Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

Your friends are sending out wedding invites, but you’re still swiping. Your college roommate just updated her LinkedIn with a plum promotion, and you’re wondering whether you want to start over in a new career entirely. By this age, your parents had a mortgage and an infant, and you’re not feeling settled enough to adopt a dog. 

Does this sound like your life? If so, you may be experiencing a quarter-life crisis, or at least flirting with one. A quarter-life crisis happens when we realize we’re not where we think we “should” be in life — or when we realize that the goals we set for ourselves as very young adults don’t match up with the people we’ve become by our late 20s or early 30s. 

A quarter-life crisis, like its midlife counterpart, leaves you feeling stuck and uncertain. But there is a path forward, and following it can bring about a personal growth spurt that will serve you for the rest of your life. 

That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode of the podcast, which I’m so excited to share with you. My guest is Megan R., a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. Megan often works with clients navigating this important life phase, helping them find clarity not only about their career paths but about every area of their lives. She’s sharing tips on how to find the right career for you, how to use your internal guidance system to make big, life-changing decisions, and how to ride the waves of doubt and uncertainty that a quarter-life crisis can bring. 

This is a challenging season, but it’s also one that’s teeming with possibility. I hope this conversation helps you see the opportunity in your quarter-life crisis, so you can emerge clearer and stronger than ever before. Some day, you may just look back and think your quarter-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

I think you might. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

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Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis: Episode Highlights

We all like to feel confident about where we’re headed in life. When we realize we’re not so sure — that, in fact, we may be totally lost — it feels scary. 

But a quarter-life crisis doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. It can be a powerful springboard for growth, if you know how to use it. 

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis? 

Many people in their late 20s or early 30s arrive in counseling or coaching in soul-searching mode. They’ve often started asking themselves big, life-shaping questions, like: 

Am I on the right career path? 

Is my partner “The One?”

Do I want to have kids? 

Should I go back to school?

Do I want to move across the country and start over somewhere new? 

The popular term for this period of uncertainty is a “quarter-life crisis,” and while it’s not a phrase you’re going to find in the DSM, it is a real experience shared by many young adults. 

As the name implies, a quarter-life crisis is uncomfortable. But it’s also an opportunity to gain clarity about who you are and what matters to you most, and then use that insight to move yourself closer to the life you want.

Signs of a Quarter-Life Crisis

No two quarter-life crises look exactly the same. 

Yours might manifest as a feeling of stuckness in an uninspired career, or in a relationship that you know isn’t right for you, but that feels difficult to end. 

It might show up as feelings of regret or despair over not being where you wanted or expected to be at this point in your life, and painful comparisons with your peers who seem to be. 

Or, you may have realized that, even though you have accomplished the goals you set out to accomplish, you don’t feel the way you expected to feel. 

Since many of us define ourselves by our jobs, relationships, and life goals, a quarter-life crisis can strike at the very core of your identity, making it a deeply unsettling experience. Working with a good coach or counselor can help you find the courage to look for answers and then act on them with intention to change your life — without having a full-on breakdown. 

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

Many people in the midst of a quarter-life crisis feel left behind. They may be RSVP’ing to wedding after wedding, without a significant other to mark down as a plus-one. They may be scrolling through Instagram feeds populated by new homes, new engagement rings, and new babies, while feeling mired in a less-established life phase themselves. 

In previous generations, people got married, bought homes, and had children at younger ages, because they were living in an economic and social context that no longer exists. Still, young people today who haven’t reached these milestones may be comparing themselves to their parents and wondering if they ever will. 

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and that certainly applies to anyone experiencing a quarter-life crisis. By resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others, you can empower yourself to carve out your own life path, embrace your growth process, and feel better about your life. 

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

You can emerge from a quarter-life crisis more confident about who you are and what you want, if you use the experience to make positive changes in your life. 

Here are some steps you can take if you’re in the midst of a quarter-life crisis to feel confident about the future, and at peace in the present: 

Explore your Values

Spend some time reflecting on what matters to you the most. It could be family, financial success, independence, partnership, creativity, community, or any number of other important pieces of life. When you have clarity about what you really value, you’ll feel more confident making choices about your future. 

Forgive Yourself

You might be experiencing a lot of regret. Maybe you feel that your education was a waste, given that you’re now contemplating a career change. Or maybe you regret spending time in dead-end relationships, and worrying that you’ll never find a life partner. 

In reality, nothing in your past was a waste. It can all be made useful if you’ll use it to guide your future. Practice forgiving yourself and moving from regret to self-compassion. Make meaning out of where you’ve been, and incorporate that meaning into the story of where you’re going. 

Listen to Your Internal Guidance System

Most feelings have a purpose, even the painful ones. If you’re having a quarter-life crisis, your feelings are alerting you that it’s time to grow. Listen to them. 

You can take good care of yourself emotionally, without stuffing those feelings down or avoiding the big changes that they’re pushing you to make. A good coach or counselor can help you take wisdom from the uncertainty, fear, or hopelessness accompanying your quarter-life crisis, and use those feelings to begin writing your next chapter

Episode Show Notes:

[2:42] What Is A Quarter-Life Crisis?

  • Many coaching and counseling clients in their late 20s or early 30s feel unhappy and unsure about what they want. 
  • To begin probing your own quarter-life crisis, ask yourself: What's going differently from what you expected?

[06:01] The Beginnings Of A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • We choose our careers early in our lives, before we have a clear sense of who we are and what would make us happy. 
  • By age 25 or 30, we often define our lives by our skills and careers.
  • When we realize our careers — or our relationships, or any other major life area — aren’t what we want, it can spark a period of soul searching. 

[09:15] Signs of a Quarter Life Crisis 

  • You may feel stuck or aimless. 
  • It's also common to feel despair, anxiety, and regret.
  • You may be comparing yourself to your peers and feeling that you fall short. 

[15:45] Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

  • People in a quarter-life crisis tend to feel left behind.
  • We are not in the same economic or social context that our parents were. 
  • Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to feel inadequate and unhappy. 

[30:48] Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • Make meaning out of where you've come from. 
  • Strengthen your “why.”
  • Share your vulnerabilities with your closest support system, and reach out to a qualified coach or counselor if you need help.

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited for today's episode because, today, we're talking about how to navigate a quarter-life crisis. Now, “quarter-life crisis” is not a clinical term, and you're not going to find it in the DSM. People are usually not literally freaking out and falling apart. But this is kind of an existential crisis that we do actually often see with clients at a certain phase of life, here at Growing Self.

It's often people in their late 20s, early 30s, who are showing up in counseling, coaching, because they've started asking themselves some big questions. Often for the first time, they're thinking about where they are in their lives, in their careers and their relationships, how they got here, and kind of contrasting that with where they had wanted to be or where they had expected to be in this point in life, or even how they imagined it would feel to be at this point in life.

There's a disconnect there that helps them recognize that maybe they're not doing what ultimately they would like to be, but they didn't realize that without having some life experience first. This can all be a very uncomfortable experience, but also ultimately, a very positive one because it opens the door for some really meaningful self-reflection that generates a lot of positive change.

If any of this is sounding familiar to you, I am so glad that you're here with us today. We're talking about how you can use this crisis as a springboard for growth and come out of it to be more clear, more confident, and ready for the next chapter. With me today to talk all about this, is my colleague, Megan R.

Megan R.: Hello, good to see you.

Lisa: We're leaving our options open, Megan. Quick introduction — Megan is a career counselor, career coach on our team. Just before we started recording, she was sharing with me — Megan, if I may mention this. Is this okay?

Megan: Absolutely.

Lisa: Recently got married. Maiden name is Rankin, married name is Riley. Still a little bit up in the air which way that one's going to fall, so you shall be known as Megan R.

Megan: You know what? It works. When I got my email at Growing Self, I was like, “No matter what I choose, I’m set as Megan R.” Maybe this is part of my quarter-life crisis.

Lisa: It could be.

Megan: It’s trying to determine what is my new identity?

Lisa: What is my name? 

Megan: How do I name myself?

Realizing You’re Having A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: How very appropriate. Well, thank you so much for being here with me today, and sharing your wisdom and insight on this phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis because I know that so many people come to you for help in exactly this situation. Maybe, we could just start with your understanding of what's going on with people when they're like, “Wait a minute, this is different than I thought it would be. Maybe I'm not doing the right thing.” What is that about in your view?

Megan: Absolutely. But quarter-life crisis, it's a newer term, right? We've got mid-life crisis. A lot of people are more familiar with that one. We are seeing a trend towards it happening potentially earlier. It's doesn't get rid of our mid-life crisis, but it's happening sooner for some folks, and it presents in career most.

A lot of times, once clients do come in, they're walking in the door, saying, “Oh, it's my job. I'm not happy with my job.” That's part of it, and I'm glad that that's what gets them on in. But as we get deeper and deeper, we do realize that the quarter-life goes pretty far outside of career. It is relationships, it is where are you living, it's your social group.

Developmentally, in that stage of life, a lot of things are transitioning, and your career is usually the most obvious one. You come on in and you're like, “I'm miserable. I don't know what to do.” We're going to talk about what is going wrong, what isn't going right, what wants to come with you. I loved when you had said, “How is it different?” Because you do hit a point in your career, even in your relationships in your life, that you say, “I had some of this going differently in my mind. Didn’t I?”

Lisa: “That did not turn out the way I planned.”

Megan: It's frustrating, it's scary, it can be disheartening. A lot of people come in and they're like, “I'm not happy with myself. I thought I would do it differently.” There's stuff to unpack there, but the crisis, thankfully, isn't a full-blown crisis.

I don't often get people in meltdown mode, but you are close to that. You are in so much stress and despair that a crisis could feel like the next step for you. It's, unfortunately, a more common experience. COVID has only exacerbated the rates of it and the experience of it, and I'm sure we'll get into a little bit more of that. But it's pretty common at this point.

Lisa: Well, I can see why. I'm saying this as somebody who is much older than you are, but I think I went through a quarter-life crisis in my late 20s. But now, from my perch as a psychologist, what I know now that I didn't know then it's just a huge amount of growth that people experience in that life. I mean, you're a very, very different person in your early 20s. 

