Shadow Work

Shadow Work

Shadow Work

What is Shadow Work?

“Every pain, addiction, anguish, longing, depression, anger or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy, some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.”

― Jacob Nordby

Shadow Work: It’s Time to Shine a Light on Your Shadow Side…

Shadow work helps us make contact with the entirety of who we are. Let’s face it: There are parts of ourselves that we are proud of, and there are parts we would rather never see the light of day. Sometimes, we are not even aware of these dark aspects of ourselves. These hidden aspects form your shadow self. To create genuine change in your life, you have to face it. 

In this episode of the podcast, I discuss how shadow work leads to self-awareness and, ultimately, self-acceptance. Through several examples, I share valuable tips and walk you through uncovering your shadow self. (Be sure to download the workbook I created for you so that you can do even more shadow work exercises on your own). 

If you find yourself wondering why you do things you shouldn’t and how to change behaviors you don’t like, this episode is for you!

Shadow Self Work

In this episode I’ll be discussing how you can: 

  1. Discover how your shadow self can control you without you knowing. 
  2. Learn tips on how you can get in touch with your shadow self.
  3. Understand how shadow work can help you and your relationships with people.

 

 

Shadow Work: Making Contact With Your Subconscious Mind

The human mind is so powerful and complex that it’s impossible to be fully aware of everything. Most of the time, we are only aware of what is in front of us. A lot is going on in the background, which determines our behaviors or reactions.

Your shadow side lives in the part of you that you’re not fully conscious of…

Your shadow self consists of you with goals, needs, or a voice that you sometimes don’t consciously know of or hear. If you’re not aware of it, it can drive you to make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions. Your shadow self only has control when it remains unknown.

Listen to this episode to get new insights into yourself, and how shadow work therapy can help you get in touch with the deepest parts of yourself. Thought this powerful self awareness work, you can become truly empowered. 

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To finding love, happiness, and success

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Shadow Work

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Shadow Work: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

 

That’s “The Visitant” by the band The Tunnel. I am recording this leading up to Halloween. I love this time of year, not least of which is because I get to trot out gothy music for you, you guys, you little Gen Z’s and millennials. And I’m keeping it alive. So I hope you enjoy it.

And in addition to entertaining myself, I am also playing this in to set the mood for our topic today. Because today, we’re going to be talking about yet another kind of deep and important issue that will benefit you, and your love, happiness, and success to learn a little bit more about. We are talking about Shadow Work. 

 

As always, today’s topic is about me doing my best to support you on your journey of growth. I have recently been getting a number of questions on the blog www.growingself.com, through Instagram, through Facebook that are in this category of “Dr. Lisa, why do I do this?” And the ‘this’ can be many different things. It can be, “Why do I have the same pattern and relationships over and over? Why do I make choices that I later regret? Why do I do things that I know are not really in alignment with my long term goals, hopes, or even values?” Like I had somebody get in touch with me not too long ago, it was like “Dr. Lisa, why do I lie to my partner?” 

 

And these kinds of questions are hard, and they’re very real. And I hear and feel the intention behind them. Which is that you really legitimately do not understand why you do the things that you do. And without that clarity and self awareness, feeling like a little helpless or even hopeless about being able to change these patterns and behave in a way that is more consistent with who you want to be. 

 

But when I get these kinds of questions around, why do I do XYZ? The knee-jerk and true response to this question is I don’t know. I don’t know why you lie to your partner. I don’t know why you cheat on your girlfriend. I don’t know why you say one thing and you do another. I do not have that information. 

 

But what I do know is that this information is contained in a part of yourself that you do have access to. And that with some support and guidance, you can get into that aspect of yourself, get that incredibly valuable information to understand, “Oh, that’s why I do what I do.” And with that self-awareness and knowledge, then you will be empowered to handle things differently, and make changes that stick, and feel more in control of yourself and your life. And the part of yourself that all of those things exist in, all of that information is available in your shadow side.

 

And that’s what we’re going to be doing today on the podcast. I am going to be sharing a little bit more information with you around what that is, how you can make contact with it, and then what you can do in order to achieve that clarity by listening to these parts of yourself that you not only just don’t listen to or maybe even don’t know about. So that again, you feel more aware and complete, and able to do what you want to do, and be who you want to be. 

 

So on this episode, I’m going to be talking about all kinds of things. And in addition to the information I’m providing, I’m also putting together a little worksheet for you that has some tips, ideas, strategies that you can use to crack into this a little bit more deeply. If you cruise on over to www.growingself.com/shadow-side, you will be able to download a worksheet that has some journaling prompts that can give you the opportunity to reflect and answer for yourself some of the questions that I will be posing to you today on this episode. Because, as always, and is so often the case really with any kind of growth work, the answers to the questions lie in new questions and being able to answer those questions. 

 

And that’s one of the real, I think, strengths and almost superpowers of being in relationship with a great coach or therapist is being asked the kinds of questions that will help you elicit the truth and the answers that do exist within you, but that you may not consciously have access to. So if you’re one of the listeners who has been asking questions or leaving comments on the blog, or getting in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram, elsewhere, I’m so glad that you’re reaching out and letting me know what’s going on with you, so that I can be of service to you on this episode and hopefully others. 

 

And if this is your first time listening or if you’re a longtime listener who has yet to pose a question, I would love to hear from you, too. You can comment, question, rant, opine, anything you’d like on the blog www.growingself.com  and always get in touch with me, Facebook @drlisabobby, or Instagram at @drlisamariebobby. I can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Now, let’s jump right into our topic today. So okay, Shadow Work. We, humans, are incredibly complex. As we’ve talked about on different podcasts in the past, when I was talking to my colleague, Josephine, a while back about being honest with yourself or last year, I think we did a podcast about your subconscious mind and how to connect with it. There are parts of ourselves that are known and parts of us that are unknown. And I am not talking about it in like a really, you know, Freudian way necessarily. It’s kinda just a fact. We all have things going on inside us that are operating outside of the level of our awareness. They’re often subconscious core beliefs, or thoughts that fly through our head so automatically and outside of our awareness that we don’t even notice them. We just have a feeling we don’t even know why. 

 

And also, we have emotional and mental and psychological processes that are operating at a level that is so deep, we don’t even know it’s there. And it’s all okay. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with anybody because those things are happening. That is actually the way that human beings work. The human brain is incredibly powerful and complex. And because you are so smart, and your powerful brain is capable of remembering so many things, and so much information, and being conscious of so much stuff, all at the same time. 

 

It would actually be so overwhelming that no one would be able to function at all if we were all completely aware of everything all the time. It would overload the systems. And so our brains typically pay attention to what is in front of us, and what we are consciously aware of, what is occupying our attention in the moment. And everything else is kind of humming away in the background, not a problem in and of itself. 

 

But we do have things humming away in the background that typically have much more power and control over how we feel and what we do than the things we are consciously aware of. And so I know you know what I’m talking about here. I mean, we’ve all had the experience of going on autopilot. Sometimes you’re in the car, and then you get to a place and you can’t quite remember how you got there but you’re there. Or you know, “Wait, did I take my vitamins this morning? I can’t even remember.” 

 

We do things all the time without being consciously aware of them. But we are also – without conscious awareness – having reactions to things. We are making choices. We are responding to things in accordance with what lies beneath much more often than the things that we’re telling ourselves are true or what we want. And it’s important to understand that every person is complex and that we all have pieces of ourselves that we know.

 

The parts of ourselves that we know are often the parts of ourselves that we feel good about, or at least okay about. It’s our public front. This is who I am. The part of yourself that has your personality as you understand it, the part of yourself that goes and talks to people, or does the things. If you were to give somebody an elevator pitch about who you are and what you’re about, that would be your conscious self. 

 

And it is also true for everyone that if you observe yourself over time, the way that you actually behave is often different than the story that you tell yourself and others about who you are, how you feel, what you want. The classic example that everybody in the universe has done, self included, is to say, “I need to get more exercise.” “I need to go to bed earlier.” “I need to eat more vegetables.” Whatever it is. And that your narrative, your working self-concept is that I am a conscientious, responsible person. I take care of myself. I care about my health. I care about the health of other people. I do the right thing. That’s the core narrative, right?

 

And then, we observe ourselves being like, “No, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m just gonna sit here and drink coffee and eat jelly beans.” You know what I mean? It’s like these patterns, these habits. They’re always operating in us all the time. And so it’s not that we are not thoughtful, conscientious, care about our health, XYZ. It is just that there are other things inside us also, that have preferences, and needs, and hopes, and a voice – whether or not we consciously hear it – that actually have more control over us most of the time than the parts of us that we are aware of. The part of yourself that wants to sit around on your bed for 45 minutes and a towel staring at a wall when you know you are going to be late for work and you really should get ready for work. The part of yourself that just wants to sit there is stronger. 

 

That is your shadow self. The part of yourself that steers you towards having unhelpful reactions with other people or engaging in relational patterns that you know consciously are not good for you is simply stronger. 

 

And one of the reasons why it is stronger is because it – before you gain awareness of what it is, and what it wants, and why it’s doing the things that it’s doing. Because it is unknown and operating without your knowledge or consent, it is able to assert itself in your life. When you shine a spotlight on it and understand it, it immediately loses significant amount of its power right then and there.

 

So, a big part of Shadow Work is really deliberately focusing on the parts of yourself that are currently unknown in order to bring them into the light. Once you do, that is half the battle. And then from there, you can continue acting to deliberately make changes based on your understanding of that shadow side of yourself.

 

So I feel like, again, we’re talking about this a little bit theoretically. So let me give you some examples in addition to the little ones that I shared. You or someone that you know and love probably has developed a shadow side – we often do – in response to often early childhood messages about who we should be. The classic example would be a little boy who gets messages that he shouldn’t cry. He shouldn’t feel or express vulnerable emotions. That’s not who boys are or what boys do. And so because children always accommodate their parents in order to maintain a relationship with them, children will always disown parts of themselves in order to stay close to their parents and try to be the kid that their parents want them to be. 

 

So for many boys that grow into men, their shadow side is often a repository of all of the vulnerable feelings, or attachment needs, loneliness, desire, longing that they were scolded out of having by the time they were five or six years old. So they want to be good. Therefore, they do not have those feelings consciously. But of course, since they’re human, they do still have those feelings. They’re just in the shadow side. They’re tucked away.

 

For women, many times, what do we learn? Girls should be nice. We should share. We should take care of other people and we should always be sweet. And so for many girls who grow into women, they will put into their shadow side the things that others have communicated are unacceptable, like anger, taking care of themselves, prioritizing their own needs and feelings. Sometimes even their sexuality gets put over into the shadow side. 

 

It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t go away. But things that aren’t acceptable need to be put somewhere. And so they’re kept safe in this semi-conscious or subconscious part of ourselves. And they still influence us, but in ways that we don’t understand or expect or feel in control of. 

 

So when we disown parts of ourselves, we are disowning the parts oftentimes that have been criticized or rejected by others. And through the process, we have – sometimes again subconsciously – come to believe that those parts of ourselves are unhealthy or shameful, or that they should be rejected. They shouldn’t be listened to or embraced. But part of doing really authentic, impactful Shadow Work is beginning to reclaim not just parts of ourselves that potentially make us uncomfortable, but is questioning the discomfort in the first place. 

 

For example, as we’ve discussed on this podcast before, dark emotions are your best friend in the whole world. Healthy, legitimate anger is incredibly protective and instructive. In our feelings of sadness or grief even, that is the wellspring of empathy, and compassion, and caring for others. The ability to recognize and effectively cope with big feelings is something that we don’t learn how to do if all of those big dark feelings are getting pushed away into our shadow side to be dealt with later, if at all.

 

So to begin to haul all of these stuff back out and asking yourself really powerful questions like, “How do I really feel about this?” What’s interesting, what I’ve learned over the years as a therapist or coach when I sit down with a client and I say, “Well, how do you feel about that?” The first answer I get usually is what people think they should feel about something. So they tell me, they say, “Well, you know I love him. It’s fine.” And then I ask, “How do you really feel about that?” And we go into like a little bit deeper. “Well, you know, sometimes, when I think about it, I’m really not that happy. You know, I feel frustrated but then, you know, I feel bad for feeling frustrated. I mean, they’re doing the best they can, too.” 

 

Like, there’s all these efforts to kind of minimize and push away again. And it can take me quite a while. Many, many episodes of questioning on different days to finally help someone peel that onion and get into the truth of how they really feel and what they really want. And not even just like what the truth is, but being okay with what that truth is. Because it’s one thing to have something be true and to feel it. But many people feel ashamed or judgmental of themselves for having the thoughts or feelings or ideas that they have. So it can be it can be scary work. And I think that that’s why it’s so important to be in a relationship with a coach or a therapist who can help you. First of all, who can ask you the question 17 times and not accept the first answer – which is the one that is the conscious answer. That’s the one that you’ve been telling yourself. 

 

Our work involves going into the rest of the story to help you uncover the true story, the true feelings, and be able to walk in to that shadow self. And the reason why this is so important, is because unless and until you do this work and begin to understand all the thoughts and all the feelings, they cannot just control but sometimes ruin your life. And I know that sounds incredibly dramatic, but it’s really true. 

 

Like, so, for example, if we go back to that simple scenario that we can all relate to, which is having a bad habit. You do something that you don’t like. You wish you didn’t do it. You tried to stop it, but you can’t and you don’t know why you keep doing it. When we walk into the shadow part of ourselves fearlessly and honestly, we often discover that there are understandable reasons why we do the things we do. 

 

Very often they’re related to comfort of ourselves, needing connection, wanting to feel good about ourselves, wanting to feel pleasure, wanting to feel taken care of, managing anxiety, or managing fears that we’re not even aware that we have. Those are often things that are discovered through this type of Shadow Work. And you may be thinking that this is like more of a deep, super serious therapy thing, right? And certainly, to gain self awareness and make contact with the shadow side is always — whether explicitly or implicitly part of effective therapy — but it’s also really part of good coaching as well. 

 

We think of life coaching as somebody coming in and being like, “Okay, these are my goals. Help me attain them.” And you’re like, “Okay, here’s what to do.” And coaching can certainly have that quality sometimes. But what will also invariably happen over the course of any type of coaching – whether it’s life coaching, career coaching, relationship coaching – is that somebody’s like, “Okay, these are my goals.” I’ll be like, “Alright, here’s how to attain them.” They’re like, “Great, I’m gonna go work my plan.” And then they come back, and they’re like, “Well, I didn’t do the plan.”  I’m like, “Why didn’t you do the plan?” They’re like, “Well, I don’t know why I didn’t do the plan. Why didn’t I do the plan?” 

 

And that is actually the moment where we can then start to get all kinds more information about what’s really going on. And talking about why they do things they do in terms of not how annoyed or frustrated they’re with themselves. But let’s talk about this, about why it makes sense that you didn’t do the plan. I know your conscious mind is telling you this, but if we were to listen to what else is true, and what we always find is that this person in their shadow side, in this like closet part of themselves where all the rest of this stuff is, there are other goals that they are actually achieving. They’re just not conscious of them. 

 

And so we have to uncover the unconscious goals that they are achieving and fulfilling at the expense of their conscious goals in order to help them make progress towards their conscious goals, competing goals. So it can get quite complex, but it’s always so interesting. 

 

So, one great way to really make contact with a shadow self is to connect with a coach or therapist who understands how you’re operating, how we’re all operating on this level, and who can help you make contact with that part of yourself through questioning, through kind of shining a blind spot. Like, “I hear you say this and I see you do that. Help me understand the discrepancy.” So super annoying coaches and therapists ask those kinds of questions for better or for worse. 

 

But in addition to that, there are some other great ways that you can begin to tap into some of this on your own. Dreams are a fabulous window into how we’re really thinking, feeling, and viewing the world on a deep level. And I am not talking about dreams like prophetic dreams or like magical dreams or I dreamt that I lost a tooth therefore it means XYZ. 

 

Our dreams are always just a little window into the part of our mind that we are not fully conscious of during the waking hours. And so sometimes, dreams do not make any sense at all. Sometimes dreams are simply – our brains running through a little program that helps us synthesize and incorporate little bits of information. Part of the reason we sleep and dream is to kind of just literally clean and organize our brain. 

 

And it is also true that when you pay attention to dreams, you can get information from a different part of yourself that may be worth listening to. So one great strategy to get in touch with your shadow side is to simply start keeping a dream journal. And it does not have to be anything complicated. It can simply be a notepad on the side of your bed or a little notes app that you keep on your phone. And first thing in the morning, just write down what you remember even if it was completely dumb, irrelevant. Not all dreams are significant, right? And some of them are. And again, maybe it’s not a specific dream, but patterns of dreams, or themes, or “I had that weird tornado dream again. What could that possibly mean?” Being able to do some exploration around that. 

 

Another fabulous way of making contact with your shadow self is to observe what you do and just even write it down. Log it without judgment, condemnation, criticism or excuse. Just write down what you do, what you actually do. Because we all have intentions that are conscious. We all have reasons why we do the things that we do that are conscious. We have excuses. “I meant to go to the gym, but then you know, I got to be at work, blah, blah, blah.” So fine, like those are all well and good. And those are all your conscious mind telling you what it wants you to hear and what is available. But it is through our behaviors that we really get the truth. 

 

So just begin to notice what you do and perhaps how that is different than what you intend. Again, over time, you can see patterns in your way of behavior that point to the existence of an aspect of your shadow self that you will need to get to know before you can have those behaviors be different. 

 

Additionally, another great window into our shadow self is our reactions to other people, particularly the big ones – either really positive reactions or really negative reactions. But if you are aware of yourself and like why do I have this feeling when I’m around this person? Or why did I snap at somebody in this situation? Or why did I feel this like big feeling when this person did this or did that because it was a little bit out of maybe proportion to what the actual event warranted? What is going on with me right there? 

 

Particularly in relationships with people that we’re close to that can come up – and not just with your romantic partner – sometimes with friends, very frequently with our family members – we can have interesting reactions that if we follow that thread all the way down can really illuminate some important things about patterns, shadow selves, and also particularly when it comes to reactions to your parents. 

 

Part of their – let me say that differently. I was gonna say part of their messaging to you. But let’s just be fair. There can oftentimes be a difference in what particularly children think people are saying or think that people are wanting – that may or may not be true – because they are filtered through our very limited child minds. So your child self may have received a message that a parent or authority figure may or may not have intended to send and it doesn’t matter because it was still incredibly true for that child and therefore true for you as an adult. But I just want to be fair to parents in this situation as well, because all kinds of things can happen in the space between a parent and child in close relationship with each other. 

 

Now, in addition to these self observation practices that I’ve been sharing, including noticing your behaviors, noticing your reactions, you may also consider keeping an ear out for how you hear other people perceive you, particularly if those perceptions that other people have are different than your self-concept. And certainly, we want to limit this to only healthy, emotionally safe relationships, because you may also have relationships in your life with people, who perhaps due to unrestrained forces on their own shadow side, are unnecessarily hurtful, or critical, or condescending, or unloving towards you. And in those cases, it’s often a better strategy to set boundaries and protect ourselves from people who may not be in the best place themselves, as evidenced by their behaviors. 

 

And if you also scroll through the people in your life that are close to, you’ll probably also have friends and family – who you love and who you know love you and who are kind and good and treat you well – who also may share their impressions of you that are worth listening to. 

 

And I don’t know what those may be. That’s obviously behind beyond this, the scope of a podcast. But if I were your therapist or coach, I might help you make a list of some of the things that you’ve heard over the years from people that you trust. Not that we have to agree with them, but just to log them. Because there might be useful information there that is easy for our conscious selves to reject out of hand as being wrong and well, “They just didn’t understand XYZ.” And we can explain away all kinds of stuff, doesn’t mean it’s still not there in the shadow side. So, there’s that.

 

And also, I want to say something. So I am giving you strategies to make contact with the shadow self around dreams, and noticing your reactions, and noticing your behaviors, and kind of how others might perceive you. In order to be ethical and appropriate here, I want to be very clear that where this is helpful to do on your own in the way that I’m describing is when your shadow self is kind of like garden variety shadow self that everybody has, right? We all have aspects of ourselves, things that we’ve disowned, etc., that we need to engage with, and incorporate in order to grow and grow into the fullness of our potential. 

 

It is also true that people who have been traumatized at points in their life, particularly early childhood trauma, can have dreams, super scary dreams, intrusive thoughts, incredibly intrusive feelings, or reactions that are extreme to people or situations that are quite mysterious to them. And they can feel sometimes out of control with their behaviors. Like they’re doing things that they don’t want to do, but they can’t stop doing them anyway. 

 

It’s thought by some researchers in the field of substance use and substance disorders that to a person, everyone who has a profound and debilitating addiction or attachment to a substance is at least partially as a cause of their efforts to protect themselves from the symptoms of often early childhood trauma or neglect. 

 

And so, I just want to say this for the purpose of providing you with information to help you differentiate. Is my shadow self something that I can kind of like get to know and like hang out with and take information from? Or is there stuff in here that is trauma-based and that I really need to get help with in order to recover, because my experiences of what’s coming out of that shadow side are above and beyond what’s kind of normal and expected for everybody to have. What is coming out of the shadow side is actually a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder that needs to be dealt with. 

 

There’s a real difference there. And also, just if you’re listening to this, if you have someone in your life who has been traumatized and who may not fully be in control of themselves or have things that they are really working hard not to feel or deal with, just be sensitive to the fact that there might be a really good reason for that. 

 

Not just that they can’t, it would be potentially even harmful to try to force them to go into that place and deal with those things on their own or through their conversations with you. They really need a very experienced, licensed mental health professional who is specifically trained in evidence-based forms of trauma recovery work. There are many out there: trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR has achieved good results. There are also kinds of exposure therapy that can be super helpful for trauma work. 

 

And I just wanted to bring that up, because I would hate for anyone to hear what I’m saying on this podcast and be like, “Okay, cool. Shadow Work. Got to do that.” And unintentionally stumble into something that’s beyond the scope of this kind of self-help work that I’m describing. 

 

Okay, that’s my disclaimer. Now, when you use these kinds of activities to do your shadow work, be aware of the fact that you are deliberately trying to make contact with something that you can’t see, that you are not fully aware of, and that there is a tendency as a result to avoid. 

 

One of the key indicators that you are connecting with a really important motherlode of shadow self that is important to connect with is a feeling of discomfort and an immediate sort of knee jerk reaction. Like, I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to think about that. No, I feel bad about that. I don’t want that to be true. 

 

Whenever I hear that, as a therapist, or coach, I think to myself, “All right. Like we’re getting somewhere.” And so just know that as you do the self exploration work, that can be one of your signs that you’re actually on the right track. And to practice in these moments, mindful self-compassion, and be very actively not judging yourself, not criticizing yourself, not shaming yourself, and really just practicing being like, “What if this is true?” 

 

If that feels too hard to do, and you notice yourself just avoiding and avoiding things all over again, and it feels like it’s like too uncomfortable to stay in contact with, that could be an indication that it’s time to connect with a good life coach or therapist around that.

 

And then also a question that I often ask my clients and that I would encourage you to use on yourself is the question, “How does this make sense?” Which is the exact opposite of our tendency to criticize or shame ourselves. But when we encounter one of those sort of uncomfortable things, ask yourself, “How does this make sense?” And embrace that. Like, if I had to tell myself a story of why this made sense as opposed to like me trying to make this not be true or feeling bad about it – why does it make sense? And that’s often the doorway to not just self-awareness, but a really deep self compassion and empathy for yourself that you do actually make sense. And there is a perfectly good and understandable reason why you do all the things you do. 

 

And that if other people had lived through your life path – and we’re born into the world with your set of circumstances and dealt the hand that you were dealt – they would probably do exactly the same thing, that we are all a product of our life experiences. And so it’s okay. 

 

And even if you encounter things that you don’t currently love, understanding why they make sense will empower you to then be able to say, I’ve been kind of doing this on autopilot. I haven’t fully known why I have done all of these things that I don’t love. It now makes sense to me. Here are the needs that I was subconsciously attempting to have met. Here is the unconscious narrative that has been going on in my head that led me to do the things I did and make the choices that I made. Or here are the messages that I internalized about who I should be that aren’t actually true for me. When I tap into my shadow self and listen to it compassionately, so it really just opens the door to so many, so many opportunities. 

 

So I hope that this discussion has helped you just gain some insight into what this type of work involves and some strategies that you can use to begin to unearth these truths inside of yourself. Because the answers to all of the questions that you guys have been asking me lately, everything from “Why am I attracted to these partners who are emotionally unavailable over and over and over again?” Ask yourself the question, why does that make sense? And pay attention to the answer. To really ask yourself without shame, judgment or criticism. 

 

Why do I lie to my partner? What is going on with me in those moments? I’m not fully aware of having a feeling or a thought, but I’m doing it for a reason. Why does that make sense? What am I obeying? What am I feeling that would lead me to do that? 

 

And beginning to crack into that truth? Why did I or do I cheat on my spouse? My spouse would tell me it is because I’m a monster, and I am a terrible person. I don’t know if that might be true. But also, what is the reason why it makes sense for you to be doing that? 

 

Again, these can be very challenging questions to grapple with on your own, particularly if you are aware of doing things or feeling things that you’re really unhappy with. And especially if you use some of these exercises that I shared with you today. And a true understanding of yourself feels elusive, that could be a sign that it’s worth getting involved with someone who can help kind of like pull you in deeper to those parts of yourself in a safe way. There’s always a balance in growth work. Like it has to be somewhat challenging in order for it to be meaningful and effective, but it can’t be so challenging that it feels scary and like you’re really uncomfortable or emotionally unsafe with the person that you’re working with. 

 

So always step number one is to establish a really positive and trusting relationship with a therapist or coach who can help you and make sure that you feel good with that person. And then slowly over time, allow them to assist you in peeling that onion, and getting deeper and deeper into these parts of yourself that need to be brought out into the light, so that they can be in your conscious awareness and dealt with intentionally and effectively. 

 

Because when you do that, not only will you be happier with what you’re doing day to day, you’ll feel more in control of yourself. You’ll be doing things that are more in alignment with what you want. But there’s also the sense of like integration for the part of yourself that you’ve known about, but also this other part of yourself that maybe you haven’t known about, maybe you have kind of disowned, or rejected. 

 

And in my experience doing this work with people, even though they’re a little like, “Oh, I don’t know what’s there. I’m not sure I wanna make contact with that.” Like when my clients do, they almost always move into this space of developing greater compassion and appreciation for themselves. And like a more compassion and appreciation for other people too, as a result of that work on understanding, and accepting themselves, and making sense of their own life story. 

 

Also, through this kind of deep, deep Shadow Work, you can – believe it or not – attain greater emotional intelligence. Because in that shadow side, as we mentioned, are oftentimes the dark feelings or the challenging feelings that we have pushed away. And through that pushing away, we really sometimes do not know what to do with them when they come up in a constructive way. 

 

And so, we are reactive, or we lash out, or we do weird things in the moment when we’re feeling emotional intensity, because we simply have not had the practice and the opportunity to learn skills of what do I do when I start to feel mad? How do I have productive conversations with people without flying off the handle or not saying how I feel? Because that’s not helpful either. How do I manage stress and anxiety in productive ways? How do I stay in control of myself, even when I am going through something hard, and most importantly, how do I understand the presence of these emotions in others and use their expressions of emotion in order to help me understand them better, and have more meaningful and productive conversations and communication and connected relationships with them? It’s so important.  

 

Another neat byproduct of this work is that when you do it, you will walk through the experience invariably of encountering some uncomfortable things about yourself that again, you need to embrace, and learn about, and appreciate, and accept. And in doing so, you will release any judgment towards yourself that you may be holding. You will feel more confident in yourself. You will feel higher self-esteem oftentimes. 

 

And you will become – I wish there was another way to say this but I’m sure there is – you will become less judgmental of other people. Because you will come to understand that everyone, every single one of us is fighting these types of battles on the inside. And that when people perhaps don’t behave well – just like it was true for you – there’s a reason why it’s true for them, too. And you know, maybe they haven’t yet done all the work that you have done, but to hope that they will and understand that they have conflict inside themselves as well, as opposed to just kind of judging people harshly and casting them away as a result. Everyone makes sense. 

 

So, again, I hope all of this has helped you and inspired you to begin to Shadow Work, either for yourself or with a coach or therapist. Again, I have prepared a worksheet like a little plan with some questions and activities to help you do some of this work on your own. Again, cruise on over to www.growingself.com/shadow-work to download your copy. You can print it out and write in it. And that in itself may be very, very useful for you. I hope it is. 

 

So again, if you have questions for me, or would like to follow up questions about Shadow Work, or would like to hear information about a different topic or other types of questions that you’ve been grappling with, I’d love to know about it so that I can make a podcast just for you. You can leave your comments on the blog at www.growingself.com. You can also get in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram, et cetera. And I look forward to hearing from you and to being with you again on the next episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

 

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Have Courage and Be Kind

Have Courage and Be Kind

Have Courage and Be Kind

Have Courage and Be Kind

“You must always remember this: Have courage and be kind…. It has power. More than you know.”

― Brittany Candau

HAVE COURAGE AND BE KIND: Many people agree that being kind is essential (and something we could all use a lot more of) especially in this day and age of division and need. When we choose to have courage and be kind it makes the world a better place. Authentic, deep kindness is hard to practice. But when we do, it transforms everything — even us.

Kindness touches everyone. We think about kindness as being outwardly focused on giving to others, and that’s absolutely part of it. But what I’ve also seen time and time again through my work as a Denver therapist, online life coach, and online marriage counselor is that when people intentionally practice kindness it impacts their own lives positively.

The Power of Kindness

Yes, learning how to have courage and be kind is good for others. But being kind is also really, really good for you.

Kindness can heal a fractured relationship. Kindness can repair self esteem, and is protective against anxiety and depression. Kindness can restore hope, and provide meaning and purpose in a mad world. Kindness and empathy help heal the trauma of racism, and help build antiracist identities. Cultivating kindness can allow you to build healthy friendships that buffer you against all the storms and stress that the world throws at you.

When you intentionally decide to be a force of good in the world, and to have courage and be kind it lifts everyone up, including you.

The Courage to Be Kind

Why do I keep talking about “courage” in the same breath as “kindness?” It’s because real, authentic, deep kindness is difficult to practice and is not for the faint hearted. Let’s face it: to be kind is much easier in concept than it is in practice. When the time comes to be kind towards another (or towards yourself) and it feels challenging or inconvenient, can we rise to the occasion?

Genuine, meaningful kindness — the kind of kindness that touches others and makes the world a better place — is difficult to practice. Genuine kindness requires courage, self-awareness, intention, mindfulness, empathy, and commitment.

Being Self-Focused is Easy… For a While

In contrast, it’s much easier to fall into thoughtless self-absorption that prioritizes your needs, rights and feelings over those of others. But the easy path drags everyone down. Kindness is the transformational path forward. Deliberate kindness can heal relationships, heal you, and heal the world.

But think about this: Even though being selfish is easier in the moment (it certainly requires less effort) in the long run selfishness and self absorption make life much harder. Strained relationships, more anxiety and depression, feeling disconnected from true meaning and purpose, and feeling hopeless are a hard way to live.

Kindness, while challenging, makes everything better.

How To Be Kind

Deep kindness is a challenge, but learning what it is and how to practice it is worth it. My guest today on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is here to teach you how: Houston Kraft is an expert on the power of kindness. As the co-founder and CEO of CharacterStrong, he has spent decades speaking at schools and facilitating training to prepare students for life through social-emotional learning and character development. He also authored the book, Deep Kindness, a revolutionary guide for thinking, talking, or acting in kindness.

Learn more about Houston and his work on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Deep Kindness, With Houston Kraft

Houston so generously shared his insights into the power of kindness, as well as specific strategies that you can use to cultivate kindness it in your life, your relationships, and your community.

To skip the commentary and listen to this episode you can scroll down and find the podcast player at the bottom of this post, or you can listen to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Spotify, or in Apple Podcasts right now.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you’re there so you get all the latest episodes in your feed!

Otherwise, here’s a closer look at some of the life-changing tips that Houston and I discussed during our time together…

Superficial “Confetti Kindness”

Houston talked about his early life experiences in discovering not just the power of kindness, but how to cultivate a culture of kindness in a community. He talked about how the first step in becoming more kind and compassionate is to first understand the difference between what he terms “confetti kindness” and “deep kindness.”

Confetti kindness is a way of being superficially kind that often makes the giver feel good, but is not meaningful (or even wanted) by others. It’s easy to throw around and think we’re being kind. But we’re not.

Are you unintentionally practicing “confetti kindness” without knowing it? Listen to find out!

Barriers to Deep Kindness

Houston contrasted this type of superficial kindness with authentic kindness that’s rooted in a keep understanding of not just the needs of others, but in ourselves.

While we think about genuine kindness being dependent on our ability to have awareness and empathy for others, did you know that even more important is your ability to be self aware? The reason is that without deep self awareness, we’re all vulnerable to getting swept off the path of kindness by our own anxieties, self-absorption, or even “busy-ness.”

Houston shared his tips for cultivating the type of mindset that will allow you to side-step the obstacles to kindness so that you can be the kind person you most want to be.

Cultivating Empathy in Ourselves & Others

Houston talks about how accurate empathy is the ultimate antidote to the type of anxiety, fear, and narcissism that gets in the way of meaningful kindness. Empathy encapsulates the skills of thinking, caring, and sharing, and is fundamental to emotional intelligence. 

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence Skills

We can improve our emotional awareness by learning how to assess our feelings to understand others. Perspective-taking is an exercise that entails thinking about what a person needs based on their context. Learning how to listen can open you up to the perspective of others. Caring stems from acting on your empathetic concern for others; you can offer to help someone in distress by providing choices so they can pick what best suits their needs.

The skill of empathy is one that can be learned. Empathy is increased by first understanding and having compassion for your feelings, and by clarifying your most important values. Empathy and deep kindness also get easier the more we practice. Setting empathy “challenges” for yourself is a wonderful way to build your emotional intelligence and cultivate empathy in your life and relationships. (It can help to have “empathy accountability partners too!”)

5 Powerful Quotes About Kindness From This Episode

“There’s only two questions: ‘Do you have the tools to actually know what to do with your influence?’ and ‘Are you using your influence to move people towards something healthy and positive supporting, loving, or the opposite?’”

“We need to talk about kindness in a way that honors how hard it is, if we’re going to actually practice it in a way that makes a meaningful difference in our world.”

“The kind of kindness the world needs, is one that listens well in order to love better.”

“Sometimes [deep kindness] requires us to be courageous in the face of the things that we’re fearful of.”

“The messiest work that is available to us is the kind that recognizes that for all of these things, I’m a part of this problem. And I can be a part of the solution.”

Resources

In addition to the wonderful new ideas, strategies, and everyday practices that Houston and I discussed in this episode, here are a few more resources to support your journey of growth in developing a personal kindness practice:

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Here’s to your Love, Happiness and Success!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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Have Courage, and Be Kind

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Have Courage and Be Kind: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

Have Courage and Be Kind

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. This super gorgeous song we’re listening together right now is called Angola Moon. It’s from the band An Eagle In Your Mind off their album, Magnificent Weapon. I thought it was a perfect introduction for our topic today. We’re talking about the power of kindness. A topic, I think more important than ever, in our crazy world. 

And today, we’re talking with an expert on the subject about how we can all intentionally cultivate real, meaningful kindness in our communities, and in our relationships, and within ourselves. My guest today is author Houston Kraft. Houston is the co-founder and CEO of Character Strong, and also the author of the book, Deep Kindness, a revolutionary guide for the way we think, talk, and act in kindness. Houston, I am thrilled to be speaking with you today because the world needs you and your work. Thank you, Houston.

Deep Kindness With Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft: Feels increasingly true, doesn’t it?

Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for being here with me. And maybe we could begin just by talking if it’s okay, a little bit about your journey into being an expert on the subject of kindness. I must hear the story. Where did this come from?

Houston: Yeah, an ongoing journey for sure. Expertise is growing, I hope with every day. But I’ve just been talking about it for a long time. I’ve been working primarily in education. The slightly longer version of a kind of very long story, I suppose, it’s the story of my life. It started in high school when some friends and I got together, and we started a club called random acts of kindness, etc. And we met every week, and we talked about kindness, and why it was important, and why the world needed more of it. And we put a huge focus on the sort of the practical side of it. It’s like, if we believe this thing’s important, how do we go out and do it well? And there’s only two rules, only two rules to the club. Every week, we had to meet someone new. And whoever that person was, or sometimes multiple people, we had to leave them better than we found them. That was the goal at least. And so we talked a lot about that, right? Like what does it effectively mean to leave people better than we found them? What are some silly, creative, fun, powerful, meaningful ways to make this impact? And then we went to work every week, we’ve just tried to bring more kindness to life at our school.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, I want to hear more about this club. But like, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how you in high school, had such this well-developed sense of, “I’m going to be the sprinkler of love.” And I mean, just like thinking of myself in high school, the kid smoking cigarettes under the bleachers, and the black t-shirt like glaring at people, we can go different ways. How did you arrive into a state of being when you were a little 16 year old? You’re like, “I’m gonna be a force of good in the world.” Your parents are like missionaries? How does it happen to you? 

Houston: Yeah, I got it from my mom definitely. Both my parents lean compassionate, and I’ve learned a lot from both of them along the way. But perhaps even on a more practical level, why I started the club itself was because of my experience with like student leadership. So, I got invited by a teacher. Teachers are amazing. Sometimes the power of a simple invitation to join student leadership, which I previously had no interest in, and as a result of joining, I went to the summer camp. And at the summer camp, I heard this guy, his name’s John. I heard him speak on stage, about a paradigm shift at the time for me going into my senior year of high school. A pretty profound paradigm shift around what leadership meant. I’ve always had this vision of student leadership, just putting on the activities, and the fun, and the rah-rah, and making posters. And at this camp, it was sort of introduced to me, this idea of leadership as an exercise in love. And that the greatest leaders sacrifice and are willing to serve people despite how comfortable or convenient it is. And I remember walking out of that camp feeling not only inspired, but equipped to go back to my school and say, ‘Okay, this is what it’s going to be about’. Like I want the people at my school, to feel belonging, and acceptance, and love, like all the things that I crave. So, how do I make… How can I practically go back and start to build that into my own habits, and create accountability for myself, and invite other people into the process? And I remember one of our leadership values was selfless service. And the definition that still stands out to me to this day is I’m creating opportunities for others to be involved. And I was, “Yeah, I can do all the stuff that I want on my own, but how powerful it is to invite people into that process with you.” Because one of my favorite Dale Carnegie quotes is “People support the things they help build.” And the more that we create ownership together over an idea, the more likely that we’re going to live into that idea. 

So both of my parents, of course, you have to have those loving relationships growing up. Like that’s a good piece of the puzzle, and I feel very fortunate that is a piece of my puzzle. But I think it’s also like language, right, paradigms. And the way we think about things in our head shapes the way we act with them in the world. So, far definition of leadership is this version over here, we perhaps are only going to live with that version, or act based on that version. But I feel super fortunate that I got introduced to this pretty dramatic, different definition of what leadership can be in our culture, and it changed the trajectory of my life. And that same guy, John, who I heard speak, we co-founded the organization. I know, we run together, Character Strong. So fast forward, whatever it is… 16, 17 years later, I get to work alongside the guy that inspired sort of the trajectory of my life.

Dr. Lisa: That is such a cool story. And it’s just amazing that this has been such a, not just a personal passion, but just like an area of meaning and purpose since you were literally a kid. Well, and I want to talk more about your work. But I have to know just out of curiosity, if we had gotten to high school together, Houston, what would you have said to the group of kids in the black t-shirts under the bleachers, smoking cigarettes, and glaring at people? What would you do?

Houston: I don’t know if I would have found you all! Sounds like you were hiding out!

Dr. Lisa: Or behind the mall? Sometimes?

Houston: Fair enough. Yeah? No, no, actually, one of my other prouder moments of school was I started an organization called The Silent Voices, which is really the premise of the silent majority. There’s a lot of people who have skin in the game around something, but maybe don’t feel safe, or have advocates to champion those voices forward. And there is this kid at my school who he approached me saying, “Hey.” I was student body president, and he’s like, “You’re in charge of this stuff. What can you do to help fix the school that feels broken to me?” And I remember it being like a humbling thing of my perspective. My experience in school was not definitive of everyone’s experience in school. So it didn’t matter if I felt safe, and excited, and spirited around my school. That wasn’t a guarantee for everyone else’s, and that’s hard, right? That’s a perspective. Taking exercise we have to grow into, choose our practice into, and this kid came to me, and we sat down together. And this kid felt pretty generally outcasted from the vast majority of school, and we built this club together that met every two weeks. And I wasn’t involved in the meetings, because sort of his job was to recruit the people from these ancillary groups that felt otherwise othered, or not a sense of belonging. And then he would come to me and we would sit down, debrief those meetings, so I could take them back to what we were trying to incorporate into our school. So we hung out somewhere.

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Going on little diplomatic missions, into different cliques in the school… that is just incredible. You know what though, and I want to say this as a psychologist, and someone who talks to people who are 20s, 30s, even older… who were so deeply wounded by some of the not just hurtful, but like traumatic experiences of rejection and hostility that they had in school from other kids that was so profoundly wounding. It really sort of shaped their identity, and the way that they feel about themselves well into adulthood, and we have to do oftentimes a lot of work in therapy of unwinding some of that in order for them to feel okay about themselves, or even not afraid of people. And just the fact that you in high school had the presence of mind and were working to, I’m imagining, counter some of that, it’s just remarkable. And thank you, because there are probably kids that you went to school with who are healthy and well at this stage of their lives because of the work you did at that point. That’s amazing.

How to Be Kind: Steps to Growth

Houston: That is a fun reminder of the power of influence that you don’t know. That’s part of the definitional paradigm shift I had was that everyone’s a leader because everyone’s influencing all the time, whether we want to or not. We’re influencing people in action, or in our choosing not to act. We are influential. And I love James Hunters quote, he says, “It’s not a question of whether or not you’re leading, the only question is, are you effective? And are you using your influence for good or for bad?” There’s only two questions like do you have the tools to actually know what to do with your influence? And are you using your influence to move people towards something healthy and positive supporting, loving, or the opposite? 

And there’s so many fun paradigm shifts when you start to think about organizations in our own life. Sometimes, the most influential person in a business and organization in school isn’t the person with the biggest position or title. And sometimes the person who has who is a really effective leader aren’t always using their influence for good, right? You can be really good at leadership and very negative. So, having those tools in my toolbox in high school,that’s part of the passion I have for education today. I change the way we can think about, even some simple practical word, like leadership. It’s changed the pathway of my life. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Just amazing. Well, and I love it, and that you’re kind of partnering the idea of leadership with influence, and just the opportunity to influence people, and interactions, and things that you might not even be conscious of in the moment, in such a positive way. So let’s talk if it’s okay with you, a little bit more deeply about like the central subject of what your work has evolved into, at least at this point in your life. You’re a young man, I can’t wait to see where all this goes. But to talk about the concept of kindness, and I mean this might sound a little bit weird, but could you just take a few minutes and unpack that? Not just word, but the concept of kindness. When you talk about being kind, what are you talking about? Because I think that can mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

Houston: Yeah, one of the great joys and struggles of life is that we have different mental models for things that seem even seemingly commonplace concepts, like kindness. And that’s one of the big challenges. And I remember being at a training one time. We train educators on how to deliver our content in schools, and we were talking about kindness. And one of the women said, “You know we have students at our school, who kindness to them, is when they come home. Their parent has gone shopping, they’ve prepared the meal. It’s laid out, set up. They have time to do their homework. They sit down, and kindness is that this meal is in front of them. And afterwards, the parent cleans up, and does the dishes, and put stuff away which is giving the student time to get to their other tasks, their homework, their work.” She goes, “And for some students, kindness, and it’s still kindness to them, is the fact that their grandmother left some leftovers in the fridge when they get home from their second job.” Like, those are both actions of kindness. They’re just contextualized by our experience. And it’s one of the things we have to work with specifically schools on, but in the context of our conversation.

Think about the word, right? You say that word “be kind,” or you give this prompt “be kind.” And that means so many things to so many people because we have our dictionary definition of a word. And then we have our experiential definition of a word, right? Our lived experience is going to be probably the biggest indicator of the paradigms that we have about any given concept. And it’s one of those tough ones because I think we collectively agree, kindness is important. But we don’t collectively agree on what kindness is. And so how do we encourage the practice of a thing that we don’t have really strong common language around? So one of the big premises of the book is really spending the whole time unpacking that word. So it doesn’t feel weird to me at all. It feels like this is exactly what I believe in because I sense a collective gap, especially around the ideas of kindness or compassion where you ask a thousand people, “Do you think kindness is important?” and a thousand people are gonna be like, “yeah.” No, I’ve never asked anyone about what do you think about kindness and like, “Eh, it’s alright.” We agree that it’s a good thing. The hard part though, of course, it’s always gonna be okay. Like, what does that actually mean then to do that thing? When we have opportunities to practice, are we actually showing up to do it? 

One of my studies that frustrates me the most because it is so indicative of this gap comes from Harvard’s Making Caring Common project. This guy Dr. Richard Weisberg interviewed families and he said, “Hey, what do you want your kids to be ranked them in order: high performing, happy, or kind?” Eighty-something percent of parents said, ‘I want my kids to be happy and kind over high performing’, which is great. I think we would collectively, from a moral perspective, an idealist perspective would be like, “Yeah, of course.” And then they asked the kids of those same parents, “Hey, what do you think your parents want you to be: high performing, happy, or kind?” and the data was the exact opposite. They call it in the study they call it rhetoric reality gap, which is to say, these are the things that we say or are saying are important. And yet, we are not actually making them important by allocating the proper time, attention, resources, effort, and act in order to actually give them the value we are claiming that they have. So, the book spends a lot of time trying to unpack kindness as a concept, because I think our culture has unintentionally devalued the word by over emphasizing its importance without actually delivering the resources beneath it to make it real. And even in the way you think about… if you think about the classic ways we talk about kindness, that cheesy quotes are the things that get posted or shared. You see, like “Just be kind.” You say, this kindness… sprinkle that stuff everywhere, or the one I see most often in schools is “Throw kindness around like confetti.”

Confetti Kindness vs Deep Kindness

Dr.Lisa: But you mentioned that, there’s this confetti kindness concept.

Houston: Which is well intentioned, right? And I think that’s what one of the rubs for people is, all these things mean well. But even mean-welling things can do unconscious damage, and the unconscious damage I think we’ve done is… in the book, I say, “fluffified” kindness. We’ve made it seem like it’s as simple, or as easy, or as free as confetti, for example. And it’s this bizarre thing that we have as humans is when we think of something is free, we no longer value it, even if it doesn’t have monetary costs in the first place. And so to say that kindness is free, we are implying that we’re all capable of doing it all the time. And the argument of the book is actually, the type of kindness the world needs costs a lot. From a comfort perspective, from a courage perspective, right? From a convenience perspective.

The kind of kindness the world needs is actually really complicated, and challenging, and requires a whole lot of skills that live underneath it in order to effectively practice it well. And so the book challenges this narrative, that our culture has given us a confetti kindness, and says, “No, we need to reinvent this.” Right? We need to talk about kindness in a way that honors how hard it is, if we’re going to actually practice it in a way that makes a meaningful difference in our world. And if we’re going to close that gap between what we say is good and what we’re actually good at.

Dr. Lisa: So I really want to talk to you more about the other kind of, the serious kind of kindness. I think you describe it as this deep kindness. Before we shift, though, just for the benefit of our audience, could you give me a couple of examples of what you see are being sort of common expressions of that confetti kindness that people might sometimes engage in? That maybe makes them feel good, and maybe is good on a superficial level? Just so we have something to kind of differentiate the two different kinds. What would be the confetti kindness? Are we talking like paying for the Starbucks and the car behind you? Is that what we’re talking about? Like smiling at people? What?

Houston: And I think it’s important that I don’t want to holistically disqualify confetti kindness as a, quote-unquote, bad thing. Yeah, I don’t think it is. Confetti kindness is an important piece of the puzzle. Just I think it’s dangerous to mistake it for the whole thing. And I do think that there are elements of confetti kindness, that if we don’t clarify the distinction, I think they sometimes can be dangerous. Here’s a profound example that I stumbled upon in writing and researching the book. Sandy Hook, the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Profound tragedy, right? And oftentimes, in our world, we wait ‘til bad stuff happens before we do good stuff. That is the reactionary nature, I think that part of the book tries to fight back against but nonetheless, here’s this tragedy. And so, people in response to tragedy want to be of service.

People want to help, people want to give kindness, and so on. Literally people from all over the world. They thought, here’s this terrible thing that happened to young people, we’re going to send stuffed animals. Teddy bears. So many teddy bears. In fact, the town of Newtown had to rent like a 20,000 square foot warehouse just to house all the inbound gifts including the animals. So now we’re incurring a cost on the town who’s already reeling, and one of the people that helped facilitate and create the candlelight vigil said that there were more stuffed animals in attendance than there were people. And in a really profound line, he said, “Don’t get me wrong. A teddy bear is great.” But he said a stuffed animal doesn’t pay for counseling. A stuffed animal doesn’t pay for a funeral.

To me, kindness without empathy that lives beneath it, can sometimes be the sort of confetti kindness that we think is good. But in reality, in the giving of it, no matter how well intentioned it is, it actually serves me more than the person receiving. It’s one of the chapters .

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, it makes me feels good to send a teddy bear. Whether or not you need it, or wanted a teddy bear. That’s what you’re saying. 

 

Houston: Exactly. A thousand percent. And I think we do that all the time, of well-intentioned kindness that doesn’t actually meet or serve a legitimate need, because we want the quick win that our culture, I don’t blame it directly, always on the individual. It’s a culture who tells us this is what we’re supposed to do in response to tragedy or pain, or if I don’t know what to do. I lean on the thing that I see as most accessible. Those newsworthy stories of like, pay for the coffee and the person behind you, which again to have my coffee paid for is a delightful experience. And it gives me some level of, even a little glimpse of hope that day that someone else is paying attention to someone besides themselves. But it’s also, doesn’t guarantee that we’re meeting some of the deepest needs that we’re wrestling with as a culture. And the book argues that deep kindness is capable of that, if we know what it actually requires of us.

Dr. Lisa: Well, let’s talk then more about that concept — the deep kindness. So, you’ve prepared us a little bit with, it’s not easy to do, and it costs more on many levels. Take us into more of what you mean by that deep, deep kindness. What it is, and what we as individuals need to be doing, and thinking about in order to tap into that motherlode of kindness that sounds like it’s much more meaningful.

Empathy, Emotional Intelligence, and Kindness

Houston: Yeah, I like to attach some adjectives to the word as opposed to trying to define it out, because the book really spends, the whole book’s trying to define it. But some of the words that come up most often would be specificity, intentionality, discipline, sacrificial, courageous, consistent. Those would be some of the words that come to mind when we’re talking about the practice of deep kindness in our life. For a lot of different reasons, right? There are versions of deep kindness that are incredibly intentional, right? Meaning I’ve listened to you in a way that recognizes, understands your needs. So the thing that I am giving to you, whether it is my attention, whether it is something monetary, or whether it is words that you need in the moment. Those things are cultivated by a deep sense of understanding, listening.

One of my favorite lines of the book is that “The kind of kindness the world needs is one that listens well in order to love better.” So that sort of easily forgotten-about skill of listening and how critical it is to informed kindness, talk about our willingness to connect this idea of courage. I think sometimes we fail to realize how scary a lot of actions of deep kindness can be, right? What are the fears that we wrestle with? And I’m sure this resonates with your work of, what are the traumas that I’ve experienced? What are the things that I’m fearful of, that I don’t always associate to the practice of kindness because sometimes, if I’m thinking about confetti kindness, those feel worlds apart. Like yours is this fluffy, happy thing, and my fear of failure, my fear of rejection or the shame that I have around something? Where is that line?

 

A simple example for my life would be I have a fear of failure, and fear of not doing things that I feel like I should do well, perfectly. I’ve spent my life, past decade, speaking in schools about kindness. I feel like I should be pretty well equipped to deliver kindness in a moment of need. And then my grandpa got sick with stage four pancreatic cancer. And I had one of these bizarre experiences at least, I don’t know if you’ve ever had this before, where you are in a moment where you know it’s the last time you’re going to be with a person. This was my grandpa. And he was in Maine, and I live in Los Angeles. I was visiting Maine partially to be with him, and I’m sitting in the room before my flight, and I recognize that this is probably the last time I get to be with my papa. 

And I feel like moments like that put a sort of a bizarre pressure on saying, like having this like, quote-unquote, perfect experience with this person you love. And I wanted to tell them, all the things I admired and respected about them. But then I had this internal pressure on myself, I’m the kindest person I’ve been talking about, like it should… I should be able to communicate this so perfectly right now. And in my fear that I wasn’t going to do it right, I didn’t say anything at all. We just talked about motorcycles. I gave him sort of a fragile hug. And then I left. And even walking out the door, I was like, I’m going to need to write him. I need to film a video for him. I need to communicate the things I didn’t communicate there. And it took me three weeks until finally I felt like the circumstances were just right. I meditated, I was on this hike, and I filmed this video for my grandpa, and I sent it to him. And I get a call from my mom that shortly before the video arrived, my grandpa had gone into a coma, and he passed away later that night so he never got to watch the video I sent. 

We talked about fear of failure, in a lot of the traditional metrics of cultural success of, “You just got to start that business you’ve been thinking about, or you got to work on this thing that you’re avoiding.” But I- what the book tries to do is attach those insecurities as fears that we have, how that prevents us from actions of deep kindness. We, of course, want the people we love to know how much we care about them, especially before they passed perhaps. And in my desire to quote-unquote, do it right, I didn’t do it at all until it was too late. So those are some of the things that come to mind initially, right around this idea of what makes kindness deep. Well, sometimes it requires us to be courageous in the face of the things that we’re fearful of. Sometimes it requires us to pay closer attention and listen to people better so that we can actually meet a need, as opposed to just making us feel good and the action itself.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, but that it requires so much self-awareness to get into that place. And I also want to thank you for sharing that story, and I have not had exactly that experience. But I’m well acquainted with it. The feeling of regret, of thinking about what I should have said, or should have done for someone that I cared about, after it was too late to do it anymore. And it’s the most terrible feeling. But in the moment, there are all of these reasons why the things that we do, whether they’re kind or not, always make sense to us subjectively. Without a very high degree of self-awareness and our own patterns and our own, like the usual suspects that when we’re not being kind, or it’s kind of we’d like to be “Why is that?” and you’re able to identify that one of like being worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. Mine is usually because I’m too busy to think that deeply about it, right, because I’m going in 500 directions. And I think that though, is such an important concept, that we all have our barriers. Like what are you telling yourself in the moment, when you’re choosing to not be as kind as you could be? I think is what I’m hearing here.

Houston: Yeah, absolutely. The premise of the framework of the whole book is what gets in the way. That’s sort of the primary question that about four years ago, I had this humbling sort of paradigm shift in my own work, where I realized for like six straight years, I’ve been trying to convince people on the value of kindness, and I realized everyone already agreed with me. I thought that the more fervently I could tell people that kindness is important, the more they would just do this thing that we already agree is worthwhile. But to your point, I think the more powerful exercise that we need to engage in, for a more kind world is to, to equip ourselves and to be equipped with the tools for powerful self-awareness around kindness by asking ourselves that question: what gets in the way? And the framework of the book is sort of three categories: incompetence, insecurity, and inconvenience. Incompetence meaning what are the things-

Dr. Lisa: Right here? 

Houston: Yeah, yeah. No, yeah. There’s a whole chapter on being busy. And there’s a ton of research on how, in fact, one of the more powerful stories I’d heard many years ago in a TED talk, and I’ve done deeper research around it in a time since, was a study in the 70s at Princeton Theological Seminary School. You know, this one? 

Dr. Lisa: Well, yeah. Tell the story, though. It’s a great story. I love this.

Houston: I’ll tell the distilled version because it gets to a more pertinent point here, which is there’s a group of students to one building and said, “Hey, you’re going to deliver a practice-”

Dr. Lisa: Priests? Student priests? So people like devoting their life to God, aka Jesus, who taught to be kind and loving to people who needed help, particularly.

 

Houston: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And they told half of the students that they were going to give a practice sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a story of stopping to help strangers in need. And so to the other half of students, “Hey, you’re going to give a talk on job opportunities in the seminary field.” Two pretty different kinds of talks, right? One passion sermon on helping people and the other one sort of powerpoint on jobs. In between building A where they were supposed to deliver, or they were preparing for the sermon or the speech and building B, where they were going to deliver the sermon or speech, the researchers intentionally planted someone in the middle. Obviously in need, doubled over in pain, because they wanted to know what the people who are actively thinking about compassion, in fact, about to go tell a story, a parable of talking about kindness. Would they be more likely to stop and help?

And the answer, of course, is no. The biggest determining factor as to whether or not someone stopped was how much of a rush they felt like they were. In how much time they felt like they had to get from building A to building B. And I asked students, I asked teachers, I ask any group I’ve ever worked with, I’m telling the story, I’m like, “Have you ever felt like you’re in a rush between building A and building B? You ever felt like in-between point A and point B on your to-do list that we’re actually just missing the whole point?”

 

One of my favorite articles is from the Wall Street Journal. It’s called “Are You As Busy As You Think?” And it begs us to change the way we think about time in our brain. I love this simple paradigm shift. It says, “What if we were to never again be allowed to say I don’t have time? What if I had to say, this is not my priority.” Because time is just simply a matter of how we prioritize. And ultimately, one of our most finite and precious resources is time. What we give our time to is what we value, whether we say it out loud or not. What we give our time to is what we value. So think about how many hours you’ll spend today in your inbox, versus reaching out to a family member or a friend, a check-in, a moment of gratitude. It is a matter of attention allocation. That’s one of the ways I describe deep kindness. It’s how we allocate our most precious resource of attention. And a practical strategy if you’re into this kind of thing is, you have a to-do list which we are, collectively as a society, I feel like, very drawn towards because checking things off is what culture tells us is a metric of love ability. If I’m productive, I am worthy, I’m worthwhile. I’m getting things done and so I am good.

And so we will write down things we’ve already done just for the feeling of checking them off. My challenge would be right above your to-do list, right a one item to-be list, which is I want to be kind today, or I want to be grateful today, I want to be present today, and then assign yourself, one, five minutes or less task, it’s still something you have to do. But to live into that thing that we want to be and visually prioritize it above your to-do list, to represent “this is the thing that I actually care about.” But the irony, of course, is those things that are collectively we could agree as, quote-unquote, most important… when we get busy, they’re the first things that go unless we make them important by allocating their proper time to do them.

 

Dr. Lisa: I love that idea… to get really clear around the big picture of values and priorities that supersede the stuff. Because I mean, everybody, I think can relate to this idea of like, “I want to be kind. I want to be a loving parent, a good partner, XYZ.” And we have all this crap on our to-do list, and get super stressed out, and then yell at the first person we see, be it spouse, kid, whatever. It’s so easy to get swept away by all this stuff. And while we are kind of talking about that, “Who do you want to be? How do you want to show up?” can you speak a little bit to anything that your research might have shone a light on, related to how to be more accurately empathetic to the needs, or feelings, or desires of others? Because when we were talking a bit ago, you talked about a kindness that often happens that is for the benefit of the giver.

In some ways, it makes me feel like I am being kinder, loving, if I do XYZ to, or for you. That can sometimes really be incongruent with what the recipient is really needing, or feeling, or wanting. And I think that this can create so many problems, particularly in even intimate relationships, because we often sort of instinctively give love or kindness in a way that would be gratifying to us, as the recipient. And it can be very difficult for people to shift the locus of their awareness from their own selves into that of someone else to think, “What would feel good for them?” and then act accordingly. And empathy can be tough. Do you have any insights, or thoughts even about how one can cultivate the ability for empathy inside of themselves? Like that accurate understanding of how another is feeling?

Houston: Yeah, it’s a great question. There’s so much research that I love, some of which comes from Dr. Michele Borba, who she says, as anxiety goes up, empathy goes down. She says some of the biggest barriers for a more kind world is anxiety, fear and narcissism, which are all increasing. So there’s one element here, which is the sort of self-assessment like you were talking about earlier, which is to say, ‘what is preventing me from listening or tapping into how you’re feeling right now?’. Well, a lot of times, it is my own fear that I’m not going to be able to meet those needs, if I do genuinely listen to them. Or perhaps it’s my anxiety. If I have too much to do, I’m so busy so that when I’m quote-unquote, listening, I’m not actually listening, I’m worried about the next thing that I’m supposed to be doing. So as part of it, that’s just like a good reminder of what prevents me from the experience of empathy, oftentimes, are things that are pretty commonplace to all of our lives at this point, in the current reality of the world, which is fear, and anxiety, and narcissism.

And Jamil Zaki out of Stanford wrote an amazing book called The War For Kindness. He says a good paradigm shift for a lot of people, including myself, was empathy is not actually an action unto itself. It’s an umbrella term that encapsulates a few different skills. He breaks it down into thinking, caring, and sharing. And so empathy as an idea, is actually a lot of different micro skills coming together to work together toward something. Sharing, you would describe that feeling sharing. It’s actually something we’re pretty innately born with, right? When we smile near a baby, a baby smiles back. It’s just one of the first things that we develop, but we can improve that. We can improve our emotional awareness of others by more accurately tapping into how we’re feeling on any given day. 

So one of the exercises I give in the book is to talk about “How do we escape the classic four feelings?” which is mad, sad, glad, and afrad. Afraid, but I like the rhyme. People on any given day would say, “I’m sad or mad.” When in reality, maybe you’re not mad, maybe you’re disappointed? Or maybe you’re not sad, you’re lonely, right? Like there’s different variations on the theme. And the more accurately I can assess that in myself, the more clearly I can begin to identify that and others. When I know how you’re feeling more accurately, I can better meet the needs to match that feeling. The second skill is thinking which is perspective-taking. And it’s that exercise of “What does this person need based on their life experience?” Not what I think they need based on mine, but what could they need based on their context, their life? And that requires a lot of good question asking. That requires research. That requires like, “I want to know you, Lisa, as an individual, but I might also have to learn more about where you live and Colorado.” Maybe about what your family is like, maybe about the industry that you’re in — psychotherapy. What you do in that industry? There’s lots of things that I can learn about you that helps me contextualize the reality of world. I know you have children, I got introduced to one earlier.

There’s so many things that begin to shape a story of your life that I can help me take perspective. And then the last one is caring. And I think this is actually really important. In the research that we’re doing as a as a curriculum company, we build tools for schools. A lot of schools say “We want more empathetic kids,” but the reality is this: you can create more empathy without having any actions come from it. Meaning, I can feel bad for you and do nothing to alleviate that pain. That happens all the time. And so how do you actually take it from thinking and sharing, into caring, which they would call compassionate action? Right?

Empathetic concern is where my feelings and my perspective of you actually transform into kindness. I have to do something right. Compassion in Latin means to suffer with. To do something to alleviate that suffering is the key ingredient. So I would start there, just like for my own awareness, what actually is empathy? There’s a lot of different components operating at once. Let’s give ourselves some credit that it’s a complicated skill set that we’re working towards. What gets in the way? Anxiety, fear, narcissism. And then from the more practical standpoint of how do we actually do this? How do we actually meet some of those needs? And you sort of alluded to it earlier, but you give yourself language to identify those needs.

Dr. Gary Chapman has the amazing book Five Love Languages, where he talks about this idea that we give and receive love in different ways. And sometimes the way I most naturally give love, or want to receive love rather, is the way that I most naturally give it. And I speak the language that I receive. And so to have that framework to know that, well, I might feel most loved when someone’s complimenting me or affirming me. That the person across from me might best receive love by me just spending time with them — connecting, having meaningful, deep conversation. We’re looking for different things. And once I have a framework to know what those needs are, I can begin to better meet them. If I were to offer one really practical exercise, that was a paradigm shift for me, when my own mom went through stage four colon cancer. I watched the community around her want to help. Just because we want to help doesn’t always mean we know how to help or what that person needs. And one of the common questions when you’re struggling is, “How can I help?” which actually projects more stress onto the recipient of that supposed help than the person asking it in the first place? Because when I’m drowning, I don’t want someone be like, “Hey, what do you think you need?”

Dr. Lisa: “How can I help you?”

Houston: Yeah, right. So I think, a practical strategy there, if you know someone who’s going through something of any kind, emotionally, physically. instead of asking, “How can I help?” provide them with even a very short menu — the shorter the better — menu of options. So there’s sort of two ideas here, right? One is just like, “I’m going to do something to meet your need,” which is projecting what I think you need. And there’s a, “How can I help?” which puts it entirely in the corner of the other person. And then there’s the opportunity to curate that to say, “Hey, you know what I could do, I could run and drop these things off to the post office for you, or I could make a lasagna. Which one would best meet your needs this week?” So now you give them two choices, they have a sense of ownership in that process. So they don’t feel like they’re being pitied. And they get to choose into the thing that allows them to most meet whatever needs they have in the moment. So if I were to offer a really practical exercise, after all of that context, it’s to not ask how I can help and to not just give help randomly, but to provide a small menu that gives them a choice, autonomy, and honors listening, in order to most effectively meet needs.

Dr. Lisa: That’s amazing. That’s really great. I mean, honestly, I might use that with some of the couples that I work with, because I think, in personal relationships too, again, the sort of reflexive, “I’m going to do something for you,” that doesn’t.. isn’t hitting the mark. Or a request to tell me “How I can help you with?” which also doesn’t feel good. But like being observant enough to say, based on what I’m seeing, and what I understand about you, I imagined that I could help you in two of these ways, “Does either sound good to you?” And like to be an active participant but also like making space. That’s wonderful. So I know, do you have a few more minutes to talk with me? Or do you have another?

Houston: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Actually, I have two more questions for you. And so you mentioned my son who wandered in. And one of the things that has been on my mind, and I know on the minds of many of our listeners of this program, any of our clients here at Growing Self who have parents—parents—children rather, is particularly in the life space that kids are growing in right now, where so many of their interactions are through video, if at all. And also in the context of more and more time, and energy, and attention being spent in systems like YouTube, for example, that are designed very intentionally to hold the attention of little and older minds. And also though, do so in a way or and through social media that is hooking people in because it is recreating a lot of the experiences that people have in relationships. That’s why it is so powerful and holds so much of our attention is because it feels very relational, even though it’s not in the same way. And so, you mentioned a few times in our conversation that you spend time with schools and developing curriculum.

And really with us, I’m imagining an objective of raising kind, empathetic, genuinely compassionate kids who have this way of being, and has empathy for others, and the ability to act compassionately in a meaningful way. I’m curious to know how your curriculum may try to sort of like — I’m struggling to find the right words — like combat, this other experience that kids are having that is not relational, and that is occupying so much of their time and attention. Because my understanding of the way that empathy is developed naturally is through relationships. I mean, being in relationships with other humans where there’s kind of a caring that goes back and forth. Is that part of the conversation in your programs or your curriculum about like, how to achieve these goals that you have in the context of the environment that so many kids are spending so much time in?

Houston: Yeah, I mean, one of our sort of questions that we offer schools and families, it comes from a friend of mine, a guy named Keith Hawkins, who is a great speaker and spoken at lot of schools. And I saw him speak one time in front of a roomful of student leaders, and he goes saying, “How many of you have had a parent or guardian in the past month, at the end of the day asks you the question, ‘What did you do for others today?’. Not ‘How was your day? Not ‘What did you learn today?’ But the question, ‘What did you do for others today?’” And literally a room of 4000 student leaders, high achieving kids… zero hands go up. Crickets, crickets. 

And we say both directly and indirectly, we believe as a culture, as families, as school, as educators, we have to ask that question. “What did you do for others today?” So our curriculum tackles that and a few different ways. One of them, and is sort of the more passive approach of will be called values clarification, which we know, especially in middle school, or high school, identity formation, that age is a really big deal. And helping students have a framework to develop that, offering them prompts, by offering them space and conversation, and bringing their voice forward to say “This is the kind of person I want to be,” and not projecting them what they’re supposed to be. But rather giving them autonomy and building that. And then giving them accountability to say, “Hey, you said you wanted to be this thing. This is what this could look like this week. Let’s practice it. Let’s try it. What does this look like?” And we come back to that week-in, week-out. So we begin to create a practice around, “What did you do for others today?” Which is talking about in some ways that to-be list concept. “I want to be kind. I want to be present. I want to be fun, right? I want to be happy.” Whatever the things that people say, we start to build things around that that actually put young people into action with a structure of accountability where we come back and talk about that on a weekly basis. And then we offer that, of course, as a direct thing, which is, “Where can we ask this?” Well, in some of the schools we work with, they put, as they walk into the class, as they walk into the school building, it says, “What will you do for others today?” And as you walk out, it says, “What did you do for others today?” 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Great. 

Houston: One of our favorite premises or quotes is the Samuel Johnson quote. It says, “We need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed.” It’s some of these things around being kind, or good, or generous to each other. So often, we take them for granted because they are so commonplace and yet, they’re sometimes the things that we need to be reminded of most frequently. So I think, part one in some ways, it’s just having the language and the recognition that we’re not asking these questions as a culture. Part two is empowering people, in the situation, we’re talking about educators to effectively create space for those more authentic relationships. So our content, especially coming into this new school year, we’ve totally rewritten everything to adapt to the current reality, which is that students first and foremost need tools for stress, and coping, and resilience, right? We all need that, for mental wellness. And we need tools around empathy, building compassion. We need tools to talk about social and racial justice. So those are some of the things that our content’s trying to help support schools with. But every lesson, the first third of the lesson, is dedicated to community building because social connectedness is the most important ingredient to mental wellness, and preventing teenage suicide, which we know is increasing in numbers. And so those first ten, fifteen minutes are always dedicated to practical relationship building by giving and people prompts to talk about themselves, to talk with each other, to engage with each other, to get to know each other better. And that’s what we’ve discovered, it’s not that kids don’t want to do that, it’s that they’re just not often given the framework, or space, or challenge to know how to do that. So that’s something we try to provide tools around and to teach.

Dr. Lisa: And what wonderful advice for children, but for adults too. To be able to take some of those same takeaways around if I want to be a more compassionate kind of interconnected person, needing to have time and space where I’m interacting with people, and being able to maybe even ask myself some of those questions too. Around “What am I going to do? What did I do?” And really kind of like, having an almost an accountability piece there for yourself. And very lastly, and kind of relatedly, and I know that this is a very big question, and so please don’t feel like you need to give the alpha and omega of the final answer because big stuff here. But you know, as we’re talking, there are a lot of really difficult things happening in the world around us that can feel very overwhelming. Particularly I think, is one person just kind of like observing what’s happening to others. Like, you know, we were just chatting when we first started talking to each other. You mentioned that you lived in Venice, California. Huge homeless crisis there. I mean, people like, intense on the sidewalk, right? There’s also, I mean, at this point, 200,000 people who have passed away from coronavirus. And also I mean, the level of racial, not even intolerance, but overt hostility and aggression that we see being kind of directed at certain racial groups in our country right now. I mean, these are really big problems that we are all bearing witness to. 

And I guess I’m curious to know, I mean, I know for me personally, like wanting to do something to be kind, or to be helpful, one small point of light into this darkness. And I think, it’s one of the reasons why I do this podcast, honestly, is to try to be helpful in some small way to the larger world. But, for example, if you had an army of kindness, like compassion agents, that you had trained and deployed onto the streets of Venice Beach, what would they do in response to the suffering, even just in that community? Like if you had a magic wand and could have them do anything? What would this look like in action? On a larger scale? Because it is a large scale in the world for us? Right? Not unless you’re talking about the United States. We could go further. But like, what would you do?

Strategies to Be Kind in Action

Houston: Yeah, I think that’s part of what Dr. Borba would say is preventative for us is a sense of anxiety or overwhelm. If there’s so many things to help that sometimes it’s easier just to say, “That’s impossible. I can’t do it. Also, I won’t do anything.” A high school student who I worked with once, who stood at the front door of his school for two straight years, he got to school an hour early. He never missed a day. I said, “Why did you do this?” He goes, “I realize I cared a lot. But if I tried to do everything, I’d end up doing nothing very well.” I think there’s wisdom there for all of us. 

Brene Brown’s work is incredible. I love Dr. Brene Brown for all the practical insights she gives into empathy and compassion. Among them she says, in all of the data she discovered, that the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried. She meant, they said no to a lot of things. The things they said yes to, were actually really rich and important and meaningful. All that to say, I think there is power, first and foremost, in deciding on your pocket of the world that you want to focus on. For one reason or another. Whatever one feels most purposeful for you to dig into most consistently. Make that your little 1% shift. Like 45% of our day, they would say is habit. So if I can change this 1% to be more compassionate, more kind, more directed at this thing that feels like a problem in our world of which there are many. I’m laser focused on one. That’s a big deal. For us, organizationally, the conversations around racial justice, and equity, and education, specifically equity through the lens of social and emotional learning has been the most important thing for us organizationally, especially during this time to think about. Me personally, it’s the one that I’ve been wanting to wrestle with the most. So we have systems organizationally to put a focus on that. We have court every quarter. Not only do we talk about where we’re going next in the business and things like that, but every person in the organization sets a character goal. And we have an overall goal, which is something that we will keep for the entire quarter. And then every week, we also write out like publicly in our communication channel. We write out, we rewrite out our overall goal every week. And then everyone also writes out a work goal and a home goal. These are this is our version of a consistent to-be list. 

So me, my quarterly goal, my overall goal that every week, I’m reminded of every week, I actually have an accountability partner in my organization, and every week at our weekly team meetings, I have to say out loud. Whether I’m on track or off track with this goal, is to reflect on a reading about equity, and social justice publicly in our communication channels. So I’ll share the article and then I’ll share something I’ve learned from that article or that podcast. So, I have accountability that’s very visible for the group of whether or not I am doing that. Everyone else in the organization has their own goals that are related to their own things that they want to work on. For some of them, it is as big as racial justice. For some people, the bigness of that issue is actually more like, “I need to get a better work life balance, and I’m going to dedicate at least one night a week to a thoughtful date night with my partner.” Both of those have equal merit, in terms of what the magnitude of is important to in our personal life. And so creating space, and accountability, and clarity around how to make incremental improvement towards that thing, is, I think one of the best things that we can do as individuals. Whether you’re in an organization or not, find an accountability partner, set a goal for the next three months, what that thing is going to be and check in. Maybe it’s a person you already get coffee with, or someone in your family or a friend or a co-worker. But make sure that that is an explicit focus.

I hold that statement, in balance with also this recognition of there are some things that we get to privilege ourselves out of being involved with. And I think that if we are not, all of us, engage with the conversation around race in our country right now, that is something where I think all of our to-be lists should have some focus on. Whether that’s your ongoing quarterly goal or not, I don’t know what that looks like for you. But holding in balance the things that are pressing socially, and recognizing when we get to choose our way out of those things, is an important component of self-awareness that will drive some I think those decisions moving forward. So it’s a really big question. You’re right. And I think our natural tendency is to say, “This is so big, I don’t even see my part in it.” But the recognition that our 1% individual change over time is going to be the most impactful thing that we can do for ourselves. And for our culture, I believe because the messiest work that is available to us, is the kind that recognizes that for all of these things, I’m a part of this problem and I can be a part of the solution. I try to do everything but I’m doing nothing very well. So let’s choose one thing, and make it a priority with our time, or energy, or resources. Because this sort of kindness isn’t free. It requires disciplined pursuit, clarity, with consistency, with effort, and the cost of something. And it usually costs us time and comfort.

Dr. Lisa: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking on that topic. I know that it’s on the hearts and minds of many. And I really appreciate your sharing some of your strategies that get focused, and it doesn’t almost matter specifically what it is, as long as you’re willing to commit and be consistent. And also have accountability and structures in place. I heard you say partner with people, create community to help keep going in that direction, and know that it matters, even if it feels small at all. It matters. So this has been such an interesting conversation. I’m so glad that you and I were able to connect today, and I know just on behalf of my listeners — thank you for all of the wonderful ideas that you’ve shared. Now if people wanted to learn more about you, and your organization, and your book, and all the stuff you’re doing, tell us more about how they might learn more about you, and how they could get involved.

Houston: Yeah, yeah, so the book, when you’re listening to this, it comes out September 29, 2020. And you can find all the information about that deepkindness.com. You can always find or follow me on all the social media. My name is Houston Kraft. Houston like the city, Kraft like the K for keys. And if you want to learn more about Character Strong, if you’re an educator, or have a passion for education, young people can always find that at characterstrong.com.

Dr. Lisa: Thank you so much. Well, I’ll be sure to keep in touch with you, and see what kinds of interesting things you guys all do going forward. And thank you again for today. This is a lot of fun. 

Houston: Thanks for chatting

 

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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How To Stop Being Codependent

Overcome Codependency and Get Your Life Back

If you’re in a codependent relationship, it’s time to stop. But how? How do you stop being codependent?? Today’s relationship podcast is going to show you how to spot the signs of codependence, understand why codependent relationship dynamics take hold, and then offer real-world strategies to stop the madness and cultivate healthy interdependence. Really!

I know as a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist who’s spent years helping couples get unsnarled from emotional enmeshment, that many couples struggle with codependent relationships. Codependent cycles drag everyone down, and relationships feel miserable when they’re happening.

I know from firsthand experience as a marriage counselor that codependency recovery is possible, but it takes a lot of self awareness to spot it — much less break free from a codependent cycle. It’s hard work, but it’s the only thing that can stop feeling angry and frustrated with your partner, and start feeling good about yourself and your life again.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we’re discussing on the podcast today. (To skip the commentary and just listen to the episode, scroll down to find the podcast player.) Or, here’s the link to listen to How To Stop Being Codependent on Spotify, and here it is on Apple Podcast. Subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you’re there!

Onward!

What is Codependence, Anyway?

“Codependence” is a pop-psychology term that was birthed in the Al-Anon movement. Back in the mid-century era, counselors who treated patients with substance use disorders began to notice common elements in their partners. They were often completely anxious, often angry, and absolutely hyper-focused on what their alcoholic partner was (doing or not doing) at the expense of their own wellness. They were over functioning in response to their partner’s under functioning, and were mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted as a result.

They were termed “codependent,” and the Al-anon movement was launched in efforts to help the “partners of people with a problem” get emotionally un-fused from their spouses in order to not just feel better and more in control of their lives, but stop trying to “fix” their partners. (So that their partners could have the space to do the work of recovery, or fail.)

Nowadays, the term “codependence” is tossed around like popcorn at the movies in our popular culture as a short-hand way of describing everything from feeling highly attuned to another, to financially dependent on another, to simply being reactive in relationships.

But when marriage and family therapists like myself talk about “codependence” and what it means, we’re actually referring to something much more specific: Codependence is a problematic level of over-involvement and enmeshment in a couple or family that leads to anger, anxiety, and — usually — a great deal of frustration.

In a codependent relationship one person is usually working really hard to try to control, “help,” manage, monitor, coach, or assist the other into acting they way they want them to. As you can imagine, these efforts are not just unproductive, they lead to a really problematic “parent / adolescent” type of dynamic in a couple. In the language of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, a pursue / withdraw relationship cycle predictably ensues with the “helping” spouse becoming increasingly frustrated with their non-compliant partner, who in turn, views their spouse as unnecessarily controlling and hostile (and becomes defensive and avoidant as a result). Not fun for anyone.

If a codependent relationship dynamic has been happening for a long time, it can take the assistance of a really good marriage counselor to help a couple get unfused and achieve healthy interdependence again. Ideally, you can nip it in the bud!

The Problem With Codependent Behavior

Here’s the sneaky thing about codependent relationships that is easy to miss: When you become codependent, you feel like you’re “helping” or “protecting” your partner, or trying to get them to be the person you want and need them to be in order to have a good relationship with them. But over time, often unintentionally, your happiness becomes almost entirely reliant on their actions or behaviors. Maybe you think your partner isn’t doing enough or that your lives will fall apart if you don’t do everything you feel needs to be done. Whatever the case, codependency will drain you of your energy and take away your sense of empowerment for your happiness.

Furthermore (oh, the irony) when codependent relationship dynamics are happening, it makes it less likely that the “under functioning” person is less likely to change and grow. Crazy, but true. (I will explain to you all about why that is in the podcast, promise!)

In this episode, I define what codependency is and paint a picture of how and why it manifests in our relationships. I will be explaining how to shift away from codependency so that you and your partner can flourish together. Through this episode, I hope you can enter a space of healthy interdependence with your partner.

Codependency Recovery Stages

In order to empower YOU to make positive changes in your relationship and learn how to stop being codependent, in this episode I’m covering information that will help you:

  1. Understand what makes a relationship codependent.
  2. I’ll ask you some of the same “codependency quiz” questions I ask my clients to help determine if their relationship is codependent
  3. Learn how to become more self aware around codependent relationship characteristics (so you can stop participating in them!)
  4. Discover the importance (and methods) of taking back your power, either in codependence therapy, or on your own.
  5. Learn about the steps you can take toward recovering from codependency as a couple.
  6. I offer some examples of what codependency recovery stages look like in action, so you have a  roadmap for YOUR relationship.

Thanks for joining me in the How to Stop Being Codependent podcast today. I hope it helps you, and that you subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Spotify (or wherever you listen) to take full advantage of all the resources, tips, and info I create to support your journey of growth each and every week. It’s all there for you!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Did learning about codependence and “how to stop being codependent” is making you think of someone you know is struggling with this situation, I hope that you share this information with them.

P.P.S. If that person you’re thinking of is your spouse or partner, and you’re fearing that you two may be in a codependent dynamic together, a super low-key thing to do to begin creating change is to simply listen to this podcast together and discuss it. If you want to take your DIY, kitchen-table couple’s therapy session to the next level, here’s the link to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship” quiz together too. Establishing open communication is always the first step to creating positive change! — LMB

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How to Stop Being Codependent

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: Les Hayden, “Ophelia”

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How to Stop Being Codependent: Podcast Transcript

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. 

That song is called Ophelia. The artist is Les Hayden and I chose that song for us today, not for his lyrics so much but because of the tone of the song, I think, but also to have the opportunity to speak with you about the lesson of Ophelia. If you remember from your high school Shakespeare days, Ophelia was a character who was so overly involved in her relationships with other people, that when those relationships were disrupted, it absolutely ruined her. And I know that’s kind of heavy, but I thought it was an appropriate kind of symbol for our time together today because today we’re going to be talking about something that has that impact on people, might even be impacting you, and your life, and your relationships—and the term for it is codependence. 

When we talk about codependence, we’re talking about being so focused on what other people are doing or not doing, particularly our romantic partners, and feeling like unless and until they can get it together, you cannot be at peace, or happy, or satisfied with your life. And so, so much energy goes into trying to help another person function at the level that you want them to function to, that in the meantime, you yourself are just awash in stress and anxiety and anger and all kinds of negative emotions that takes such a toll on you. 

So on this episode of the podcast, I wanted to explore this topic with you in particular, so that you can understand what it is and how it shows up in relationships and kind of think about whether or not it might be happening in yours. But also, I’m going to be leaving you with some ideas that you can use to begin shifting this dynamic so that you can feel happier and more at peace and more in control and, paradoxically, create positive change in your relationship without all of the drama and stress and pain that you might be experiencing now. I know that sounds crazy when you let go you have more opportunity for change, but it’s so often the case, particularly when it comes to relational dynamics. So lots of exciting stuff planned for us today. 

And if this is your first time listening to the podcast, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m again Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m also a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. And I am here with you every week sharing love, happiness, and success tips and strategies and insights that are all designed to help you and also to be responsive to what it is that you are needing. 

So today, we are talking about codependence, and I also have all kinds of podcasts ready and available for you—anything from communication and improving your communication and your relationship to understanding how to handle different situations and your relationship with your partner. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to this on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, wherever you like to listen and scroll back. I had years worth of podcasts, and they’re all available for you, and every single one of them hopefully has an actionable takeaway that can help you improve some area of your life, your relationship, your career. So I hope you take advantage of all of it. 

And also, it’s not just me, in my practice growingself.com we have over, I think, 40 at this point therapists, couples counselors, coaches who I work with all of them very closely. And in addition to me and this podcast that I do, they are always putting together blogs and articles and answering listener questions. And so, anytime you want, cruise on over to the blog at growingself.com and you can see not just my thoughts but all kinds of expert advice and take advantage of it because it is all there for you. 

How to Stop Being Codependent

Alright. So let’s talk about this situation. Let’s talk about codependence and why this is so important. And as you know, if you listen to this podcast, I always try to design shows around your needs and what I’m hearing from you guys about what’s important. And lately, I’ve been getting so many questions coming through the blog at growingself.com, Facebook, Instagram, that are all some variation of, “Dr. Lisa, how do I get my partner to do XYZ? Or to stop doing

XYZ? Let me tell you about this terrible thing that my partner is doing or not doing and how upset I am about it. How do I get them to change?” That’s the gist of a lot of the questions, and in honesty, like I think that that is the energy that drives a lot of people into couples counseling is that the perception is that they are having unhappiness and distress in their relationship because of the things that their partner is doing that is making them absolutely crazy. And they’re just beside themselves, they do not know how to get them to change or improve the situation, and there’s lots of fights around this, and it’s just so exhausting. 

And so we hear about this a lot, and I think even more so lately, like so in addition to me, I get this podcast and other things for our practice, and I also see my own clients, certainly. But I also am at this point in a supervisory role, and so every week, I’m in multiple consultation groups with other counselors and coaches on our team, talking about different cases, not people’s names or anything—it’s all de-identified—but part of what responsible, ethical therapists do in order to be as effective as possible is case consultation with other professionals in order to say, “Here is a situation. How would you guys handle it?” In order to make sure that we’re always handling things really appropriately, and doing the very best we can to make sure that the work is always effective for our clients. 

And in so many consultation groups lately, I’ve also been hearing about my colleagues, working with couples who are struggling with these codependent dynamics that are very entrenched and very powerful and hard to change. And the reason why it’s so important for us to be talking about is because until it changes, it is really impossible to, paradoxically, effect the change that you would like to see in your relationship. 

What is Codependence

So the first thing I want to talk with you about is just a little bit more about what codependence is and what it refers to. And just to be perfectly transparent, the term “codependence” is not a psychological term. It is not in the DSM. It is very much like a self-help pop psychology kind of term that came to be through the recovery movement, like AA. And you know that, essentially, back in the day, alcoholics were the focus of treatment. They would go to groups, they would have sponsors, they would have their meetings, they would have their work. And it became clear over time that it wasn’t just the alcoholics that needed help—their partners and their families were also really struggling. And what counselors in the recovery movement observed is that the partners, the spouses in particular of alcoholics, would be a mess. They would be so angry, and they had characteristics in common. They were often very high in anxiety, they were often very angry, and they were often spending a lot of time and energy trying to control or police or supervise or improve or protect their alcoholic spouses at the expense of themselves, and also, really unsuccessfully. 

And so because of that, there was a whole separate wing that was created which you’ve probably heard of called Al-Anon, which is a separate type of support group and growth process specifically for the partners of people in recovery. And that movement is designed to help people become un-enmeshed and un-codependent from their partners and really just start focusing on themselves and their own happiness and well being again, which paradoxically, for reasons that we will discuss, changes the dynamic of the relationship system and makes it even more likely that their alcoholic partners will heal and grow in addition to helping to helping the codependent person feel a little bit better.

So that is where this came from. And so certainly, codependence, the term itself is often heard or found in, in those sorts of circles. In my experience, yes, that is absolutely one of the applications of it in our counseling practice. But there are also different ways that it shows up in relational systems that are not necessarily specific to addiction, recovery, and addiction recovery stuff is really not what I am talking about here on the show. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a substance use disorder, I would encourage you to get involved with addiction specific treatment because that will be more helpful to you. And if you would like to look into Al-Anon, you can just google Al-Anon meetings. They’re all over the world, and they’re free, and I’m sure they’re online at this point. So very easy to get involved with if you’d like to do that. 

But outside of addiction’s recovery, people will throw around the term codependent all the time, and it means really different things to different people. And so when somebody comes into the office and says, I am codependent, and I want to talk about that, or whatever, that my very first question is, what does that word mean to you, just to be sure that we’re kind of on the same page. Because here’s what it means to me when people talk about codependence or what it means generally. It means that they need their partner or someone else, a family member, sister, brother, whatever, to behave in a certain way, or be a certain way, in order for them to feel a certain way; they are essentially trying to regulate their emotions through someone else’s behaviors. I know that sounds a little bit weird, but they ‘re—so that’s why there’s all this energy going into trying to control other people because they are attempting to regulate their own anxiety or sense of safety through the behaviors of another person as opposed to what they feel in control of. 

And so this can take a few different forms, there is a kind of codependence that I actually think of is more like an emotional enmeshment. And that happens when someone cannot feel happy if their partner is upset for whatever reason, angry, sad, stressed, whatever, that they’re so sort of enmeshed together, that they will put all kinds of energy and effort into trying to get their partner to cheer up or feel better, or be happy again. And until their partner does feel better, the person who’s attempting to upgrade that change feels really bad and anxious, and it’s like they cannot be okay if their partner is not okay. Or if their partner like, gets angry or upset, they kind of fall apart or feel super angry and upset in response. Like there’s this emotional enmeshment within a system that almost prevents people from being able to behave independently of each other. And that creates a lot of reactivity and problems in relationships. 

Another aspect of codependence is people who tend to feel like really anxious or unsettled or not. I don’t want to use the word unsafe and like a literal physical unsafety but like, kind of insecure or not at ease, or not calm or relaxed unless their partner is doing certain things or saying certain things or behaving in a certain way. And that when their partner doesn’t do what they need or want them to do, they feel very agitated and anxious. And again, it turns into efforts to control their partner and try to get their partner to be different in order for them to feel secure and well. And then, of course, there’s the addictions recovery aspect of this where this sort of dynamic is often very pronounced. 

But what I see more often in our practice is kind of like a functional codependence. So it’s either somebody who doesn’t like the way their partner behaves or doesn’t like the way their partner communicates or doesn’t like the way their partner prioritizes time or feels unhappy that the partner isn’t like more of a team player in their home. And just to be very clear, that it’s absolutely okay to be upset about any of those things, I mean, nobody likes that, right? But the difference with a codependent dynamic is that there is this like, hyper-focus around what is my partner doing or not doing. And I’m going to try to control them, change them, police them, monitor them because unless they change, nothing is ever going to be different. So there’s like this exclusive focus on changing of the partner trying to get the partner to be different. And unless and until that happens, I am going to be so unhappy and upset.

And again, it’s this like, external locus of control, because when a codependent person goes into that place, they are absolutely dependent on what another person is doing for their own sense of happiness, or security, which as you can imagine, puts them really into a place of powerlessness and dependence because they are unable to feel okay, independently. Hence, the term dependence. They’re dependent on their partner for their own sense of well being, and attempting to change the way they feel by controlling someone else’s behavior. And of course, as you can imagine, because it is essentially impossible to control someone else or change someone else, people who have a codependent orientation to relationships usually feel absolutely exhausted and depleted, and resentful, and angry, and so incredibly frustrated because they feel so, so powerless, and they’re putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change so they can be okay, and it’s not working. So it’s a really difficult space to be in.

And so, first of all, the very, very, very first thing that we always do with codependent dynamics is, first of all, we have to raise awareness in either the couple if people are coming in together, or if it’s an individual person who’s coming in for help on their own to talk about how incredibly distressed they are about what’s happening in their relationship, which also happens. The first thing we have to do is get clarity around what’s going on, and helping people, if this is what it is, but helping people figure out how much of their power and time and energy and mental energy, emotional energy are they giving away to this codependent dynamic without even realizing it. 

Codependency Quiz

So let me ask you some of the questions that I often ask clients who are grappling with this. Question one would be: Do you persistently feel frustrated, upset, or angry at your partner’s inability to make changes? You’re kind of always annoyed that you really want them to be doing something different, and they’re not, they’re going to keep doing it over and over again. That would be a clear one that there’s a codependent dynamic at work. And particularly if that question number one is yes, and it is also coupled with a true answer on this question, do you believe that your relationship problems and like even life problems would be resolved if only your partner would change in some way?

And then thirdly, do you personally feel like it’s hard for you to be happy? Or you feel good about yourself in your life because of things that your partner is doing or not doing? And so if you answered yes to all three of those questions on my little mini codependence quiz, you may be struggling with a codependent dynamic in your relationship. And if so, I have a lot of empathy for that because you are likely feeling really annoyed and stressed and like even hyper-vigilant a lot of the time, it’s a very difficult place to be in. And so that’s why I wanted to talk about this today, in order to give you some, some clarity and some strategies. 

So I feel like we’re kind of talking about this in theoretical terms right now, and sometimes I think it’s easier to illustrate examples by telling you stories instead. So one example that immediately comes to mind to illustrate this, and I think so many of us can relate to, is one couple who is kind of a mishmash of many couples, but if we were to distill it all down coming in, and one person is sitting on the couch, or in the video session, and just like vibrating with anger and annoyance about all the things that their partner is doing, and can’t wait to tell me about it. And legitimate things like, “I found another beer bottle in the trash can when he said that he wasn’t going to drink on school nights,” or “He said he was going to mow the lawn, and he didn’t,” or “She came home late again, and I can’t make plans, and I feel like she’s always leaving me holding the bag with housework, or kids or whatever, going out with her friends,” like they’re the type of complaints can be endless, and they vary.

 And just to say this, what I’m talking about in this podcast here with you is going to be in the spectrum of like garden variety codependent dynamics. And if you had the unfortunate circumstance of being in a relationship where there’s really serious stuff going on with your partner like substance abuse problems or serious like mental health issues that are untreated, you’re probably going to resonate with some of what I’m talking about, but the strategies won’t work as well in that situation because it’s a different animal. And I would refer you to other podcasts that I have created on related topics, I think one was called, What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem, and I think I also did a podcast a while back around, you know how to get somebody else to change if they have really serious stuff. So scroll back through the episodes, and you’ll find them. 

But this situation that we’re talking about is a couple where one person is absolutely so frustrated, so angry, and also oftentimes feeling very, like self-righteous in their anger, really feeling like their partner is behaving so badly, and that they just can’t stand it anymore. And they’re starting to, many times, like lose respect for their partner, but really just putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change, and sometimes it’s nagging, and sometimes it’s arguing, and sometimes it’s just doing things for them, but sort of resentfully. I mean, it can take all sorts of different forms. And that is the sort of operating emotional space that the partner who’s like really wishing the other person could be different days and all the time. 

And then on the other side of this, the person who is the “changee”, that is the person in the relationship that has been identified as the one who has all the problems that need to be changed, is often feeling incredibly resentful, sullen, withdrawn, often puts just as much energy into minimizing their partner’s feelings. “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal. You need to lighten up, it’s not that bad. It’s fine.” That is often this dynamic, and it becomes a very well-developed and entrenched relational dynamic where one partner is pursuing the other, in efforts to get them to change, respond, listen, do something differently. And the other person in response is withdrawing and becoming less emotionally available, less responsive, less often considerate, and thoughtful. And so then what that leads to is an increase in the anger and resentment and kind of pursuing of partner number one. And so as you can imagine, this gets more and more intense over time. 

And I think we can all relate to this experience, probably even on both sides. I mean, I think everybody who’s been in a relationship over five years has at least at some point had well-developed ideas about what their partner should do in order to make things better. So following my partner, exercise more, drink less, eat healthier foods, or took antidepressants, or stop playing so much video games, you know, I mean, whatever, “Then it would be better for us.” And on the other side of that, I think many of us can also relate to being the recipient of that kind of criticism, and that constant like feeling like you’re never doing anything, right, and that you’re not quite good enough the way that you are, and how bad that feels.

So, that’s the dynamic on both sides. And so that’s many times where people start when they come to us for couples counseling. And I just, I wanted to kind of like bring that to life a little bit more to see if any of those things are things that you could relate to. And the problem is, really, that what happens is that over time, couples become more and more polarized and to each of these positions. The partner who is righteously indignant, is becoming more and more convinced that they have the answers, and their partner needs to do XYZ, and every time they don’t do XYZ, it is more information that their partner can’t meet their needs, or be a good partner, or that they’re ever going to have the kind of relationship or like that they want, and kind of falling into this despair. And also, it creates a dynamic where the person who is really like in that codependent place, will oftentimes become extremely hyper-vigilant to notice. “What is he doing? Did he clean the kitchen? Did he take out the trash? Did he drink too much? What is going on? Or…” 

I don’t want to make it very gender-y. It happens with both ways with men and women that happens, same-sex relationships, but there’s this like constant on edge of, I have to monitor and police and nag and almost like supervise my partner to make sure they are doing the things that they need to be doing. In order for us to have a good life together. It’s like, I need to make my partner be the person that I need them to be. Because the person as they are, I don’t totally like them. I don’t trust them. I doubt their competence. I don’t think they make good decisions. And I feel like if I wasn’t making them do what they needed to do and be who they needed to be. Our lives would fall apart. Important things wouldn’t get done. bills would go unpaid, things would bounce, we wouldn’t have groceries, we wouldn’t get places on time the kids wouldn’t get their needs met.

And as you can imagine, to be in this space where it feels like you are the one that has to be the policeman or policewoman of everything and like always kind of on guard to make sure that things are happening the way they are, or should be rather, it is absolutely exhausting. It is so stressful. It feels like you can never let your guard down, you can’t relax. 

And I just wanted to say this to kind of like, bring some empathy into this because I think that there’s like a caricature stereotype. A naggy person or controlling? We’d like to throw the word controlling around, “Do it this way. Do it that way. Why didn’t you blah, blah, blah?” It’s very easy to see a person who is inhabiting in that space as being overbearing, or overly, what’s the word, controlling, I think, is the one that comes up most often. And can we all just agree, though, that the emotional experience of people who are behaving that way, is one of anxiety and fear.

I have personally never met anyone who is behaving in ways that are controlling who has not, when I help them talk about what’s going on, shared that they have this overwhelming sense of like fear and anxiety about what would happen if they stopped being “controlling” if they just let things go and stopped paying attention to what’s happening and what should be happening and who’s doing what things would actually fall apart. 

And also, I don’t think I’ve ever met a “controlling” person who has not wished and longed on a very deep level, to relax and to be in a safe place with a person that they trusted to just handle things for them so that they could finally rest and feel taken care of and supported and not have to be worried and on eggshells that if they aren’t vigilant for five minutes, something terrible is going to happen. 

People who are in this space are over functioning. And they are overly alert and overly active in a relationship, because it feels like they have to be. So if you are listening to this podcast, and you are in a relationship with someone, and you feel like they are nagging at you and criticizing you and being overly controlling, and like why don’t you do this, you should be more like, I would invite you to consider why that might make sense from their perspective, and that you have a lot of power to change the system because they will step back in direct proportion to their experience of you stepping forward, they would love nothing more than to say, great, you cook dinner, I’ll be over here and they would love to do that. But they might not trust you to do that. 

So there’s that to consider. It’s really important to think about systemic dynamics in these situations. Because the alternative is that if we’re not aware of the systemic dynamics, the alternative is to develop a narrative about your partner and the type of person they are and that leads to all sorts of things. 

So for example, if you label your partner’s being controlling and unreasonable, and that’s just the way they are, that’s like their character, their personality, where do you go from there, right? And it’s usually not true, there’s always a reason why people are the way they are. And a reason that is very understandable. And that we can work with that you have to see your partner with empathy. So I wanted to leave you with that.

Now, let’s talk about this from the other side. So if you are the one who has been really just putting in so much energy to try to get your partner to understand and to change, you may have noticed that it’s not that effective. I mean, really, like, most people who are doing this and engaging in these kinds of codependent behaviors are trying over and over again, to get their partner to be different and listen to them and respond to them and do things a different way. Or they give up and just start doing everything for their partner because they have lost confidence in their partner’s ability to follow through. And it takes such a toll on you. And the thing that can be hard to see when you’re doing this is that when you put so much energy and effort and take so much responsibility on yourself, for things, you actually make it less likely that the other person is going to step up and do things differently in response to you. And I know that’s incredibly frustrating because it feels like you’re trying to make things happen and you’re trying to protect yourself and the family and even them by doing all that you do. But paradoxically it leads on a systemic level, to a persistence of the problem that you are seeking to change and I mean, reflect on this, if you will. 

Is it true that the more you care about change and what your partner is doing or not doing, it seems like the less they care, or the more they fight you on it, or the more they tend to minimize and dismiss what you’re saying. That is what happens over time it creates this power imbalance and even though it may feel like the person who is doing the running around and being upset and trying to get things to be different, feels like the dominant personality in the relationship, in truth and in practice, you actually become disempowered and have much less power. Then you’re kind of passive partner as the months and years progress because you are killing yourself and putting in all this energy and effort. And they’re like watching you around, run around like a crazy person. Like you need to relax. Just chill out. And so that doesn’t work.

Stages of Codependency Recovery For Couples

And now that we’ve kind of talked about the dynamics of codependent relationships, I’d like to turn our attention to the emotional kind of underpinnings and what can change it. And so the thing that is really important to understand, and the part that gets missed for many couples in this dynamic is that people get so focused on what is happening, or isn’t happening or what the partner is doing or not doing, the attention is much less about their internal experience and about the feelings underneath all of this on both sides than it is about the signals or the behaviors or the communication patterns. And so I think it’s really important for people who are in the active side of a codependent relationship, to really make contact with the level of fear they have around what could happen if they stopped, and to really get a handle on how much of their own personal power and their own happiness and their own satisfaction with their life is really so highly dependent on what their partner is doing and on the relationship itself. Because that in itself can be just a huge awakening, like, “Oh my gosh, I am spending most of my time being anxious and upset about this, what this person is doing or how they’re behaving and I can’t live like that anymore.” And it’s in that kind of moment of recognition that that power gets taken back. 

And now I’m talking about this as usual, like, it’s an easy thing, people often don’t arrive to this place without a lot of growth and work that is achieved through either individual therapy or coaching or through couples work is where people can move into the space where they’re like, you know what? This whole control thing has been an illusion anyway, even though I am managing my anxiety because I feel like I am in control of the situation. I am really quite objectively not in control of the situation because these things keep happening. And you know what? I don’t want to do this anymore. This is not good for me and there’s also an increase in anxiety when that happens. Because you know, if somebody stops being the police person, your partner might drink too much or spend too much money or not follow through with things or ruin their health with junk food or waste their lives playing video games. But can we just agree that they’re basically doing that anyway, with or without your hyper-vigilance, they’re just like trying to hide it from you and fighting with you about it. 

And so what is a much more productive space to go into, is this idea and this new recognition that for many people, the core of the anxiety is around the practical matters, certainly, but when you really dig down into it, there’s almost this like, existential crisis that comes out around, “Can I be with this person? Can I maintain my marriage and my family with this person? Because it feels like I can’t. What is happening now feels unsustainable to me. And so I am twisting myself into pretzels trying to get my partner to be a partner with me so that we can have a nice life together. And I’m so afraid that if they won’t do it, I will have to go.” And that’s like this, this core like fear that many people make contact with when they begin grappling with this. It’s very, very powerful, and can be very interesting to make contact with and share in a vulnerable way with the partner who has been creating so much pain, that you feel has been creating so much pain because it really turns it into being less about them, and more about you and what you can tolerate and what you can’t and what your options are in the situation. 

So, many times, what this kind of exploration leads to are productive conversations between two people where there’s like a new recognition of why the struggle is happening and that really powerful and understandable like noble intentions and attachment needs, both people are bringing to the table. Many times on the other side of this, people who have been functioning in a manner that is different than how their partner would like them to be sometimes is feeling very withdrawn because they feel like they’re going to be rejected anyway, whatever they do is wrong. So why even try, or they feel like there isn’t space for them to bring their own way of doing things to the table in the relationship, like, and so they really feel minimized and diminished, so they kind of give up and stop trying in some ways. 

But they’re also underneath of that can be a very real experience where, believe it or not, some people have arrived in adulthood, without having the same set of skills around getting things done. Prioritizing activities, managing time I mean, to be very, like task-oriented, and a planner, and like, executive functioning skills, if I do this, then this will happen. I shouldn’t stay up too late playing video games, because I have to get up for work in the morning. And, it is not that unusual, like, well, it doesn’t happen all the time. But sometimes when I’m working with couples who have this kind of dynamic, we discover that the partner, who has been maybe struggling to do some things that is creating a lot of anxiety and stress for their spouse, has undiagnosed ADHD that has never been recognized or dealt with or treated. And so they’re behaving in a way that isn’t actually consistent with adult success, and it’s driving their partner insane. But they really legitimately do not know how else to be because they’ve never talked about it before. They’ve never considered it before. 

And sometimes couples work turns into almost coaching around; how do you keep track of what needs to be done throughout the week? So that your partner doesn’t have to be the one who’s always managing the time and the activities for everybody. How do we begin to develop those skills? So that you can do these things. So I just want to float to the possibility that it isn’t always that a partner won’t do these things, because they’re being contrary and an obstructionist, it may actually be that they don’t know how to do these things, as well as you do. It can also be true sometimes that partners have different values or expectations around things that are related to how things were done in their family of origin. If you grew up in a family, where there were very kind of well-defined gender roles, and your partner wants you to be doing things that were not done by people of your gender in your home, it’s going to create confusion. And that in itself can lead to these kinds of dynamics in a relationship. 

But regardless of the reason why, the first step in resolving this dynamic is getting to the bottom of why it’s happening, to see if anything can be done to change the functioning itself. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and changing the functioning of the partner who may be under-functioning in the relationship, but also maybe doing some work around the expectations and values of the partner who believes that all of these things need to be happening to ask some questions in a safe, compassionate, non-judgmental space around, “Why do you believe that we need to have a protein, a fruit, and a starch warmed up at breakfast every morning, or else you’re both failing as parents? Some people eat cereal most of the time, and they’re okay.” So let’s talk about where some of these ideas about what breakfast should look like, came from. I mean, that’s a more trivial example. Right? But I mean, you’d be amazed at what I think we all take as being the truth from our family of words and experience, and then apply that truth to other people.

We are measuring our partners by our own yardstick without even being aware that we are carrying a yardstick and holding it up to other people and say, “No, we cannot have a granola bar for breakfast, that is not sufficient, it needs to be an egg or a waffle.” So I mean, it’s like, we all carry that. And many times, there’s a period in couples counseling or relationship coaching, where we have to do a deep dive into what those things are. Because there are blind spots, we do not know what we are expecting or projecting on other people at a subconscious, until we do this type of focused growth work, which can be incredibly productive and opens so many doors. So that’s kind of phase two of recovering from a codependent dynamic. 

Now, phase three can happen in addition to sometimes instead of phase two, and this is where the person who has been trying to be the change agent in the relationship and feeling really bad and anxious and angry and stressed a lot of the time may arrive in a place again, where they have decided that they don’t want to feel that way anymore. And it may be that their partner is not able or willing to work with them on creating the dynamic to step forward a little bit more so that they can step back. And in this case, stage three, you need to take your power back through your own volition and what this means is almost like repeating this mantra to yourself of, “I am only in charge of me, I can only control myself, I am responsible for my own happiness, I am responsible for the quality of my life, I am in charge of me and my outcomes.”

And when this happens when the formerly codependent person stops trying to control other people and instead really shifts into taking responsibility for themselves, and the quality of their life independent from what their partner is going to do or not do, they will feel happier and more confident and more at peace, they will also have to work through some anxiety that will immediately spike around what will happen if I just start focusing on me and stop being so concerned about what my partner is doing or not doing that we do also have to deal with but it can be achieved, I think, through a very deliberate intentional growth period where you start thinking a little bit more about what you need, and how else you can get it if you’re not getting it currently from your partner and from this relationship. 

So many times people might say “I have them working my tail off to create this set of circumstances in my home and I haven’t done anything fun for myself. And I don’t even know how long, I can’t remember the last time I got some exercise or spent time with my friends. And I feel like I’m always so angry and what feels positive and good to me. Where can I get my energy replenished and nourished if this particular well is currently dry?” And so sometimes this turns into, you know, spending more time doing other things and taking care of what you can. And in doing so you are helped to kind of manage your own anxiety and feel happier and more content and it’s like less dependent on your partner for your sense of well-being. 

So going back to that idea codependent when you’re a codependent your sense of self and safety and security and happiness is entirely dependent on your partner and we’re going to shift that so that you can be okay, no matter what they decide to do.

And so, oftentimes what happens here in practice is that when people are getting their needs met and just going about their lives as they wish to and not thinking quite as much about their partner, they feel better. They often stop nagging, they stop caring as much about what their partner is doing or not doing and, there’s like this new dynamic where the partner who had been withdrawn and kind of like, fighting for their independence, and, “No, you can’t control me and tell me what to do.” When that stops, they’re sort of like, “Oh, nobody’s telling me to stop playing video games at 2 am. So I’m gonna stay here till 5 am and play video games” and just they’re being themselves. And what happens is that scary as it may be, they begin to experience natural consequences for their own decisions, they have hangovers, they miss work meetings, they start to have overdraft fees on their checking account because they forgot to pay the bill. 

 

And instead of their over-functioning partner, getting angry about it, or rescuing them, or berating them into behaving, all of a sudden, it is really on them. And they are experiencing the consequences for their problems, and it is on them to figure out how to fix it. And in doing so, two things happen, it sends a lot of clear messages to both people in this dynamic, the over-functioning person moves into the space of, “I deserve to be happy, and I know what I need to be happy, and I am not sure if you can be part of my life if I am actually going to be happy because this is not currently working for me.” And it is not a threat, it’s this truth of, “I don’t know that I can tolerate this, and I’m not going to tolerate it. So let me know if you would like to work on this with me. I’ll be over here.”

So the fighting kind of stops. And what also happens is that it can be very easy in this type of dynamic for the under-functioning partner, to have a lot of like, almost passive aggressive hostility towards their spouse, and like kind of secretly blaming their partner for being so controlling and naggy and critical and when they begin experiencing consequences for their own actions, there is this new sense of clarity that what they are doing is actually not working for them. And it raises their anxiety enormously because it sort of turns into this existential crisis of, “If I am going to, nobody’s coming to save me and if I am going to maintain my relationship with this person, and my family and have the life I want, I have to figure out how to do these things. Because before it was my partner’s problem, they were the ones that were stressed out and anxious about it, but they’re not anymore. Now, it is my problem and I need to get stressed and anxious about it and figure out how to change it or not, and accept the consequence of that outcome, potentially.”

But the power dynamic completely shifts, when you decide to take your power back. Because if someone wants to be a good partner for you, they will be, but it is up to them to be a good partner, you cannot make them be a good partner. And this is almost like a crisis that couples walk into and I would really advise you if any of this is resonating for you that you do this with the support of a marriage counselor to make sure that it is productive. 

But to walk through these stages together and reshift the power dynamics in a relationship, what often emerges is that both of you are doing the best you can you are both lovely, well-intentioned people, many times and this is particularly true for men that I’ve worked with in relationships, who were occupying this space of kind of the belligerent teenager in their relationship and their wife was kind of turning into this angry mommy lady like because of these, these power dynamics and when we’re able to shift this and get people sort of like pulled apart and functioning more independently. We can see that people like under-functioning partners are often very nice people who love their partners very much and don’t actually like the way that they had been functioning themselves but didn’t almost have the space to figure out how to make those changes on his own. Because when we’re focused on another person criticizing us, the natural reaction to that is to defend yourself. 

I have all these reasons why it made sense. But in the absence of that, when somebody isn’t criticizing you, then you have the emotional space to connect with “I don’t actually feel good when I drink too much in the evening, or I don’t feel good when I don’t get enough sleep or exercise, or I don’t feel good when the house is a mess. I don’t like that.” And so again, we’re moving away from codependence and back to independence where someone can say, “I like feeling like my partner is happy with me. I like how I feel when we get things done, or when we can work together as a team.” And so what happens is a shift back into intrinsic motivation on the partner, who had been getting harassed into changing previously, when the harassing stops, only then intrinsic motivation, their desire to change and grow, can emerge.

And the other neat thing, so that’s kind of like stage, what are we at? Stage four of all of this? It’s space where people kind of separate from each other not literally separating, although sometimes, but really, it more of that, like emotional separating around, I’m going to do me, and you’re going to do you, and let’s see who we each are in the absence of this codependent power struggle that we had been engaging in, previously.

So when this happens, and people begin focusing on themselves, and what makes them feel happy and fulfilled, it can go a few different ways. That way I always root for is what’s really neat is that when people stop focusing on who and what their partner isn’t, and take responsibility for their own happiness and own well being, they can then reconnect with their partner as they are. Because at the end of the day, and I say this as someone who has been married now for a really long time, that I truly believe in my heart of hearts, and as a long-married person, also as a marriage counselor that true love and genuinely happy relationships certainly require both people trying in attempting to be their best selves and taking responsibility for themselves in the way they’re showing up, certainly.

And in addition to that, they require a high degree of acceptance and appreciation for who and what your partner is, and how their gifts and their differences can enhance your life and the experience of your family. And it’s a really interesting, like emotional shift that occurs when we work through codependence and help people become independent, then we can come back together into healthy interdependence where people are relying on each other for the things that each partner can give freely and that is appreciated and cherished. 

So for example, many times in the classic, codependent relationship where there’s the I mean, I hate to genderize again, but kind of angry controlling wife and a sort of juvenile under-functioning husband, a lot of times, what can really happen is that when people come into this place, take responsibility for themselves. We can come back together again, and appreciate the differences. 

So for example perhaps in a classic example, the wife begins to realize that her partner’s a lot of fun, and that he’s funny, and that he likes to do fun things and it’s a gift to her to have him in her life because you know what, he is different from her and he’s the one who will pry the mop out of her hands on a Saturday morning and say, “Let’s go do something fun today put down the mop. Come on, let’s go do XYZ, right?” And in contrast, I mean, instead of feeling resentful about the, “controlling partners,” always making them do things that they doesn’t want to do, being able to move into the space of appreciation for the gifts and talents and intelligence and planning and competence that many people who are often in the disempowered place and in a codependent relationship of the ones who have just the weight of the world on their shoulders, they’re often naturally strong, competent, capable people, and can do so many things.

And a real shift occurs when the partner who perhaps had viewed them as being aggressive or rejecting, can see them for the person they really are, which is someone who also needs support and understanding and a soft place to fall because even though they are so strong and so competent, and so smart, they also do need to rest and just be loved and cared for to and it helps people kind of move towards each other, and see each other through much more compassionate and forgiving and appreciative lenses when that happens. 

Now, it is also sometimes true that when couples go through this whole process of exploration and growth, they may discover that they are intrinsically very, very different from each other. Relationships are formed for all kinds of reasons and as we have talked about at length on many podcasts, the early stages of romantic love, create almost intoxicating kind of experience that can weld people together emotionally, people who may or may not be compatible in many ways, or as easily compatible, I should say. And so then you can decide is, who and what this person is, and always will be, “Can I be happy with who and what they are? Can I accept them as they are, and have enough left here to be satisfied and fulfilled with what I can get out of this relationship or not?” And that answer can always be a complex one to resolve.

And can also I think, sometimes test our notions of what relationships should be, there is no one right way to have a relationship. I am actually not a huge believer in fundamental compatibility. I will absolutely agree that some combinations and pairings are easier than others couples who are further apart from each other and their basic needs and desires and value systems and the things that are important to them will have more to work through and more challenges in order to be good partners for each other, they will have to be more accommodating, and more flexible, and more compassionate, and more generous, and figure out a way to respect, not just a respect, but help their partner create a life that is genuinely meaningful and satisfying to them that both people will have to do that. And it will be a further reach to find a bridge to the center when there are bigger differences, which sometimes at the root of a codependent dynamic you will discover. 

And it is also true that every couple has differences that in the experience of a codependent dynamic become quite polarized, and people become more different because they are fighting about those differences than they actually are in reality. And that when we can move back into a space of healthy interdependence, many couples discover that they have a lot more in common. And they’re a lot more of a cooperative, collaborative complimentary couple than maybe they had known previously. 

So I hope that this discussion has helped you. If you are one of the people that has reached out through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a, “How do I get my partner to XYZ?” type of question. This is why I didn’t shoot back some kind of two sentence answer, is because there’s not a two-sentence solution. It’s a process. And so that’s why I wanted to make this podcast for you is to kind of walk you through what that process is, so that you can develop just a clarity of understanding of what lies ahead and that there’s no secret trick to getting your partner to do what you want them to if you can only phrase it this way or use this little trick, as, with so many things related to relationships, it is a process of growth. That is not for the faint-hearted. It takes so much courage to do the kind of work that I’m describing to you, we have to walk into fear around, “What will happen if I let go of the control? Or what will happen if my partner stops trying to make me XYZ? Can I take responsibility? Who am I without someone else telling me what to do? What do I really want for my life? And how do I take responsibility for creating that?” It is as frustrating as it is, it is much safer, emotionally, to blame other people for our problems than it is to turn that back on ourselves and say, “How did I get here? And what do I want? And what am I going to do to change it?” 

And as scary as it is, that’s the kind of conversation that will ultimately create change, it’s a little bit of a trust fall. And again, that’s why getting the support of a really good therapist or relationship coach to help you, almost like stay in that challenging, not scary place, but like to help you feel confident that this is the path forward can be really essential. Because many times when people get scared, they just sort of collapse back into doing what they know or trying to create change in a way that feels safer, or that makes more sense logically. And as we’ve discussed here today, the real path forward is not one of logic. It’s one of emotion and deep understanding both of yourself and your partner. 

So I hope that this conversation has been helpful to you and let me know if there are other things you would like to hear about, you can get in touch with me, growingself.com, you could always leave a follow-up question for me on this topic or any other through the post for this podcast. And I’ll see, you can track me down on Facebook, Dr. Lisa Bobby on Facebook or @drlisamariebobby on Instagram. And I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

 

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The intention is there, but the knowledge is not. 

The Disempowering Myth: “Magical Love”

Part of this lack of awareness is due to the myths surrounding love and relationships in our culture. In the movies or on our shows, people just fall in love and then they’re happy… or they’re not. We don’t get to see how the sausage is actually made, for the good or for the bad. My personal theory is that it’s because it would make for an extremely boring viewing experience: relationships are built (or destroyed) by the habitual micro-moments and interactions couples engage in day in and day out.

We also have few role models for positive relationships. Even our best friends and close family can have things going on behind closed doors that you’ll never know. And too often happy couples or struggling couples appear to be the passive byproduct of “compatibility” rather than intention.

For all these reasons, relationships seem like magical things that “just happen.” They’re either good, or they’re not, and no one has that much control over the outcome either way.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Relationships are always in flux, and shifting in response to what we’re doing or not doing. If we’re nourishing them or neglecting them, we’re in the process of making them be what they are.

The myth of “magical love” is therefore incredibly disempowering, because it does nothing to honor the reality: You have an enormous amount of power to determine the future of your relationship. You get to decide if it’s healthy and enduring, or frustrating and short.

But in order to take full command of you power… you have to know what to do. (Or sometimes, what NOT to do).

What Happy Couples Know: Good Relationships Are Grown

Authentically happy people have learned, over the years, what they need to do to have a happy, healthy relationship. Sometimes they acquired relationship skills through their families. Sometimes they went to couples therapy to learn, or read books, or went to marriage retreats, or they listened to relationship podcasts. But they all did something to learn what to do, and then they started doing the stuff that works on purpose. Routinely.

If you followed people in happy relationships around for a day or three, you’d notice that in the small micro-moments of daily life — saying hello or goodbye, serving food, making low-stakes conversation, watching TV, floating ideas for plans, or even getting into bed — they’re doing things, very intentionally, for the benefit of their relationship.

It’s all small stuff, but it adds up. And, while it looks easy, it all requires a fairly high degree of:

All these skills are running silently under the surface in order for people to behave in such a way that elicits warmth, connection and teamwork rather than hostility and disengagement. It looks easy and effortless, but it’s not, really. Also, they’re not doing it because they love their partners more than you love yours, or because their partners are somehow gratifying to be nice to.

I can assure you, people who are doing all these great, pro-relationship things are partnered to people who are just as flawed and annoying as your partner is. (And they themselves are just as flawed and annoying as the rest of us.) They’re just choosing to handle themselves in a way that benefits their relationships. You can do this too.

What Happy Couples Know: Go First

As an experienced online marriage counselor I am aware that one of the biggest obstacles to having a great relationship (and something that routinely occurs in unhappy relationships) is the core belief that sounds something like, “But why should I try harder than my partner is trying?” Listening to that creates a standoff, and a race to the bottom. 

One thing that happy couples know is that you have to go first, and decide to be your very best self in this relationship. Because happy couples also know something extremely neat about relationships. Relationships have a predictable, powerful and “magical” mechanism built in, similar to other natural forces that have jaw-droppingly enormous impact when applied consistently over time (the trickle of water through the grand canyon, compound interest over decades, etc). Here it is: what you put into relationships changes the response you get.

It is disempowering to believe that your partner is the one who’s impossible, incapable of changing, is a terrible communicator — basically, “the problem.” Because then you’re totally stuck. You either have to accept what feels unacceptable, or pull the rip-cord and bail. What a bind!

However, by choosing the empowering middle path and using the magical mechanics of relationships intentionally, YOU have the option to decide to be your very best self in this relationship, use all the relationship strategies that happy couples know… and then notice the impact this has on the results you get. The outcome may surprise you!

What Happy Couples Know: Relationship Skills Can Be Learned

Even more exciting is this: The “what to do to have a great relationship” part has been figured out. It is known. There is research, books, relationship classes, evidence-based marriage counseling approaches, and even documentary films that have laid it all out for you.

One such award-winning documentary film is called “The Truth About Marriage,” from director Roger Nygard. (Watch The Truth About Marriage on Amazon Prime, or pretty much anywhere else you stream). Roger spent over seven years sitting down with the thought leaders in the fields of marriage counseling and couples therapy, like relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Dr. Bill Dougherty, and many more to get the straight talk about:

  1. What makes relationships good
  2. What makes relationships bad
  3. What happy couples do on purpose
  4. How you can apply these same skills and strategies to your relationship

Through his research, Roger has gained enormous insight into the nature of love, as well as some extremely simple but powerful takeaways that anyone can use to immediately nourish and nurture their relationship. Now, he’s sharing them with us (me and you!) on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. We had the chance to talk about all kinds of things, and he gave me the behind-the-scenes inside scoop on the latest research, the most surprising things he learned, what happy couples know, and what YOU need to know so you, too, can have a magical (seeming!) relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: If you watch Roger’s film, don’t forget to leave a review! To learn more about Roger and his other documentaries, visit his website: http://rogernygard.com/

PSS: Another relationship-building resource mentioned in this episode is our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” relationship quiz. Here’s the link if you’d like to take it, and / or share it with your partner. I hope it sparks positive, productive conversations that helps your relationship grow.

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What Happy Couples Know

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Danii Roundtree, “Magic”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

How to Stop Fighting About Money

For many couples entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, differences around money are a significant source of conflict in their relationship. And of course, money fights are common, because money is one of those things that means different things to different people.

For some, money a stand-in for love and connection, and for others money means security. Some people view spending money on things they enjoy as what gives life meaning, and others view accumulating money to pass on to the next generation as the purpose of life itself

Other people view money as freedom, and still others see it as a tool. People can also have negative associations around money, including guilt or fear. Other people can even tie their sense of self-worth to the money they have in the bank, or to outward displays of wealth.

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

So it’s only natural that all couples usually have at least some differences around money, because they’re different people. Even if a couple is in basic agreement about their values around money, there will still be differences. In general, financial values exist on a spectrum between “spending” and “saving.”

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

In every relationship, there is a person who has a “saver” orientation and a person who has a “spender” orientation. This is even true between two people who are freer with their money than other couples, or within a couple who generally saves more than other couples. They, as a unit, may appear aligned around what they’re doing with money, and yet still find things to squabble about between themselves.

Saver fights: “I thought we agreed to put $1500 into the retirement account and bump the mortgage payment by $500 from now on. We can totally live on a $300 a month grocery budget — you eat too much anyway. Don’t you want to have the house paid off in three years???”

Spender fights: “No, I’m excited about Rekyvic and Dublin and Amsterdam, but I really had my heart set on Prague too. I mean, if we’re going anyway shouldn’t we embrace it? We’ll pay it off! We can use the line of credit from the condo in Vail, it’s appreciating like crazy. Why are you such a kill-joy?”

Of course, in couples who are even further apart on the spender / saver continuum than these examples, you can only imagine how intense fights about money in a marriage can get. This is never more true than around the holiday season, when budgets get blown faster than you can say “Fa-la-la.”

As we speed toward the holidays, life can become a twinkly blur of get-togethers and activities. The internal, sometimes even sub-conscious drive to have a “nice holiday” can drive us to spend way more money than we intended. In some couples, holiday spending can even be hidden between partners, creating a rupture of trust when it’s disclosed in the sober grey light of January.

Yes, “financial infidelity” is a real thing, and it causes real trauma to relationships. When couples are frequently fighting about money to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to communicate about finances, people will begin to hide spending, hide debt, or get overly controlling or even aggressive about money. This can lead to splitting up finances, which is often a symptom of avoidance in a relationship.

When it feels impossible to come to agreements about money, when communication about money always turns into a fight, where there is a lack of financial trust, or vastly different values around money, couples move towards separate bank accounts… and sometimes, sadly, eventually separate lives.

Financial Therapy For Couple

By the time couples arrive in marriage counseling to discuss the ongoing conflict about money, it has often evolved into a bigger deal than can be solved by simply making a budget together, or getting scolded by a financial planner. Feelings have been hurt. Trust may have been broken. Even worse, couples can start to fear that they are too far apart in their basic values around life and money to even be compatible.

This can be a scary time for couples. I remember how it was in my own marriage when money was the number one thing my husband and I were fighting about.

I felt like we barely had enough money to get by, and was frantic in my efforts to conserve our resources — even if it meant wearing second-hand clothes from thrift stores and packing PB&J for lunch every day.

My husband, on the other hand, felt stifled, unhappy, and constrained when I attempted to squash the flow of money through our life. He felt that without having anything to enjoy or look forward to, life felt empty and burdensome.

At the time, of course, neither of us realized that we were both right, and so we fought endlessly over who’s perspective was more true and noble. I’d give him hell for spending $4 on a latte at a bookstore (or god-forbid, buying one of his fancy art-magazines), and he’d make crappy comments about how gross it was to buy used shoes.

We finally got into marriage counseling, and only then, learned how to listen and understand. We no longer have conflict around money. We have conversations about money. It’s good. You can do this too.

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

It can be hard for a couple, particularly a couple in distress, to see through their own anger, fear, and moral judgment to see the other person’s perspective about money for what it usually is: A deeply held personal value, often related to core emotional and psychological needs.

However, without a high level of understanding and empathy, it’s very hard for couples to get on the same page about money. That’s where great marriage counseling, financial therapy, and relationship coaching come in: They can all help you stay calm enough to talk through your thoughts and feelings in a way that fosters understanding and empathy about money, and what it means to each of you.

For example, when I put down my shining sword of virtue and justice long enough to hear what my husband was actually trying to communicate, I learned that his less-privileged background led him to view money as something to be pounced upon and enjoyed while it was there (before it evaporated again), as opposed to accumulating it and cultivating it. I understood him more deeply, and had empathy for what money represented to him: Pleasure and meaning in the moment, and not anything that could be counted upon.

Over time, I also came to understand that being open to his perspective was good for me, too: Because of him, I’ve had more fun, more  interesting adventures, and, frankly, better furniture and clothing than I ever would when left to my own devices.

And as the conflict between us diffused into curiosity and openness, he learned that I inherited a deep anxiety around money from my immigrant family, who fled Europe after the second world war when Stalin appeared to be the next maniac drumming on the horizon. As a first-generation-American who grew up watching her Belgian father save scraps of wire, unbend pulled nails for a second use (stored in glass baby jars he’d saved from my earliest months), and literally cut off the moldy parts of the cheese before proclaiming it perfectly fine, I had a deeply ingrained survival instinct to conserve money.

I’m pleased to report that my perspective influenced my husband too. He now tolerates my budgets and squirreling, and seems to like the fact that we have a financial buffer between us and disaster, as well as a plan for the future.

We no longer fight about money. However — and this is the important part — our alignment about finances is NOT because either of us have changed who we are. He is not exactly like me, and he never will be. He still thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to spend $900 on a BMX bike, and on the rare occasions I shop for clothes, it’s usually at consignment stores.

But he understands me, and accepts that saving money and avoiding debt as much as possible is a wise way to live. And I understand him, and have accepted the fact that it’s important to be generous, and that nice things and meaningful life experiences are worth paying for.

That level of acceptance and understanding is always my hope for the couples who come to us for help in getting on the same page around money. If fighting about money feels like it’s destroying your relationship, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Particularly during this time of year — the holidays, and their aftermath — you have lots of opportunities to talk about finances. This year, I hope you consider giving each other the gift of listening with the intention to understand. Ask your partner what money means to them, and try to get on their side of the table. Don’t have a conflict. Have a conversation.

If you want to solve your financial disagreements for once and for all, the answer is not controlling or changing each other. It lies in developing empathy, understanding, and a sense of common purpose that unites you as a couple and as a family. Hard to do, but so, so worth it.

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Letting Go Of a Toxic Relationship

We’re approaching a new year, and as such, you may be thinking about changes you want to make in your life. If you’ve been stuck in a relationship with someone who is not treating you well, and who is causing you hurt, anxiety, pain and frustration, now is a wonderful time to consider leaving your toxic relationship behind… and creating a new year full of healing, health and happiness for yourself.

Toxic Relationship Warning Signs

Letting go of a toxic relationship can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. In my work as a life coach, therapist, and couples counselor, I have had the privilege of walking with many people through the experience of first recognizing that their relationship is toxic, then ending a hurtful relationship, and then healing after the “toxic relationship experience.” Toxic relationships take a toll on you, at every level. And every step of this journey is hard. (Necessary, meaningful, and empowering… but hard). I know, I’ve been there personally too.

Letting of a toxic relationship often starts with people working to improve their relationships.  At this stage they often believe that if only their partner could make changes, then they’d finally get the love, respect, and consideration they deserve. They come in to life coaching or even drag their partner in to couples therapy, hopeful that they can make improvements. (And I will say that almost all the time when two people are both committed to a relationship and willing to make changes, relationships can be transformed).

However, if your relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to be healed in marriage counseling or couples therapy. Instead, you’ll continue to feel frustrated, hurt, angry… and then elated when it seems like your partner is finally hearing you and caring about your feelings… only to be crushed when they disappoint you again. [Read: “Are You Addicted To a Toxic Relationship?”]

But in many genuinely toxic relationships, the biggest “warning sign” of all is when your partner routinely shows a lack of interest or follow-through in changing anything about the relationship. Instead, you when you bring up your feelings you get yelled at, blamed, rejected, or made to feel that the problems are all your fault.

Characteristics of a Toxic Relationship

In these situations of course, attempts at couples counseling often end badly. Most of the time, since their partners are unwilling to work on things with them, people in toxic relationships wind up entering empowering life coaching or effective therapy on their own.

Only over time (and often through deep personal growth work) do they then learn how to spot the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and come to terms with the fact that the only way to improve their situation is to take their power back and move on.

But until then, people in toxic relationships often struggle. They struggle with the mixed signals they get from their partner, because sometimes they are loving. They’re told that things will improve, and maybe they do for a little while. Many people believe that if THEY work harder at the relationship, are more loving, are more generous, and more patient that their partner will eventually change. (Because often, their partner is telling them in both overt and covert ways that the relationship problems are their fault).

Over time, a genuinely toxic relationship will destroy your self-esteem, interfere with your other relationships, make it hard to focus on positive areas of your life, and consume all of your time and attention. But through self-reflection, self-love, self-compassion (and sometimes excellent therapy or life coaching) you can begin to see that you have become attached to a profoundly unhealthy partner who is never going to give you the love and respect they deserve.

Then you can work to create positive, empowering changes: Like insisting that you are treated well, and setting firm, clear boundaries with anyone who doesn’t — especially the one who’s supposed to love them the most.

Can a Toxic Relationship Be Healed?

Ending any relationship is hard, and even people who are addicted to profoundly toxic relationships can hold on hope that the relationship can improve, sometimes for years. Many people (understandably) need to know if their toxic relationships can be healed before ending them permanently.

In fact, I get many, many relationship questions on the Growing Self blog about this very subject. Of course the writers of the questions are not labeling their relationships as toxic. They are instead describing extremely frustrating, hurtful, even crazy-making relationship experiences and then asking, what should I do? (Usually phrased as, “How do I get this person I love very much to stop treating me badly?”

If a relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to change no matter how hard YOU work at it. Why? Because it lacks the fundamental building blocks of a healthy relationship: Empathy, commitment, personal responsibility, and true love.

Your toxic relationship will finally be changed forever, when YOU decide that you’re not going to participate in it anymore. When you commit to yourself that you are worthy of love and respect, when you recognize your toxic relationship addiction for what it is, and when you learn how to cultivate the type of healing mindset that will set you free, you can end your toxic relationship for once and for all.

Letting Go of a Toxic Relationship

Because so many people have been reaching out for relationship advice on how to deal with these types of toxic relationship situations, I decided to devote an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to this subject. On this episode we’re going to be talking all about toxic relationships, including:

  • How to identify toxic relationships. I’ll be sharing the top 5 signs that you’re in a toxic relationship. Listen and give yourself the mini, “toxic relationship quiz” to find out if your relationship is actually toxic, or just temporarily frustrating.
  • Why toxic relationships are so addictive. Instead of beating yourself up for remaining in a bad relationship, learn why you’re biologically predisposed to developing intense attachments to others and why toxic relationships are actually MORE addictive than healthy relationships.
  • The difference between healthy vs toxic relationships. Just because your relationship feels hard and frustrating does not mean it’s toxic and irredeemable. Learn the difference between toxic and healthy relationships, and get access to some relationship resources to help you determine whether you should keep working at this, or move on.
  • How to leave a toxic relationship with your dignity intact. Too many toxic relationships end with, ironically, the person who was caring, trying, and hurting getting broken up with. If you’re in a toxic relationship, don’t continue to dangle on this string, waiting and hoping it will get better until they end it. Take your power back, and decide for yourself to be done. If you’re realizing that it’s time for you to pick up your self respect and move on from a toxic relationship, we’ll talk about how. We’ll discuss how to cultivate  self-compassion, self-respect. and the ability to stop depending on an unreliable, hurtful person to love you, and instead, learn how to love yourself.

 

You might be listening to this podcast at the cusp of a new year (or other major life change) and ready to leave this relationship for good. You might be just starting to explore whether or not the relationship you’re in is salvageable. You might be realizing that your relationship is toxic, but still in love and not sure how to end things. You may be caught in a toxic relationship cycle of breaking up and getting back together again. Or, you might be sitting in the pain, anger and heartbreak of just having been hurt again for the dozenth time, and looking for answers.

This podcast is for YOU.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: One of the tools I mentioned if you’re still in that “can this relationship be saved” space is my relationship quiz that can help you learn whether your relationship is fundamentally strong, or fundamentally toxic. Here’s the sign up box in case you’d like to take it. xo, LMB

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How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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