Seeing yourself in others

see yourself in others

Have you noticed that when you meet someone for the first time, you are usually aware of what you like or do not like about that person? We like people for their obviously identifiable traits: they are physically attractive, we like the same music, our children are the same age, and so forth.

Sometimes, it is not so easy to identify why we do or do not like someone. A subtle, often imperceptible energy draws us closer to someone, or drives us away. This energy represents the subconscious, hard-to-identify aspects of ourselves with which we have lost touch.

When we notice someone’s kindness, patience, or thoughtfulness, we are noticing these characteristics in ourselves. Others reflect our positive qualities back to us. In contrast, that which we do not like about another person, or qualities to which we react negatively, are the disowned, or hidden aspects of our personalities.

A NEGATIVE REACTION IS YOUR SIGNAL FOR AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN.

The opportunity to learn about oneself appears in the uncomfortable space of looking at our negative qualities. As humans, it is natural to want to pay attention to what we like about others and ourselves. The positive is always easier to accept and work with than the negative. The key to dealing with negative qualities is to not be afraid of them. By coming into contact with the negative qualities we see in others, we are shining a bright light in the corners of our existence. Sometimes the cockroaches scramble out of the corners. The corners are scary, gross, disagreeable. AND there is the opportunity to scrub the corners. Here is an example of how I experienced discomfort and learned a powerful lesson as a result:

I was experiencing difficulties with someone in my life. I believed she wanted to control me, that she did not respect my perspective, or my way of doing things. My conversations with this person were usually constricted and inauthentic.

When my teacher invited me to examine this relationship more closely, I had difficulty looking at and accepting the reflection of myself in this person. I said, “I am nothing like this person! She is controlling and insecure. She thinks I do things the wrong way. She is the one with the problem!” As I glanced sideways into the mirror of my own being, I saw my own controlling behaviors and insecurities. I squirmed in discomfort. I saw that I tried to control the way she thought about me, instead of letting her think whatever she wanted. I saw my own self-judgment about doing things the wrong way. The examination of myself in her was a huge lesson for me.

I learned to recognize I have some negative qualities that balance my positive qualities. And that is okay. I learned that I can accept the range of aspects of my personality. And do you know what happened when I accepted my entire personality? Not only have I become less harsh and judgmental of myself, I am much gentler with others. The reflection of myself in others shows me who I am. The rest of the work is in loving myself and, by default, loving others more fully.

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What do you have to gain by seeing yourself in others? I can help you look in the mirror, guiding you with compassion and skill. Call me to discover your hidden self. 512-593-0583. melaniesomerville.atx@gmail.com

Peace, friends.

 

 

More about divorce…

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I had the pleasure of speaking to women contemplating or going through divorce this morning. Second Saturday is a workshop that provides financial, legal and emotional resources for women. The local Austin, Texas chapter was founded in 2006 by Melanie Johnson, one of the few certified divorce financial analysts in this area.

As I sat through the legal information that was presented before my talk, I felt my body tensing and my shoulders tighten. I remembered my own experience of divorce. Even though my divorce was relatively amicable, it was an emotionally disturbing time. It took me a good two years to find myself again and feel emotionally secure. I experienced a lot of emotional ups and down.

As I looked at the 7 or 8 women in the small room, I wondered what they were experiencing. A few took notes. A few looked worried. A couple dabbed their eyes with kleenex. I felt a great sense of compassion and companionship with these women, most of whom were just beginning the journey I feel has finally ended for me.

As we began to talk, I recognized their worry over the future; the thoughts like “I am not good enough,” “what should/could I have done differently?” During divorce there can seem to be endless questions over the unknown. And many women struggle with the desire to know the unknowable.

When it was my turn to talk, I encouraged the group to take care of themselves emotionally and physically, to surround themselves with positive and uplifting people, and to make friends with the concept of “not knowing.” I asked them to remember that hindsight is 20/20 and that we can’t know how some decisions will impact us in the future. I also told them that most folks who divorce eventually return to their previous levels of happiness, if not become happier than before.

I said that their children, whatever their ages, would be impacted by divorce, no question. Children may have a hard time accepting divorce, or they may wonder what took their fighting parents so long to finally split. Here is the advice I gave: Keeping an open channel of communication is important. Let them know you will always love them and always be their parent. Reinforce to them that the decision to divorce is about Mom and Dad, not about anything a child has or hasn’t done, said, or been. They may not understand, but they will be watching how their parents interact with each other; you, the divorcing parent, are modeling behvavior that they may unconsiously adopt themselves. For example, use of neutral or ugly words, consistency, moral high ground, and other behaviors you may or may not want your child to see or adopt.

