the answer, even though it can seem excruciating in the moment.

 

It’s also easy to conflate missing a specific person who is no longer in your life with missing a fantasy you may have been nursing for years. Those fantasies are fed by the media and the unhelpful tendency humans have to compare their insides with other people’s outsides, which can lead to feeling bereft, inferior, or inadequate. How much grief comes from just thinking your life doesn’t measure up to someone else’s, even if you really don’t want what they have? (See Compare To Despair on this site.)

 

To make things even more complicated, you may not miss the person you divorced or broke up with but miss having a mate, or the companionship. Sometimes, especially when you are triggered and feel grief-stricken, your emotional brain can hijack your pre-frontal cortex where all the higher level thinking happens. This makes it all too easy to confuse a general longing for something indescribable with a specific longing for someone or something, both of which you may not actually want should they suddenly appear.

 

Addiction plays a role in this pattern of desiring, too, as a brain accustomed to craving can sometimes substitute something else to quiet the inner cacophony. How often have you wanted deep connection with another person but chose eating, TV, porn, shopping, drinking, drugs, gambling, etc., instead? You probably didn’t really want those things; yet, if you limit them or remove them from your repertoire you may miss their short-term alleviation of deeper desires for connection, calm, or meaning.

 

Cravings seem to demand satiation. Yet, taking the time to sit with them in non-judging awareness, feeling all their physical sensations, lets them subside. One way to see this in action is to get a piece of paper, pen, and a timer. Number the page from 1-15. On a scale of 1-10, where one is the least and 10 the most, rate your level of craving every minute for the next 15 minutes. You will probably notice slight shifts in their intensity. This proves how you can manage what you don’t like without giving in to your desire du jour, and shows you that your craving was not 100% intense 100% of the time. All things wax and wane, including desires.

 

Like cravings, habits (including being habituated to a relationship) can form quickly.  It takes a certain amount of unhappiness with them to motivate change, and an awareness that part of the recovery process, if you let the habit or person go, is the feeling of missing what you no longer want. Give yourself time. Be patient as you become aware of space in your life where that person or addiction used to be. You can still be hungry for your original longing to connect deeply with another, to feel more alive and whole, or for relief from inner demons. The difference is now you realize there are better ways to accomplish those goals.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

What Ambiguous Grief Teaches Us About The Lingering Effects Of Loss July 3, 2016

Filed under: Grief and Ambiguity — chocophile @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

 

“I don’t like to use the word acceptance, but I think we can be comfortable with what we cannot solve.”

Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

 

 

Psychologist and family therapist Pauline Boss talks about “ambiguous loss” and the futility of thinking about closure with deep grief. There is no closure, she argues, when you can’t really put a period at the end of the sentence. When you lose someone through a senseless tragedy like 9/11 where there is no body to recover and bury. More prosaically, when you lose someone through divorce, addiction, or estrangement and they are still alive but disconnected from you. In these situations it is common to experience protracted grief and a sense of loss that seems pervasive and on-going.

 

What makes that particular kind of grieving even harder to bear is our society’s tendency to sweep sad and unpleasant things under the rug with the harsh and inherently blaming comment, “Aren’t you over that already?” No one fully recovers or gets closure if their child commits suicide, or their husband is MIA, both ambiguous losses. They are able to go on because they find meaning in life.

 

As a society we could all help each other by recognizing the lingering effects of grief, all grief, not just the ambiguous kind, and stop pathologizing anyone who still grieves years after a divorce or death. Healing happens, but its trajectory is different for each one of us.

 

Certain connections are so deep, like that between a parent and child, that there is no way to fully heal after they are torn apart through death, Alzheimers, divorce, estrangement, or uncertainty (those cases where someone is MIA or a body is never recovered). The least we can offer people dealing with loss is compassion and the refrain, “I am so sorry you’re going through this.” There is nothing you can say to make it better. All you can give is sincere caring, your presence, a hand to hold, or a hug.

 

One of the best ways to go forward if you are dealing with grief is to acknowledge that sadness may always be a part of you; yet, you can still find meaning in life. How you do that depends on your proclivities. It might be crocheting blankets for newborns if you had a miscarriage, participating in one of the many walks or runs for different diseases, sending care packages to men and women deployed overseas, or anything that feels useful to you.

 

Another path to greater peace is through mindfulness. Pay attention to whatever is happening now, whether you are drinking a cup of tea or folding laundry. This deliberate focus can imbue each minute with purpose and meaning. Noticing beauty in the natural world, a painting, music, or someone’s smile is another way of reconnecting with life. In her book Love 2.0, author Barbara Fredrickson says these micro moments of connection can be powerfully felt as love, even among strangers. The smallest positive interaction can infuse your day with a sense of warmth that lifts your spirits and satisfies your need for connection. The trick is to cultivate more of those moments by looking for them and being grateful when they occur.

