Progress Notes

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Taking Control of Your Life


Michael’s co-worker doesn’t take feedback well, so Michael works at home each night “cleaning up” the co-worker’s projects so their unit will look better. His thought: “I can’t control how other people are.”

Wanda wants to be promoted to senior management but has been told she doesn’t have what it takes to make the leap. Her thought: “I can’t control what others think of me.”

It’s true. It’s not possible to control a system, another person’s behavior or others’ impressions. But that doesn’t mean either that Cynthia, Michael or Wanda have no control over their situation. What they—and we— can control ultimately has more power to affect a situation than any control we might try to exert over others.

Our words. Spoken or written, the words we choose impact our lives and the lives of others. Michael, for example, could learn ways to approach his colleague that stand a better chance of being heard. (Consider reading Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg or Taking the War Out of Our Words by Sharon Ellison.) His cover-up does the co-worker no good, and eats away Michael’s alone time with his wife.

Our beliefs. We can always change our beliefs. Cynthia, for example, might want to examine her belief that the only way she can feel financially secure is to have tenure. Or her belief that doing something else that is fulfilling and stimulating won’t provide well enough for her.

Our actions. We alone are responsible for what we do. Wanda, for example, can find out exactly what leadership and/or managerial qualities her superiors think she lacks. She can take courses to Consider the power available to us when we pay attention to these areas—things we can actually do something about:

Our values. What’s important to us is our call. No one else can tell us what to value. Where we truly tap into power is when we align our values with our actions.

Our basic health. While we cannot control our genetic make-up, we can choose to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy food, get routine check-ups, etc.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (But You Can Lessen Its Distress)

Whether children are involved or not, ending a marriage or partnership challenges us like nothing else. The term “good divorce” can seem a contradiction in terms. And yet, there are things we can do, practices we can bring into our lives that will help us navigate the big waves and the roiling waters.

Take care of yourself. Attend to your physical and emotional needs, taking time to rest and heal during this stressful period.

Minimize change for yourself and your children. Whether or not you have custody, whenever possible, keep your routines, rhythms, and habits the same. Discipline the children and maintain the rules that always have been in force.

Express your feelings, but not necessarily to the other person. It might be more productive to vent your anger by journaling or painting furious red canvases.

Seek support. If you’re feeling hopeless or discouraged, seek help from a counselor, clergy member or friends. Remember, we’ve all been there. You, too, can get through it.

Don’t try to physically, financially or emotionally hurt your spouse or partner. A good outcome in a divorce is something both parties can live with; it’s not about winning but being able to move on independently.

Communicate. When talking isn’t working, use email, mail or fax. Keep your exchanges out of work time and remember that the goal is not to zing the other but to gain clarity.

Avoid speaking negatively about your ex in front of your children or mutual friends. Such talk has a negative impact on your children and their self-esteem, and will polarize friends who want to remain in relationship with both your former partner and you. Also, don’t encourage others to take sides against your ex. You put them in an awkward position and it could backfire on you.

Involve a mediator. An impartial voice can be essential when negotiating post-relationship arrangements, such as co-parenting or splitting belongings.

Practice the golden rule. As you part ways, treat your ex as you would want to be treated.

Perform a closing ritual or ceremony. If possible, do this with your former partner; if not, then with loved ones or by yourself. In your ceremony, you might acknowledge the good things about the relationship, the ways you grew, even what you will miss. Spend time with your feelings, do something nurturing, and then imagine your next step. Finally, say goodbye.

Take stock of the relationship. Spend time—perhaps months—acknowledging the lessons you’ve learned from this relationship. Do this on your own, in your journal, or with the help of a professional.

How Well Do You Maintain Balance?

by Delores Barbee Smith, LCSW

If trying to maintain balance in your life makes you feel like a tightrope walker, you’re not alone. Most of us have so many demands on our time and energy; life can feel like a three-ring circus. Take this quiz to see how well you are meeting responsibilities, while also recognizing and fulfilling personal needs and wants.

True False

  1. The only way I can successfully manage my life is to take care of myself physically and emotionally.

  2. Nurturing myself enlarges my capacity to help others.

  3 I eat healthfully and exercise regularly.

  4. I get check-ups, go to the dentist, and take preventative precautions.

  5. I set aside personal, quiet time for myself, whether I’m meditating or simply letting my thoughts drift.

  6. I experience the gifts of each season: ice skating, sledding, bundled-up beach walks; gardening, hiking, more time outside; camping, swimming, barbeques; harvesting the bounty, gathering wood, spending more time inside.

  7. Creativity nurtures me, too. I do what I love, whether that’s cooking, drawing, painting, writing, dancing, singing or another creative pursuit.

  8. Reaching out to others enriches my life. I spend quality time with family and friends.

  9. Contributing to the world provides connection and purpose, so I give my time, energy and experience where it is most useful.

  10. I notice and heed the emotional signals that tell me I’m out of balance: irritability, overwhelm, resentment.

  11. If I feel that I’m catching a cold, I realize I may have stressed my immune system with overactivity, so I stop and take care of myself.

  12. When I need or want to, I say no to requests for my time.

  13. I listen to and honor the requests my body makes for such things as a nap, a walk, green vegetables, hot soup.

  14. If I have something planned for myself, I don’t just toss that aside when someone makes a request of me.

  15. I’m busy, but I find time to do the things I want to do.

  16. I’m happy. I regularly experience well-being, contentment, even joy.

If you answered false more often than true, you may want to take a look at the questions to which you answered false and see if you can incorporate something of its message into your life. Please don’t hesitate to call if you’d like to explore this issue further.

(This newsletter is the intellectual property of Delores Barbee Smith. This material cannot be reprinted without permission from its author.)

Coming in September!

Divorce Recovery Workshop

· Rediscover yourself

· Learn effective ways of enjoying life after divorce

· How to maintain a healthy relationship with your children following divorce and more…

Watch my website for details:

Clearview Counseling Services

907 Westwood Avenue

Richmond, Virginia 23222         [email protected]

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