Most importantly, I reminded them that they are responsible only for their own actions and words. (See my earlier post on this topic). No one elses. Not their ex-spouse, former in-laws, adult children, longtime friends who abandon the friendship. When I was divorcing, letting go of the need to control others’ behaviors kept me sane when they didn’t behave how I wanted them to.

Divorce is never easy, whether you have been married two years or 20. But divorce does not have to be devastating. As one woman in the workshop stated, it’s about the legacy you want to leave your children. What will yours be?

If you would like a compassionate and knowledgeable professional to walk with you through your divorce journey, write me an email or give me a call at 512-593-0583.
Peace, friends.

How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life

images-8Mindfulness is  a concept relatively new to mental health. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of bringing this Eastern-inspired technique to modern clinical settings defines mindfulness this way, “Mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment without attempting to change it or judge it.”

An example of using mindfulness would be me noticing that I am hungry as I sit here typing this blog. I could engage in some self talk, which might sound like this: “You’re already hungry?? You just ate a big lunch, how can you be hungry?” or, “Quick, jump up and have a handful of those cookies you made yesterday. You know you can’t stand it when you’re hungry!” The mindful response is to notice, breathe, and give myself some time and space to respond. First, I consider, am I really hungry? Perhaps I’m a little bored. Or anxious about the report I have to deliver tomorrow. Next, if I am hungry, do I really want the cookies? Perhaps I do. Perhaps I want a cup of tea or a banana instead. Mindfulness helps me slow down and choose what is best for me.

How can you use mindfulness in your life? And how can using mindfulness change your life?

I could write a few thousand words to answer those questions. And for today, I will begin with a few hundred, maybe you will be inspires to use mindfulness in your life.

  1. Use mindfulness to notice “what is.” Noticing is a very compassionate way to understand yourself without feeling like you must be different from what you are now. In our busy lives we frequently turn our thoughts to what we need to accomplish, or check off the list. We are constantly moving forward. By contrast, we also ruminate, or think about how the past may have been different, which is a recipe for anxiety and distress
  2. A mindful approach is to notice the thoughts we have about different situations. It is also a way to be fully engaged in the present moment without being distracted by things we have no control over. Really, we only can experience fully the present moment. The past is done, there is never any going back. The future is completely unknown, even though we like to think we control the future. And planning for the future is important. We know we have chores to do and bills to pay, this is part of modern life. And, I suggest, that projecting ourselves too far into the future and wanting to control the future at every turn is mentally and physically exhausting. When you are present, everything is just the way it is. It may suck. It may be wonderful. But you are here to notice and experience.
  3. After noticing “what is,” see what it is like for you to accept it. This acceptance includes the range of other people’s behavior, your own response, and what your body feels like to notice. This can take some getting used to. We live in a reactive society. We have been programmed to act, to react, to do something! Is it really necessary, or can you take a breath and carefully choose a response? Or to not respond?
  4. When you can accept what the present moment brings, you have wide range of options for how to respond. Because you have slowed down a bit by noticing what is, you have time and choices to respond. You control only your own choices, and no one else’s (unless you are the parent of  small child). This includes your choice of emotion as well as other’s emotions (you cannot control the emotions of a small child). In a strongly stirring moment you may not feel you can control your emotions. That is okay. Just notice your emotions. Notice your body. Experience your emotions in the present moment. Then choose.
  5. Mindfulness can help you change your life, because you get to fully live it right now! You are here now! Take mindfulness on your morning run, or when folding the laundry or eating ice cream. Really notice what you see, how your body moves, what the cold sweetness feels like on your tongue. These vibrant activities that we often take for granted come alive as we are present to experience them. Being mindful can bring you joy. It can bring you peace from worry and anxiety. It can lead you to yourself and to compassion for yourself. When you develop compassion for yourself, you will also find it for others. If everyone was compassionate toward others what would this world be like?

I walk the mindfulness path each day. Sometimes I also get lost. That’s part of it. If you would like some guidance walking the path, contact me at melaniesomerville.atx@gmail.com, or give me a call at 512-593-0583.

 

Peace, friends.

About divorce – Part 2

 

Six-Steps

6 STEPS TO SAFEGUARD YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONAL WELLBEING DURING AND AFTER DIVORCE

This is Part 2 of my series About Divorce. This post has to do with how to care for your children during divorce. I’ve devised six steps for parents to use to safeguard their child(ren)’s emotional wellbeing during and after divorce. These are drawn from evidence based research on the effects of divorce on children. Divorce does not have to be devastating. Instead, we can see it as a transition.

Many people have moral qualms about divorce, that it is wrong. This blog isn’t intended to address the morality of divorce. If you have already made the decision to divorce, and you have children, here are some practical tips to use. The intent is to acknowledge that even in divorce, during this time of transition, there are things you can do that will impact the ability of your child to move through the divorce and develop into a well-adjusted adult.

  • Take care of yourself in order to take care of your child(ren). When you are emotionally & physically fit, your children are also likely to be this way. What do you do to take care of yourself? For some people, this involves physical exercise, time with supportive family and friends, time alone, spiritual practices. You deserve to be healthy and happy!
  • Communicate and respond effectively with your child(ren). What to say, how to say it, and when to say it, affects your child’s emotional health. Be mindful and intentional about communicating with your child and be sure he or she is mature enough to receive the information. Be aware of behaviors that may occur when children learn of your divorce.
  • Communicate effectively amidst conflict. It is NOT healthy for children to be exposed to their parent’s conflict. Do your best to shield your child(ren) from your anger/displeasure with your coparent. Children report that parental conflict is the greatest source of stress for them during divorce.
  • Respond appropriately to your child(ren)’s developmental needs. What a 2-year old needs when her parents are divorcing is very different from what a 10-year old, or 14-year needs. Do not rely on your child to fulfill your emotional needs or give advice. While it is admirable for them to have a sense of compassion and love for you, maintain a clear boundary so that you are doing more caretaking than your child is.
  • Be flexible and optimistic about the future. Know that as your children grow, their needs change. This means their relationships with you and their other parent will change, especially if either of you remarries. A flexible parental agreement makes these natural changes easier for your child. Plan your future after divorce with your children in mind. What is best for them?
  • Move forward in new relationships with intent. Divorce affects many more people that just the immediate family. Yours and your child’s friend group may change. You may change jobs or careers. You may wish to date again. Consider the new relationships in your new life with intention and attention to your child’s needs.

There are many, many other ways to take care of your children and safeguard them from the emotional turbulence caused by divorce. You are probably doing much of what I’ve outlined above. Kudos to you! Whether the divorce is something you want or not, it is still a huge disruption in your life and in your children’s lives. The more tools you have to draw from in your parenting tool box, the happier you all will be.

If you would like some professional guidance during this transition, please do not hesitate to give me a call at 512-593-0583. I am happy to offer a short telephone consultation.

Peace, friends.

 

 

Nothing like a good friend

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There is nothing like a good friend to get you through hard times. I have a friend who was instrumental in my development as a human being. This friend came into my life during a time of chaos, and has been beside me ever since. Many days, we spoke each morning. I was comforted and encouraged. We saw each other often, even though we lived in different cities. My friend showed me ways of being in the world that I’d never before encountered. Like a pair of shoes, I tried on a few of these ways. Some of them fit.

For example, my friend told me it was okay to sit and do nothing. This was a revolutionary idea to me. Growing up, the message I’d always received was “keep moving,” “be productive,” “don’t stop.” Sitting still was antithesis of productivity. This was before I learned that less is sometimes (often) more.

And as I tried on sitting and doing nothing, I became aware of a much greater part of me I hadn’t know existed. I call it internal awareness. The part of me that knows, without knowing. A felt sense. Of me. Of what I wanted and needed. This was not my brain, this was my body informing me. I was drawn to meditation, to mindfulness, to Buddhist philosophy. Ways of practice that honor the physical aspect of our existence.

I now know, this friendship and the awareness that arose from it, was the first step of a long journey back to myself. And to be honest, I don’t know if the journey is over. Perhaps it never is.

Years have passed. Our journeys continue, though our paths don’t often cross. But my friend is still there. We spoke just yesterday. And the love and support we’ve built over the years is still alive. I am so grateful. There is nothing like a good friend.

If you would like to begin a journey back to yourself, write me an email, or give me a call. 512-593-0583.

Peace, friends.

About divorce – Part 1

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Divorce is about change. It’s about starting over. It’s about discovery, and hope and potential. And, divorce is about fears we have about this change. There may be worry over the future, anger at your soon-to-be ex-spouse, a sense of betrayal that you are even in this situation. And many, many more emotions. Even if you are the one initiating the divorce, and feel relieved and anxious to put your marriage behind you, emotions can still be conflicting, intense and overwhelming.

Where are our children in all of this emotional turmoil? When I divorced after 28 years of marriage, my children were legally adults. I wanted this divorce and I wanted out of my marriage. Now. I was so caught up in the whirlwind of my emotions, that I found it difficult to take my children’s perspective. They were grown, they understood these things, didn’t they?

I’m here to tell you that they didn’t understand. I’d breached their trust in the infallibility of their parent’s marriage. Of family life as they knew it. They were angry and hurt that their parents couldn’t keep it together. They showed me, through words, actions and silence, that divorce is like a stone thrown into a pond. The ripples emanate in all directions, changing, for a time, the serenity of the pond’s surface. And I was blind to these ripples.

I went to therapy. I read a lot about divorce. I spent time alone. I began to understand the effects of my decisions upon others. It was painful. And illuminating. The biggest lesson I learned was that divorce is not only about the two people divorcing. That seems so obvious now, but it was almost impossible to see at the time. The bitter pill of divorce is the self-absorption that unwittingly accompanies it.

As I came out of the fog, I began to mend fences with some of the people those ripples have touched. I am not finished yet. My daughters and I are close again. This is my greatest treasure in life. There is little to no friction between my ex- and I. For these I am thankful. The rest I am working on.

If you would like to talk about the swirl of emotions that goes hand in hand with divorce, or the effects of divorce on your children, write me an email, or give me a call. 512-59-0583.

Part 2 of this post will give readers divorcing with kids, some tools to safeguard their children’s emotional wellbeing as the family transitions through divorce.
Peace, friends.

Communicating with high conflict people

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Have you ever had to communicate with someone who wants to blame everyone else for their problems? This can be very challenging when someone cannot see their own role in the conflict that surrounds them. Although communicating with high conflict individuals occurs in business and in personal settings, I see it most often in divorcing couples, where there is anger, blaming and an unwillingness to accept the situation as it is.

Bill Eddy, the creator of The High Conflict Institute, has written a book, called BIFF: Quick responses to high conflict people, their personal attacks, hostile emails, and social media meltdowns (see it here on Amazon). BIFF is the acronym for how to respond appropriately to inflammatory, hostile communications from people at work or in your family. The idea is to defuse negativity by stating only necessary information in a respectful and determined manner.

Brief  –  Informative  –  Friendly  –  Firm

Brief: Stick to the facts. Don’t give any extra information to which the other party can use to inflict blame. The fewer words you use, the less the other person can be triggered to defensiveness.

Informative: Summarize your request or response to brief, fact centered words. Take all emotional response out. Do not include your feelings or what you think the other person should be doing/saying/etc. Do not react with blame directed toward the other person.

Friendly: A friendly tone disarms the other person, as they are not expecting this response to their hostility. You are conveying hope that the situation will be resolved. This can be the most difficult aspect of the BIFF. You do not have to be fake or pretend you care for the other person, you are simply being civil. A friendly tone can be as simple as closing your email with “best regards,” or “have a good weekend.”

Firm: Try to give choices instead of ultimatums. Be clear on your stance and provide factual consequences to choices. It is not helpful to tell the other person what they should be doing. This only raises defensiveness. Do not give unsolicited advice, or over-apologize.

Using the BIFF formula helps you detach from your own reactivity and an emotional response to the other person’s hostility. If the other person feels respected, he/she may be able to let go of some of their hostility and blame.

If you would like some guidance managing your responses to a high conflict individual, write me an email, or give me a call. 512-593-0583.

Peace, friends.

Falling asleep & 4 steps to sweet dreams

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Sometimes, not often, I have trouble falling asleep. For whatever reason, I am not turning off my brain, settling in, and drifting off to nod-land. Does this ever happen to you? Last night, I crawled into bed, pretty tired after a busy day of both physical and mental activity. I was ready to sleep. I can usually drop right off, but instead my brain went into overdrive. Funny how the little, niggling things at the corners of my mind during waking hours become BIG, HUGE PROBLEMS in the dark! And when I can do nothing about them. 

So. Here are the steps I take for those infrequent times I can’t fall asleep. Perhaps these suggestions will enhance your sleep routine and lead to sweet dreams.

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  1. Find your most comfortable position in bed. Do you sleep on your back, side, stomach? I sleep on my left side, in a semi-fetal position with my hands tucked up under my neck. Find the spot that feels right for your body. And it’s okay to change positions while you are going to sleep.
  2. Notice tension in your body. Where is it? Often, I realize I am still frowning and my forehead is very tight. So is my jaw. Find those areas that feel tense, or that you might be holding onto, and let go. Scan your entire body, tip to toe, for tension or tightness. Feel the sensation of your body sinking into the bed.
  3. Deep breathing. As you let go of tension, take three very deep breaths in, holding the breath at the top of the inhale for 1-2 seconds, and slowly exhale. This activity is a biological signal to your brain and your body that you wish to slow down. Your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged with deep breathing, and this sends calming neurochemicals through your bloodstream.
  4. Contemplation or prayer. I find that when I turn my attention away from my thoughts about my own big, huge problems, to thinking about others, I am able to relax and fall asleep. I do this in several ways, and you will find what works for you. 1) Send a blessing to all the people in my life, by invoking their name, silently. I have a lot of blessings, so sometimes I fall asleep before I finish. 2) Say a particular prayer, repeated slowly with intention. 3) Use techniques from my meditation practice to empty my mind of all thoughts. I do this by focusing on my in and out breath and an image I always call to mind. Also, I think of myself as a big, empty bowl. Nothing stays in it, only the breath flows over it.

I hope these steps will guide your sleep routine so that you will experience deep, restorative rest. What other techniques do you use to help you fall asleep? I’d love to hear from you with your ideas.

Asleep

If you are having chronic sleep problems due to the big, huge problems in your life, call me to see if we might explore these together. I offer a safe, non-judgmental, and compassionate space to facilitate the exploration of things that trouble you. Call me at 512-593-0583 for a free 20-minute phone consultation.


Sweet dreams, friends.

Change the way you respond to the world – 7 words

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A number of years ago, a wise teacher (yes, it was my therapist) invited me to change the way I respond to the world. At the time, I was complaining about other people’s behavior toward me, and about the perceived injustices I was experiencing. I was angry, sad, reactive and unwilling to see the part I was playing in my own misery.

Refusing to be drawn into my drama, he calmly listed 7 words to eradicate from my vocabulary. Doing so would shift my attitudes about the choices I make in life and how I respond to the events in my life.

Are you ready for the 7 words to eliminate? Here they are:

should

ought to

have to

must

need to

supposed to

got to

you better

Pause here. Consider for a few moments what it would be like for you if didn’t use these words. Play around with ways you use these words now, what substitutuions you might chose to make.

The argument for eliminating these 7 words is that it will shift your thinking from being at the mercy of forces outside yourself (your partner, your parents, traffic, the weather) to making a choice. When you use these 7 words, you rob yourself of choice and lose the intentional force with which you steer yourself forward in this world.

Eliminating the 7 words also brings in an element of positivity to your thought process and your speech. Instead of “having to do something”, try making the statement “I am going to do something.” Even though you may feel as though you don’t have a choice about whether or not to do the thing, speaking as though you do, changes the chemistry in your brain, invoking choice and intention rather than obligation.

For many, many situations in life, we do have choice, only we do not acknowledge it. No one forces me to sit down and write this blog post. I could say “I must write this post today” and feel oppressed and obligated. Instead I choose to say, “I am going to write a blog post today.” I cannot tell you how much better I feel when I allow myself to decide instead of feeling as though something else is deciding me. Think about your own situation. In what ways is something else deciding you?

A caveat on the word need. This word is not always used to replace choicefulness. i.e. “I need to go to the bathroom!” or “I need to take my medicine at the same time each day.” And, I still maintain that you can replace it with “I am going to use the bathroom now.” or simply, “I take my medicine at the same time each day.” The idea here is to bring some mindfulness to your speech. Pay attention to what you say and how you feel when you say it. If you use need, and still feel choiceful and intentional, by all means use it. And, I am guessing that when you replace the 7 words with intentional words, you will notice a difference. I know I did.

After my teacher invited me to eliminate the 7 words, I noticed some changes in myself. It took some time and practice, but when I began to say things like “I am going to/not going to” instead of “I should have …..” or “I better …” I felt more powerful and in control of my life. I felt kinder and more compassionate toward myself. The unexpected benefit of this was the spillover into other parts of my life. I had more love for others, too. Crazy, huh?

So what are the words to use to replace the 7 words? I have listed my suggestions for intentional and choiceful words below. Please feel free to add your own in comments below.

going to

will

will not

did not

able to

choose to

choose not to

If you are struggling with choicefulness and intention in your life or would like some help eliminating the 7 words from your vocabulary, shoot me an email or call for a free, 20-minute telephone consultation. 512.593.0583.

Peace, friends.

 

 

Life in poetry

This is one of my favorite poetry pieces. It is encouraging and forceful at the same time, and urges us to live life fully while reminding us that we are perfect… If you would like to find and explore your own wonder and perfection, call me. It’s a fantastic journey.

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The Laughing Heart   by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch

there are ways out.

there is a light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

and the gods wait to delight

in you.

Peace, friends.


Melanie Somerville, MA, LPC, 512-593-0583 melaniesomerville@yahoo.com