Holistic Divorce Counseling

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

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

Advertisements
 

No mistakes, only lessons. March 27, 2012


Panoramic awareness is based on a certain amount of trust, or optimism. Basically nothing is regarded as a failure or as dangerous. Rather, whatever arises is experienced as part of a creative and loving relationship toward oneself.

Chögyam Trungpa

 

There are no mistakes. All of life is a blessing given to us to learn from.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

 

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

John Powell

 

From a very young age we are trained to seek out and notice everything that is wrong. Beginning with our earliest days in school, we are told how to correctly spell, add, subtract and multiply. This vigilance for mistakes can be extremely helpful; however, there are times when it is inhibiting, like when the art teacher corrects our drawing, or the music teacher tells us the song we wrote is too weird. Of course, not all teachers take that approach, but if they do, it cramps our creativity. Picasso’s lopsided faces or Loudon Wainwright’s lyrics never would have gotten “A”s.

 

If we choose a profession like medicine, law, accounting or plumbing, we are again trained to seek out and eliminate what is wrong. Of course, you want your dentist or electrician to notice what’s amiss and fix it, but perfectionism in all areas of life is stifling. If you think you have to do everything perfectly from your first attempt, you won’t try many new things, and your days will be less rich.

 

On a more global level, we watch or read the news and learn of wars, floods, financial collapses, famines, and, once again, focus on everything that is broken or hurting.
It’s no wonder we see ourselves as lacking and needing repair.

 

What if you took the radical approach that you are perfect just the way you are, right now? Yes, you, with all your thoughts, feelings, talents, yearnings. You are whole, complete, and fine just as you are. You don’t need to lose weight, make more money, have more friends, or meet your dream partner to feel good and peaceful in yourself right this minute. You can choose to go against all that training of looking for defects and focus on the positives. In a way, this is similar to a gratitude practice, though in an evolved gratitude practice you can be just as thankful for the things you don’t enjoy as for those you love, since you assume everything is happening for your highest good.

 

By thinking you are complete as you are and you don’t need anything or anyone to make you better, you open your heart to your own sweet self, just as you are right this minute. You may not like everything about yourself or your life but you can work on accepting things and people as they are, including you.
Instead of doing a daily or hourly inventory of what’s wrong, look for what is right. By seeing everything as part of your journey, even when you you don’t like it, you can practice radical acceptance.

 

Here’s a different twist, try noticing what is upsetting as a way of reevaluating your judgment about your perception. It is a lot easier to accept things we deem difficult or unpleasant when we stop telling ourselves they should be different. Clearly, we don’t control the universe; but, we can learn to think differently about everyone, including ourself. By focusing on what is going well, and you can choose to view life positively if you change your attitude, you will feel more bouyant, open, and joyful. In the meantime, by embracing what you have previously shunned you welcome all life’s experiences, not just the puppies and rainbows.

 

Why not assume you are here for the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said. Practice a bit of Buddhist mindfulness, or yogic witnessing, and observe without judging or evaluating. This doesn’t mean you will welcome a divorce, bad diagnosis, empty nest, bankruptcy, or other big challenges, but you will approach them as opportunities to learn, grow, and experience life in this moment, in this body, on this planet.

 

We yogis like to say everyone is our teacher. Everyone and everything. Some lessons are very hard and others easy; with practice, you can embrace them all.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Restlessness, boredom, and groundlessness October 9, 2011



While there are a multitude of distractions and amusements available to anyone with a library card, it is not unusual to go through periods of boredom when not even the most scintillating book, movie, or conversation will sate the crankiness demon. At those times, it is best to stop whatever you are doing and simply sit with what is. Are you feeling annoyed, frustrated, agitated, sad, or self-critical? Welcome whatever comes up. Investigate it. Do something paradoxical and try to increase the feeling. This may sound counter-productive, but it will actually help you figure out what is going on. If you let yourself go deeply into your boredom the underlying issue will surface. Once it does, ask yourself how you want to handle it. Consciously choose to explore your thoughts and feelings though journaling, talking with someone (friend, relative, clergy, or therapist), or simply breathing, meditating, and allowing them.


Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to banish it immediately. By exploring what is going on right this minute, you allow yourself to relax with what’s coming up. It is only a feeling. You have probably felt every emotion before, whether fear, joy, anger, love, anxiety, sadness, or grief, and you’re still alive.


Boredom is often a code word for something else. It seems to appear when your internal state is so strong anything external loses its power to divert you. The irritability comes from wanting relief from those simmering uncomfortable feelings and knowing the only way out is through. When nothing feels right or good, just breathing can be a refuge.


No one likes feeling irritable, bored, or restless. Nor should you. Perhaps, the purpose of these annoying feelings is to wake you out of a funk. Sometimes, an unpleasant state of mind is necessary when routine ways of being and doing have sucked the novelty out of life. Variety does spice things up, and without it living can lose its luster. Whether it’s trying different foods, listening to new music, taking a drive to an unknown locale, or going to an art opening, mixing things up helps you thrive. In addition to creating new neural pathways, unpredictability and spontaneity create a sense of surprise and delight. Of course, it has to be the right amount. Too much novelty and you feel groundless, too little and you’re bored.


Maintaining emotional balance is not easy. Life, with all its demands, intrudes on the best laid plans. So, boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness appear. Re-grounding yourself can be as easy as feeling your body sitting, standing, or moving, eating something mindfully, looking out a window and really seeing what meets your gaze, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, writing in your journal, or anything else that uses some of that irritable energy. Even meditation, not an easy feat when you are feeling crabby, is helpful, since it reminds you this is merely a passing state you can label and release. Actually, you are not really releasing the state as much as your attachment to it.


Boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness are simply different terms for feeling temporarily stuck and uncomfortable. You will not stay in this state of mind. Everything changes, and that is what makes life so interesting. You never know what’s next. By sitting with what is, or actively shaking things up a bit, you practice mindfulness or self-determination. Sometimes, one will work better than the other. It’s always good to have a few arrows in your quiver since one day sitting with your feelings will be the right choice, and another doing something proactively will work.


The following grounding techniques utilize your ability to actively focus attention on something external to distract you from whatever thoughts and feelings seem unpleasant, overwhelming, or boring. (They are from another chapter called Grounding Techniques.)


5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.


Another 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 objects, 5 colors, 5 shapes, and 5 textures, then 4 in each category,, then 3, then 2, and 1.


Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.


Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.


Recite a poem you memorized as a child.


Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.


Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.


Sing a song.


Build a sanctuary in your head. Add as much detail as possible.


Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed. Breathe into that place.


Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.


Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.


Count backwards by threes from 100.


List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.


Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.


Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.


Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have May 31, 2009

 

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with you.  Considering that you are with yourself every minute of every day, why not make this your most loving alliance?

 

While there are many reasons for not having developed a great bond with yourself, there’s no upside in cataloguing them.  In lieu of focusing on the past, here are some ways to cultivate an enjoyable, dependable, tender relationship with yourself.

 

As the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you.  By fostering a gentle, patient litany of self talk you will reap more benefits than you can imagine. Think of all the harshness you have heaped on yourself. Perhaps, it was setting perfectionistic, unattainable goals, or an incessant catalogue of self-criticism. Decide today that you will counter those old tendencies towards self-downing with tenderness.  If you hear yourself being judgmental of the way you are handling some aspect of your life, stop, take a breath, and talk to yourself kindly, the way you would calm a child.  Those same messages will soothe you and, more importably, build inner trust.  In time, you will be able to count on yourself for compassion and self-nurturing.  You will be that safe haven for you.

 

It may sound banal, but taking good care of yourself begins with eating well, including treats.  Unless you are someone who eats to live, and doesn’t really enjoy your food, eating something delicious every day is another way you show yourself that you matter.  Getting enough sleep is crucial, too.  Just like the people who think they can have one drink and drive, while every study shows they are impaired, many think they can do just fine with six hours a night.  Perhaps, you are one of the very few who can, but most need seven to eight hours to function well.  Last, but not least, is exercise.  Move your body.  It really doesn’t matter what you do, but do something on a regular basis and it will improve your outlook, as well as your physical health.

 

Meditation is a wonderful way to befriend and better understand your mind.  What are its tendencies?  Do you focus on all the tasks that still need doing?  Are you preoccupied with everyone else’s problems, worrying day and night?  Do you live in the future, waiting for your ship to come in, lose 10 pounds, or meet your ideal mate? Whatever your predilections, you can learn to re-focus on your breath and quiet some of the incessant noise.  Meditation is also a great way to notice any tendencies towards self-downing, or habits of assuming the worst.  Once you see a trend you can actively work towards substituting unhelpful thoughts for positive ones. (See Affirmations.)

 

Even your sex life can benefit from a better relationship with yourself.  By getting to know your body’s reactions you can please yourself, if going solo, or help your partner understand what you like, if coupled.

 

Socially, you can develop comfort within yourself, so going out alone is not a hardship; but, something you might choose on a regular basis. After all, you are always available without prior notice and you already know what you like to do.  For many people, this is a very difficult thing to imagine, let alone practice.  I encourage you to bravely go forth: see that movie or art show alone, go out for a meal by yourself (you may want to start with breakfast or lunch as they are often eaten without company), take a beautiful drive or walk (you will notice more when solo), do all those things you know you would enjoy and you’ll probably end up making new friends (all those other folks who like the same thing you do and who didn’t want to call their friends to see who wanted to share the experience).  I am sure that right after people’s fear of public speaking (the number one anxiety in this country), is venturing out by yourself.  Wouldn’t it feel like a great coup to tackle that old irrational belief?  You know, the one that says you’re a loser if you’re alone. You’re not. One third of all adults in the U.S. live by themselves. 

 

Attending to your spiritual side, developing a deep bond with the ineffable qualities of life, and finding peace within are all ways of enhancing your joy.  Trust that you will find your way to that still, small place inside where all goodness dwells.  By practicing being there for yourself, in all circumstances and on all levels, you will watch joy ripen in your heart.  You can choose to feel truly loved right this minute. Don’t take my word for it, just go for it.  It’s a radical step, but one you’ll never regret.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, & Self-Acceptance May 3, 2009

 

Despite what you may have been lead to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance are all different and produce different states of mind.  Self-confidence is born of repeated experiences at which you eventually excel.  Self-esteem is based on thinking you are accomplished at something and that makes you better than someone else (essentially, you hold yourself in high esteem), while self-acceptance is unconditionally accepting yourself, right this minute, regardless of your talents and flaws.  

 

Self-esteem is the only one that can really wreak havoc on your sense of self, as it creates an emotional roller coaster. Let’s say you are rating yourself very well because you aced an exam.  Your spirits and ego are soaring; there’s no problem. But, now, it’s the next day and you find out you failed a test. The dark side of self-esteem rears its ugly head and triggers a barrage of self-abnegating thoughts.  Unfortunately, self-downing trumps self praise every time.  

 

Albert Ellis, the eminent psychologist and prolific author, said that the one thing you can do to enhance your life is to practice USA: unconditional self-acceptance.  This doesn’t mean that you love everything about yourself, but you accept everything.  Paradoxically, by accepting those traits you may not find especially endearing, you are more likely to change them.  You accept yourself unconditionally, but not all your behaviors, those, you can still rate.  (As someone recently suggested, rate but don’t berate.) If you find ones you like, great.  If you find ones that impede your relationships, vocation, or health, you can work to change them.  Because you have not reviled yourself for being fallible and engaging in some less-than helpful actions, you are more likely to change. Your ego is less involved in the result. You want to do something differently, but you know it’s not a prerequisite to liking and loving yourself, because you already separated your value as a human being from your behaviors.

 

Here’s a pop quiz to see if that made sense: pretend I give you a beautiful wicker basket. You may  not even like wicker baskets, but the craftsmanship is exquisite and you appreciate it. I start giving you fruit to put in your basket.  A cluster of dewy grapes, a brown, soft banana, a luscious looking pear, and a past-its-prime moldy cantaloupe.  What kind of a basket do you have?  If you answered, “A beautiful wicker basket,” you were right.  If you said anything about the fruit you were off track. Why?  Because I asked you about the basket, not what it contained. Practice thinking of yourself as the basket and all your traits, habits, talents etc. as the fruit. Just like with the fruit, you can ditch those pieces that aren’t useful, cook with those that still have some life in them, and add some fresh ones when the mood strikes.

 

Unconditional self-acceptance is a philosophical stance you choose simply because it will make you happier.  It’s no different from Louise Hay deciding that everything was happening for her highest good.  There may be no evidence to support it, but we get to pick what we want to think. It’s our choice to frame something as “good” or “bad.”   Why not choose those thoughts that make us feel joyful and optimistic?

 

One way to actively work to restructure one’s thoughts is to pay attention to all the times you think something disturbing.  When you notice those negative tapes playing, say “STOP!” to yourself.  Picture a huge, red, neon stop sign for extra emphasis. Then, consciously choose a happier thought. It may relate to something you were thinking, or it may be completely different.  If you were ruminating on a possible negative scenario in the future, imagine it working out just the way you wish it would.  There is absolutely no harm in this, despite all the superstitious junk with which we have all been indoctrinated. 

 

For most of my professional career, when people were worried about something bad occurring in the future, I have asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The idea was, if they could parse through the worst thing and figure out how they would handle it, they’d be prepared and more relaxed.  It’s not a bad strategy, but it focuses on the negative.  Now, I like to ask people to imagine what’s the best possible outcome.  I assume that if they have lived through everything that has happened so far, they can handle anything else that comes down the pike. In the meantime, they can dwell on wonderful images of things working out well.  This does not meant they don’t make an effort to improve their lot, it simply makes it more likely that their lot will improve. Generally speaking, people who assume the best usually attract it.

 

This brings me to an observation I have made regarding the whole Law of Attraction school of thought.  It’s not New Agey, at all.  It’s ancient.  It’s all about changing your thoughts, i.e.: cognitive therapy, and watching what happens.  Not only will you feel better,  but you will be more open to new experiences and to changing out-dated, unhelpful behaviors.  Give it a try and let me know what happens.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
%d bloggers like this: