The soccer game in your head

Have you ever watched a kid’s soccer game? One with 6-year-olds? You watch two teams of kids and every single one of them wants the ball. There is no organization, and if a goal is made it is by luck more than skill because everyone is trying to be the one in charge. Now think of all you wants, wishes and would-likes. The want to play and have fun, the want to be seen as responsible, the want to be accepted and acceptable, the fears of failure and the desire to be successful, the want to tell the world exactly where it can go and how it can get there, the desire to make the people around you happy, the desire to make yourself happy, the desire to let your hair flow free and the desire to be professional. Imagine all of your wants, wishes and would-likes, and all of your fears as the players of the game. All of these players want the ball and think they all know best what to do with it and how to score a goal.

When you go watch a soccer game with anyone over the age of 12 the game changes. There are organized positions, each player knowing their role and knowing that if they play their part it increases the chance of winning the game. No-one is fighting their teammate for control of the ball, everyone is working cohesively for one purpose.

Most of the people I work with have yet to get all players working together. They are fighting for control of the ball and the one that is the strongest grabs control, picks up the ball and runs whatever direction they want to go with it. You, the coach, are no longer in control. The trick is to get each player to stop thinking they have the only way of reaching their goal. Most of them have similar goals; happiness, peace and safety. They just have disagreements on how to get the ball there. If they start to work together you won’t feel pulled in so many directions, or as out of control.

We want to think that our brain is in control of our actions. Though people can recognize that their heart can take over when they are in love, and people often feel butterflies or knots in their stomach when stressed. Many people have known the place where their heart is leading them on while their stomach is in knots. The heart wants connection and the zing of love, and the stomach wants to avoid the pain of rejection. There may also be a place even lower down that has it’s thoughts on some more carnal desires as well. This sounds like a bunch of players all fighting for the ball, doesn’t it.

The first step is to listen. If you ask your heart what it wants, it will speak to you, you just forgot to listen somewhere along the way. For some of us we had to stop listening because if we followed our heart we would have gotten in trouble. Our stomach knows how to stay safe, but sometimes what it wants is to go home, shut the door, close the curtains and eat ice-cream forever. It usually wants to avoid getting hurt and avoid rejection. When I can listen to the different faces of myself, and hear what they want I can start acting as a coach. When my heart wants connection and love, my stomach wants safety and to avoid pain, my throat wants to avoid talking about my embarrassing truths, and a little lower down wants…well…you know, I have to manage the wants and desires. I have to guide each player, pushing some forward, pulling some back, and working with each to use their strengths for the benefit of the team.

In any given situation we have many players wanting game time, for different goals and different reasons. As the coach, we have to sort through them, find the players that are best for the situation at handle, and play them to their strengths. As the coach, working to avoid judging the players that want things that are less than helpful or less than healthy is important.   In the above situation I work with my heart to allow me to find connections, while using my anxiety to keep me aware and safe, hopefully avoiding a problematic situation with a partner that is less than safe and less than healthy. My heart would have me leap before I look and my stomach would have me be lonely. If I can get them to work together neither feels neglected and both feel as though they are part of something bigger.

A kiddo that I work with is struggling because she wants to be loved and accepted, she wants to be seen as fun, and she wants to stand up for herself and not take any shit. Her wants are pulling her in separate directions and causing anxiety. We are working on being able to give each of her wants a job, and letting each want see that they are not opposite of each other. The more confident she is the more she will be comfortable around people and the more comfortable she will be being herself. The more herself she can be, the more accepted she will be by others in general. The keys are to get each or the parts to quit fighting the other, and to see how they can work together to achieve both goals.

When you learn to listen to your anxieties and angers, your wants and desires, you can learn to start using them and directing them. You can get them to work together and stop feeling as pulled apart. You are the coach, and you have to take control of the players. Let them play to their strengths, and make sure each of them has a part to play. If they feel ignored or neglected, each player will revert to taking over and hogging the ball. Each part of you has valid wants, and ultimately wants the best for you, even though the way they try to get those needs met may actually set you back. Giving the players set tasks and letting them see how you are helping work toward the goals will lessen the anxiety and increase feeling in control and confident.

Word Shift

Today I had one of my teenage clients ask me “What is a sociopath?”. As I discussed what it is, I asked why she was asking. One of her friends had said to her “I think I’m a sociopath”. We had a discussion of how words are used in ways they aren’t really meant for, people taking small bits of information about something and using it in a way that works for them. Linguists call this word shift. It happens in languages throughout the years. A word means something at one point, and it is used and used and used and eventually shifts to a different meaning. One word that has shifted that drives people crazy is “literally”. “My head will literally explode if you pop your gum one more time.” My head is figuratively exploding at the way you used that word.

There are several words in the mental health word that are used figuratively in ways that can be more damaging than people think. One that shifted about the time that I was a kid was “retarded”. Retard means slow. In music there is a symbol for retard, or to slow down. When one is mentally retarded it means they are mentally slower than average. It has shifted to mean stupid and dumb. Less than. It is now thrown around in the vernacular without thought to what it means to those that actually fall under the true heading, slower than others. Gay initially meant happy. Then it shifted to mean homosexual. Now it has shifted again to mean lame or pathetic.

Many words in mental health have started to shift. Today phobia is anything that someone has anxiety over, not the paralyzing fear that it actually is. Bipolar now means mood swings, not the debilitating shifts in functioning from mania to depression. Antisocial now means wanting alone time instead of someone that doesn’t respect the rights feelings of others, and sociopath is someone that doesn’t feel emotions the same way. Stupid and Idiot used to have clinical implications, idiot feel at an IQ under 30, someone that didn’t have the ability to even take care of their own daily functions including bowel movements.  And yet we throw the word around as though don’t have weight or substance.

We throw these things around, saying them about ourselves and others without really thinking about their meaning.   When was the last time you called yourself an idiot? Have you heard someone say recently “dude, that’s retarded”? Or “Why are you acting so bipolar?”

Words have meaning, saying them to ourselves and to others. Labels have meaning. The vernacular of words has shifted, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have power. There are stigmas attached with the words that we use. Bipolar is a debilitating disorder that comes with significant stigma, and yet we throw the word around like nothing. The people it hits doesn’t feel it as nothing. It means that their feelings and emotions aren’t legitimate, that they are over reacting or that not acting 100% happy 100% of the time isn’t acceptable. It encourages repression of emotions, not management of reactions.

I can’t control the entire society in which these words are shifting, but I can spread an awareness of what the effect is. I can help you learn to stop using this language toward yourself, and let you know that while your conscious may not take it seriously, your subconscious absolutely does take it seriously. So does the subconscious of the person that you may have thrown these words at. I myself am guilty of using the word retarded in a way that it was not intended for. I have called myself stupid and an idiot. As I have moved through life and my experience I have learned to be aware of the words I use and what the real meaning is. I have learned to let go of the language that tears down, even when I think it is meaningless.

Taking I’m sorry back

Forgiveness is key in our lives.  One of the first things we teach kids is that they need to apologize for things they do.  “Say you’re sorry!”.  It has become insincere.  In working with violent and sexual offenders though, the first thing we do is tell them to stop saying “I’m Sorry”.  Offenders say it so many times without actually meaning it, the words actually start causing pain.  The expectation when the words “Im sorry” are uttered is to forgive, even condone.  This at times causes trauma and pain when we know that the words do not come from a place of sincerity and remorse.  The concept of forgiveness has changed to mean condoning the behavior.  I walk up to you and steal your pen.  When you catch me, I give it back and say “I’m sorry”.  When you say “That’s OK”, as is socially required it feels as though we are telling the person that what they did is OK, especially when we don’t believe they actually feel remorse.

We have tainted the concept of forgiveness.  Forgiveness today is letting the other person know that things are OK between us.  This is not the concept of true forgiveness.  We have forgotten that forgiveness is not for the offender.  Ultimately my forgiveness is not for you, but for me.  An article on does a wonderful job discussing the topic of forgiveness in depth.  Discussing the concept of forgiveness as not holding on to things that cause us pain, as opposed to letting the other person off the hook or telling them their behavior is OK.

I work daily to change concepts of forgiveness and “I’m sorry”.  I have actually stopped saying “I’m sorry”, because it has so little value any more.  I acknowledge what I did wrong, why it wasn’t OK, and what I will do to not do it again.  I find that “I shouldn’t have done that, it wasn’t OK” (along with displaying actual remorse) goes a lot farther than “I’m sorry” does.  I teach this concept to my offenders, reminding them that they actually  have to agree that they did something wrong and agree to not do it again to make “I’m sorry” work.

And I work to teach that forgiveness isn’t about the other person.  It is about the weight I choose to carry with me.  I can find many things in my life that I can carry if I choose; my divorce, getting laid off, not getting promotions, etc.  These are places in which I have been betrayed and hurt by someone else.  I could hold on to anger, resentment and pain.  Holding on to these only weigh my soul down without effecting the others involved in the situation. I personally want to loose weight, not gain it.

I have started saying “thank you” to someone that has apologized to me if they did something they should apologize for.  I have given up saying “it’s OK” if it wasn’t.  Try the two things mentioned here in the next week.  If you have something you have done to someone else that you regret, tell them what it was that you shouldn’t have done, and let them know that you know it wasn’t OK.  And when someone says “I’m sorry” for something they should truly be sorry for, instead of saying “It’s OK” tell them that you appreciate their apology.  It lets go of the requirement that I let someone off the hook and condone their behavior when I really don’t.  And by taking accountability for your actions you show that you truly feel bad for what you did, and you aren’t uttering a colloquialism just to smooth things over.

And finally, don’t apologize if you don’t need to!  Someone runs in to you on the sidewalk, and they are clearly at fault, and you apologize.  Why?  Because it is what you are supposed to do.  If you didn’t do anything wrong, and especially if you aren’t sorry, don’t continue to ruin the word.

Let’s take I’m sorry back.  Let’s make it mean something again.  Let’s make it mean true regret, an acknowledgement that you’ve done something wrong, and not a request to condone or ignore a behavior.  When you forgive do it for yourself not the other person, and not because it is expected or required.  When you say “I’m sorry” say it because you feel true regret, not because you feel true regret.  Say “Thank you” when someone else apologizes, instead of telling them their behavior was OK.  Stop letting I’m sorry be a requirement and and insincerity.

When is enough, enough?

Life is about balance, and this includes relationships. Knowing when to fight, when to back down, and when to retreat doesn’t come written down in a handbook. There are very few situations where there is a black and white, wrong or write answer. They do exist, they are just far and few between. Knowing when to move away from a relationship is not easy.  When do I let go of personal needs, wishes wants and would-likes and help my loved one, even if it causes me pain or problems? When do I walk away, admitting that my loved on is an anchor around my neck that is drowning me? These are questions to which there are few easy answers.

We will all struggle with something throughout our lives. Any time two or more people get together the struggles of one will affect the other. Many of these struggles will come and go, and some of them will be life-long struggles. Because we are social creatures we want to be with others and have their support and sponsorship as we move though struggles. We often turn to each other for validation and help. We all balance giving support when asked, and setting boundaries to make sure our needs are taken care of. In general giving this validation feels good as we help partners, friends and loved ones move through difficulties. When the support begins to weigh on us, or requires that we sacrifice our own identity, that is when the decisions get more difficult.

We enter in to relationships with someone that we love and care about, thinking that we can handle anything that comes our way. Then life happens. Accidents, illness, mental health, job loss and addiction are just some of the things that can change a partner or create difficulty in the home. When we signed on with our partners we signed on to be supportive and sponsors through thick and thin. We didn’t sign on to bail at the first sign of trouble. We also didn’t sign on to sacrifice our identity, our values and needs, or even our health and safety.

A situation in which you are in physical danger, especially in which you feel as though your life or the life of your children is in danger is a black and white situation in which you need to leave. There are safety plans available online that will help with packing lists and exit plans to keep you safe. It is often a struggle to leave a partner in times of abuse because we often know why they are doing what they are doing. We know their pain and their struggles. We know their insecurities that lead to their actions. Their pain, insecurities and struggles never excuse or OK physical assault or rape. A situation in which you or your children are in danger is not one to stay in.

A situation that is a little less black or white is when addiction is involved. You wouldn’t bail on your partner struggling with cancer, and like cancer, addiction is a disease. At the same time drug and alcohol addiction creates strong personality changes in partners and can lead to emotional, physical and financial burdens. It can tax families to the limit, especially children. In addiction people lose a part of themselves. A part that can be regained, but in the interim the actions of the addict can destroy a family. They key is the willingness of the addict to get help. An addict can’t be a good anything but a good addict. They can’t be a good parent, a good employee, or a good friend. The addiction is a monkey on their back that takes over and demands to be fed at all costs. Only you can decide if the price is too much. The danger aspect applies here as well. If you are in physical danger, you must protect yourself. If your partner is wild and aggressive when they are using but great when they are sober, you still need to leave. When you signed on with your partner you agreed to help them, and a strong supportive partner can make the difference between sobriety and addiction. It all goes back to your partner’s willingness to get help. If they won’t get help, it doesn’t matter how supportive you are, they won’t change.

If you are ever asked to give up a big part of who you are for another partner or a relationship, it probably isn’t a healthy relationship. Now, if you are asked to give up your drug use, or your unhealthy habits, that is different. But if you are asked to give up your identity, if you are asked to suppress your wants, wishes and would-likes long term, the relationship probably isn’t healthy. There are some situations in which the relationship is so amazing in other ways that it doesn’t matter that you have to forgo or let go a part of your identity. It should be pretty darn amazing and have a lot of perks in other places to compensate for the requirement of suppressing who you are. Only you can decide if the relationship is worth losing part of who you are. It is rarely worth losing a core part of you, such as your spirituality, your sense of humor, your sensuality / sexuality or your body image. If you are OK with your body, but your partner wants it to be different (bigger breasts, better abs, better bottom, etc) then it is a good indication that your partner likes you for your body and not who you are. If you are the right person for them, and you are confident in your body, then your boobs shouldn’t matter.  I personally would not give up my cat that I’ve had for 16 years for a relationship. She is important to me and a part of my identity. Again, only you can decide what part of you is worth sacrificing for someone else. And again, there had better be some darn good compensation for that sacrifice. In most cases, being asked to suppress or sacrifice who you are for your partner or your relationship means you aren’t with the right partner.

Illnesses and accidents throw curve balls at the person that goes through them. They also throw off the friends and partners. I’ve worked with clients that have partners that have had motorcycle accidents with traumatic brain injuries, degenerative diseases, even depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. When we marry we make a vow: In sickness and health. What happens when your partner gets in an accident that changes their personality, and they are no longer the person that you fell in love with? This happens in cases of brain injuries. It can also happen after a tragedy or when people are in great amounts of physical pain. There are resources for those with partners that are no longer able to take care of their basic needs that can help caregivers feel less overwhelmed. There are also support groups, both online and in person that help with feeling less alone. In most cases the partners and caregivers I work with stay with their partner. There are times though, in which leaving is a viable choice. If you are in danger, you are allowed to leave. If your partner has become someone that expects you to manage or tolerate behavior such as drug use or cheating, you are allowed to leave.

People that have been through abuse as a child can struggle to trust and bond as adults. This struggle affects loved ones because no matter how hard they try it can feel as though their love will never be enough.   It can be a challenge living with someone that wants to feel close but has barriers and boundaries that have been put in place before you ever met them to keep them emotionally safe. Childhood trauma often includes betrayals by people that were supposed to protect them and they had to learn to live with that in order to survive. This can include keeping themselves from trusting.  Being able to feel connected can be difficult. Because of the betrayals as children people with childhood traumas can be very sensitive to the possibility of betrayal as an adult, and this can lead to defensiveness in partnerships. This defensiveness can make partners feel very distanced and alone. They best way to be able to stay in such a relationship is to remember that their self-esteem and identity is not yours to fix. You are allowed to set boundaries with them, kindly, even if it hurts their feelings. You are allowed to take care of your own wishes, wants and would-likes. If ever you are not allowed to it isn’t a healthy place to be.

Relationships are hard work. They require patience, and understanding when your partner isn’t at their best. Relationships aren’t about bolting at the first sign of trouble. They also aren’t about losing who you are and sacrificing your identity to keep your partner happy or to keep the relationship happy. The lines between the hard work of making your relationship go and losing yourself are blurry. There are rarely easy answers. If you feel as though you are losing yourself the first thing to do is talk to your partner, without criticism, contempt or blaming. Talk to them about your wishes, wants and would-likes. Work with your partner to find a way to get your needs met as well.  If it is unsafe for you to do so because of violence, or your partner just blatantly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you or your needs it’s probably time to go. Remember, you never have to make the decision by yourself. Talk to a counselor about your needs, talk about your fears, and talk about how to get your needs met in a healthy way.

Letting go of attack and defend

In relationships we have an investment to have our partners see us as loveable. We all have a fear of being left, and it is reasonable to believe that if our partners don’t see us as loveable they may leave. When our partners come at us with the revelation that they don’t see us as awesome, fear rears its ugly head and our first instinct is to want to defend ourselves. In this moment, the moment our partners come at us with criticism either constructive or not, we feel attacked and possibly fearful of being left. When we start to defend we start a cycle. Our partner feels as though they have to defend their position, get their concerns heard and possibly get their needs met. We start to listen to each other only in as much as we are getting ready to defend ourselves. We perfect the “Yes, but….” We have now hit the attack / defend cycle. If you fast-forward a year, or 10, we don’t even have to have to hear our partner’s criticism, we just defend or attack.

One way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person feeling attacked. When our partner comes at us we have an instinct to defend ourselves. Instead of turning back to defend, admit to yourself or to your partner, or both, that you feel attacked. And then ask for more information. That step is counter-intuitive to everyone that has ever been in a fight. To a lot of people it seems like getting punched in the fact and asking for a second punch. Imagine you are the one with the point to make, and imagine your partner asking you to give them more information about what you mean. Or asking why it is important to you. Or asking you how you felt. Would the next statement be another punch? Or would you feel validated and maybe be able to explain why your point of view is so important to you?

Another way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person that wants to get their point across. Learn to step in with a gentle approach. Avoid criticism or contempt for the other person, and work to avoid blaming. I think by now everyone has learned what an “I statement” is. Avoid anything that starts with “you”, and identify what your feelings are, and what your needs are. “I’m frustrated and I would like more help with the dishes”. “I’m feeling very unappreciated lately, and I would like….” Notice how these statements are very different from “you never help me with the dishes” (criticism) or “You don’t see anything I do” (blaming).

The steps for both sides include being able to identify your feelings in the moment. At times this is the most difficult part, as what most people are able to easily identify is angry. “I’m angry”. What else are you feeling? Abandoned, afraid, defensive, confused, betrayed, unloved, un-loveable, criticized, and hurt are common feelings during fights, all leading to anger. When you are able to identify what you are feeling, after taking a second to soothe the feeling yourself, the next step is to identify what you wants are.

Fights are a dance with two people trying to lead. If we can back down and be more gentle in our approach when asking for something to change, and if we can take a second when feeling attacked and try to dig deeper to get a better understanding of our partner the dance changes. It becomes less volatile and less hurtful to both partners. It becomes more validating and each person walks away less angry, less hurt, and less betrayed.  When we can change the dance we will feel closer to our partners and safer in our relationships, with greater intimacy.

Finding your path

“All beings—from humans to insects—have the innate capacity to become enlightened. Yet we are like penniless people living on top of a gold mine; we live in spiritual poverty because we don’t tap our inner riches. To do so requires effort. We must undertake constant learning, examination and practice; we must combine knowledge and compassion. Ultimately, this awakens our primordial wisdom, allowing us to truly see.”

We are all working to achieve happiness. From your best friend to your worst nemesis, everyone is working to achieve happiness. When we understand this it can help us be more patient with others, even if we don’t agree with the path they take. It is difficult to see this when a person’s path includes exclusion, hurting others, or hurting themselves. It is hard to understand when a person’s path to happiness includes taking happiness away from others. These people are just as desperate for enlightenment as we are, but with less of an understanding of how to find it. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but most religions believe in similar paths. The teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha are very similar.

Buddhism believes that the path to enlightenment follows 8 paths. These paths are what the Buddhist Monks follow, and as you move down the paths they become more and more difficult. I have yet to give up meat, and I have a feeling that my husband would be unhappy if I gave up sex. This blog isn’t about following the paths completely, as I have yet to do so, but to give you and understanding of a possible way to move through life and find happiness and enlightenment.

The first path is the Right View. With this path we have to create an understanding of what SUFFERING really is, the difference between pain and suffering, and work to move through life without hatred, greed and delusion. Hatred general comes from fear of the unknown or fear of losing the things we believe we need. Greed of course is wanting to make sure our needs are met, and gathering the resources we believe are necessary, but gathering more than we really need. Taking and taking when what we have already is enough. Of course letting go of hatred also includes letting go of the hatreds we have toward ourselves, letting go of our hatred of our perceived imperfections while continuing to strive to be the best we can be.

The next path is Right Intention. Right intention is moving through life without ill will and without intent to harm others or ourselves. This is followed by Right Speech, avoiding divisive or abusive speech, and Right Action. Right Action includes avoiding taking life, taking things that were not given (stealing) and illicit sex. The next path is Right Livelihood. This includes avoiding jobs that include weapons, humans, meat, intoxicants and poison. Then Right Effort, avoiding evil and continuing to learn new skills while letting go of un-wholesomeness and preventing it within yourself as well.

The final two paths are about concentration, and look at Right Mind and Right Concentration. These look at being able to put away thoughts of greed and distress, and finally letting go of the mundane. I think the final path is the most difficult for me, as it involves the full understanding that nothing in live is permanent, so letting go of attachment to things that you cling to. Within Buddhism this means letting go of all physical attachments; your TV, your clothes, your cat and your partner. Attachment causes grief and suffering when the thing we are attached to is lost, and nothing lasts forever.

How I personally manage this is to be willing to move through the pain of loss, knowing that I will be OK once the thing I am attached to is gone. This has been proven to me when I lost my first marriage, when I had to put three of my cats to sleep, when I was laid off from my job, and every time a client successfully finds their own peace and moves on. I was OK when I left the safety of my parent’s house for college, and the safety of the place I grew up in to move to a new State and City. I won’t give up the mundane to find complete happiness, because it will bring pain and suffering to do so. So I will be OK with the pain and fear that comes with attachment. I will be aware of the pitfalls of attachment that lead to more suffering, such as hate, greed and delusion.

We all want happiness. If we aren’t careful the way we try to find it can actually cause more pain. Anytime we try to find happiness at the cost of other’s happiness, it causes us suffering. Any time we try to find happiness through judgment or hatred it causes us more suffering. You don’t have to agree with someone else’s path to happiness. You need to find your own, find the one that works for you and stick to it.

Understanding the ego

I was once told that the ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. This implies that the ego is not the self, it is the idea of the self that defines what is. The ego defines if something is good or bad, likeable or not, right or wrong. It also decides what you can and can’t do, correct or not.

An interesting example of this is women and math. There is a belief put out that girls are bad at math, and boys are good at math. Because of this belief boys are taught differently than girls in school. A review of 100 classes across the country found that boys will be walked through the problem, while girls will be shown how to do the problem. When a girl struggles with a concept they were often told “Don’t worry about it, a lot of girls aren’t good at math”. This affects how girls see themselves when it comes to math, affecting their belief in their ability to do it, reinforcing the concept that boys are good at math and girls are bad. The ego, the self, starts to believe this creating anxieties about math, leading to teens and women believing that they are bad at math. This is a belief that isn’t necessarily true, but the self that regards itself as real does.

It is important to begin to differentiate between what you CAN do, and what you CAN do, but the ego is afraid to do or thinks it can’t. Think for a second about going to see a movie on your own on a Friday night. Some of you will think “No problem, what’s the big deal?”. Some of you will look at this as an inconceivable challenge that you would never be able to do. What is the difference between the two of you? Your ego.

We think of someone with a big ego as being full of themselves. We see a big ego as cocky or narcissistic. What it takes to go to the movies by yourself on a Friday night, braving couples and judgmental teens is a strong ego. It takes a confidence of self that you are OK, even if you are the only person sitting alone in the theater on a Friday.

The ego is the part of us that can get in the way. It gets in the way when we want to try something new and when we aren’t sure of ourselves. It says that you’re enough, or not enough. It says that you will succeed or that you won’t. When your ego has decided that you aren’t going to succeed the decisions has been made. The trick to trying new things with confidence is either getting your ego on your side, getting the ego to believe that you can be successful, or getting it out , of the way.

Getting the ego out of the way means working with the part of the self that is afraid and convincing it to trust you to keep it safe. Some people ignore their anxiety when moving in to a new situation, and often the anxiety rears its head in unexpected ways right in the middle of what you’re trying to do. Getting your ego on your side, trusting you to be OK even if you fail.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. When you are aware of the ego, when you are aware of the self that says that you can or can’t, then the ego isn’t in control. Being aware of the part of the self that isn’t necessarily right about what you can and can’t do allows you to work around the ego. This allows for greater exploration in your life, a greater willingness to see more of the world, and explore some edges that you may not have been willing to explore when the ego is in control.

Divorce with children

Unfortunately we are divorcing each other at an amazing rate.  Though lately the saying “more marriages end in divorce” seems to not be holding up (the divorce rate has fallen in the last 2 years), there are still a good deal of families that are splitting up.    I was blessed that my divorce was “easy” with no bitterness or anger (notice I did not say painless) and my ex-husband and I maintain an easy friendship.  I work with clients and have friends who are not so lucky.

Divorce on its own is traumatic.  Even a divorce as “easy” as mine was still is a trauma.  There are always hurts, feelings of abandonment, loss, and at times betrayal.  Adding children to this mixture adds another layer of uncertainty, frustration, hurt and fear.  Even the best people are able to become monsters around their ex-partner at this time of in-stability. Unfortunately often the children are thrown in to the mix and the trauma can be devastating.

A divorce is traumatic to a child.  Children are at a stage in which they are learning if the world is to be trusted, and part of that is based on the stability of their family.  If the parents are stable and display consistency children learn that the world is stable and consistent and approach life with optimism.  If parents display instability they learn to fear the world and tend to be more pessimistic.  Realize, these are generalizations and do not apply in all cases, but overall these themes tend to play out. Divorce adds a new mix to the concept of instability.  gives a great deal of information on this topic, but generally children generally jump to the following questions :

·  What if they both leave me?
  What is it that I did wrong?

  Did I cause the divorce?

  • Now what’s going to happen to me?

Divorce is painful.  It is a severe trauma that strongly affects both parties in the divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce with children is like being sick with children.  The kids don’t care that you are hurting,  or don’t feel well, that you are angry and feel abandoned.  And it is not their responsibility to be your support through this trauma.  Let me repeat that, as it is amazingly important. Your children are not supports for your divorce!  Just as if you are sick, you need to to continue to be strong, stable, caring and loving.  The worst case scenario unfortunately is often the norm today.  Children are placed in the middle, asked to pick sides and used as leverage in the fight against the other person.  This has drastic results that are life long.

Basic rules to interacting with your children in relationship to your divorce:

Do not burden them with information about reasons for the split.  Children will want to know.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and they generally feel the same fear, powerlessness and panic that you feel and  they know that knowledge is power.  The problem  is that in the middle of the painful emotions we are unable to be unbiased and we give information based on our own perceptions.  I know through my divorce I actually placed more blame on myself than my ex, but often people do the opposite forgetting that it takes two to tango.  Children can feel responsible for getting the parents back together, they can be placed in a parent role for their parents, and take on more than necessary.  It also puts them in a position to pick sides. When they want to know, switch to a nurturing role.  “That’s not stuff you need to worry about, what you need to know is that Daddy / Mommy and I love you, will always love you, and will always be here for you”.

Do not ask them to pick sides.  In doing this you will imply that they will loose your love if they don’t pick you.  If both parents do this it will cause panic.  Children still think in fight or flight, survival and death. This doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but they are still very primitive in their emotions without the ability to rationalize.  There is a distinct fear that “If I don’t pick mom, she won’t love me, she will leave me, and I cannot survive without her.”  This is very subconscious, and they probably can’t verbalize these fears. We all want validation that we are good people and in divorce we want to know that the reason we are being rejected is because of the faults of the other instead of our own.  Using our children for our own validation and to resolve our feelings of loss or fears of being unloved, or just vilifying our past partner is not OK. It creates feelings of abandonment and panic and can lead to behavioral problems, drug use, school difficulties, anxiety and depression.


Do not manipulate the children emotionally. This technically falls under trying to make them pick sides but deserves its own section.  Telling kiddo that you can’t make the rent because daddy divorced you causes confusion and hurt.  Even if this is the case, kiddo doesn’t need to know until they are older.  The kids are struggling to see where they are going to be safe in the world.  What they need from both of you is knowledge that the world won’t end, that they will still be loved even with the divorce.  Manipulating them in an effort to sway them away from the other parent, or get them to try to manipulate the other parent creates an unsafe situation and will cause a great deal of anxiety.  It can actually rebound on you, and make the child resentful toward you.  We think kids won’t necessarily see through this behavior, but they aren’t stupid, just young.

Do not fight in front of your children.   If you do find yourself fighting in front of your kids, either work to find a resolution then and there (one of the great disservices we do to our children is we do not teach them how to resolve an argument, we fight in front of them, but we never resolve anything in front of them.) or end the discussion until a time when the kids aren’t present (not sent to their rooms, but not present all together).  It is too easy to drag the children in to the fight, and that will exacerbate all of their fears instead of reassuring them. Sending them to another room does no good, as yelling travels very well through houses.  It will also display that there are weaknesses that kids are amazingly apt at manipulating.

Do not use your children as a tool to manipulate your spouse. This is nothing more than emotional assault both on your children and your ex.  There is no excuse or justification for this.  Unless your ex is a danger to your child there is no reason to limit their access, and using your child as a manipulative tool is nothing less than child abuse.  You are turning your child in to an object to cause pain, while it is not criminal, it should be.  If you can’t tell, I feel rather strongly about this. Don’t buy your child the cell phone your ex told them they can’t have just to piss him/her off.  Don’t manipulate to get more child support just to hurt your ex.  Don’t make it excessively hard to do things like visitation and communication.  These behaviors are childish and unacceptable.  This hurts more than just your ex, it hurts your child and ultimately it hurts you too. Being a mean and spiteful person is  a poison that slowly kills you. But most of all it hurts your children.  They learn unhealthy patterns that they carry through their adult relationships.  Moral?  Do not use your children to get back at your ex.

Don’t tell stories about your ex to your kids.  Children don’t need to know who daddy is supposedly sleeping with or that he didn’t pay his child support on time.  The don’t need to know that mommy is throwing tantrums and not able to pay her bills.  They don’t need to know how horrible mommy is, or how bad her friends are.  This is transferring your frustrations and fears on to your children.  If your ex really is that horrible, let kiddo find that out on their own.

Do nurture, support and reassure your children.  If there is fighting in the home they frequently believe that the fights revolve around them not realizing that their parents are fighting because of their relationship, not them.  If that is the case and all of a sudden mom and dad are splitting, it is natural to believe that you are divorcing because you always fight over the kids.  Even if they are not aware of the conflict (which is relatively rare) they now know that their world is being thrown about and they are probably terrified. They need all of the support and reassurance you can get.  If possible, reassure them together as a team.  They need to know that even though you will not be together anymore  you still love them and you are still a solid team when it comes to parenting them. They need to know that even with the divorce they are safe. 

Do be a united front for your children. As they grow this will be more important than you realize. The one thing you can both still agree on is that your kids are amazing, that you love them, and they come first.  Well, put them first.  You have to put aside all of the anger, hurts and frustrations.You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids.  You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids!  If you do not the fallout is amazing.  You will see behavior problems as they seek structure and stability.  If you think they split and manipulate you now as a solid couple, wait to see what they can do when they know that you aren’t together in your parenting. Kids will feel unstructured and unsafe.   They will seek out their friends for their support instead of their parents.  They will resort to drug use, eating disorders, stealing among other things to resolve their hurts and frustrations.  It is a loosing battle.They will also turn in to little terrorists, manipulating and scheming to get their way, going to the parent from whom they know they can get want the easiest.  They will play you like a violin and turn in to brats that don’t mind either of you.

Do work to resolve your differences in a healthy manner. Just because you are splitting with your partner does not mean that you have to teach hate to your children.  I will cover how this effects you as a person in greater detail in another post, but even if you feel hurt and hate right now it is important to teach your children how to resolve hurts and frustrations in a healthy way.  This is going to be a difficult time for you.  If you hit a point where you don’t feel like you are in control, leave until you are in control again.   Remember to always think what you are teaching your children with your behavior.   

Being a parent means being responsible.  I know throughout my divorce there were days that just keeping myself going took all the energy I had.  I know that putting that aside that pain and going about with  my daily life was like swimming up a waterfall. I fully understand the hurt and the trauma that this is causing you.  I know first hand the feelings of abandonment, hurt, fear, loss and loneliness. Divorce with children is not the same as divorce without. When you have kids you don’t get sick days, you don’t get hurt days, and you don’t get bad divorce days.  Because you have children you have to put your big-girl / boy panties on and be a parent.  That means putting your child first and your hurts and angers second.  Hopefully in doing this you will be better able to pull yourself through your divorce as you force yourself to work with your partner, resolving your hurts and create a healthier world for you and your children.

Resources :;; 

Childrens books;

Cooperative Parenting 



Act Confident

Getting our needs and wants met is a skill. It takes a finesse and a confidence that we think we should all know instinctively. Instead it is a learned skill that we start learning as a kid. As a kid we learn from our environment how to ask for wants and needs, and we learn specifically from our parents and family. If our family supportive and kind, then we learn to be confident in asking for our needs and wants. If our family is assertive, we may learn that we need to be overly assertive in asking, and if our family is abusive or domineering we often learn to be more passive or shy in asking for wants and needs.

When we approach people with aggression they feel put off and often resentful. When we are too un-assuming or shy people don’t take us seriously. I had a client walk in the office the other day with a grin, looking at the ground, shoulders slumped. She looked guilty as sin of something. She struggles to believe that she is worth having her needs or wants met, and as such does what a good deal of us do. She is passive, tender and quiet for a good deal of the time. She thinks “It doesn’t matter” and lets other people have their way over and over, and often is stepped on because she doesn’t set limits and boundaries with others. She works to see things from their point of view and only thinks of how they will be angry or mad at her if she stands up for herself or asks for her own needs to be met. Until she hits the tipping point. Then the raging bear comes out and instead of being tender, fierceness and aggression spew forth.

We all struggle with the balance of tender vs fierce. Tenderness is where we are kind and work to nurture others. Fierceness is when we set limits and boundaries. Tenderness without fierceness is victimization. We will be walked on even by the most well-intentioned of people. Fierceness without tenderness is aggression, either physical or verbal. Being fiercely-tender or tenderly-fierce is a skill. Being able to set limits on kindness is difficult, and we often worry that the person or organization we are setting limits on will be angry and punish us. If we don’t give our friend the $5 they asked for, they will be frustrated. If we ask for the last $5 back before giving them more money they will be mad. If we don’t work 60 hours a week for our job (when we only get paid for 40) they will fire us.

I work with so many people that don’t believe that they are worth having their needs or wants met. They either don’t bother to ask for their needs, wants, wishes or would-likes (secretly hoping that their partner / friend / job will just do what they need), or they hint and passive-aggressively try to get needs met. People either don’t understand these ways of communication, or intentionally ignore them. It is uncomfortable to be straight forward and say “I need this”. As a culture this is a taboo, especially for women. The struggle is that eventually when our needs, wants, wishes and would-likes aren’t communicated or met, we get angry and eventually resort to fierceness. And when we go at people like a raging bull, they tend to defend themselves and fight back instead of listening.

The client that came in to the office head down, shoulders slumped and shy grin on her face got a lesson in confidence that day.   As you read this, do the following: Lift your shoulders up to your ears, pull them back along the shoulder-blades and drop them down. Lift your head to where your head is at neutral, not looking up or down. This is what she and I practiced for an hour. We also practiced asking for what she wanted in terms of “I need”, “I would like”, and “I want” in a confident voice, without giggling. We practiced “I would like you to respect our house. I need you to pick up your trash and not leave it for my husband and I. This is important if you are going to live here.” A perfectly reasonable request, right? It was a struggle to find the confidence to say it.

There is a skill called DEAR MAN (Marsha Linehan, DBT).

Describe the situation

Explain how it makes you feel

Assert what you want



Maintain Focus




I’m not going to explain the whole skill in this blog, but one of the key components is acting confident. Not cocky, not shy, confident. If I go in like an angry bear people will be defensive. If I go in shy and quiet, I probably won’t be taken seriously. Finding that place where I know that I am OK asking for what I’m asking for (even if I can’t get it, for whatever reason I’m still OK asking for it) gets me most of the way there.

Ultimately, if I don’t believe I’m worth it, no one else will. For whatever reason we have forgotten the skill of asking for what we want. As women we are seen as needy or demanding if we express our needs, and men are often seen as weak. I have personal found that while people may be surprised when I am comfortably forward with asking for what I want or need, they are rarely unreasonable.