 

Whatever you feel, the most important thing to do is allow all your emotions and let them carry you into unchartered territory. Then, they can flow through you, as opposed to being stuck inside festering. You might even find yourself understanding the term “sweet grief,” as fully experiencing your grief can feel sweet. It’s still heart rending, but in its depth there is a tiny sense of fulfillment. Perhaps, that unexpected sweetness comes from realizing you loved someone so much and felt so incredibly connected that you are capable of mourning so completely. That ability, to give yourself over to all your emotions, can be amazingly healing. Be brave, your body, mind, and spirit were created to handle all life’s vicissitudes, including great loss.

 

 

 

Suggested reading:

Pauline Boss: Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning

Barbara Fredrickson: Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection

John Kabat Zinn: Wherever You Go There You Are

Pena Chodron: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Depression Really Grief? April 26, 2016

 

 

The following is a list of symptoms associated with major depression:

 

A persistent feeling of sadness

Loss of interest

Changes in appetite

Decreased energy level

Thoughts of suicide

Anxiety

Anger

Apathy

General discontent

Guilt

Hopelessness

Inability to feel pleasure

Mood swings

Sadness

Early awakening

Excess sleepiness

Insomnia

Restless sleep

Excessive hunger

Fatigue

Loss of appetite

Restlessness

Excessive crying

Irritability

Social isolation

Lack of concentration

Rumination

Weight gain or loss

 

All of these symptoms can also be caused by grief. Why bother differentiating between grief and depression? Because grief is a natural reaction to loss and the accrual of losses as one ages. Depression can be exogenous (catalyzed by external events) or endogenous (come from within, like a mid-life crisis, or existential depression). It can be acute or chronic, mild to severe, difficult or debilitating. The most compelling reason to make the distinction between grief and depression is:  If you know you are suffering from grief your expectations are different from those you might have if you think you are depressed. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Everyone experiences it, though some with more awareness, compassion, and patience for themselves than others. If you mistake your grief for depression you might take antidepressant medication. Conversely, if you don’t pathologize your experience and recognize it as grief, you could ride its waves.

 

Grief is not a mental illness, even though it may look like one; especially, if you are experiencing complicated grief. Grief can result from obvious life experiences, like death of a loved one or pet, and less obvious experiences, like job loss, diagnosis of illness, a move that takes you away from friends and family, divorce, retirement, and even the natural effects of aging.

 

Another major reason to figure out whether you are dealing with depression or grief is that with depression it is all too easy to create a second layer of feelings such as anger, guilt, anxiety, and even more depression as you think things like:

 

I shouldn’t feel depressed.

I should be stronger and fight this.

I am such a failure.

I will always feel this lousy.

It’s horrible to feel depressed.

I can’t stand it!

 

You can also have secondary issues with grief if you think:

 

I should be over this already.

I hate it when I cry in public, it’s so shameful.

What’s wrong with me?

I’ll never stop feeling this sad and that will be awful.

 

 

The difference is that secondary issues are far more common with depression than with grief because grief is a healthy, human reaction to loss. Any loss, and the accumulation of losses over a lifetime. Depression effects some people, grief effects everyone.

 

Depression typically hides anger. Grief, on the other hand, may shape-shift into anger, but it isn’t usually hiding other emotions. The kaleidoscope of feelings grief can mimic simply appear as they are felt.

 

If you know you have experienced a recent loss, or something has triggered all your losses to coalesce into a hard knot of sadness, remember: grief is a normal, natural process that helps process raw emotions. No doubt, you will feel it physically as well as emotionally; but, this is just one of the ways the body-mind reboots your system. It happens on all levels: emotional, physical, and spiritual.

 

Imagine this scenario: you go to the doctor with a variety of symptoms fearing you have some dreaded disease. She tells you you are healthy as a horse, but you may want to adjust your diet, sleep schedule, work load, and make more time for leisure, nature, and rest. You leave the office feeling buoyant. Why? Because there was nothing wrong. You may have had symptoms and issues, but you are really OK. The same is true of grief. It can feel pretty awful and disrupt the flow of life, yet it’s benign. You’re fine.

 

How can you figure out if you are depressed or dealing with grief? Ask yourself what has recently happened in your life. Write a list of any changes you can think of, both internal and external, over the past 6-12 months. Look at your list. Did you move? Get divorced? End a relationship or become estranged from a family member? Change jobs? Face an illness? Have a sudden drop in income? If so, it is likely you are dealing with grief, not depression. Grief is the consummate shape-shifter and can mimic depression, anxiety, anger, worthlessness, and guilt. By taking the time to truly assess whether you are in grief or depression you can wisely choose a course of action tailored to what is really going on.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Abandonment Issues Affect Intimate Relationships August 25, 2015

Filed under: Abandonment: its affects on intimacy — chocophile @ 12:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

“Finally, I decide I am my own case history, and if I don’t dig in to understand what I am doing, I will be spending the years ahead in a vexing pattern of intimacy and abandonment.”

Dominique Browning in “Slow Love”

 
Dig in is right. Dig in and root around is even more accurate. Of course, merely looking at the past will not excise it, as insight alone rarely leads to change. The intimacy and abandonment issues Ms. Browning refers to are some of the most deeply felt on earth, which gives them the greatest capacity to create suffering.

 

When do these issues of intimacy and abandonment get tangled together? In childhood. Everyone has some level of abandonment issues. Even a child brought up in the most loving, secure household still felt abandoned when his parents left the house. Babies have no concept of “I’ll be right back.” So, when Mom or Dad left the room they felt abandoned. Quickly, they learned parents will come back, but that primal experience of being left alone, perhaps eternally, is still part of their experience. If your parents divorced while you were still growing up, even if it was amicable, you will undoubtedly have some abandonment issues. Ditto if you were hospitalized as a child. Even more likely if you were outright neglected or abused. (Recent research into trauma has found that abuse by a family member has the potential to create just as much post-traumatic stress as living through a war.)

 

Though radically different, the capacity for intimacy also develops from birth. Did the baby get fed, held, changed, soothed, and spoken to? If so, there is an inner template for feeling safe. It is almost impossible to have intimacy without some sense of safety. That safety may be internal or external, but the greatest intimacy usually occurs when both coincide.

 

The ability to open to true intimacy with another is fraught with anxiety, while abandonment scares the wits out of most people. Yet, people seek intimacy even though it carries the specter of potential abandonment. The possibility to truly connect with another is wildly alluring to most humans. Who wouldn’t crave that sense of closeness, safety, and connection?

 

Trouble appears when your sense of relationship safety is jeopardized. It could be something minor, like your partner saying the wrong thing, forgetting your birthday, or simply misunderstanding you. It could also be something more threatening like finding out your mate is having an affair, emptied out your joint bank account, or really doesn’t want to retire early and spend 24/7 with you. For anyone with abandonment issues small or large events like these can trigger fears of being abandoned again. In relationships, these fears play out in an inability to commit to someone, a pattern of approach-avoidance behaviors, a penchant for starting fights to re-establish space, and any number of creative strategies that dance between the poles of engulfment and abandonment. To someone with these long-standing issues, neither feels safe. One again, the deepest sense of security can be found within.

 

When you know you can find refuge in yourself your “need” for someone else to be with you and pledge their undying troth is reduced. Of course, people couple up for many other reasons, and being in a relationship can be one of the greatest experiences on earth, as well as a conduit to self growth. However, if it is a hedge against existential anxiety it will probably be a Pyrrhic victory.

 

The potential for re-traumatization and more deeply embedding abandonment issues increases with each relationship in which you pin all your hopes and dreams on the other person, instead of yourself. Of course, the Disneyfication of society only exacerbates this dynamic, as it historically reinforced the notion that: ” One day my prince/princess will come,” implying that once that happens you will live happily ever after. What a damaging view, as it puts the controls for your emotional health in someone else’s hands.

 

Developing a compassionate, caring, patient, nurturing, inquisitive relationship with yourself is the holy grail of inner peace. While it is wonderful to have friends and family to depend on, you will always be with yourself. Every minute of every day. Wouldn’t it be incredible to feel safe with yourself?

 

No one feels 100% safe and sound. It’s impossible. Yet, if you regularly practice some of the following suggestions you will begin to notice a greater sense of inner peace and self-acceptance, as well as an increased tolerance for life’s challenges.

 

Everyone has different aspects of themselves. There may be a part of you that wishes everyone well, and another part that feels jealous of a friend’s success. You may notice a part that feels curious, and a part that judges or criticizes. Befriending all your parts and approaching them with curiosity and compassion is key to integrating them.

 

(If this idea interests you, you may want to learn about IFS, Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz. Here is an animated video to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsJOVs_e1v4. If you want a more detailed explanation check out this video with Richard Schwartz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99HuL_Bk-SU.)

 

Get therapy if you have been struggling with these issues and not making any headway.

 

Develop a sense of inner safety by responding to internal alarms of feeling threatened, anxious, angry, depressed, etc. with self-compassion. Kristin Neff’s short video explains them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11U0h0DPu7k.

 

Watch the ebb and flow of your emotions. Notice how no emotion lasts forever.

 

Keep current with your inner and outer life through journaling. This allows you to more slowly process thoughts, feelings, and events. It is also a wonderful way of watching yourself grow and change.

 

Understand your triggers. Triggers to what? To past trauma that has the capacity to flood you with unpleasant emotions. Once you know your triggers you can more easily avoid people and situations that press your buttons.

 

Listen to lectures on Buddhism. You can start with podcasts by Tara Brach and Jonathan Foust. Pema Chodron’s books and CDs are also marvelous.

 

Set healthy boundaries with people for what you will and won’t allow, even if it means cutting the toxic ones out of your life.

 

Create safe practices that help you feel empowered physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you feel stable and grounded in yourself you are less likely to continue any relationship that keeps you swinging between intimacy and abandonment. Some supportive behaviors include: yoga, meditation, journaling to acquaint you with your internal dialogue and repetitive thoughts, relaxing, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time with the natural world (even if it’s simply looking at the clouds or smelling a flower), giving yourself what you want when you want it (within reason, of course), taking time for friends and family, creating a home that feels welcoming and safe, and consciously balancing work, family, solitude, exercise, and rest.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

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

Filed under: Ditch Your Assumptions — chocophile @ 7:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

 

“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

 

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

 

 
%d bloggers like this: