Category Archives: Mindfulness

How to Bring Awareness to Your Cravings

Mindful awareness of cravings related to food and other addictions Manage your cravings rather than let them manage you

How often have you been lead astray by your cravings? Or maybe set off with good intentions or resolutions to break a bad habit, but can’t seem to get past your own cravings for something on the bad habit list?

It’s been holiday time and everyone has candy on their desk, or goodies laid out. You’ve been working (fighting hard actually) on not snacking or grabbing a handful of M&Ms every time you walk by, but it is oh-so-damn-hard. You try so hard to talk yourself out of it; try to ignore it; not give in again. You cajole yourself; you demand; you plead don’t do it. Then you bargain. Just this once. One little bite won’t hurt; you can do this. You may have resentment toward the people who put those goodies out, or toward the people who seem to walk by so easily and not be affected by the treats calling their name.

But something happens that you can’t quite even recognize. A moment passes so quickly and un-noticed. Pretty soon you’ve grabbed another donut; a sliver of chocolate cake; handful of M&Ms; another See’s chocolate, and scarfed it down. You’ve quieted that vicious battle within you, at least for a moment.

You feel the immediate pleasure, the satisfaction, the enjoyment of this delicious sweet thing –

and then it passes REALLY REALLY quickly. In a moment it’s gone and all that’s left is the wish for more – or the punishment, shame, anger with yourself that you gave in to your cravings – or worse, that you have cravings at all. You turn on yourself and think ugly things about yourself. You loathe yourself (which incidentally is actually the fuel for the next craving to arise).

What to do with your cravings if not fight them or indulge them?

Try bringing awareness to your cravings.

Bring kind attention to your cravings.

Turn toward those craving feelings rather than toward the desired item.

Notice the feeling of craving. Pay attention to where you feel it in your body – chest, stomach, shoulders, heart? And what does that particular craving for chocolate cake (or insert whatever craving here) feel like inside of you? Where do you feel it? How much space does it take up? Is there pressure, hollowness, heaviness, warmth, rumbling associated with it? Is there a body sensation that goes with craving? How would you rate its intensity on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being low)? Does it have color, size, dimension, shape?

Breathe into that…and breathe again.

And what emotions are there, associated with it? (Comfort, loss, shame, hunger, loneliness, longing, etc.) and what do those feelings feel like inside of you? Where in your body do you locate them? What’s their intensity, breadth, range?

At this time, if not sooner, you might feel like running, or giving in to the craving. It might be very difficult to simply let the craving be. You might feel the urgency of needing to satisfy that craving – that you might not be able to bear these feelings a moment longer…Easier to go for what you crave and put up with the disappointment in yourself that always comes up, than to allow yourself to really feel the sadness and disappointment that you might be feeling from that slight you experienced earlier. Or the sense of inadequacy and being unlovable that you’ve been carrying for much longer. You might feel your anxiety heightened…

See if you can just hold these feelings a moment longer. Breathe into them. Experience yourself bearing them. Just a moment longer. Check in where and how intense are they in your body. How would you rate the intensity at this moment?… And then at this moment? Breathe again…

Notice if the intensity has decreased even just a little.

How do you feel noticing your craving and paying attention to what you’re doing in response to the craving, rather than just giving into it? Maybe the intensity has peaked again – you’re at three instead of the one you were just at. You might’ve gone back into your head and left your body – thinking all those terrible things you think when you have a craving, or mentally punishing yourself for having the craving and for being who you are.

Bring yourself gently again back to your body. Drop into this place of simply being aware of the craving and feeling it and the associated feelings in your body. Move away from the storyline or negative thoughts you have going on in your head, while you are experiencing that craving. Allow yourself to go just below that craving that’s on the surface and that seems to want to direct your behavior.

Maybe there’s a hint of loneliness or sadness or boredom or inadequacy there. Maybe you’re missing someone or something, or feeling not enough. Maybe you’re feeling hurt and angry about some injustice done to you. See if you can have kindness about these emotions being present and simply allow them to be for a moment longer… And another moment again.

Notice your caring breath that you’re bringing to these uncomfortable feelings. See if you can notice what you might really be craving – like a hug or reassurance from someone, or validation for your feelings, or being seen and heard, or a sense that what you think and feel matters.

See if you can practice awareness, allowance, forgiveness of these feelings. Appreciate your craving for having brought to your attention these deeper feelings, and appreciate your awareness and witnessing of these feelings without necessarily acting them out. Let your cravings know they are not the boss of you.

By this time, that intense craving may have passed or lessened in its intensity. You have successfully let it be, and then pass, and it no longer has a strangle on you. Feel the empowerment of that experience; the resilience you have just built, the positive sense of yourself for having agency with your cravings and not letting them control you. Savor your capacity to choose your own behavior even when you have cravings.

I’ve talked here about cravings as related specifically to something sweet or foods we crave. You can practice this kind of mindful attention to your cravings with food and especially sweets (it’s been said that sugar is actually the gateway drug to all of our other addictions in life), but know that this kind of being with your cravings is not limited to food.

It can be helpful to bring this kind of awareness to other areas of life where you experience cravings (a glass of wine to help you unwind; particular behaviors you want from a partner or your child to prove they’re listening to you; needing to check social media and email on your device from the moment you wake up until you go to bed; shopping or spending more money than you have on something that you don’t need, etc).

Cravings usually arise from some sense of dis-ease or discomfort within us. Not being connected to our own sense of ease in the world (security, connection, belonging, mattering); and we long for something outside of ourselves to fill up or fix that dis-ease or emptiness. We usually crave something that we think will take that uncomfortable feeling away. And it might, but usually only on a temporary basis. Very temporary.

Try instead to fill up your cravings with the meaningful. Be with your cravings in a kind and intimate way, and they’re more likely to pass without causing harm.

If you or someone you care about needs some help in dealing with cravings in a meaningful way, and would like to feel freer from the negative thoughts and feelings that come with them, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

New Year’s Intentions

I wish you many blessings and joys in the New Year

positive Intentions; mindful living; New Years intentions rather than resolutions

Happy New Year!

I wish you many blessings and joys in the new year…

As you are winding down 2017 and looking toward 2018, you may be reflecting on how the year was for you – maybe with relief to be done with it all; maybe with anticipation or dread about what lies ahead. You may be exhausted from all the activity, eager to pull in with some quiet time; or feel replenished and ready to start the new year with gusto.

You may have suffered heartache and loss in the last year, and/or completed some important projects or uplifting accomplishments for yourself. You may have quit (or lost) a job that was oppressive to you; or parented your kids through some very challenging times; or gotten married, or retired or started some other new phase of life – probably with mixed emotions along the way. Your world or that of someone you love may have been turned upside down with devastating fire, unimaginable violence, unprecedented hurricanes; or divorce, infidelity, health scares, debilitating mental illness, or the unbearable political climate.

Most likely your 2017 was quite a mixture of many rich moments that make up daily living – including highs and lows, strengths and vulnerabilities, joys and sadnesses, frustrations and triumphs, love and loss.

I hope you take the time to pause and reflect on whatever 2017 was for you, and notice the full spectrum of your experiences.

I also urge you to set intentions for yourself rather than resolutions for 2018. Intentions come from the heart and are gentler ways of getting yourself to live the life that matters to you. Setting intentions is more about connecting with your values rather than some wished for outcome. Intentions help you to align your daily living practices with what’s most important, and they don’t set you up for failure the way resolutions do… How many years have you made the same resolutions, only to fall off the path before February?

By setting intentions, you can always come back to them as gentle reminders about how you want to be in daily life. As in mindfulness, you can always come back to the breath as a reminder to be present, and you can always return to your intentions as a guide for daily living and start fresh each time. No need to give up on your resolution because you haven’t been able to be consistent with it. When you set an intention, you are creating a scaffolding that always helps you to go in the right direction.

Once you’ve allowed yourself to pause and pay attention to your breath for a few moments, some questions to ask yourself when setting an intention are:

  • What’s in my heart’s desire?
  • What is it that I value deeply?
  • Given whatever time I have left on this planet, how would I most like to live it?
  • What are the attitudes, beliefs, feelings that are important to me that I want to live more days than not?
  • Are my actions matching my values?
  • What in the depths of my heart do I wish for myself, my loved ones, and for the world?

Your intentions allow you to take an important first step toward deciding what you want to pay attention to, which helps you to stay focused and connected to a guideline for what you wish to include more of in your life. Set your best intentions to keep inclining in the direction you truly need to go.

Setting intentions requires deliberate articulation of a conscious goal and how you wish to achieve that. It’s not about living from a reactive stance or one that lacks consideration. Intentions are thoughtful and meaningful.

Often our resolutions are based on the shoulds of life, which ultimately tap into our resistance. An intention is a more positive and welcoming statement. Intentions set the tone and can influence our mood, thoughts, feelings. When there are gaps between our intentions and our behavior, it’s important to not judge ourselves to be self-critical, but simply to renew our intention.

Take a few moments to set your intentions for 2018; or better yet set an intention for each day… Something like Lee Lipp’s daily intention,

Today, may I be more mindful of my body, mind, and speech in my interactions with others. May, as far as I can, avoid deliberately hurting others. May I relate to myself, to others, and to the events around me with kindness, understanding and less judgment. May I use my day in a way that is in tune with my deeper values.”

Or something simpler like:

  • May I be kind today
  • May I be more non-judgemental in my daily interactions
  • May I consider something new today
  • May I practice road kindness rather than road rage
  • May I remember to compliment my loved ones
  • May I notice when I’m getting self-critical and offer myself another option
  • May I be with and feel my feelings a moment longer
  • May I pause every time I take the elevator
  • May I not berate myself so harshly
  • May I be reminded of and appreciate all that’s good
  • May I take the time to watch a spider spin a web; or to count the stars on a clear night.
  • May I set a daily intention
  • May I share more
  • May I laugh more
  • May I dance more
  • May I find something each day to take joy in
  • May I smile at my thighs, my belly, my gray hairs
  • May I find the beauty
  • May I just breathe more
  • May I walk with awareness
  • May I cultivate patience with my partner, my children, my co-workers
  • May I have more compassion for other people’s human-nesses .
  • May I play more
  • May I rollerskate, bike ride, splash in the ocean, blow bubbles, play games more
  • May I love what I have. May I need what I want. May I accept what I receive. May I give what I can.

Thank you for reading and sharing, and living with me in any way you have, over the last year. I look forward to continuing this shared journey. Many blessings to you and May your intentions be fulfilled tenfold in 2018…

I’d love to hear from you about what intentions might be most meaningful to you as you start the new year. Send me an email or post a comment.

If you or someone you love needs help to live more mindfully in the new year, or to heal from past loss and pain, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Heart Full Moments December 2017

Bits of Wisdom

A monthly feature of “Listening with Heart”, sharing wise words, meaningful things read or good things found, to help warm your heart.

wise words

As this year draws to a close, I offer you my latest collection of wise words, good things read, and gentle thoughts to help bring depth and meaning to your life. May your new year be graced with many blessings, inside and out, and may you be present to each and every moment before you.

  • Marriage is not about marrying the right person, it’s about being the right partner.
    I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you.” – Zig Ziglar
  • The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th- graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including non-screen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.
  • I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott
  • Balance is not about giving the same amount of energy to all areas of your life simultaneously. It’s more about being aware of what needs your focus at any given time and recognising the symptoms of feeling out of balance before things get out of hand.”- Kelly Pietrangeli
  • Longing, felt fully, carries us to belonging.” – Tara Brach
  • There is greater hunger in the world for appreciation than for bread.” – Mother Teresa
  • Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” – Tia Walker
  • Karen Salmonson has said, “One of the ugliest things in the world is a human without compassion.”
  • Heartbreak is your clue into what’s next.” Glennon
  • Nestle Tollhouse says the worst Christmas gift ever is oatmeal raisin cookies(!) 🙂
  • Rumi said, “Try something different. Surrender.
  • There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.” – Brene Brown
  • Himalayan sherpas have a saying: “There are two great sins in the world: threatening little children and picking wildflowers.
  • Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Author unknown
  • Life runs in cycles.
    The wheel never stops turning.
    No matter how dark the night, morning comes.
    No matter how cold the winter, spring comes.
    When you feel despair, know that the wheel is turning. Joy will come.”
  • Carefully watch your thoughts for they become your words.
    Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.
    Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values for they shall become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  • No matter your race, whatever the case may be, this is a beautiful country and we’re never going to let one person dictate how beautiful and how powerful we are.” – LeBron James
  • “…Ultimately, we are small living things awakened in the stream, not gods who carve out rivers. We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion.” – Mark Nepo
  • Judgement wouldn’t be present if you weren’t in some way calling out for love.” – Gabby Bernstein
  • I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” – HAFIZ
  • I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – OG Mandino
  • Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” – Wendell Berry
  • In positive psychology, we define optimism as the belief that your behavior matters.” -Blankson

Happy New Year!

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

10 Best Mindfulness-based Gifts to Give Yourself or Someone You Love

10 useful tools to help you have greater peace in the new year

best mindfulness resources for couples, parents, teens, kids, individuals. Managing anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness is a lovely gift to gift yourself with, or if you’re feeling generous, it’s lovely to bestow some mindfulness tools on the important people in your life. The benefits of mindfulness last much longer than the actual minutes spent meditating or doing it. If you’d like to give a gift that keeps on giving, you might like to try something off of this list. I have compiled a list of the top ten mindfulness-based resources that I have been impacted by this year. You can gift yourself or someone you love.

  1. The Mindfulness app – This is the original mindfulness app I had heard about, and this year I have recommitted to it and use it every day without fail. This helps me to easily and immediately upon waking up, to access a thirty-minute meditation that starts my day in a grounded and present way. I believe this impacts the rest of my day in a very profound way. To read more about how I use it, click here.
  2. Mindfulness daily – A lovely online course, taught by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, of 40 days of teaching and guided meditations that last 12 – 15 minutes each. Easy to listen to each day as you start your morning and it provides wisdom and mindfulness that will last throughout the day. Good for learning the basics of mindfulness and compassion, or going to the next level and creating and sustaining a daily practice. mindfulness daily  $37.They also have a follow up daily practice that focuses on mindfulness daily at work for $47. Equally lovely and useful.
  3. Sitting Still Like a Frog book and CD – Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their Parents) by Elaine Snel. $18. Simple mindfulness practices to help your children deal with anxiety, concentrate better, and handle difficult emotions, with an accompanying CD of guided meditations. Practical and fun introduction to mindfulness for kids and easy for parents to join in too.
  4. Listen” book by Patty Wipfler, the founder of Hand in Hand Parenting (Parenting by Connection). She describes five very practical tools that parents can use to build a stronger connection with their kids and to help them become more resilient. These tools include practices that involve things like listening to and letting your children cry so they can get to their real emotions at the bottom of their tantrums and outbursts. She directly offers things that parents can say that actually make a difference in the relationship with the child and the child’s well being. One of my favorite parenting books.
  5. Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety Workbook by Christopher Williard – A workbook for “overcoming anxiety at home, at school and everywhere else” with exercises to stay calm in the face of panic and help to let go of your fears. For Teens who suffer from panic attacks, chronic worry, and feelings of isolation or just sometimes feel anxious, this easy-to-use workbook helps to cope and feel more ease with friends, at home, in class, and in social situations.
  6. Something for Relationships: JUST LIKE ME’  PRACTICE – For More Compassion and understanding in your Relationships. This ‘Just Like Me’  practice helps us to remember what we share as human beings (yet is not a replacement for appreciating our differences—those are incredibly important, too). You can do it by bringing to mind a friend, a colleague, someone you feel neutrally toward, or someone who is difficult. It can also be done live with a partner sitting across from you. Download the practice here. Free.
  7. Stop, Look, Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal by Brother David Steindl-Rast – a beautiful workbook with exercises like the ABC’s of Gratitude  in the foreword that really help you to deepen and broaden your experience of daily gratitude – even when times are hard or it’s not apparent that there’s something to be grateful for. A regular practice of gratitude can help with feelings of depression.
  8. Susan Stiffelman’s ‘Parenting without Power Struggles ’ online course ~ $200. She offers an excellent way of bringing more peace and calm into the daily struggles of parenting and provides tools to be supportive but firm with our children, while also taking care of parent’s need for support. She is down to earth, really knowledgeable, practical and heartfelt.
  9. Recovery 2.0 membership community and lifetime access to Recovery 2.0’s online 2017 conference, with Tommy Rosen $140/year. Includes weekly webinars, a library of teachings, daily yoga and meditation practices, and a safe community dedicated to healing and thriving in your life, as you move away from the additions of substance, or food, or relationships, or technology, or money. Recovery 2.0
  10. Jim Kwik’s Memory Masterclass $1000, or podcast (free) KWIK podcast Kwik Learning – speed reading and memory improvement / brain training. Jim is down to earth, has a lot of humility, and provides so much useful and practical information to improve one’s memory. His tips really work, and he cares deeply about sharing information with others. His suggestions for good brain development and learning start with mindfulness and presence.

Of course, the best mindfulness gifts you can give to yourself or to those you care about are the following: your full presence is the best present :), and your gratitude and compassion (including self-compassion) are the beautiful ways you can wrap up your package.

If you would like to deepen your capacity to live with mindfulness in your daily life, improve your relationships, and reduce your painful emotions, I invite you to try out my course “Hot Mess to Cool OASIS” that will be updated and available in late January 2018. Learn mindfulness skills to feel better and more peaceful in your busy life, with six lessons of easy-to-access tools that are simple but profoundly impactful. Each week’s lesson contains a combination of talk about the benefits of mindfulness in daily life, along with my favorite and most impactful guided meditations, writing practices and videos designed to help you create an oasis of calm in your busy life, and includes a combination of do at your own pace practices as well as a group call to learn, practice and integrate what you’ve learned into a regular practice that works for you. $197. Check out the Hot Mess to Cool Oasis Course here. If you’re interested in receiving the updated information click here. I’ll send it to you in a couple of weeks.

You can also sample mindfulness with me by signing up for my free Mindfulness Ecourse.

Informal Ways to Practice Mindfulness in Daily Life

A Mind Workout for the Meditation Challenged

Mindfulness in every day life, emotional well being, building resilience, mindfulness for anxiety and depressionYou know how people say you can bring more fitness to your life by adding in a few simple actions to your daily activities? Like taking the stairs, instead of the elevator. Parking farther away so you walk more. Walking to your co-worker’s office rather than emailing him. Standing at your desk instead of sitting. Those moments of activity can add up over time and have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being.

Well, you can do similarly with mindfulness practices as well. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, noticing your thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgment. It’s an excellent way of building your resilience, improving your capacity for concentration and focus, minimizing your sense of depression and anxiety, helping you to manage your difficult feelings and improving your sense of connection in your relationships.

One of the best ways to experience the most impactful benefits of mindfulness is to formally practice every day for 45 minutes or so with meditation or guided mindfulness practices (like those you can find in the Mindfulness App – see here for more information about how to use it).

But don’t let the formalness of that time expectation scare you off. You can still benefit a great deal from Informal ways to practice mindfulness, even if you don’t have an hour a day to spend meditating. There are many opportunities throughout the day when you are doing what you’re already doing, that if you took a moment to pay attention in a curious and open way, these would build up to a rich practice of mindful living. Consider these ways as suggestions for how to work out the mind and build up your mindfulness muscle, which will contribute to stronger emotional well-being.

Here’s a list of informal mindfulness practices that you can try out or use as an idea generator to create your own.

  • Notice patterns on the rug
  • Listen to sounds
  • Really look at people’s faces
  • Savor the sensations in the shower
  • Practice paying attention to the breath when you’re calm or paying attention to the CALM when you’re breathing (check in with your Chest, Arms, Legs and Mind, and notice what’s going on in each of those spots, several times throughout the day)
  • Wash the dishes paying attention to every sensation.
  • Walk mindfully – be aware of walking, footsteps, sounds, all of your senses, etc.
  •  Other ways to walk mindfully include walking as quietly as you can, or as if you were balancing a bucket of water on your head, or like a favorite animal
  • Hit the button on the elevator and wait with curiosity and attention to all the details around you.
  • Wait at a stop light to cross the street or in a grocery store line and count your breaths
  • Mindful eating – really savor the look, smell, texture, taste and even sound of each bite you eat
  • Focus on sensations – How many of your senses can you track when you’re in the middle of doing something?
  • Do 7-11 breaths (Breathe in to the count of seven, and breathe out to the count of 11. Having a longer exhale allows your physiology to slow down. This breath is open and available to you 24 hours a day!)
  • Wait for your coffee to brew and pay attention to the how the sounds and smells make you feel.
  •  Greet the day when you wake up (‘I wake at dawn and give thanks for another day of living and loving’)


  • Notice where your mind goes when you follow distractions – especially when on tech
  • Watch a show mindfully – notice the colors of the clothing or the set; notice the actors’ movements and body language; listen to the different voice tones.
  • Do one thing at a time for an hour
  • Just drink coffee or tea without getting on your phone
  • Look at where the clouds meet the tops of the trees as you walk
  • Feel the muscles move in your face as you talk
  • Practice three R’s (rest, recognize and return) with your attention
  • Stop every now and then and ask yourself ‘What am I doing and how do I know I’m doing it?’
  • 5-4-3-2-1 practice (notice slowly and fully, five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch or feel, two things you can taste or smell, and finally let your whole body and all of your senses take in one full, deep, long and slow whole body breath.)
  • Be aware of your body in motion – see what it feels like to go from sitting to standing; tune into your movements.
  • Do things with your opposite hand (write, brush your teeth, eat, etc) and notice how that feels.
  • How long can you suck on a hard candy or lollipop before you bite?

Mindfulness is cheap and portable. It’s about checking in to what’s going on right here right now; and not about checking out, through distractions. It is simple, and empowering, and is about single-tasking. It wakes us up to the life we are living and makes it possible for us to be more present in our own lives. Try some informal mindfulness and see what you notice.

I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of informal mindfulness practices do you already do, or feel you can incorporate more of into your life? What do you notice when you pay more attention to the present moment?

If you or someone you love is having difficulty with being in the moment or feels overwhelmed with worries about the future or sadness from the past, please call me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

What to do after an argument in your couples therapy

Finding Calm After Conflict

File Nov 05, 12 06 24 AM

Chances are, if you are in couples therapy for any length of time, you are going to have at least one explosive argument in session – right in front of your therapist. She may try to calm you down, or mediate the situation, or might even feel overwhelmed herself and not be able to stop the argument from escalating. You may have stepped into that same old way of arguing that you carry on at home, or it may erupt out of nowhere and surprise both, you and your partner.

Couples therapy is a place to go where you can air what’s on your mind, be listened to in a safe environment, with a third party who doesn’t take sides; perhaps hear your partner from a different perspective, or learn new ways of communicating that are more effective; and heal some of the hurt that has already happened in your relationship. But couples therapy also takes courage and can sometimes feel hard when you’re being so open with, and in front of your partner. Sometimes you hear things that are really hard to hear.

Sometimes your feelings will be so intense and your disappointment or hurt will be so deep, you won’t be able to stop from blowing up and raising your voices at each other. Your partner may say something that really hurts, that makes you feel you can no longer go on being with that person. You may feel defensive, or such shame or humiliation and what has just been said. You probably won’t see your partner in a favorable light and will feel disgusted and intolerant of his or her behaviors or words.

A general rule of thumb in conflict is that the more rage and anger you or your partner presents in your argument, the more underlying hurt or woundedness is there, hiding, or the more one’s  vulnerability is being protected. But that’s not usually apparent in the midst of an argument. And our efforts to be self-protective are usually the exact actions or tones that make our partners angry and put them on the attack… Which only triggers you and puts you on the defensive.

You may say (or hear) things you regret. You may cross the line and attack your person‘s character. You may go after what you know is most vulnerable – and therefore most out of line; you may generalize and condemn; you may feel powerless or hopeless and just be in attack mode. You may cry; or make fun of this person you feel you don’t even know anymore or can’t stand. You may unload all the resentments and grudges you’ve been carrying.

One or the other of you may feel it’s a silly unimportant thing – this thing you’ve gone to war over. Or you may have tried to say things in a reasonable way but feel like none of it gets listened to. In any case, you’ve found yourselves in the midst of a terrible argument with raised voices and little or no self-restraint. No matter what you or your partner- or the therapist tries, there is no further understanding or calm or reconciliation to be found. Sometimes there will be days like that.

The argument doesn’t end, when your therapist says “time’s up“, and you leave feeling low, angry, disgusted, sure this can never be resolved. There so many things your partner said that make you furious every time you replay them in your mind.

You stand outside your therapist’s office and continue the battle on the street. You want to rehash everything said. You want to get the last word in. You want your partner to feel shitty, just like you do. Your intention is to bring him or her down. There is no desire for connection, understanding, closeness. You must say everything on your mind – no matter how much it might hurt. Or you might feel the need to clam up and shut down and only be hostile to your partner, trying to make them suffer as much.

All of the above expressions and actions are (as I am sure you know) the least effective ways to get your own needs met in your relationship. These of course, are all very normal and natural ways of reacting to relationship stress, but not so helpful in resolving conflict.

You wonder if you should broach the argument again, knowing it’ll probably go down the same upsetting path. You may have aftershock arguments over the next few days together that are triggered by the terrible unresolved feelings from the argument in your therapist’s office. Or wonder if you should maintain stony silence and wait to talk more, only when you’re back in the therapist’s office and have some level of safety.

I have seen this happen from time to time in my office. Often, this intensity of argument in a couple – who are in couples therapy – turns out to be a potential point of connection down the road a bit, even though it started off being so painful and upsetting. Each of your own hurts has revealed itself and come to the forefront of this personal space you and your therapist have agreed upon as the place you will attempt healing and resolution. You may not be able to avoid the argument actually coming up and out, but you can impact how you deal with it once it’s happened.

I would recommend the following tools that are helpful for self-care and relationship care, after a really upsetting couples therapy session:

1. Start with an intention to do no further harm, and take some quiet separate time.

2. Acknowledge and articulate to yourself your own hurt and pain. Name your feelings.

3. Journal out everything or write a letter, or bullet points of most important concerns you have.

4. Take a walk or a bike ride or run or do yoga – do something active to help your body move through the terrible tension of feelings it is gripped with.

5. Have a list of a handful of healthy go-tos (listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, be creative, etc) that really help you calm your feelings, so you can regain the capacity to talk again. And listen.

6. Do some breathing exercises. Breathe in anger. Breathe out letting go. Cool down hot fiery emotions by imagining blowing a cooling breath over a too hot bowl of soup.

7. Do a “Just like me“ Practice:

This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, thoughts, and emotions, just like me.
This person has, during his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person has, at some point, been sad, just like me.
This person has been disappointed in life, just like me.
This person has sometimes been angry, just like me.
This person has been hurt by others, just like me…

Click here to receive the extended ‘Just Like Me’ Practice

8. Plan to check in, in a few hours or next morning at sometime – even if briefly. Check in and see if you and your partner are able to talk yet. Be OK if one if you is not ready yet, and check in again at a later point.

9. Be curious and not furious.

10. Find your own non-contentious heart and bring it to your discussions.

These tips are useful to couples who have conflict in their relationships and want better ways of resolving differences.

What’s on your mind about handling conflict in your relationships? What works or doesn’t work for you when you want to get past a hurdle or argument? I’d love to hear from you.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty in your relationship, please contact me for a couples therapy session.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Heart-Full Moments – October 2017

A monthly feature of “Listening with Heart”, sharing wise words, meaningful things read or good things found, to help warm your heart.

Healing in difficult times, Compassion, hope and kindness

It has been a very challenging and difficult month with many national and international disasters occurring. Earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings, detrimental leadership, fires, and utter human loss and indignities have been suffered by many and ripple affected many more. Anyone with a heart who cares about humankind has felt the devastation that has been so widespread and touched many. Here I offer some gentle wisdoms and insights that I’ve come across in October, that have helped to soothe the heart-felt wounds, and that offer hope and healing.

  • “By definition, not everyone can accomplish extraordinary things. The rainforest needs saving, poverty needs ending, and diseases need curing, but why not start with what you can influence right now—the world’s little daily hurts that, through the cycle of pain, create big problems? But this is our bias, made dramatically worse in recent years by social media: to overlook or even look down upon the ordinary. And yet, it is the ordinary, everyday flow of life that is so difficult to navigate in a way that does no harm to ourselves or others. Indeed, daily life presents our most obvious opportunity to change the world around us—to end the cycle of pain.”-Joshua Kauffman, Tiny Buddha blog – Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives
  • On Serenity: “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.” -Thomas Szasz
  • On Aging: “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected” – Robert Frost
  • Someone who really cares about and gives back to his community – Marshawn Lynch
  • Brother Steindl Rast – A grateful day video – lovely! 5 minutes
  • “Come, friends.
    Come with your grief.
    Come with your loss.
    Carry all the pieces of your heart
    and come sit with us.
    Bring your disappointments
    and your failures.
    Bring your betrayals
    and your masks.
    We welcome you no matter
    where you come from
    and what you bring.
    Come and join us
    at the intersection of
    acceptance and forgiveness
    where you will find our
    house of love.
    Bring your empty cups
    and we will have a feast.”
    -Kamand Kojouri
  • “When Mexico City was rocked by a powerful earthquake, people ran out into the street as the buildings they were in collapsed. Devastation was everywhere, but so was kindness amid the disaster.” – Emily Green, NPR
  • “When I encounter pain, particularly as it relates to anxiety, grief, and family conflict, I try to remember to ask myself, “What is there to learn here?” By asking this question, I take myself out of the role of victim and into the role of an empowered learner…. What if anxiety is not something wrong with you but just part of the path?” – Melissa Renzi
  • “Why should I be hated for something I cannot help be?” -Theo EJ Wilson – TED talk – in the way he (a black man) identified with white supremacists.
  • “Keep inviolate an area of light and peace within you.” – Corazon Aquino
  • “Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
    -Maya Angelou
  • “ Mr. President, the way to honor the White House is through compassion and dignity, and being above the fray, not causing the fray.” ⁃ Steve Kerr
  • “It wasn’t as she had planned. It was perfect instead” – Byron Katie
  • “Often my life has become richer from the things I didn’t plan or want.” Lauren Selfridge – who also has a podcast titled “This is not what I ordered” – see – for people living with chronic illness
  • “In the quiet moments when the hurt is hard to bear, may love become your shelter and may the beauty of precious memories be your comfort.”
  • “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother‘s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.“ – Fred Rogers
  • “The experience of having power makes us less accurate in reading suffering on the faces of strangers and emotions in static photos of facial expressions. Powerful people are less able to take the perspective of others; they’re quicker to confuse friendliness with flirtatiousness. This is the empathy deficit of people in power, one found in many kinds of studies.” – Jeremy Adam Smith & Dacher Keltner in article: ”The Psychology of Taking a Knee”
  • “What do you do with the mad that you feel
    When you feel so mad you could bite?
    When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
    And nothing you do seems very right?What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
    Do you pound some clay or some dough?
    Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
    Or see how fast you go?

    It’s great to be able to stop
    When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
    And be able to do something else instead
    And think this song:

    I can stop when I want to
    Can stop when I wish.
    I can stop, stop, stop any time.
    And what a good feeling to feel like this
    And know that the feeling is really mine.
    Know that there’s something deep inside
    That helps us become what we can.
    For a girl can be someday a woman
    And a boy can be someday a man.” – Fred Rogers

  • “Never apologize for showing feelings. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” ~Benjamin Disraeli
  • “Grief and gratitude are kindred souls, each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace.- Patricia Campbell Carlson
  • “People are like stained glass windows: They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.” – Elizabeth Kubler Ross
  • “The curious paradox is that just as soon as I start to accept myself as I am, that’s when things begin to change.” – Carl Rogers
  • “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” – Albert Einstein
  • Cal Fire – prepare to evacuate before fire hits
  • “There will be something, anguish or elation, that is peculiar to this day alone. I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning! Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.” – Jessica Powers
  • “And yes, the world does mercifully go on. As I write this evening, it goes on past local catastrophes like the unimaginably destructive fires raging just east and north of us. Plus the devastating hurricanes lined up one after another this year. It goes on past political leaders, so uncaring and seemingly untethered to reality. It goes on past global tensions that threaten millions. And it goes on past loved ones like my younger sister who is gravely ill. Yes, it simply goes on. This is not gratefulness for the hurt, grief and losses we suffer, but rather for the opportunity to grow heal and reconnect to our selves, to others, and to the great other.   But how do we hold all these things at once? How do we keep from simply turning away, numb and desperate? There is a tool and practice strong enough for such times. It is gratefulness practice. And no, we cannot be grateful for any of the things I just mentioned. Let me be clear. We simply cannot be grateful for such difficult and fierce things in this world.  Over time, however we can begin to tease up to something I call paradoxical gratefulness. This is not gratefulness for the hurt, grief and losses we suffer, but rather for the opportunity to grow, heal and reconnect to our selves, to others, and to the great other. It allows our heart to open more fully even as it shatters and breaks into ten thousand pieces.” -Dale Biron
  • “Courage isn’t about making the fear go away; it’s about acting in the face of fear.” As Susan Jeffers put it, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
  • “Your heart has loved you since the beginning.”– Nayyirah Waheed
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda has raised over $20 million to benefit recovery efforts in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, with his song ‘Almost like Praying’. See his story and donate here.

If you or someone you love needs help dealing with stress, anxiety, loss, depression, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445