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.

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

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Time and Transformation December 7, 2010



There is something appealing about the old saying, “When life hands you lemons make lemonade.” As unpoetic as it may be, I would add, just give yourself time to find a pitcher, buy the sugar, and stir it all up.


Similarly, even the harshest reality is an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop if you give yourself permission to move at whatever pace feels right, even though it may be slower than is typical for you. During a transition, changing, evolving, and ripening into an expanded version of yourself not only means giving yourself the gift of time to tune in to what feels right for you now, but time to integrate new ways of being in the world.


Everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. When you are in the midst of a major transformation, whether precipitated by a death, diagnosis of an illness, divorce, empty nest, retirement, new job, or a move, you are faced with the various and intense ways your life, perspective, priorities, and even values, may be shifting.


At those times, the best you can do is slow down and breathe.


By letting these shifts of consciousness and circumstance wash over you without taking immediate action, you allow their effects and your reactions to seep in. Once you have had a little time to process, integrate and imagine new ways of living your life, you can begin to slowly change your behaviors. On the other hand, if you leap into the vortex you may not have the inner awareness, stability, or perspective to navigate its swirling possibilities.


Proceeding slowly, with your eyes wide open, won’t prevent making mistakes, but it will reduce their number. Paying attention to your inner reactions, whether physical responses, emotions, thoughts, or intuition, helps you base your decisions on a deeper knowledge of what might really enhance and expand your life rather than limit or shrink it.


If you find yourself taking this suggestion too far, i.e. procrastinating, ask yourself if you are avoiding something or protecting yourself. The ability to plumb your depths and discern the difference can only come from years of life experience making choices and seeing which ones were helpful and which unhelpful.


If your goal is to evolve into your truest, best self you need time to discover what is most meaningful. Understanding your priorities, values, and aspirations helps you shape a life infused with purpose and joy. Making decisions before you have allowed yourself to drop the chrysalis is a bit like driving a car without lessons. You might make it safely home, but it will be a harrowing ride.


It takes great self-control to slow down, let things marinate, and even allow confusion. You won’t stay in limbo forever. After a shock, the best treatment is rest. Rest until you feel energized, mobilized, and focused. It’s natural to think you will never feel like embracing life again, but you will.


Forcing yourself to move on or make big decisions before you are ready, ultimately limits your options. Test the waters, experiment. Try different ways of being, whether they are social, vocational, recreational, spiritual, dietary, or romantic. You can ditch anything that doesn’t feel right, though it sometimes takes a little time to know what really feeds your heart, mind, and soul. Give yourself a cosmic permission slip to wait, to breathe, to open up to all the possibilities.


Here are a few experiments to get you started:


Make a list of 100 things you want to do before you die.
The way to do this most effectively is to number a page from 1-100.
Set a timer for 20 minutes, and write as fast as you can.
You may repeat anything as often as it occurs to you. This allows your mind to flow, unimpeded by self-censoring.
When you are done, it’s easy to group your list into themes by counting how many times each one has occurred. Since you have a list of 100, you can convert these into percentages to find out what is most important to you now.


Do something completely different from your normal routine. If you are very pro-active, lie on the couch for an hour, take a long bath, go to a coffee house and people watch. If your tendency is to chill 24/7 you might like to schedule yourself with a few activities, one right after the other. If you always eat your meals out, cook something. If you always cook, meet a friend at a restaurant. Whatever you choose, do something radically different.


Similarly, if you naturally gravitate towards solitude seek out company. There are all sorts of interesting social options, whatever your interests, on http://www.meetup.com. On the other hand, if you are a social butterfly, try spending some quality time alone.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Second-guessing Yourself December 2, 2009



After the dust settles, the divorce is final, the body is buried, or the child has moved far away, you may be tempted to wonder if you made a mistake. Was it wrong to divorce someone who abused you? Was it poor judgment to estrange yourself from a toxic parent or sibling? Should you have insisted your child go to college in town?


If you feel bereft, lonely, or at sea, it is very easy to second-guess your choices and jump to self-downing conclusions. Luckily, a passing thought born from grief is not necessarily the truth.


No one leaves a happy marriage. In 30 years of private practice I have never seen a couple split up cavalierly. Typically, there were years of estrangement, incompatibility, and even contempt.


If you are torturing yourself with all the “what ifs,” stop. No one seeks out strife and misery. No one tears himself away from family without many years of deep disappointment and psychic pain. There’s a built-in biological imperative to stay connected to family, no matter how challenging the situation. If you are re-writing history with a happy ending you believe would have occurred if only you had done X, Y, or Z, instead of A, B, or C, stop. You’re deluding yourself. If you are estranged it’s because things were so painful it came down to one unhappy choice or another. Stay in the relationship and feel victimized or detach for the promise of greater peace. One day, you realized the other person wasn’t going to change. You could either accept their behavior or depart. If you left, took a hiatus, or limited contact, you did so for good reasons.


(Just for the record, I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning, rubs his hands together, and says, “How can I drive my child or parents crazy?” But even without malice, there’s the law of unintended consequences. For example, if someone has an uncontrollable arm spasm that results in inadvertently punching you in the nose, their intention is of little interest when you’re in the ER, yet again, with another broken nose. So, yes, it’s important not to blame or damn them for their behavior; but, it’s prudent to stay out of harm’s way.)


As for all the other should-haves, could-haves, and would-haves, they’re irrelevant. You did what you did for compelling reasons at the time. Trying to put yourself back in that mind-set and re-write history, from your present vantage point only causes pain and suffering. (I have seen a number of people who erroneously think they should go back to their mate only to find it ends up hurting both of them far more when they realize their initial decision was correct.)


Misery can easily catalyze doubt in even the surest of hearts. No one is 100% convinced of any big decision they made because things are grey, not black and white. So, on a good day, you might feel quite confident the best is yet to come, and on a bad one you can’t imagine things improving. It’s certainly not uncommon to get so lonely that the most toxic, co-dependent relationship looks like an appealing option. Be strong, those feelings will pass and you will become more self-reliant, self-soothing, and self-loving. It’s a process and can’t happen overnight. Be patent with all your moods and competing thoughts. They are a natural consequence of an enormous life change.


One benefit of aging (at least, in theory) is you gain perspective and wisdom. Unfortunately, when in the middle of a down period, whether it lasts a few minutes or a few days, it is easy to forget everything you’ve learned and just focus on your current bleak viewpoint. That’s when using all the techniques at your disposal makes sense. If you aren’t up for that, OK; but, make peace with the part of you that wants a break from practicing positive thinking. Later on, or tomorrow, you will want to make an effort, and you’ll feel better.


Of course, it is natural to examine your past behavior so you can make better choices in the future; but, that is a far cry from putting yourself down for past decisions.


Perhaps, if you had it to do all over again, you would have divorced your mate earlier, or moved 3,000 miles away from toxic family. Those ships have sailed. You are here now, the sum of all your decisions. Why not believe everything happens for your highest good? Just because you are lonely, grief-stricken, or living on less doesn’t mean you made a mistake. It simply shows how everything has consequences. Use the time now to accept your choices. They were based on years of experience and intuition. Typically, those enormous life-changing shifts came because it felt as if you had to act or give up.


Monday morning quarterbacking, full of self-recrimination, will only make you feel awful and insecure. You did exactly what you should have done at the time based on who you were and what you knew.


I don’t believe you need to forgive yourself for being human, but if you do, extend an olive branch to yourself. If it helps you abandon the fantasy that everything would be peachy if only you had done something else, go for it.


On the other hand, giving yourself the love and acceptance you sought from that husband, wife, parent, or child, will make you feel exponentially better and prevent you from attaching yourself to the next warm body who promises to love and cherish you.


As the yogis say: All that you seek is already within you. You can love and cherish yourself. Imagine whom you might attract with that karma.


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

 

 
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