EMDR To Reduce Post-Divorce Conflict

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emdrMarital conflict, separation, dissolution and court proceedings can be stressful and even traumatic.  The arguments, verbal attacks, grief and feelings of loss or betrayal can be devastating. The result of that trauma, if not resolved, is often anxiety, overt stress, and resistance to interactions with one’s former spouse that trigger extreme anxiety and defensiveness.  When there are children involved, interacting with one’s ex is necessary, but can be the source of ongoing feelings of traumatization, stress and anxiety, in turn creating more conflict, further escalating the negative feelings.  None of these feelings and behaviors are conducive to productive co-parenting or communication, not to mention personal health and wellbeing.  However, EMDR can help.


EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a well researched and established technique that combines imagery, mindfulness, and cognitive techniques to meet the client’s treatment needs.  EMDR therapy is often used in trauma counseling, the treatment of anxiety, and in the treatment of a number of other issues.   The process of doing EMDR involves focus on a traumatic or disturbing memory while doing back and forth eye movements, listening to alternating tones, and/or feeling alternating vibrations in your hands.  This process enables the brain to resolve emotional trauma and gain insight into the circumstance in a way that is often more effective than traditional talk therapy.

What can EMDR mean for someone struggling with divorce or post-divorce conflict?

  • It can help to facilitate trauma processing.
  • It can reduce undesirable feelings and responses to the triggers of the anxiety.
  • It can help to improve one’s ability to maintain a more rational, productive and un-emotional mindset when interacting with their former partner.
  • It can help to reduce anxiety.
  • It can help to improve an overall sense of well-being.

In a nutshell, the trauma and bad feelings resulting from divorce can fuel conflict and ongoing resentment.  By treating the trauma with EMDR, there is tremendous potential to change the dynamic of the interactions between former partners, and to reclaim a life of peace and dignity following divorce.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


Cultivating Hope

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English: Rainbow



Victor Frankl, a famous psychologist, said that suffering without meaning equates to despair.  So how do we find meaning in our experiences? Knowing how to find meaning in challenges is one of the hallmarks of having hope.  So what can be done to foster this important attribute?

  • Look for how you can take something positive away from each experience – be the experience a good one or a bad one.  Examine your past experiences, mishaps and challenges.  What have you learned from those experiences?  Maybe you haven’t even been aware of what you have learned, but by taking the time to give it some thought, you may find that you have taken some pearls from those experiences after all.
  • How have you applied those pearls of wisdom to subsequent challenges?  Are you utilizing the wisdom you have gleaned from hard times in other challenges that you face?  If not, try to make a conscious choice to do so.  Being aware of how your struggles have taught you something makes them feel more valuable.
  • Do you feel you have the ability to get out of bad situations?  If you are able to learn from your challenges and find a “take away” pearl, then remembering that may give you the optimism you need to know that you can survive future challenges as well.
  • Think about your successes.  What are they?  What strengths do you possess that helped you to accomplish those things? Realizing you already possess certain strengths can be a source of security and comfort when faced with challenges, or even just a bad day.
  • How have you improved over the years?  What qualities of your personality have evolved, and how?  Have those qualities been beneficial to you in your life and relationships?  Recognizing that you are dynamic, changing and growing can help you find more meaning in each experience.  Life is full of learning opportunities.

Feeling good about yourself is one of the keys to finding hope.  Knowing that you have strengths and capabilities can give you the optimism you need to find the silver lining in situations, particularly because you have done so in the past.  Remember that today you have learned something new and that tomorrow will be a new day in which to apply that knowledge.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Tips to Help You Stop Judging Others (and Yourself)

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Ironically, when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves. Our harsh comments or thoughts are more often a reflection of our own issues than someone else’s. But, learning how to change automatic negative thoughts that we have towards others, and ourselves, is often easier said than done. There are a few things you can try to learn new habits of acceptance and appreciation.

Find at least one thing you like about each person you meet or know.  Although you may still have an initial negative thought about someone, you don’t have to latch onto that thought.  You can choose to look for the good in others.  Make it a habit to try to find at least one good quality in each person.  You will find it is not hard to do once you get started.

Puzzle cube; a type of puzzle.

Consider one positive way each person contributes to the world.  It may be that they work hard or that they are kind to animals.  It could be that they are a good parent or are very outspoken about a cause.  Whatever their passion, how does it positively impact others?

Focus on other’s strengths.  You may not value the same things as them, but they still have strengths.  Everyone does.  So, what might another person’s strengths be?

Appreciate the way that they are a piece of the puzzle.  We are all a part of the puzzle.  Each one of us adds an important piece to the world and without that piece, it wouldn’t be the same.  There are pieces of the puzzle that are far away from each other and don’t even touch, but they are still important in the grand scheme of the puzzle.  Try to appreciate that we all hold an important place in the world as each of us impact the whole.

Remember that each person has a story.  We don’t always understand why people act the way they do or make the choices that they do.  Sometimes we disagree with those behaviors or choices.  But, remember that there are reasons for the way we all develop.  There are stories behind each person and we don’t always know what those stories are.   Show compassion for others, and wonderment about their story.

Liking someone doesn’t mean liking everything about them.  We all have our flaws, but to focus on those flaws and allow that focus to take away from the good would be unfortunate.  If nothing else, you can appreciate that each person is unique.  Sometimes we just don’t click with someone, and that is human nature.  Not all personalities go well together.  But, that doesn’t mean that someone is not a good or likeable person.  Maybe they just aren’t your “cup of tea.”

Read back through these suggestions replacing the words relating to “other people” with words that relate to you, such as “I,” “my,” or “myself.”  Learning to accept yourself as ever-changing and unique is a wonderful way to improve your self-confidence and will provide you with another very natural way to appreciate others.  After all, our thoughts about others really are only a reflection of our thoughts about ourselves.

Tamra Hughes  MA, LPC

Taking Time for Yourself

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Over the years, I have seen many people come in for therapy to work on feeling happier.  They are sad, struggling in relationships, recovering from divorce or struggling with parenting.  Yet, in their struggles they have forgotten about themselves.  Their focus has been outward on relationships and pressures, but stopping, turning attention inward, and nurturing themselves has been overlooked.  Without properly nurturing ourselves, we run out of fuel faster, leaving us with nothing to give.  We also may run into difficulty genuinely feeling good about others if we have forgotten how to feel good about ourselves, or have allotted no time for ourselves, hence causing friction in our relationships.

Take for example, the case of Julia, a thirty-something mother who works part-time and has two young children.  Her states that her marriage is good, although both she and her husband seem to always be busy or exhausted and in recent years have had very little time to devote to their relationship.  Julia is feeling sad and lonely, in spite of the constant time spent with her children or work.  She also is feeling anxious, worrying excessively about her health or her children’s health.  After spending some time hearing about her frustrations, I ask her how she spends her “alone time” and how she feels about that time, and about herself.  Not surprisingly, Julia really has to think about it.  She has no “alone time” and really has taken little to no time to consider how she feels about who she was before her life became so busy, who she has become, or who she wants to be.  She has lost touch with herself and her feelings of individuality.  In doing so, she has also lost some enjoyment of the simple pleasures that life offers.

At our very core is the need to love ourselves and enjoy our journey.  Enjoyment doesn’t always mean “fun,” but often means simply finding time for peace and contentment.  It can be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for a job well done or taking pleasure in a beautiful sunny day.  Without this, our mood can become dark or overwhelmed, triggering anxiety or depression.  If any of these feelings ring true for you, here are some ways you can break the cycle of self-neglect:

  •  Take action right away when you become aware of having overlooked yourself.  It is much easier to get back to feeling good if you make some changes early on, rather than letting the bad feelings affect relationships.
  • Make it a habit to spend at least 20 minutes alone each day doing something you enjoy.  It could be exercising, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, or working on a craft.  As long as you enjoy it, and do not feel demands from others when doing it, then it can be extremely helpful in allowing you to regroup and center yourself.
  • Try not to judge yourself.  This is a hard one, as judging comes so naturally for most of us, particularly in this competitive society.  Nevertheless, particularly during your alone time,  allow your thoughts and feelings to flow without judgment of whether they are good are bad, productive or unproductive.  Thoughts and feelings just happen, and, at times, it is good to let them float in and out of your soul just like the clouds passing through the sky.
  • Try to be your own best parent.  How would you compliment your child for a job well done? Try to do the same for yourself.  The same thing holds true for consoling.  If you have had a bad day, comfort yourself with kind words or by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and relaxing.  It is healthy to nurture ourselves and love ourselves just as we would our child.
  • Be open to accepting that you are human and will make mistakes.  By accepting your shortcomings, making amends, and moving on, you are carrying less weight and are more apt to forgive others.  This goes a long way towards contributing to happiness.

Remember that finding joy in life is often about taking pleasure in the small things and about loving yourself.  Setting aside time to be still and listen to the voice inside is a habit worth nurturing, and is one that can lead to satisfaction and peace both within yourself and in your relationships.


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC



Learning to Manage Difficult Emotions

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We’ve all had those moments in life when we become so enraged we feel we could explode, or so upset we want to spread our misery to those around us.  However, if we don’t effectively manage those extreme feelings, the destruction we cause can be the source of much regret.  Take for example a woman who becomes increasingly irritated with her husband for arriving home late from work several days in a row.  Although she says nothing for several weeks, she eventually lets it all out in a huge explosion, citing everything he has done wrong during the course of the last few years.  She is threatening divorce, feeling there is just no hope for the marriage, feeling unheard.  After the hostility subsides, she is aware she has alienated her husband as a result of the attack, and has completely lost the focus of what initially irritated her.  She feels guilty and angry towards herself for acting that way and blowing things out of proportion.  Her husband is now focused on her attack as opposed to what he did to upset her, and she is then even more adamant that the next time she will not say anything and keep it to herself.  The destructive cycle continues.

The difficulty in handling emotions comes when we confuse “managing” our feelings with “suppressing” our feelings.  Feelings just happen.  They aren’t right or wrong, good or bad.  But, the way we choose to act on those sensations is something to evaluate.  We can voice our sentiments productively or destructively; and, therein we find the problem, or the solution.

When we suppress our feelings, or believe we should suppress our feelings, the negative emotions build.  We become more frustrated, more irritated, feel less understood and more isolated.  The feelings can morph into theories of victimization and helplessness.  We become a volcano that is ready to spew or one that has already exploded.  This can lead to the attitude of great remorse, and subsequent guilt, which in turn begins the cycle all over again.  On the other hand, if we allow our emotions to rule us, acting on every impulse, we often suffer the same consequences:  shame, isolation and frustration.  So how can we learn to balance our emotions with logic in an effort to productively cope with difficult feelings while still allowing ourselves to experience frustration, anger, sadness or other complex moods?  The following are a few tips to help you learn to make the most out the ever-changing climate of emotions:

  •  When you feel strong emotions, articulate what they are.  Do you feel sad?  Frustrated? Angry?  How would you describe the feeling? Write down what you feel.
  • Think to past experiences of expressing this emotion.  What has worked well, and what has not.  Let experience guide you.
  • Go for a walk, get involved in another activity, and then reassess your feelings later.  Many times, you will find the issue at hand wasn’t really that important and your anger, sadness, irritation has subsided.
  • Speak about your feelings using “I statements.”  “I feel angry, sad, etc.”
  • Set clear boundaries.  Sometimes people are afraid to set clear boundaries for themselves because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.  Yet when those unspoken boundaries are violated, they are angry, sad or hurt and act with hostility towards the other.  Rather than create such animosity, feel confident in articulating your boundaries as long as you are clear, confident, and calm when explaining them.
  • Think in terms of what you can control—yourself.  Trying to behave in a way that will get your partner or friend to do what you want is completely unproductive.  They will always have the freedom to choose their actions, as will you.  What you can do is express yourself, and your choices for how you choose to conduct your life.  You have the choice to stay in a relationship in which the other person’s choices are not in keeping with yours, or to not be in such a relationship.  However, controlling their choices and their behavior will be difficult, if not impossible.
  • Remember that emotions are like the weather: they are guaranteed to change.

There are many tactics for handling difficult emotions.  It is important to allow yourself the freedom to feel them, yet it also good to be careful to strike a balance between feeling and expressing them productively.  Part of the richness of life comes from the variety of experiences we have, both easy and difficult, good and bad.  All of these experiences and their affiliated emotions are the dynamics from which we learn and grow.  Each time we confidently and thoughtfully express ourselves, we grow in maturity and self-esteem.  As with anything, only through practice can we improve on the skill, but it is worth the effort as we learn to recognize our own inner strength!


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


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Have you ever been in an argument with someone and brought up an offense from ten years prior?  Maybe it is an offense you bring up regularly during arguments to remind them of the hurt they caused you.  If so, you are not alone.  Often one of the biggest hurdles in relationships is the difficulty for one or both people to forgive the other for past transgressions, be they large or small.  Many believe that by forgiving the other, they are condoning what was done to them.  They feel that by doing so they will be opening themselves up to future injury of the same nature if they let their partner or friend “off the hook.” Other times, they use the reminder to serve as a motivator to get the other person to feel remorse or to work harder at pleasing them.   Unfortunately, though, this tactic seldom works. The good news is that there is another way to handle the anger and resentment of past offenses.  The option is forgiveness.

By forgiving someone we are letting go of the grudge we carry.  We are saying that although we do not agree with what was done, and we may even resent it, we realize that we are all human and make mistakes.  We are reflecting on ourselves, assessing our own mistakes and acknowledging our own imperfections. We are making a conscious choice to let go of the negative feelings onto which we are holding. This is a benefit to the relationship and to our health.  It is a reflection of our own maturity and ego-strength.  Forgiveness can be freeing, liberating and empowering to the one doing the forgiving, as well as to the person being forgiven.

All that said, there are also times when, although we may forgive, we realize that the relationship may be irreparably damaged.  An example of this is with infidelity.  Some relationships are able to work through it, learn from it, and go on without further incident.  However, for others, infidelity is not something they choose to withstand.  It becomes an insurmountable hurdle and the relationship ends.  Yet, even though a transgression may be the catalyst for the end of the relationship, there is still the choice that someone can make to forgive the other. This may take time, and  is not a sign of condoning or feeling good about the end of the relationship or the way that you were wounded.  Nevertheless, finding a way to let go of the hurt and anger can be a tremendously valuable step in the healing process, and without it, the wounds may go on to affect them in future relationships and personal growth.  Nevertheless, there are some wounds that are harder to get past than others.  When it is a challenge to forgive, here are some things to think about that may help:

  • Have you had a chance to grieve the injury?  For example, if you just found out about an affair, it is unrealistic to think that you would immediately move into the mode of forgiveness.  As a matter of fact, it will likely take many months or years to achieve.  It is important to take time to nurse your wounds and grieve the loss.  However, it is a wonderful mark of closure to let go of the anger and forgive, regardless of whether or not the relationship was able to be salvaged.
  • Consider your own mistakes.  How have you hurt others?  Can you remember a time when someone forgave you and you were humbled by it?  Give consideration to paying it forward and granting forgiveness for the sake of the other, and for the sake of yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you are not agreeing with the transgression.  Forgiveness is about letting go.

Working toward forgiveness can be a stimulus for much of our own introspection and self-growth.  Nevertheless, it is certainly easier said than done.  It is important to remember that we do not have control of the events that happen to us or the choices that others make. However, we do have a choice, in any event, as to how we would like to handle our own behavior.  We can choose to let reeling from a wound become the driving force behind our future choices; or, we can make a conscious choice to let go of the weight of anger, leave the grudge in the past, and hence, forgive.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Relationship Stress During the Holidays

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‘Tis the Season: Shopping, decorating, holiday gatherings, baking, wrapping, and still juggling the day to day responsibilities of work and home. It’s no wonder the holidays can create such stress in our lives and friction in relationships.  Unfortunately the enjoyment of the season can be lost when the tension invades your love life.  However, a few simple changes can help you to maintain peace and make the most of your time together during what is supposed to be a memorable and meaningful time of the year.

Make it a point to tell your partner something positive that you like about them every day.  Do they look nice or did you appreciate something they did?  Be sure to approach the season and your loved ones with an ‘attitude of gratitude.’  You’ll find it is contagious and sets the tone for positive interactions throughout the day! 

Take time each week to spend together relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.  It’s easy to put this one on hold during the holiday season since there are often so many holiday gatherings that can consume your weekend time.  But if you set aside some time to spend together, even if it is taking an hour or two before or after a holiday party, the benefits can go a long way.  Spending some of this time reflecting on memories from previous holidays can be a delight!  Talk about your joys from the past year, your favorite holiday memories, the events you are looking forward to in the year ahead.  You will be quickly reminded that it isn’t the ‘things’ that matter, it is the love and the relationships that make the season so special.

Listen to your partner. With all of the activity at this time of year, tension can build up within each of us as we run from one activity to another.  It is therapeutic just to feel heard.  By listening to what your partner is saying, any tension that they may have accumulated throughout the day could be diminished simply by feeling you have listened to them.  When they feel less tense, you will too!

Remember the ‘Reason for the Season.’  Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, or Kwaanza, the message remains the same:  Spread peace, be thankful and remember that the joy comes from giving rather than receiving.  Being a giver during the holidays as a partner and a friend by listening, slowing down to take time for each other, and being thankful for the simple pleasures in life, can recharge a relationship and help you to get the coming New Year off to a great start!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC