Curiosity: The Little Word that Could


Curiosity: The Little Word that Could | Rachel Alexander

{5:80 minutes to read} Curiosity: A simple word that can unlock possibilities, shift paradigms, and free us from the bondage of our own “rightness.”

In Focus Oriented Therapy, we are called to settle into the here and now, sense into our body, check in with ourselves with a “childlike curiosity.” This invitation, this language, has amazed me. I have become enthralled with the concept of curiosity! It asks such a complete departure from unconscious living. It holds an almost touching possibility of compassionate attention.

I am curious about how effective an approach of curiosity could be in divorce mediation. Could curiosity be a golden key to unlocking conflict?

In conflict like divorce, people often contract into rigid positions, false certainty, their own “rightness.” Rather than the actual conflict that needs resolving, the immovability of the parties itself becomes an obstacle to settlement. With this stiffened, positional attitude, negotiation is impossible. Thinking is usually black and white, unnuanced, inflexible.

Resolution requires a movability, a spaciousness. I propose that curiosity provides that.

We can introduce curiosity by shifting slightly, and approaching first ourselves with a “childlike” and “interested” curiosity. What does this approach look like? It is similar to the way we would approach a frightened little child whom we had never met. It is how we might approach an injured animal we wished to aid. We don’t race towards it. We assess, move slowly, check in with the little one as we move closer. We don’t yet know what is wrong, what is needed, or even if we should get closer. This brings a living, aware and open attitude. It requires a continual checking in with our own internal sense and our sense of the other. It makes room for both. It implies our acknowledgment of the unknown.

Curiosity allows us to back up a bit from the entanglement and immediacy of the situation. It loosens our grip and asks us to observe what is taking place before engaging. This is anathema to how we tend to be when we are threatened, angry, deep into a conflict.

With curiosity, we regain our composure. We change stances and become more of an explorer, a visitor in our own situation. We want to see what’s going on, within and then also without. We don’t need to assert, change, judge, fix, condemn. We merely need to look into what is occurring.

If we become curious about the other:

  • What makes the house so important to her?
  • What is this experience for him?

We begin to listen and relate differently. Our attention turns. Our approach becomes more of a listening observer.

This doesn’t mean we give up ourselves and cave in to the demands of the other. Quite the opposite. In this place we are stronger and more effective because we are more present. We are more fully there, have more of ourselves “online,” accessible and thus can more fully assess what’s needed. We settle and slow down a bit. We start to inhabit a more comfortable, attuned separateness, as well as make possible a more helpful engagement.

In conflict, a genuine curiosity into what the other is up against, what she is hoping for, what he is struggling with, a shifting to understand the other immediately introduces a tone of respect and concern. Still from a safe distance. A humanness emerges. In this space, a space when the parties acknowledge the other’s otherness, their own wholeness and separateness, possibilities emerge, blood pressure drops, and settlements form.

Here is an example. A painfully introverted friend recently had to go to a large networking event, alone. She knew no one going and was filled with dread. We introduced curiosity. Instead of looking at herself from the outside, a stance which engendered self-consciousness and anxiety, she adopted an attitude of curiosity into what would be happening around her. Who are these other people attending the event? What are they there for, what are they all about? Could there be something of value, perhaps even something fascinating or precious to be discovered in conversation? Cloaked in the thick buckskin of curiosity, she would enter the event with greater ease; an explorer, with clear intent and interest. Curiosity can anchor us when we enter the unknown.

Curiosity is not obsession or fascination. It doesn’t grab, demand, insist. It is light and careful, perhaps even cautious. It is an approaching with a light touch, an asking, a checking into. It is the antidote for stuckness, meanness, holding fast. An appropriate and helpful stance to hold in conflict, divorce and certainly in mediation.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Rachel “Andy Rooney” Alexander—An Op-Ed Blog

Rachel “Andy Rooney” Alexander—An Op-Ed Blog by Rachel Alexander{3:18 minutes to read}

Why is everything so truncated and terrible these days? Why can’t we have something that works well?

Years ago, we had our credit cards swiped by store clerks. Then, we had to swipe them ourselves, and now we have chip cards, allegedly for our protection, that require considerably more time to process. Since I started using my chip card, I’ve had my first security breach. Chip credit cards—take longer, more complicated. Horrible!

So, what I want to say is that everything is being abbreviated to something worse than its original.

For example:

Actual in-person visits were replaced by telephone calls; phone calls were replaced by emails; emails (and conversations) have been replaced by text messages; text messaging has been replaced with emojis; breaking-up has been replaced with ghosting. And so on.

That’s a lot of replacing of things that actually worked well in their original form.

So, I have a proposal. Why don’t we just keep on truncating everything into oblivion?

In New Jersey, we’ve gotten it down to two seasons—winter and summer. Remember how we used to have four seasons? How last-year! Spring and autumn, while admittedly favorites of many, are time consuming.

And why do we need to have all 12 months of every year? Why don’t we just cut out the excess and “bottom line it,” as my dad would say. Let’s save time and only have two months: January and July. That way we don’t have to waste our time living out all those months of the year, celebrating religious and secular holidays and the birthdays of our children and loved ones. We can just cut out that pesky inefficiency; cut those pork-barrel months and cut to the chase.

This will also resolve our pursuit of longevity. One need only reach age 30 to have lived 360 years! Looking only a fraction of one’s “age.” Sounds to me like two problems solved!

If Great Britain can break from the EU, shouldn’t we keep pace and break from the planetary system altogether? I mean, who needs the whole moon circling the Earth and Earth circling the sun thing? Why should our schedule be so contingent on those two? Who is the sun to be so revolved around? Why not call it quits with nature and do our own thing, which will maximize efficiency. It will minimize quality of life, true, but you can’t have everything.

AND, we will be living greener because we no longer need as much paper for calendars.
This has been Andy Rooney in for Rachel Alexander.

Rachel Alexander

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Divorce: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

Divorce: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em by Rachel Alexander{5:36 minutes to read} Recently, a young man, Dave*, called the office, reeling from the discovery of his wife’s infidelity and, even more so, from the lies she told to cover it up. As a divorce mediator and family law attorney, it’s not unusual to receive a call from someone experiencing painful emotions. This young man wanted to schedule an appointment as soon as possible and begin an action for divorce. Dave was shaken, triggered and emotionally hijacked. He was in crisis and aiming to push through it into action.

When a person calls inquiring into mediation on the bruised and blistered heels of a triggering event, my first goal is not to schedule an appointment. My first goal is to introduce a calmer, slower pace so that the reasoning part of the brain—the left or rational part that goes offline when emotional flooding occurs—is invited back into the conversation. I know crisis, and when someone is in the midst of it, it is definitely time to take action, but it’s often not the action first identified by the person in crisis.

Starting a mediation process should not be a reactive, reflexive decision. People who enter into the process or schedule an appointment immediately after a provoking event are often not ready to proceed. Once they have regained their equilibrium, they typically call to cancel. Those that get as far as the first appointment usually don’t make it further. They aren’t in the right place yet.

Often a one-time bad act or traumatic event results in a phone call to a divorce mediator, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce. Nor should it. As I conveyed to the young fellow on the phone: divorce, as an option, isn’t going anywhere. It will be available should you need it, but it’s not your only choice.

There are times when divorce might be the right option, but it almost never needs to be the first one.

Launching into a divorce, before having a chance to process what’s happened, may be hasty and harmful. When done as a way to strike out or demonstrate anger, it is typically met with a retaliatory attitude of hostility and aggression. Things get stirred up rather than resolved.

Allowing a settling, both within and without (i.e. internally and situationally), and providing yourself the kindness of time, can be a way to show yourself compassion and begin the recovery from the incident.

Give your feelings a chance to catch up. It is always of value to allow the rational brain to come back on board before you launch into any action. Marsha Linehan calls this “wise mind.” It’s the state when both the emotional/intuitive brain and the reasoning/rational mind are equally engaged. Linehan recommends making no decision until you are in wise mind. Having the benefit of your whole self, calm and grounded, before making a major decision or taking a significant action, is worth the wait.

The next day, Dave called back. He said: “I’m going to wait a bit and see how I feel.” He said: “I realize I was feeling out of control, acted upon, powerless. Racing to get to a mediator and start the process was a way to try to regain control. I’m going to sift through things a bit more.

Dave was demonstrating strong insight and clarity—signs that he was already in a more centered place—and he was, in fact, taking quite conscious and meaningful control in his decision to give himself time. The choice to slow down and settle was the action needed. This does not mean that he won’t decide to divorce, only that if he does, he will be deciding from a conscious, centered place.

Even though the illusion that by pulling the trigger, any trigger, is taking control, it isn’t. It’s reacting, which is simply an extension of being acted upon. Or out of control.

Spaciousness in considering things and compassion towards oneself in times of crisis are usually the right actions, subtle and undramatic as they may be. This may be more uncomfortable in the moment, but it lays the foundation for a more positive, honest outcome.

When in doubt, pause, breathe, and keep company with yourself. Lao Tzu said: “Compassion towards yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” For each one of us, that could be the first right act.

*Any incidents referencing a client are fictionalized for educational purposes and do not refer in any way to actual people or situations.

Rachel Alexander

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Ode to Validation: The Actual Contents of the Milk of Human Kindness

The Path to Validation Is Through Our Ears

{6:48 minutes to read} Validation is the yeast of a marriage. Without it, whatever you are cooking falls flat. Without it, you may find yourself wandering in the [proverbial] desert for 40 years with nothing good to eat—on a God-imposed, low-carbohydrate diet.

Ode to Validation: The Actual Contents of the Milk of Human Kindness by Rachel AlexanderValidation holds hands with respect, discussed in the last article, Validation—How We Speak Is How We Love. Validation requires a recognition, an attunement, and an interest in what the other needs. While it sounds rudimentary, it’s so integral to our attachments and how we feel about one another that it’s worthy of our attention. Continue reading Ode to Validation: The Actual Contents of the Milk of Human Kindness

Validation—How We Speak Is How We Love

Validation—How We Speak Is How We Love by Rachel Alexander{4:24 minutes to read} There is a saying that goes, “In heaven, there’s no talking, because men invented heaven.” OK, just kidding. The parable actually is that in heaven, everything is perfect, so speech is unnecessary. Everyone is content, fulfilled, and attuned, so no one need ask for anything.

On Earth, we speak because something’s agitating us, and we need to express it in order to address it, communicate our need to another, be understood, or be acknowledged. We also speak to process things that affect us, to sift through and unravel our experiences and their impact, and to gain understanding.

Often, we need to express that something is wrong.

Often, we speak to connect to another. Continue reading Validation—How We Speak Is How We Love

How a Divorce Support Group Can Help You

Getting a divorce could have a profound impact on the rest of your life. Going through a divorce alone is not necessary.  Divorce can be an emotionally traumatic event, especially if your marriage involved conflicts that were heated and protracted.  Participating in a divorce support group could help you recover a sense of normalcy and even a sense of self.

A good divorce support group is a community of people.  While they begin as strangers, an appreciation and friendliness quickly forms.  After you join a group you soon sense that you are not alone.  There is comfort in the company and understanding of others.  Regardless of how many friends or family members you have, a support group can be a great ways to enhance your resources and find peers going through the same process.  

At a group meeting you can listen to the stories and experiences of others.  You can gain new insights and fresh approaches to the issues you face.  Although each divorce experience is unique, many people find that sharing their situation and listening to others brings relief.

There is something inherently healing about participating in a group.  It fosters a sense of belonging and connection that can be evasive during divorce.  The listening, sharing, and unconditional positive regard group members share can be especially healing for divorcing people whose relationships, particularly recently,  often lacked the gentle respect available in group.

Is a Divorce Support Group Right for You?

Divorce can feel lonely, alienating and stigmatizing.  Participating in a group can be antidotal.  By being with others in similar situations, your own situation begins to be normalized.  No longer must you feel like no one understands.  Often group members nod in recognition when they hear one another share.  

Instead of operating through this strange and confusing time in a vacuum, a support group can help orient its members, providing a point of reference that can help shape the individual’s experience.  

For all of these reasons,  I offer a divorce support group, open to clients and the community alike.  My co-facilitator is a colleague and friend, Sharon Buck, LCSW.  Sharon is a therapist specializing in processing grief.  Together we run the monthly support group at her office in Chester, NJ beginning at 7pm on the first Monday of the month.   I will include a link to the meet-up.  

A key way to help you through your divorce, and avoid the emotional and financial turmoil that come with litigation, is to have your divorce reach a resolution through mediation. If you want to learn more about divorce mediation, contact our office today.

The Big Freeze: Overcoming Inertia What To Do When You Can’t Do A Thing

The-Big-Freeze-DPLIC-199x300Everyone’s heard of fight or flight, but what about freeze? One of our responses to fear is freezing which is an inability to take any action whatsoever. Part of divorce and marital separation is overcoming a sense of overwhelm in order to face multiple daunting tasks.

As a primitive coping response, freezing may have served us at a time when non-movement and a slowing of all our bodily functions meant evading a stalking saber tooth tiger. In our current environs, freezing is somewhat less useful. Nonetheless, old habits, particularly biologically based ones, die hard. With important matters requiring deliberate and informed action, such as divorce and separation, it’s important we manage our “freeze” response.

The Myth: When faced with an overwhelming task like:

  • Reentering the job market after years of staying home
  • Leaving the safety of a relationship that is unhealthy and has gone on years beyond its natural life

it may feel as if the task ahead is as daunting as pushing a boulder up a mountain. As a matter of physics (or some such incomprehensible science), all you have to do is begin. Once you begin, even for a collection of moments, momentum kicks in and you are no longer alone. Your force meets the force of inertia, and what was a boulder is transformed into a manageable and even cooperative, bouncing soccer ball.

Here’s how:

Be kind to yourself

Create an environment that fosters relaxation and effectiveness. For example – make yourself a cup of your favorite tea, put on clothes that you like to wear, turn on music that lifts your confidence, etc., prior to beginning.

Schedule a time

Block off a finite period of time in which you will do some work on the given task. Hold the time for this purpose alone. Even if you are unable to write a word, review your resume, read a page, do one internet search, it’s okay. The task is to make space and begin the discipline of accomplishing the goal. Accomplishing this “small” piece of the task, and, importantly, not faulting yourself if that’s the only portion accomplished, is creating a new pattern and ultimately creating movement. Also, demanding less of yourself actually (paradoxically) fosters a less threatening environment for accomplishing more. Set a timer and do 10 seconds – once you begin, the momentum will take over.

Do less

Ask less of yourself. The goal is to get yourself to begin. The second five minutes are much easier than the first. It’s unkind and ineffective to abuse yourself into beginning by telling yourself you need to do 12 hours at a stretch or it’s no use beginning at all. Nonsense! Self-criticisms and judgements create an impossible atmosphere to begin anything.

When facing a challenge, it may seem like you need to do the whole thing on your own. Not so! All you need is to begin.

What helps you to “thaw?” Please feel free to share your strategies in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Find Solid Ground In Rough Waters: The Usefulness Of Goals

Find-Solid-Ground-in-Rough-Waters-The-Usefulness-of-Goals-DPLICSometimes a clear goal can work like a life preserver, pulling you through tumultuous waters onto the safety of solid ground. When things in the present are in disarray, a fixed focus on a future goal can help.

  • Do as a dancer does:In order for a ballerina to pirouette properly, she uses a technique called “spotting.” She picks a point at eye level somewhere in the distance and focuses on that spot through each rotation, avoiding dizziness or loss of balance. Spotting allows her to control her movements during a difficult dance step and then move on with her performance (without having to pause to recover her wits).
    • If you are going through a divorce (or any challenging life issue), I suggest emulating this approach. Focus on a clear, precise future “spot” and allow it to shape your actions and choices today.
  • Pick something that resonates with and motivates you: To be effective, a goal should be specific and concrete. A good example may be training for and running a half marathon in September, or planning and taking a trip to Europe next summer. Something that engages you in positive thinking and planning can provide a sense of efficacy and control (also called empowerment).
  • Avoid the nebulous and the negative: A goal such as “feel better” or “lose weight” is too vague to measure and probably too uninspiring to be helpful. It also concentrates more on what is lacking in the present rather than on envisioning a future of your choice. When framed thoughtfully, your goals can encourage you to create more of what you value in your life, rather than find fault with areas you wish to improve.
  • Take literal steps toward achieving your goals: Once you have chosen one or several goals, the next step is, well, taking the next step – taking one small action towards realizing the goal. For example, if your post-divorce goal is to take your children on a vacation once a year, saving $20 every week towards funding this trip, and making an appointment to consult with a travel agent about prices and options, are great ways to work toward your eventual goal.

Sailors navigate the seas using the bright, distant stars. If they get waylaid with the multiple distractions occurring below deck, they can lose their course. By focusing on the stars, seaman find their way, regardless of troublesome waters. This offers hope for all.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Make A Choice Between 2 Alternatives - Two-Way Street SignA woman I know has been trying to decide what she should do about her marriage. She has a love of family and a commitment to the long history she shares with her spouse, but she has a pervasive sense that the relationship has become toxic and destructive. Her ambivalent feelings, tidal in nature, push and pull her this way and that, until overcome with fear of financial uncertainty and gripped by an emotional undercurrent, she kicks herself free and thrashes, breathless, back to the shore of status quo.

This has been going on for almost 10 years.

People get stuck in the inertia that they call “decision making.” We erroneously think of this as an activity but nothing is actually happening except a lot of contemplation and self-flagellation. People get stuck in “Should I stay or should I go?” which often stymies and disables forward movement – primarily because the prospect of leaving triggers overwhelming fear of the unknown. Fear often acts as an impediment to rational thought and the clarity required to move forward.

Relationship expert and PhD, Barbara D’Angelis, says in her book, Are You the One for Me?, “Ambivalence is a negative.” That is, indecision, in and of itself, should not be regarded as half positive, half negative or neutral – it counts as a negative. We can get stuck in analyzing the quality of our ambivalence and negative column and move on.

Identify what you are afraid of and what support you need to care for that fearful part. This need must be addressed first. Once you are in a more balanced place, you can better address the choices around the relationship.

The following are some questions for self-inquiry that may be helpful:

  • What are my goals and expectations of the marriage?
  • Does this relationship bring out the best in me?
  • What are my needs and expectations of my partner?
  • Does she/he support my goals and dreams? Is my well being among his/her priorities?
  • What do I need to be happy in this relationship, and is my partner willing and able to provide that?
  • What does my partner need to be happy in this relationship and am I willing and able to provide that?
  • What would need to change for the relationship to be repaired and restored?
  • If it were repaired, could I move forward with this relationship, being content, and feeling good about myself and the other person?

Please share what helped you reach resolution when you had a difficult decision to make.

The Power Of “I Don’t Know”

Bridge over the clouds“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” Heraclitus

There is nothing like divorce to overwhelm otherwise cheerful people with negativity. Negativity, overwhelm and fear are three henchmen well known to ride together, but recently I’ve noticed a fourth figure riding powerfully along with them. This henchman is omnipotence.

For some reason the more negativity, the more certainty. It’s as if doom and gravity have the same mother. I can paraphrase the present, and predict the future, all with the false clarity provided by the thick black fog of negativity. At least in my experience, there is nothing like negativity to provide the erroneous confidence of being right. How counterintuitive! Negative states would be less intractable if we could only introduce the possibility that we could be wrong; that there might be some things we can’t see from our post on Mt. Olympus.

When I am anchored in a negative space, it is totally useless to try to reframe things in the positive. That’s like trying to get from New York to London without acknowledging the need for air or sea travel. This is where a small shift can be profound. What is more available than a complete overhaul is simply introducing this concept: I don’t know everything. Perhaps this works because it is the same language as the negative monologue, with the message only slightly but significantly amended.

Negativity goes with totality. Add anxiety and we are operating from our more regressed selves – governed by all-or-nothing, black and white thinking, a heightened, primitive sense that we must depend entirely on ourselves and what we know. Through this micro-focused lense, danger is everywhere, possibility is missing.

Positive states mingle loosely with the unknown. They often include wonder. There is a freeing humility that comes with, “I don’t know.” This humility allows connection and perspective, a more appropriate sense of our place in the universe.

When caught in a negative frame of mind, I have found one dependable way out – reminding myself repeatedly that I don’t know everything. In the unknown – in what resides somewhere out of my fixed line of sight – is change, hope, and things I have neither contemplated nor discovered.

Here we are reminded of the ancient western wisdom of Heraclitus, who taught: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”