When you're making, unfortunately, career decisions like, “What am I going to major in?”, the internships, the first positions right out of school — you are not the same person by the time you're 30, and there's a lot of evolution there. Is that what you see as being the, “How did this happen?” part for yourself, or do you think there are other things? A lot of kids get railroaded into majors and career paths, and they're like 18 years old.

Quarter Life Crisis at 25/30 years old

Megan: Well, I was going to say, I think it starts even earlier than your 20s — these long-term decisions that we're making. You're in high school, and they're asking you about, “What is that elective course you want to take?”, “What's the classic option — business or psychology?” While those are fabulous things to test out, it's only two things in this giant world of career.

Even, pretty much prior to our knowledge, or even conscious awareness, we are beginning a track for ourselves. I find, a lot of times, it's an outside pressure, but it's also an inside lack of resources, which sounds horrible, but it's what's happening.

If you think about 25, 30, when this transition happens, usually the reason you're feeling stuck is because you do lack skills and resources to think critically about what's going on. You know something's wrong, but you're having a trouble putting a name to it, knowing where to go with it, how to get yourself out of that stuckness, that's usually because you have a lack of reflective skills or a lack of career skills.

Lisa: Okay.

Megan: It’s super normal. It's a bummer, but it's totally normal. Think back when you were in middle school, high school, even if you did go to higher education, people are just saying, “What are you going to do,” not, “How did you figure that out? What are you interested in? How does this fit for you? What is the long term?” It's just, “What are you going to do?”

Once you start doing it and doing it's not working, you don't know how to ask the other questions of yourself. It's a little bit of the education system selecting it, almost, for you. You've got those decisions in your majors, you're moving forward with that career, you pick the next entry-level job, but it's also a lack of resources internally that can help you unwind some of that track-setting that happened so early on.

Lisa: That is such a cool perspective. I've never thought about it that way, but you're so right. I think that people have this need to categorize other people, and that's what actually happens. People are asking you, “What's your major?” It's like there's this pressure to define yourself by this whatever it is, and it's not any reflection around, “What is that?”

Megan: I know. Think about, right? We live in a society that has — western culture specifically — identity is so tied to career. We do say things like, “Who are you? What are you doing with your life?” Very strong statements about your career. For some folks, when you do hit 25,30, and you're not identifying — your identity doesn't line up with how you answer that question, that's why it's hitting so deep because it's striking at your identity core.

It's not just what you're doing for a paycheck. This is, “Oh my word. Who am I? What have I become?” Because we think, “If this is what you choose in school, and this is your job, this is who you are.” We don't open up the conversation to, “Are you only your job? Do you have other things going on in your world? Is your identity comprised of multiple pieces?” Let's think about some of those aspects to dig ourselves out of this.

Quarter Life Crisis Signs/Symptoms

Lisa: Taking a much more holistic approach like, “You are not your job”, first of all. But this pressure that people feel to define themselves through those terms? Stifling.

In your experience, and also for the benefit of somebody listening to this, what would you say are some signs — the internal experiences, how people feel when this awareness of mismatch is beginning to emerge? How does it feel for people?

Megan: Absolutely. I would say the first characteristic, at least what folks come in and tell me most, “I feel stuck. I'm just stuck. I don't know where to go. I don't know where I could go if I wanted to change. I don't know how I got here. I'm stuck in thinking patterns.” I would say stuckness is really sort of the first feeling.

The second feeling often too is actually hopelessness. Just this idea that, “I don't even know where I need to go in general. Not just with my career.” This quarter-life crisis we're establishing is outside of just our career, but hopelessness of, “What is next?”, and, “Do I have any control over what's next?”

I see a lot of, almost, signs or symptoms of lack of control, lack of intention. They're 32 years old, they've been in marketing their whole life, and they're like, “I can't even really tell you how I got here. I had no control,” or, “It felt like I had no control over my career. Now, I believe I don't have any control over my next steps. I need intentionality.” Those feelings, they're uncomfortable, they're disheartening, they're isolating. That's also a really big mark of this.

Comparison seems to happen a lot around this age. Developmentally, we're establishing intimacy versus isolation if we wanted to go into a development model, “Are you going to live in this world alone and go at it by yourself? Do you go out and develop…” Typically, it's romantic relationships, but not always. We now are opening that to social relationships. In that, the developing and establishment of relationships, comparison is really natural. You're looking around and, “How is everybody else doing it?”

Another sign of, “Oh my gosh, maybe I'm at that crisis point”, is looking around and saying, ”How the heck are they doing it, and how have I not got there? How have I not figured it out?” I heard a great quote the other day, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Lisa: That's a good one.

Megan: Oh, it's beautiful, and it captures, I think, the quarter-life crisis because there is this idea, “I'll look at someone's LinkedIn”, “I'll look at someone’s Instagram”, I'll look at someone’s social media platforms to see how they're engaging with the world at our age. “Oh my gosh, they seem to be doing it so much better than I am.”

Feelings of stuckness, feelings of hopelessness, comparison — it's, unfortunately, pretty easy to spot for me, not so much for the folks that are experiencing that.

Lisa: Well, that's why I wanted to ask you because I think, sometimes, half the battle is just that self-awareness of, “Oh, I'm going through this thing, and there's a name for it, and there's something that can be done to help.”

Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

Lisa: Can I ask you about one part of this — and I'm not sure the degree to which this part is in your wheelhouse because I know you're a therapist, and you're a career counselor, and that's your specialization, and I know that you do very holistic work, so people talk to you about, well, all kinds of things. I have more of a relational perspective.

One of the things that I very often hear from my clients at this phase is, particularly, around the sense of — they use the term “being left behind”. Their friends are getting married, they're buying houses, they're starting to have babies or think about it. That piece creates such an enormous amount of anxiety. When they see other people their age, at least, looking like they're moving into these other phases of life that they're not, do you have insight into that aspect of it too?

Megan: Minimal. Just because relationships isn't the direction I had, but absolutely. As I shared, you'll come in for career concerns — that's how it presents originally. We dig deeper, and we realize it is a dissatisfaction with life, with your social relationships, with your financial status even. That’s a big concern for folks is, “Financially, I don't feel stable or independent like I thought I might at this age.”

A lot of it is because they're looking around, and other folks are hitting some milestones that we see in this age group. What I would add to that, and from my personal experience with clients, there's also a reflecting back on the generation prior to us, “What did my parents do? What did my aunts and uncles do?” Just the generation right above us, comparison happens within that too.

Well, by the time my parents were 28 years old, they were married with three kids, and they got a house and a mortgage, and were investing in another property. Someone's 32 saying, “I don't have that just yet.” I noticed, or what I hopefully share with people is think about the context in which those generations grew up in, and accomplished some of those milestones that you're reaching for.

That context is not the same context we're living in now. COVID, a big, big, big, obvious one that has shifted a lot of things. But think about the state of our economy right now, think about our housing market. There are larger societal contexts that make some of those milestones more challenging to meet for folks in this developmental period. Comparisons happening to even the generations above us, not just the generation that we are currently growing up with.

Lisa: That's a really good point. How validating to consider that it's not necessarily your personal shortcomings that you haven't been able to achieve these things that your parents had done. Actually, legitimately, the bar is higher. The cost of entry to even buy a property is so much more than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. Thank you for bringing that up.

Megan: 100%. To swing it back to career, to keep in my wheelhouse here, we've also seen a shift contextually about how jobs line up. The generations prior to us, there was a little more of a linear path — you started with one company, you worked your way up that ladder, you retired from that company.

I giggle with clients to keep it light-hearted. I say, “Find me someone, nowadays, that does that, that starts with the same company and retired from the same company. I'd like to shake their hand and congratulate them on being one of the only unicorns in the world that do that”, 

because we don't follow that same start-to-finish trajectory.

If that's not matching — your parents had that experience, and your experience now looks a little bit more chaotic, your resume has a lot of jumps in it, and you're thinking to yourself, “I'm failing.” No, the job market’s totally different. It's entirely different. It's not going to benefit you to stay in one company from start to finish anymore. You get to change your mind around that context too because it is very, very different.

Lisa: That's a good point. Although, privately, selfishly, I'm sitting here thinking, “I sure hope you're not going to leave Growing Self, Megan”, because I'll miss you so much if you do.

Megan: No, I’m not going anywhere. It’s too early in my career.

Lisa: I have a gift for turning everything we talk about on this podcast to make it a bit about me. There, we've done it, now we can move on.

Okay, another thing that I did want to ask you about. You said, earlier in our conversation, that one of the things you feel are contributing to this experience, that I wanted to learn more about, you said a lack of critical thinking skills. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I'm feeling that that might be an exit door. If people are feeling trapped, I'm imagining this, “In case of emergency, go through this door,” and there’s “critical thinking” written on it. What does that mean, though? What do you do with that?

Megan: Sure. Critical thinking — what a funny phrase that we toss around because I think it does have a very educational connotation to it. But we forget to take those critical thinking skills and apply it to more abstract things: our lives, our trajectories, where we want to go, our hopes, our goals. We could point fingers all we wanted, but it's not necessarily built into our educational system, our work system.

We don't necessarily take the time to pause and have critical thinking moments as it relates to our future, our career. I've got a colleague that I used to work with in higher education who actually brought that to my attention. She shared, “When I'm looking at folks, and I'm trying to get to the root of where this dissatisfaction is coming from or this lack of direction, it, a lot of times, stems from an inability to reflect.”

All these skills are like muscles. If we don't have strong muscles, it's not going to be our reflex to use those muscles. What we get to do, instead, is say, “Hey, let's build up a reflection muscle. Let's see if we can develop your ability to examine a situation, and try to make some sense out of it.” That's why career work works, is because I help you develop those reflexes and those reflection skills.

Some really easy questions, just to start with, it's exactly what we had began with, “What was your original model, or goal, or vision for where you wanted to go, and how is it different?” It doesn't have to be this really scholarly critical thinking. It's just assessing what's happening, and how is that different than what you thought.

Sometimes, just identifying where the changes occurred, that's relief in itself, because we're like, “Oh, no wonder I'm feeling so lost. None of this worked out the way I thought it did.” It opened up space to move into some problem-solving or planning because you've almost diagnosed yourself. “Oh, I am totally in a different field”, and that's okay, “Maybe, I want to get back to my original field, or maybe I don't. Maybe, I'm learning that my vision did change for a really great reason.” Again, through reflecting, it's, “Well, this new vision fits me better.”

I had a life event occur, and I can't go back to that original vision. I take care of my parents now. I had a kid. I didn't finish my educational program. There's a lot of different things that can change a path, but giving notice or meaning to that, saying, “It's okay that it changed.” That's really helpful. I always recommend, start with the reflection question of, “What's different?” Then, assess what's happening presently. “What do you like right now? What is going well?” 

I would even give that as a recommendation before you jump into your reflection and your critical thinking, “What is going well?”, because there's a chance that there are some things that's going well, and it's a practice of gratitude. It's getting your brain into, hopefully, a more positive space. We're pulling from positive psychology here and saying, “What am I doing well?”

It's a strength-based approach. That, even still, is like, “Okay, now, I'm more willing to face critically what's not going right because I know what is going right, and I feel I have a platform to stand on.” It can be a little easier to bring up or begin to strengthen those critical thinking reflection skills when you start with, “I'm doing okay, but I can do better.”

Lisa: I'm so glad you're bringing that up because I think it's so easy for all of us to get very myopically focused on the things that we don't like, and that aren't going the way that we want them to. That's such a good reminder to not forget all of the strengths and abilities you do have, and to be able to keep those in mind as you begin that reflective process.

You know what I'm actually thinking of right now? I'll tell you this. I have been — it's time, Megan, for us to find an internal bookkeeper person for our growth. I have been spending a lot of time lately talking to financial people, which has been fascinating. I usually talk to therapists all the time, so like, “Ooh, this is — they communicate in spreadsheets. What are we doing here?” 

Anyway, I'm always so interested in people's stories, and with talking with these candidates like, “How did you get into this line of work?” It's been so interesting because for a lot of them, it was, “Well, my dad was an accountant, and he suggested that this would be a stable career”, or, “Well, I just kind of XYZ.” But for a lot of them, you can hear through the lines that their passion was somewhere else, that they had wanted to be doing something else.

I remember speaking with this one young woman who had been doing accounting for outside pressures, as opposed to an internal passion for numbers, which is… As I was speaking with her, I was reflecting to myself that this young woman was an excellent communicator. She was clearly very warm and compassionate. I was thinking about that when you were sharing that just a minute ago.

I could see that person being kind of bummed because, maybe, her career isn't going in the direction that she wanted in bookkeeping, but to use those skills in an HR kind of role, or in a mentorship, or something where she gets to work more with people — to be able to be thinking about that and reminding yourself of the strengths, even if they're not totally a fit with a profession you're in currently. I can see that.

Megan: Well, to add to that, that would be a really nice example of values conflict where, maybe, when she did begin her career, stability, family satisfaction, she had those values for her career. Going into accounting, because that's what mom did, that's what uncle did, whatever it is, that was a value for her.

At the time, what critical thinking and reflection also does, at different stages, is that it says, “You're going to change, and you're going to need to assess, ‘You know what, this is in direct opposition to my values now. My values are different, and that's okay. Maybe, I do want to be in a space where being warm, and friendly, and relational is the priority over numbers and spreadsheets.’” And that's okay.

That's not because you are poor at your job, or chose wrong the first time. You have a values change and, quite honestly, I hope you do, because it means you're changing and adapting and you're having experiences that are shaping you. Again, that reflection can almost validate. “I’m not crazy. I didn't do this wrong the first time, I did it for what was right at that time, and that time’s not here anymore. What is right for this time?”

I also heard another great quote. Rich Feller talks about your career, “It's a series of transitions.” That's the best we can we describe it. Not jobs, but transitions because, sometimes, it's a transition out of a job, it’s a transition into a part-time job. You will continue to have these mismatch conversations with yourself all the way up until you retire, you go back into the workforce, whatever it is, because your job is a series of transitions.

If you can remind yourself, “Hey, that's not serving me now, but that doesn't mean it didn't serve me at one point.” You give yourself a little grace. It’s like, “Hey, self, you did the best you could, let's do that again. I know that in a couple years’ time, we're going to reevaluate and make a different choice, and that's great because it's going to serve us in that moment of our lives.”

Lisa: That's very reassuring. Another question related to this, what would you say to someone in this life space who went down a career path, launched her trajectory and got a few years into it, and realized that they do not enjoy the experience of this particular profession — either their values have changed or it feels different than they thought that it would. 

But they are feeling an enormous amount of guilt, or, sometimes, even fear because of the expense it took to get the degree that allowed them to be an attorney or whatever. There's this — I'm not sure if guilt is the right word, but they’re feeling trapped. Maybe they even have student loan debt or if their parents helped them get this degree and they’re like, “Actually…” I'm sure that that's a familiar conversation with you. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Megan: 100%. It's almost an obligation. I’m with you in that…

Lisa: Obligation. There you go.

Megan: But it's not full guilt. It doesn't sit as deeply as guilt can, but it's an obligation, a sense of — I hear this a lot: “I owe it to fill-in-the-blank. I owe it to my parents to try this out. I owe it to my degree to try it out. I owe it to my boss — my boss stuck their neck out for me to be in this position. I need to tough it out”

So the obligation? Absolutely. It, now, contributes to that stuckness. It's not only, “I don't know, really, where I'm headed and how I got here,” it's, “The way out affects other people. Can I actually make this transition?” I think starting with a conversation about how you got into this field, and what it served at that time is important.

I would always start there because I do want to validate, “It has not been a waste of your time, it has not been a waste of other people's times, it's not been a waste of resources in this field. It's just time to transition.” So we start there. Let's make some meaning out of the decisions you did make, and how you got into this field. Validate it.

Then, understanding how you want to transition and what that's going to look like for you. It sounds silly, but it often alleviates the obligation. When you explore values, when you explore strengths, when you explore skills, when you explore interests, identifying the next step, the next direction, it can feel so personal.

I've got folks that say, “Well, I don't really know why I'm here, but I'm going to make this transition,” and they select a different field, and then begin whatever process to get into that field. When it's such a fit, and it's so personal, because it is based on values and skills and experiences and interests, the obligation has a funny way of dissipating.

When you do engage in those conversations with mom and dad who footed that student bill, and you need to explain that you're changing, the idea of not going in this next direction, it's just not an option. You come to mom and dad, and say, “I am so grateful, and I want you to know how that experience that you paid for has set me up to move into this new transition.”

Added from a very personal stance, a leveraging experience happens — that's the second big question I get, “How the heck am I going to become an attorney after I've been a firefighter for all these years? Those skills don't make sense.” Believe it or not, almost every job has transferable skills. That is the beauty of this age that we live in. A lot of jobs have things that we can bring over.

When we go at it from a personal experience, we make meaning out of where you came from, what you've been up to, what you've been building — that lets you also transition into this field with gusto because you're like, “Look, Mom and Dad, if I had not taken that one class, I would never have known I did have this latent excitement for this new field”, “If I hadn't pursued my CPA exam…”

Oh my gosh, that exam right now is the hot topic. I don't know what's going on. I've had more clients come in to me about the CPA exam that's going on. But when they do come on in, and they're getting ready and gearing up to transition, they say, “But you know what, I can use Excel. No one else can use Excel now, and this new field that I'm heading into, it's critical.”

It's not a direct, “You went here, so now you're going into this job.” I did a little meandering, but those skills were direct links. It's a complicated process because it's very individualized. But when we do start with, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who are you, and where do you want to go,” the obligation, it will lessen just naturally. Very naturally.

Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: I hear what you say. It's like you have to have this really powerful, exciting “why”. You have to have clarity about what you want to move forward to. Then, that last part sort of releases… But you know what, I'm also thinking right now — you know our colleague, Dr. Lisa? Another fabulous career counselor that I've had the privilege of speaking to.

She talks a lot about your narrative — the story that you tell yourself, and I'm just hearing that and what you're saying too, and it's like changing the story to, ”Actually, you have to have different life experiences and learn about different things in order to create clarity.”

To learn from that is how it actually works, as opposed to beating yourself up that you're changing your mind. That's the story. Actually, you have to do that. Is that what I'm hearing?

Megan: 100%. Those varied experiences contributed to your feelings of stuckness, contributed to this desire to change, and will contribute to your success in your next role, in your next educational endeavor, in your long-term career. That's why starting with, “How did you get here?”, has to be square, circle, number zero. Otherwise, we're going to learn about you, and that's great, and we're going to move you into the next path with intention and very personalized information, but you're right, the “why” doesn't feel as strong.

It can feel like an untold part of your story. I have all of my clients that they come on in and we're going to do any sort of job searching, whatever they come in for — I start with their story. There's a lot of benefits to it, but it's ownership of that story, of that narrative, being able to tell it, not only clearly.

It's an interview skill, it's a resume skill, it's going to help you at job searching. It’s also going to allow you to release yourself and say, “That was critical for me to take that odd job that doesn't fit on my resume anymore. But do you remember that one colleague I met? They’re how I know I need to be in a different field.” Making meaning out of where you've come from, it strengthens your “why”. Absolutely.

Lisa: I love that. Making meaning from where you come from strengthens your “why”. That's so good.

I know we don't have a ton of time left together, but I am curious to know. For the benefit of somebody listening to this right now, and who has been feeling that stuckness, maybe who has been feeling dissatisfied, but also beating themselves up because they don't know what else to do. What would your advice be to them for how to get started in moving forward?

I'm hearing you say that it is very much a process — that asking yourself why. But what are some easy first steps that somebody could do, either on their own or with a career counselor like yourself?

Megan: Absolutely. Step one: Nice, big, deep breath, and acknowledging, like we had started, knowing there's a name for this experience. That in and of itself can be relieving. Take a second to pause and say, “I am going through something, and it makes sense that I'm going through something.” Give that some time to chew on. Big deep breath to start.

I would say, and this could even happen prior to your reflection questions or critical thinking that you're going through, reach out to your network. It is the top thing that gets missed in job searching because we do it in a vacuum. Even folks that are coming in to me, I'm your support network. That's fabulous. I don't know you the way mom and dad does, cousin does, roommate does, partner does, spouse does, grandparents do.

They have a very intimate view, often, into your life, and can speak to some of the dissatisfaction. They can remind you of, “Do you remember when you did make that choice to move into that career? This was going on?” “Grandma, you're totally right. Thanks for reminding me that.”

Always if you can, start with your support network to just pour back into yourself and feel, “People do know me, they love me, they support me.” It normalizes not just, “Hey, I am a person going through this.” A lot of times people are like, “Oh my gosh, me, too.”

Lisa: I was just thinking. This experience is so common, but everybody else seems like they have it all figured out, they seem like they have clarity. Why don't people talk about this more? Megan, what is that about?

Megan: Because these realizations happen at midnight when you're laying in bed, scrolling on social media, and you're like, “Who am I going to call?” No, I’m just joking. But it can be like this obligation that we're talking about, those feelings of guilt, maybe.

Lisa: Like ashamed almost, is that it?

Megan: That's exactly where my brain was going. There's shame around, “I don't have this figured out, I don't know where I'm going.” We are a very curious set of people in the States, and that's great, but how often do we say, “Where are you going with your job? What do you do with work? Are you liking it? Are you having fun?” When you don't have answers to those questions, avoid the questions, avoid the situations you would have those questions —  the holidays.

Lisa: Maintain the facade.

Megan: “I am doing well, I'm fine. Everything is great”, and in reality, you're cracking under all of this. It’s shame-filled to share a lot of that stuff. That's why I say start with your support network because those are people who can hold that shame with you, who are safe, and you can be vulnerable and be like, “This isn't going well.”

Your vulnerability is going to lead to their vulnerability often, and they're going to share, “You know what? I had the same thing happen. You know what? I am currently experiencing that now.” That's the best-case scenario. Like, “You too? Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

Starting with your support network — validating, encouraging. Also, it's going to set you up for job search success because, now, other people, not necessarily in your professional network, but your personal network, know that you're potentially job searching. That is your best tool in networking, is telling as many people as possible that you are looking for a new job because now you're on their brain.

When something comes up in their company, when they see a job posting, they're like, “Oh my gosh, Megan and I just had a conversation about this. She's looking for a job. Maybe, I could pass this on to her.” You begin to leverage other people's networks when you invite them into your own network. It's a really cool — not even a trick of the trade. I know a lot of folks that do that, but we forget that because we are so stuck.

It's shame and guilt-ridden, and we're not feeling great. We don't want to reach out, we don't want to talk to other people and share that experience. Yet, when we do, all these benefits seem to unwind or unravel. I always recommend: take a big, old, deep breath. Start with your support system, see how they can help you. Then, jump into some of your reflection, if you can.

When I look into quarter-life crisis — I was curious how it was being talked about in the media right now. Every article I came across had reflection questions to ask yourself. “Here's what to consider if you do want to make a change, if you are in this quarter-life spot.” You don't even have to come up with the reflection questions on your own, they're all on Google.

Lisa: You can Google them.

Megan: You can Google everything. One day, my job is going to be obsolete because Google will be me, and they will ask all the questions. Spend some time journaling, writing it out.

Lisa: Well, no because I want to bring something up because one of the things — I am all about a good journaling question. I know from my own experience and others’, here's what I think is important: We have blind spots. There are things about us that we don't know, and that's why I think having a relationship, either a trusted friend, a counselor, or a coach, because they can ask you questions or reflect things back to you that you would literally not connect.

Megan: 100%.

Lisa: But I also know that a lot of people, unfortunately, don't have access to an amazing counselor, or a coach like yourself, to be shining that spotlight on, “Okay, but what about this?” To take the personal reflection questions, are there any tricks or tips that you have for people to help themselves get past what they know and access new information about themselves through these questions, or is that just —

Megan: Yes. It's not as easy. It is hard. It's why a counseling or a coaching relationship can be so beneficial, and expedite this process. I have, again, Rich Feller, a colleague that I'm working with — we're talking a lot about unknowns, hidden things, blind spots that need to be resolved. Typically, those blind spots are what keep you from success or moving forward.

A good indicator or a place to maybe uncover that: What are your self-doubts? What are your concerns? What are insecurities? Blind spots often show up in those, and that is something — our self-talk As much as we would like to avoid it, we all know our own insecurities, we all know our shortcomings, we all know our doubts. How to answer those questions — that's a nice place to open up a blind spot.

I'll give an example here. I see this blind spot — I don't know if how I come across in that meeting is effective or non-effective. That's a blind spot. That's probably an insecurity for someone. I don't know how I show up in this space. I'm really concerned that I don't show up well. Start with what your concerns are about yourself. That's a pretty good indicator that might be an area where you could do some work, do some self-exploration, and uncover, hopefully, some of the unknown about yourself.

Lisa: That is such good advice, and I'm so glad that you're talking about this right now. I do say this as a grizzled Gen X-er who is deeply suspicious of many things happening on social media, but it's like there's this sort of, “Rah, rah, positive thinking, girl boss, take no prisoners, you got to manifest,” you know what I'm talking about.

What you're saying is that, actually, the door to cracking into a lot of this stuff is giving yourself permission to tap into the darkness, and go there, and write about that stuff — the part that maybe you're a little bit afraid of. That's really where you can make contact with these. Thank you. I'm so glad we're talking about this. You are a force of good in the world, Megan.

Megan: Thank you. Hey, I'm just here to help. Again, open those blind spots for you. If I can expedite that process at all by saying, “What is troubling you?”, let's go there. Sometimes, it is easier to have those conversations with somebody else because it is scary when you're alone with that journal, and you're kind of having to take a look in the mirror.

Sometimes, having someone that you trust in a coaching or counseling relationship to guide you through that conversation, that's just the little extra support that we do need. Some folks, they're like, “Forget it. I got it. I can do this on my own.” Awesome. Other folks, come on in if it's not feeling like, “This is something I can tackle and resolve on my own.”

Lisa: Well, thank you so much. I'm very grateful, though, that you shared so much actionable advice for people who really do — if I were listening to this, I would have like, “Okay, these are a list of questions I need to think about. I am going to resist this toxic positivity and actually tap into this other stuff”, and really giving people a roadmap if they've been dealing with this. There’s so many people are — for how to begin to move forward again.

Thank you so much, Megan — from me, but also on behalf of our listeners today. This was a lot of fun.


Megan: Thanks for having me on. This is a subject that's pretty near and dear to my heart, considering my personal age, but also just what we're noticing in career trends. Always grateful that someone's willing to listen to me babble about what I'm excited about. So thank you.

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

Music in this episode is “Watch Your Back” from The Coathangers

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

You walk into the office after a much-needed vacation, feeling rested and ready to get back to work. “How was it?” says Camille, your questionable coworker. “I’m so glad you got to go, instead of staying to help us finish that project.” 

She’s mad at you…right? But then again, her sweet tone of voice and wide grin doesn’t seem to match that impression. So you thank her and keep walking, wondering why the whole exchange left you feeling defensive and icky. 

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a “nice remark” like this, you’ve experienced passive aggressive behavior. Passive aggression happens when we can’t or won’t express negative feelings directly, and instead resort to covert hostility as an outlet for our anger, jealousy, or resentment. 

When you have a passive aggressive person in your life, whether it’s a coworker, friend, family member, or romantic partner, you’ll find yourself questioning your own perceptions, and wondering whether you’re just being sensitive, or if there’s actually some antagonism beneath their pleasant exterior. 

Doubting yourself like this can be absolutely crazy-making, leaving you unsure about how to respond. That’s why I wanted to create this episode of the podcast for you: so you can recognize passive aggressive behavior, understand where it’s coming from, and deal with it in a compassionate, assertive manner that’s healthy and fair for you. 

My guest is Kathleen C., a therapist and life coach here at Growing Self. Kathleen has helped many people set healthy boundaries with passive aggressive people or redirect their own passive aggressive impulses so they can have healthier, more authentic relationships with everyone in their lives. 

We’re talking about what causes passive aggression, why it can be so damaging to relationships, and how you can deal with your own Camilles — without losing your cool, or your sanity. 

I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

Music in this episode is “Watch Your Back” from The Coathangers

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How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People: Episode Highlights

Passive aggressive behavior is confusing, exasperating, and damaging to relationships. When someone says everything’s fine, but their behavior says otherwise, that’s a form of gaslighting whether it’s intentional or not. The sooner you can get clear about what’s actually happening in a passive-aggressive dynamic, the better. 

Understanding what passive aggressive behavior is about (hint: It’s not you!) will help you deal with it. Just recognizing passive aggression can be a big relief and can help you respond in a confident, emotionally healthy way. 

Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive aggressive behavior can take many forms, but it always involves expressing negative feelings indirectly rather than out in the open. 

When you’re on the receiving end of this veiled hostility, it can feel confusing because there’s a mismatch between the passive aggressive person’s words and their actions. They may tell you they’re not angry, but then slam the door as they exit the room. 

Here are a few other examples of passive-aggressive behavior: 

  • Giving a compliment in a sarcastic tone. 
  • Sabotaging someone else’s plans. 
  • “Forgetting” to do something you agreed to do. 
  • Giving someone the silent treatment when you’re upset. 
  • Excluding a coworker from an important meeting. 
  • Talking badly about someone behind their back, while being polite to their face. 
  • Sulking when you don’t get your way. 
  • Speaking to someone in a condescending tone. 

Behaviors like these aren’t always passive aggressive, but they can be, especially when they’re part of a pattern. If you’re unsure whether someone is being passive aggressive, tune into your own feelings about what’s happening between the two of you. If a “friendly” exchange leaves you feeling confused or mistrustful, you might be picking up on some covert hostility. 

Reasons for Passive Aggressive Behavior

People behave in passive aggressive ways when, for whatever reason, they don’t feel able to express their emotions directly. 

People with a tendency to “people please” are often prone to passive aggressive communication. When you have a strong fear of being disliked, it can feel impossible to confront others directly. Instead, a people pleaser may try to get some emotional relief by being hostile to the person they’re upset with while maintaining plausible deniability about it. For this reason, many self-identified people-pleasers are experienced by others as quite passive aggressive. 

Others may become passive aggressive because they have anxiety about conflict, they don’t believe anger is an acceptable emotion, or because they have low self-esteem and worry that if they’re assertive and direct, they’ll have no friends

Whatever the reason, passive aggressive behavior erodes trust, builds resentment, and leaves issues in a relationship to fester. 

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

If someone is chronically passive aggressive toward you, particularly if you’re not close to this person, the best way to deal with it is to distance yourself as much as possible. You could do this by choosing not to be around the person, or by simply not engaging with them to the extent that you’re able. Certainly don’t react to their behavior in the way they’re most likely hoping you will — by getting angry, upset, or defensive. 

Keeping your cool signals to the person that you’re not going to engage in the passive aggressive “dance” anymore, which makes treating you this way a little less gratifying. 

How to Fix a Passive Aggressive Relationship

If it’s a relationship you value, you can try talking to the passive aggressive person about what you’re noticing, how it’s affecting you, and where your boundaries are

You may say something like, “I’ve noticed that you make jokes at my expense in front of our friends sometimes. When you tease me like that, I feel embarrassed and hurt. I’m not going to spend time with you if you continue talking about me like this.” 

This response is both vulnerable and direct, a combination that can sometimes disarm passive behavior. Either way, their response will tell you a lot about how emotionally safe you can feel with this person, and whether they’re actually a friend you can trust and count on

And if your goal is to improve the relationship, it’s important to be an emotionally safe communicator yourself. Refrain from blaming, accusing, or lashing out in anger at the passive aggressive person. Instead, focus on your own observations, feelings, and boundaries. 

How to Stop Being Passive Aggressive

Have you ever asked yourself, “Am I passive aggressive?”

We often don’t realize when we’re being passive aggressive, so it’s worth taking a look at your own behavior and being honest with yourself about your motivations. 

Notice if you’re feeling angry, jealous, insecure, or threatened around a certain person, and how you might be acting those feelings out in your relationship with them. You might find yourself talking about them behind their back, being disingenuous with them, or being unsupportive of their success. 

If you notice these things, don’t beat yourself up. Just think about why you may be feeling this way and what needs you’re trying to meet. By treating yourself with compassion, you can find better ways to get your emotional needs met, without resorting to passive aggressive behavior.

Episode Show Notes:

[1:59] The Passive Aggressive Patterns

  • Passive aggressive behaviors leave us in a place of self-doubt due to a lack of clarity about the person’s intention. 
  • The classic passive aggressive pattern is mixed messages, for example, when someone's words and tone don't match.
  • Intentional “forgetfulness” toward crucial promises is another example of passive aggressive behavior.

[11:23] How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People?

  • Understand why they act that way.
  • The root of passive aggressiveness is insecurity.
  • Passive aggressive behavior can keep us from having close, meaningful connections.

[21:29] Passive Aggressive Relationships

  • If someone's being passive aggressive toward you, that's a reflection of their feelings, beliefs, coping mechanisms, and communication skills, not of you. 
  • Sometimes, it is ideal to disengage and ignore the passive aggressive comments.

[32:16] How to Handle Passive Aggressive People?

  • Set a positive precedent by modeling vulnerability when confronting passive aggressive behaviors.
  • Create a space that encourages authentic and meaningful communication.
  • Disengage if the person doesn’t feel emotionally safe to communicate with.

[43:44] Am I Passive Aggressive?

  • Are you honest with yourself about your motivations when you communicate?
  • Find other ways to get what you need, without resorting to passive aggression.

Music in this episode is “Watch Your Back” from The Coathangers

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: The Coathangers. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Today, we are talking about a topic that I know so many people wrestle with. I, myself, have encountered this, which is passive-aggressive people. They're everywhere. They can show up at work, in our friendships, in your relationship with family members, and it can be really frustrating and difficult to know what to do in these situations. Also, this is just an exasperating experience. 

You know that type of thing where somebody is sunny, and pleasant, and fun to your face, but then you know they're saying or doing things behind your back, or maybe even somebody making those ambiguous comments that can be taken a few different ways in your presence, but knowing them and their history, you know what they're talking about, but you can't really confront it directly. 

It's just so hard to know what to do in these situations without making the situation worse. That is why I enlisted the support of my dear friend and colleague, once again, Kathleen S., who is a therapist and coach here on our team at Growing Self who has so much experience in helping people develop truly healthy relationships with healthy boundaries, healthy communication, high degree of emotional intelligence. I'm hoping that she can shed some light on this phenomenon to provide you some direction for this situation. 

Kathleen, thank you so much for being here with me today. You are just such a joy to talk to. You're one of my all-time favorite podcast guests because you always are just so generous with your information and ideas. I'm confident that you will be able to shed light on this for us today too, so thank you.

Kathleen S.: Oh, thanks. Thanks for having me. I do hope to give some helpful information today to help us all deal with, I think, this experience that we all share like you said.

The Passive-Aggressive Patterns

Lisa: It happens. So many examples — this can take so many different forms. I mentioned a couple in my intro. But when your clients, your counseling, or coaching clients are describing this experience to you, what are some of the patterns, or ways, or even your own life that this passive-aggressive behavior tends to show up? Because it can take many forms.

Kathleen: So many. As I was always thinking about this preparing for today, I was struck by how many versions of this there are. You’re right — iy can come up at work. and certainly also closer to home, in your friendships, or even in your family or in your romantic relationships. I think the hallmark is that kind of like you were alluding to — that it leaves us feeling confused, and disarmed, and embarrassed or doubting ourselves and disempowered kind of.

Lisa: There's that. I won't use this term because we have clean language on this podcast, but kind of like that “mind-f” experience where you're like, “Did that just happen? I felt like that just happened. Did it? If I say that out loud, then what will happen?” It totally just puts you in this precarious situation interpersonally.

Kathleen: You feel threatened in a way and intimidated for sure. Then, unable to trust yourself, and therefore unable to really directly address it, or do anything about it because you start to doubt, “Am I seeing this clearly? Is that really what that meant? Did that really happen? Or am I interpreting…?” We tend to personalize, “Am I interpreting this in a faulty way because of my own insecurities?” 

That's part of the reason why passive-aggressive behavior works because it does kind of leave you without clarity, and stuck in that place of self-doubt — unable to assert yourself. That's kind of one of the… We can talk about the different ways people are passive-aggressive so you can identify it. But then also when you recognize it's happening, not personalizing it, and recognizing what it's really about and that it's really about the person who's doing it — that leaves you in more of a space to take care of yourself.

Lisa: Okay, that sounds like a fantastic plan. I would love to start with, just as you were suggesting, what it actually looks like. Because I think even just having that conversation would be so incredibly validating to so many of our listeners because there's that confusion, that unknown. What does this look like from your experience in action? What are the types, if you will?

Kathleen: We have your classic mixed messages where maybe someone's words and tone don't fit. Maybe they're complimenting you, but their tone has an edge of sarcasm or sickly sweetness. Or perhaps their nonverbals their body language don't match their tone or what they're saying. Maybe, even they say they're going to do one thing, and they don't follow through. All of those messages or contradictions.

Lisa: I see that the ladder in couples counseling, honestly — in couples, it's so hard for people where their partner will say they'll do something, and then they don't. Then, the other person is left to figure out if that was like an intentional forgetfulness to wound them, or if they actually forgot — because that also happens.

Kathleen: When you start to see patterns because forgetting is definitely can be a passive-aggressive technique. If you start to see patterns where, “My partner is really good at remembering these things, but conveniently forgets the things that are important to me or the things that expressed are important to me.” 

Making excuses or procrastinating, and sort of in ways that don't make sense where there doesn't seem to be a strong logic for why I didn't follow through this time, or, “I've been procrastinating. I don't remember us talking about that. That's not what we said. We were on the same page, we had the same conversation, and now it's different. That can be, so I'm glad you brought that up. 

That's just one way in couples and relationships that we can experience passive aggression. It's not to say that that's always the case. Sometimes, we do forget things. But if you see a pattern of that, especially along with other passive-aggressive types of behaviors, and I think you can feel it sometimes too. Trust your guts. 

Lisa: You're saying the mixed messages where people are saying one thing, but you feel icky. It just flashed in my mind when you're saying that. You're from the South, so I'm sure you'll know if somebody says, “Bless your heart.” It's actually not a good thing.

Kathleen: A condescending tone can also be a marker of passive… That's a good example of that, “Oh, bless her heart.” But you can feel icky. Trust your gut — if you feel this person is being kind, but they don't feel safe, or they're complimenting you, but you don't feel close to them. They're telling you something is important to them, and that they're hearing you, and they're going to follow through, but you don't trust it. These are all just good, I think, markers. 

There isn't one, unfortunately — I can't say, “Here's the stamp. We can stamp this person as being passive-aggressive to you. You can be 100% sure.” I think it's more of a pattern of experiences and feelings.

Lisa: You know what? One is coming into mind, and I don't— I'm not sure if this counts or not. But just as we're talking about this, have you ever had the experience where someone might set rules, or limits, or something, boundaries, with you that you know for a fact they don't set with other people? 

It's not that the rules or expectations or boundaries are necessarily inappropriate, but that it feels like they're just for you. Have you ever experienced that, or is that just my life that we're talking about right now?

Kathleen: Listen, I haven't experienced that one personally, but it's a great example. I can imagine it at work in particular — like unnecessary red tape, making things unnecessarily difficult for you and you being the exception to that, chronically disagreeing with you — these are different ways that… Holding you to different standards whether those be boundaries, or, let's say, work standards in a professional setting, and then other people. 

That's a good example — stonewalling. Whether it's the silent treatment from your partner, or maybe it's in a social setting talking to everyone in the group, but not looking at you, or at work — not responding to your emails, or including you in a business meeting that you should be included in. That kind of exclusion and silent treatments which can look those different ways and take those different forms. That can be a form of passive-aggressive behavior. 

Guilt-tripping is another big one by holding you responsible for their feelings, playing the victim — that kind of thing — or even being in the victim role themselves and sort of guilt-tripping you around that, or sabotaging themselves, believe it or not. This can happen a lot in romantic relationships. I've actually heard it said before, “I will do this to myself and I will be so unhappy, then they'll finally see how much they hurt me.” This is passive-aggressive… 

Lisa: Like that emotional blackmail. Passive-aggressive way of expressing…

Kathleen: Of expressing your feelings because that's part… It's not the only reason we're passive-aggressive but it’s one of the reasons is when we feel like we don't know how, or we can't — we're not allowed to directly talk about what we need or how we feel. We can’t sustain that, stuffing that forever, so it can come out in passive-aggressive ways. That's just one reason that we can behave passive-aggressively. When that is the motive, sometimes it can look like playing the victim.

How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People?

Lisa: You know what? I did actually want to ask you about it, and I certainly want to talk about how to deal with passive-aggressive people. But I was actually interested in hearing more about this perspective as well like why people do behave in passive-aggressive ways just to illuminate it. 

I have compassion for it even, but what you just said was super interesting is that people tend to engage in these behaviors or communicate in this way when they don't feel able to express their feelings in more direct ways. Is that it? 

Kathleen: It's one of the reasons, yes. I actually think the first step in being able to deal with passive-aggressive people is to understand the reasons why people act that way because it helps us with that lack of clarity and that confused feeling. It kind of  — that proverbial facing your fears, like “look the monster directly in the face”. Then, that scary threat shrinks, and becomes something a little less scary and more manageable. 

If we can understand why people are passive-aggressive, then we can go up. That's what's happening there. And be a little less scared. Then, we're able to think clearly about what we want to do with that. It's an important piece. Having beliefs that it's not okay to express your feelings, to ask for what you need, to take up space to have conflict, which are — we talked about it when we talked about people-pleasing, a lot of us have learned that. 

What are we left with, then? To either completely neglect our needs, or try to get them met by beating around the bush in a passive-aggressive way because we feel scared or insecure about actually being vulnerable, and authentic, and direct in our communication. That is one big reason. 

Lisa: Interesting. I never really thought about this in the same way until you brought this up that it's on this… We had that marvelous conversation about people-pleasing that I think so many of us can identify with too. But what I'm hearing you say now is that maybe that people-pleasing tendencies and passive-aggressive tendencies are actually two sides of the same coin.

Kathleen: They definitely can be. We might have to the best of intentions, and then do things that or express ourselves in ways that you're not happy with for sure. 

Lisa: If you're people-pleasing, and you're sort of doing things that don't feel good to you, and you feel like you have to. That even though you're not maybe talking about how you feel in the moment, it's still coming out sideways, and it's likely to be in those passive-aggressive kinds of…

Kathleen: sideways. 

Lisa: Yes, like your nail polish kinds of…

Kathleen: Then, you're really thinking, “You didn't invite me to go get your nails done with you, but you invited Sarah or whatever.” That's one reason. But there are other situations too. If I had to pick one root for all the different ways that passive-aggressiveness can show up, it would be insecurity for sure. I would say all passive-aggressive behavior is rooted in that, but it can come from, “I feel too insecure to be — we were just saying — to be clear, and authentic, and direct. I shouldn't do, I shouldn't be upset”, that kind of thing. 

Or it can be, “I feel like I don't have power and control in this situation. I need to figure out — I feel like I need to get that to be strong, to be competent, to be respected.” Or it can be “I feel threatened by you or jealous of you, And then I might handle that with passive-aggressive behavior which is sort of another way of feeling like I have some power and control there.” 

Rooted in that sense of, “I'm not secure here”, but can have slightly different motivations. Not everybody who is passive-aggressive is always fully aware that they're doing it, and not everybody comes from a place of, “I really want to tell you how I feel, but I'm scared to.” Some people are just being adult bullies. It depends very much on the situation and the person. 

Lisa: Totally. What I'm thinking of right now as you're sharing this — I know you're familiar with Brené Brown’s work around the role of vulnerability and having the courage to talk about things like, “That hurt my feelings”, or “That made me feel left out”’ or like “You don't care about me”. That is so scary, that passive-aggressive behavior is sort of the opposite of that. Those feelings in a highly defended form, basically, is what you're saying that people aren't expressing.

Kathleen: Absolutely. That’s it.

Lisa: Anti-vulnerability. 

Kathleen: Absolutely. We've talked about having sort of a continuum for maybe we have aggression on one end, and passivity on the far end of that continuum, and assertiveness, if it's in the middle of those. I have always said its assertiveness is our pathway to genuine connection. It should open up communication. It is vulnerable to be assertive, actually. It can be scary, but it's also very authentic and can lead to intimacy — just like Brené Brown talks about. 

I would definitely say that passive-aggressiveness which might be, depending on the version of it, sort of closer to either end of that continuum, a little not quite aggression, but near it, not quite being passive, but somewhere near that. It’s just another version of not being authentic and vulnerable — protecting yourself from how scary that can feel. But it keeps us from having closer, more meaningful connections at the same time.

Lisa: It's so easy to hide, I think, in that passive-aggressive place because if somebody does dare in the phase of that passive-aggressive moment or communication to say, “I feel like you're upset with me right now. Is something going on?” So easy for people to be like, “I don't know what you're talking about. It's a joke.” Whatever that it can look like.

Kathleen: “I’m just teasing you. I’m just messing with you.”

Lisa: You can hide forever in that place.

Kathleen: That's the thing about it — it's veiled. It’s sneaky, and that's what makes it so confusing.

Lisa: Over time, in your experience, what does that passive-aggressive communication style — because it is a communication style. People are being passive-aggressive — they're communicating something. What does that do to relationships over time, both in that space between people, but also for the sort of recipient of the passive-aggressive behavior, but also for the person doing the passive-aggressive behavior — what do you see this turn into over time?

Kathleen: I think it creates almost an ever-growing, not even a gap but like a wall between the two of you. It definitely erodes trust, I think, on both sides because when you're trying to get your needs met, but you're doing it in a passive-aggressive way, you're not going to get… At first, you might get some satisfaction, let's be honest. Seeing the other person be affected, “This is what I wanted, and I don't know how else to do that.” 

But with time, you don't actually get those needs met, you don't feel seen and heard, you don't feel like you're on the same team, you don't feel safe and trusting — even if you're the passive-aggressive one. 

Lisa: I could see it pushes people just further away from you, and if you're really trying to be cared for and understood, it's like the opposite.

Kathleen: “I can't trust you, I can't trust what you say, I can't trust that you're going to be honest and transparent with me, which means I don't have a way to keep this relationship healthy and growing.” Then, even the person being passive-aggressive begins to feel hopeless as well. We kind of almost create these deep grooves that we get stuck in this — of a relationship dynamic of mistrust and resentment. Does that make sense? 

Lisa: That it's impossible to have the kind of emotionally safe, authentic, courageous conversations that are required to keep our relationship healthy. It's like that just starts to feel impossible after a while.

Kathleen: The more that we have those, and that we are heard and safe when we have those, the closer we can get, and the safer that we feel, and the more we trust, the more we open up and so on and so forth. It can go, unfortunately, in the opposite direction as well. The less often we have those conversations, the more unsafe we feel.

Passive-Aggressive in Relationships

Lisa: Well, I'm glad that we're talking about this. If we were to shift a little bit into — your advice for if someone is recognizing that they're caught in this kind of loop with someone that they wish to maintain a relationship with because I think that that is a piece of it. I know, I have encountered in social situations or situations where you do have the power to kind of distance yourself from people because I'm an extremely direct person most of the time. I don't know how else to be. 

When I feel that energy, I separate myself from that person when I have the power to do so. But I've also — and I know that many our listeners and our clients have had experiences where that's like a family member, or someone that you are connected to in perpetuity, but don't have like even enough of a relationship to be able to… Like your wife's brother or something like that, sort of an extended family, or even like a parent, or in the worst-case scenario, a spouse, but like a sibling. 

When you have to deal with this, how do you even begin to mend that? I heard you say — understanding what it's about.

Kathleen: That's sort of the first step. But you're talking about someone that you have to have in your life who can't really cut off ties, but you're not close enough where they're not safe enough to be really vulnerable with them basically. That could be a boss too or a co-worker. Yeah, yeah. Or work. situation. Yeah.

Lisa: A workplace situation. But that's even good advice that they're kind of like different categories of people. Maybe for some people that you do have the opportunity for more intimacy with you, you can have more meaningful healing. But there's like that separate category of people that you're sort of stuck with. I think the hardest thing in those situations is that like with a co-worker, or a boss, or like an extended family member — whatever I say or do, they're just going to be defensive and deny, and I'm going to look like the idiot, and it's going to make things worse. It's such a bind.

Kathleen: Yes, let's kind of look at this in levels I suppose, and you can kind of get a sense of which categories of people in your life some of these levels of addressing passive-aggressive behavior would apply to or not. If we start the beginning like we said — understanding this is about them, not you. It's not your fault. So don't get too caught up in the content of the comments they're making because you're not doing anything wrong. 

If someone's being passive-aggressive towards you, that's a reflection of them and how they're feeling, what they believe, their coping skills, their communication skills. We talked about Brené Brown — she talks about how vulnerability combats shame. By understanding, “Look, this is what's happening. This is about them, not you.” We can kind of decrease the intimidation factor and the embarrassment or the shame factor a little bit. 

Level one of dealing with somebody in your life like this is kind of to, like you were saying, when it's possible to avoid it and to distance yourself if you can — ask to be put on a different project at work, or don't be caught alone in the room with your mother-in-law or whatever, whoever it is. Have an escape plan prepared ahead of time and make that a boundary for yourself, “I'm not going to be cornered.” 

Sometimes, we do have to just not engage — ignore or pretend we didn't hear the question or the comment that was was made. This is all part of our avoidance strategy here. It's kind of like — somebody once used this term to me, and it stuck and that like, “Not letting them put the coin, the quarter in the pinball machine. Not reacting in a way…” 

Lisa: Getting activated. 

Kathleen: “…giving them the reaction that they're looking for.” Kind of making it not really fun or purposeful for them anymore by not getting upset, by not getting defensive, or explaining yourself if that makes sense. For some people in your life, this is how handle it.

Lisa: I always take the bait, I always have that tendency like, “I want to confront it.” That is what I'm hearing you say — not the right strategy. Okay. Lisa takes notes. 

Kathleen: I'm the same way. 

Lisa: Because that's what it feels like. 

Kathleen: I either want to confront it or I just want to be around it. But sometimes, we are in these situations where we have to navigate a little bit more subtlety, and when you have to have — to keep the harmony.

Lisa: Kind of expecting it like, “I know what this person does, I know how unlikely to feel in this moment, and I am in advance deciding that I am actually not going to react and make this gratifying for them, and I will try to minimize my contact with them to the degree that I can. If I can't, I am just going to smile and nod.”

Kathleen: Exactly. 

Lisa: Pass the salt. 

Kathleen: Know what this is, what's happening — and then just by being able to identify it and label it in your mind, be prepared to not engage in that dynamic with them. Sometimes, we can take it a little step up, and we can get into some broken record boundary-setting like, “Well, I'm not really going to talk about that right now. 

Or let's say somebody brings up something from the past, “I don't really care about that anymore.” Just kind of putting the big “stop” sign. It's a variation of the avoidance technique that we can use. It's just a way of saying, “I'm really not going to do that dance with you.” Sometimes, we can do that, and sometimes we can't. We have some other options. But when that's all you can do, sometimes it is what is best for you. 

If that's not possible, you can have, kind of getting out of the victim role. It is another way of not giving them the response that they might be looking for, but it's less avoidant when that's not an option. Just showing them other ways that you're not upset and it's not working on you like laughing with them when they tease you, “Oh, yeah, that's true. I am really bad at time management. Got to work on that.” 

Showing that you have the self-confidence that you're not going to be passive-aggressively bullied that you can laugh at yourself — that's not going to work if that makes sense.

Lisa: I think I'm hearing on this emotional level, you're also really shutting the door on any emotional safety or emotional intimacy with this person. It's like you're in a room, and there's a snake who's trying to bite you and just handle it like that. I think where a lot of people get roped in is feeling like, “This relationship has the opportunity for me to talk about how I'm feeling right now. Maybe, we can like do this differently next time.” 

What I'm hearing you say is like, there's a whole class of relationships where actually, “No, this isn't going to change. You shouldn't be telling people how you actually feel and just understand what this is and protect yourself.” 

Kathleen: There is a whole class of relationships like that.

Lisa: Good. That's good to know.

Kathleen: There are people, hopefully in your life, too, that maybe they don't — some people don't realize that they are being passive-aggressive, or it's something that they've learned to do, but they've never really had the kind of relationship that allows them to look at that in a safe space and be really vulnerable with somebody. 

For those people, maybe it is your significant other, maybe it is a really close friend who teases you sometimes when you're out socializing or something like that. Maybe it is a family member that we can use assertiveness techniques with them. Again, it kind of helps to have a plan prepared ahead of time if possible as far as, “These are the kind of things I've noticed happening. The next time it happens, or the next time I feel that way, here's what I'm going to do.” 

When I work with clients on assertiveness, we have different scripts that we use because in the beginning, it can feel really hard to think on your feet and it keeps it really simple. One of them, we kind of touched on earlier, and that is just pointing out those discrepancies, pointing out the mixed messages that you've noticed like, “Hey, you've been a really great friend to me in so many ways over the years. I've also noticed, though, that when we hang out with ‘so and so, and so and so’, sometimes you will make jokes at my expense, you'll tease me. I'm just wondering, what is that about?’ 

That might be a discrepancy strategy where we point out differences or messages that don't match, “You said you were going to get back to me by email by Thursday, and we agreed on the plan on how to deal with this issue, and you didn't do it, what's happening there?” This is just your basic discrepancy assertiveness technique. But when it's someone that we feel that we're closer to, and we really do want to have a close relationship with, we can get a little bit more vulnerable, and talk about how we feel, “When you tease me like that, I get really embarrassed and I feel really hurt.” 

I think like we talked about last time — how they respond to that is something that gives us information about how emotionally safe we can be with them. But people aren't perfect, it takes a little bit of time to open up. It's hard to not get defensive when someone points something out to you or tells you that their feelings are hurt. But if it's somebody that's really important to you, you can be a little bit patient, and try being vulnerable and honest, giving them the chance to let their guard down.

How to Handle Passive-Aggressive People?

Lisa: Like in those moments to kind of go into that with what you were describing — that compassionate understanding of why people might be communicating that way in the first place. Because what I'm thinking about right now is that sort of systemic impact that — like maybe they don't feel emotionally safe enough with me to tell me that they're angry with me, or that I hurt their feelings. That's why they're teasing me or doing whatever in the first place. Would you recommend trying to address that with somebody who has been behaving that way with you?

Kathleen: Absolutely. Right now I'm imagining someone really close to you, like a significant other, or very close friend, or maybe a sister — it depends. Someone you feel close to, a relationship that you value, then yes, I would say, “Why not say? Why not ask?” I would imagine that it's difficult sometimes to say they're upset with me, “Is that what's happening? Or is it something else? I just want to understand what's going on with you because I care about you.”

So setting the precedent modeling vulnerability, and that it is okay to be human, and to take up some space, and to have these big uncomfortable feelings, and to talk about them. Let's bring them out into the light of day, they're not that scary. Sometimes, we can sort of disarm passive-aggressiveness and change the relationship dance that we have with that person.

Lisa: Totally. This is so interesting because when we started talking about this, I was thinking about the passive-aggressive experience from the perspective of an individual who may be dealing with this. But as we're talking, I'm just starting to think about all of the couples I have worked with over the years where there has been — and I'm using my air quotes right now — “passive-aggressive behavior” in one partner, where the other partner doesn't realize, and this is very common and like a pursue withdraw dynamic.

I am going to gender stereotype with it. It is not always this way. It's sometimes it goes different ways, but it is a passive-aggressive appearing man and an angry woman who are married to each other. That oftentimes, what is actually happening in that relationship dynamic is when that guy says, “Actually, this is how I'm feeling”, or, “I don't want to do that”, or “I think we should do it this way”, it's like all hell breaks loose, and there are very severe relational consequences for his disagreeing in an authentic and vulnerable way, so he stops. 

I think looking at this through my couple’s counselor lens right now, the other piece of this I think we can extrapolate is how very important it is to be an emotionally safe person if you want somebody close to you to stop engaging in that sort of avoidant behavior because it's real easy to point your finger at somebody else for being passive-aggressive and not realizing that you're kind of scary, and then they might want to avoid having a conflict with you. 

To have that self-awareness — and that's me stepping into the couple’s counseling lens right now. But thank you for reminding me of that because I think that can be important and intimate partnerships. That's the thing.

Kathleen: Then, we're not really talking about what we really need and how we really feel. We don't really know each other anymore. Sometimes, it's not that obvious. Sometimes, it's clear — one of us is getting really angry, “What do you mean you don't agree with me?” We'll have someone shut down and just fall in back on passive-aggressive behavior because again, that's the only way I can communicate it all ear safely. 

Sometimes, it's more subtle than that. It's, “Oh, okay. Well, I'm still going to do it my way.” Or we have the passive-aggressive meets passive-aggressive pattern, “Oh, okay. Alright. Well, sure, I'll consider that. Then go and make the decision on your own, “Oh, I forgot. I didn’t say that.” Or, “I don't know how to do that, and so I did it differently”, or whatever. 

Either way though, when you start to feel like, “This person isn't a safe person for me to open up to either because they get angry”, or because, “I'm not heard and seen. My feelings are invalidated.” We kind of fall back on, “How can I be heard? Passive-aggressive communication might be our last step before we just stop trying to connect or make an effort at all sometimes.”

Lisa: Well, that's really, really good advice is just to try to talk about it openly, and compassionate, and emotionally safe way because your only other choice in some ways is to withdraw. Now, can I ask you about one other little facet of this or variable? 

Part of what is coming up for me too, as we're talking, and I will say this as someone who has, personally ADHD tendencies, in case you haven't noticed over all the years we've known each other Kathleen, and I have seen a dynamic in relationships where one partner actually does have trouble remembering things, trouble with task-based stuff, time management, and it is interpreted as being passive-aggressive when actually they have like thinking differences that make that kind of thing hard for them, and it can create so much hurt feelings in a relationship when it's being interpreted in a hurtful… 

People feel like their partner doesn't care a lot of the time when they are struggling with ADHD. Do you have any guidelines or recommendations to help somebody kind of differentiate, “Is this person being intentionally hurtful and passive-aggressive, or are they just sort of a mess, and that's why they're late or forgetting to pick up the whatever at the store?”

Kathleen:: I've experienced this with clients more than once and… 

Lisa: Probably with me. It’s been a really important moment for them in their relationships to be able to understand their partners in a different way. I think the reason that was able to happen is because you'll see other signs of ADHD outside of the relationship, “Does this person forget things? Do they forget what they said and conversations they had with other people too? Do they forget or have difficulty managing their time for themselves — doctor's appointments or whatever other obligations outside of their relationship with you?” 

You'll see it gets confusing too because… Also with ADHD, you have a difficult time regulating your emotions often as well, or can feel — well, we won't go down that. I would say the best path is to actually — there's a great book on this topic. There are two books — Married to ADHD, and Is It You, Me, or ADHD. Those are two great books. 

Or meet with a counselor, or a therapist, a counselor, either by yourself or with your partner to learn a little bit more about this because there are a lot of things that go into ADHD — hyperfocus is one of those things, difficulty with time management for getting things, losing things. But the point is that you'll see that pattern across the board with your children, with their friends, in their job, not just with you. Does that answer your question?

No, that's great advice. I think, even if that is what it is, your original recommendations — like having an authentic, vulnerable conversation about how this is making you feel is also probably the answer. Even if it's a different origin, your partner needs to know that the way they're showing up in your relationship is not feeling good for you and that we need to do something a little bit differently, even if it's not intentional. 

I love just your advice for this compassionate, authentic, vulnerable — and I think that's one of my big takeaways from the conversation. It's that you have to be that person, you have to be the brave one almost — is that it? 

Kathleen: Absolutely. 

Lisa: In a relationship worth keeping.

Kathleen: I would say that's a really important takeaway from this conversation. If you want authentic, meaningful communication, you kind of have to create the space for that by doing that yourself, and being receiver of that, and being willing to receive that. Then, we can get the ball rolling in that direction in those safe relationships. Again, we're not robots, we can't flip a switch and say, “I'm not defensive anymore.” 

Or for people whose partners have had ADHD, they're not always aware of it, and they don't, and they can still get defensive — and so, “I don't know what you're talking about. That's ridiculous.” But are they open to looking into it? Are they open to even just hearing how these behaviors affect you, and looking at what they've tried to do about that, and if it's worked or not? Are they open to getting some help? 

Starting the process of having those scary conversations that are really, really rewarding in the end. When it's not someone who's safe or close, don't let yourself slip into the trap of trying to figure them out or argue with them, disengage as much as you can.

Lisa: That's really good advice. I love that idea. It's like if you want to have a different relationship, if you want to have an emotionally safe relationship and an authentic, vulnerable relationship, we can't tell the other person to stop being passive-aggressive. That's this moment when you need to show up in that really courageous way, and then that's the path of change. 

One last question, then I'll let you go there. There was a comment that you made earlier in our conversation that I thought was so interesting which was that many times passive-aggressive, or people like we should say — people who are engaging in passive-aggressive communication or behaviors are not always aware of it. Just for fun, somebody listening to this podcast, how would they know if they themselves are actually showing up in this way, and having this impact on others? 

Kathleen: That's a great question. 

Am I Passive-Aggressive?

Lisa: That's a hard question. I'm just curious, if you were doing passive-aggressive things, and you didn't realize it, what would be your clues? How would you look at this?

Kathleen: It does kind of go back to our conversation that we had about people-pleasing — check in with your feelings, and be honest with yourself about your motivations when you communicate, “Am I actually feeling underneath this — sometimes frustration or power trip feeling? I might actually be feeling scared, or hurt, or jealous?” 

Notice that those are emotions that you're experiencing, especially particularly around a certain person, “Am I feeling threatened around them, or insecure around them? Do they sort of push my insecurity buttons?” Are there…

Lisa: Or if I have to act certain ways around certain people even though I don't really want to. That would be a…

Kathleen: Am I different around certain people rather than others? Although I think sometimes when we learn to be passive-aggressive in order to communicate in relationships, it becomes sort of a habit. But I really honestly think slowing down — and I always go back to this — to being compassionately curious with yourself, “I am really annoyed by her. Gosh, you really get the EEG whatever. Gets on my nerves. Man, I really can't stand that — did you see with it? 

Do you find yourself talking about them behind their back? Do you find yourself being disingenuous with them? Or really being irritated with them? Slow down and check in with yourself, “Okay, what am I needing? What is this situation bringing to my attention that I need to do for myself?”

Lisa: Resentment or even that narrative around, “She asked me to pick up the whatever at the store, but she wouldn't do that for me. Besides, she was mean to me yesterday, so I'm just not going to.” There's that narrative in your head up. But I think in summary — again, we recorded that beautiful conversation about people-pleasing behaviors. 

Maybe, it’s if you really strongly identified with a lot of what we talked about and that people-pleasing episode, there is a chance, that unless you're working on that intentionally, you may be coming across as passive-aggressive to other people because even though you think you're hiding your anger or resentment, maybe you're actually not. Is that a fair way of saying?

Kathleen: I don't think people can successfully hide that too well. Well, I don't think they're really doing anything. They can’t do that for any significant length of time. If you're feeling that way, you're not addressing with assertiveness, with vulnerability, it's not going to go away. You're probably not hiding it as well as you think you are. 

It's an opportunity to face some of your fears, and maybe as a reward, feel more seen and heard than you have before. That's the good news.

Lisa: I love it. But that's the message is that personal growth, working on yourself, developing healthy boundaries, creating congruence in your life, having healthy affirming relationships is really the path out of both situations. What a positive note to glide to a stop off. 

This was such a fun conversation, Kathleen. Thank you so much. You just illuminated so many different aspects of this. I know that even myself talking with you today understood this in different ways because of our conversation. I'm sure that some of our listeners maybe have as well, and that they can use these new insights and put them to work in their life. Thank you for doing this with me.

Kathleen: Right, absolutely. Glad to be here. Thank you.

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Authentic Antiracist Action Starts With You.

Becoming Antiracist

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

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

In May 2020, a Black man named George Floyd suffocated to death after he was pinned to the pavement outside a Minneapolis convenience store by a white police officer. The brutality of his death and the irrefutable video evidence led to a global outcry, waking many white Americans to a reality that Black Americans know too well: that racist violence is still a regular occurence in our country. 

 

Of course, we were motivated to act. To donate to action groups, vote for reform, and march in the streets. Some communities have challenged the basic structures of policing, and began to imagine new frameworks for public safety. 

 

But big, structural changes like these depend on millions of individuals first changing internally. And as an experienced therapist and life coach, I know how tough making even minor internal changes can be. In this case, it requires us to acknowledge how we’ve benefited from a system that routinely destroys other people’s lives in hideous ways, and that we do have some power to make things better, but we haven’t always used it. 

 

Here’s the good news: Taking on these difficult internal challenges is what will allow you to fight against racism in your everyday life. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day, we’re rereleasing our conversation about antiracism, and the internal growth work you can begin today on your journey to becoming a true ally. 

 

I hope you’ll listen, and feel empowered to begin exploring your own opportunities to create a better future for all of us. You can find this episode right on this page, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

 

With love and gratitude, 

 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Becoming Antiracist

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

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How to Fight Racism

After George Floyd’s murder, the outpouring of support for antiracist causes was a beautiful thing. It also needs to be said that true, meaningful change requires us to go much deeper than saying nice things or taking superficial action. True change will require all Americans — and specifically, white Americans — to take this fight on as their own. 

In order for lasting, systemic change to happen, white Americans need to take on the emotional burden of racism, break the silence of complicity, refuse to accept the status quo, and shine the light of inquiry into all the spaces that racism hides and festers. It is vital for white people to do this work because…. I’m going to say it… white people are actually the problem. 

Not all white people, but enough white people are collectively involved in systemic racist policies and institutions to make these systems very difficult for people of color to change from the outside in.

This is an inside job. White people need to be looking around themselves (and inside themselves) to see what's causing so much harm to others, and take meaningful, antiracist action to change what they can change. This sounds simple, but in reality, it's much harder to do.

Becoming Antiracist

Well-meaning white people are often eager to leap into action for the antiracist cause, but do so without first having done the foundational personal growth work that allows them to genuinely understand racism, and be confident activists in pursuit of change. Instead, white people often feel intense feelings of guilt for the abuse that people of color experience, shame for their own white privilege, and intense feelings of anxiety about doing or saying “the wrong thing.” 

While these feelings are all understandable, not knowing how to work through them and get past them can prevent a white person from being the effective agent of change that the world so desperately needs.

Before meaningful change and social activism are possible, there needs to be a growth process of self-awareness and healing. This is hard to do, and there are not many sign-posts to guide you in this work. Most white families never talk about race, much less provide their children with a roadmap to develop a healthy, white racial identity. As such, white Americans struggle to cope with the emotional reality of racism and injustice. Defensiveness, silence, denial, tone-deaf “action,” and / or paralysis can ensue.

(Healthy) White Racial Identity Development

The good news is that, while white culture does not generally speak of such things openly, there actually is a map. In the '90s, psychologist and researcher Janet Helms built on the work of William Cross (Racial Identity Development in People of Color) and Derald W Sue (Counseling the Culturally Diverse) to develop a white racial identity development model that outlines the process through which white people can shift away from color-blindness and denial, work through paralyzing shame and guilt, take responsibility for understanding racism, and then use their authentic awareness to be part of the meaningful solution.

Until white people do this necessary personal growth work, it is difficult for them to be reliable partners in the fight against racism. However, the internal work of growing in their own racial identity and awareness lays the foundation for authentic anti-racist action that is motivated by a genuine desire for positive change — and an acceptance that the problem of racism is their problem too. In that emotional space, white Americans can shift away from being (even unconsciously) part of the problem, and into being part of the solution.

The Antiracist Personal Growth Process

In that spirit, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I'm diving into Helm's White racial identity development model, and having an honest conversation about what the stages are really like. (Because I have lived them all!) We'll talk about what the work involves, the obstacles and opportunities in each stage of development, and resources to support you in your anti-racist development. Specifically, we'll address:

  • Why “color-blindness” happens, and why something so prevalent (and seemingly well-intentioned) is so destructive.
  • Why white people often feel so much guilt and shame when confronting race, and how to not let those feelings stop you from moving forward.
  • How to avoid the mental and emotional pitfalls that can derail the anti-racist growth process.
  • Why anti-racist action stemming from anxiety about “being a good white person” can be more harmful than helpful.
  • How to dig into the realities of racism, the impact of racial discrimination, and the fact of white privilege in a constructive way that facilitates growth and healing.
  • How white parents can raise anti-racist children.

Resources for Fighting Racism

In addition to all of the above, in this episode, I mention a number of resources that have been personally helpful to me in my own journey of anti-racist growth. These are just a tiny drop in the bucket; a big part of the work of stage five is to read / watch / listen / attend / learn from anything and everything that adds another piece to the ever-evolving puzzle of your own understanding and empathy. A few resources mentioned in the podcast (know there are MANY more):

Antiracist Resources For Kids (Toddlers to Tweens!):

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Dr. Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. And welcome to part two of our discussion. Today, we are talking about how to heal racism, and now we're going to turn our attention to the healthy anti-racist developmental process for hopefully a little bit of direction and guidance to how to cultivate this perspective and orientation in our own lives.

 

So we talk a lot on this show about matters of personal growth, and self-development all related to love, happiness and success. And, I was thinking recently that I can't remember how many times I've said on this show. No one teaches you how to have a great relationship. And that's why we have to have these conversations about it.

 

Or no one teaches you how to be a happy person. These are all skills and strategies that we are all individually responsible for learning over time in order to be a mentally and emotionally and spiritually well person, right? And there is education and investment into developing these abilities like through couples counseling or through individual therapy or coaching to really help you learn and develop these aspects of yourself to help you achieve these poor, important, personal goals.

 

And I was reflecting recently, especially in light of this sort of new tide, new awareness in our country, in our culture about the impact and legacy of racism in our society. And I think what I've also been hearing from everyone, from clients to personal friends, to family members, to colleagues is a real desire, particularly in white people to do something, to help and to be a force of good in the world.

 

That is an effective way of beginning to really, and meaningfully solve some of the destructive racist patterns that we see in our. And, nobody teaches you how to have relationships, right? But certainly at least when it comes to white culture, there is zero conversation about how to develop a healthy, white, racial identity.

 

That becomes the foundation of being able to cultivate a real and true anti racist approach to the world where you can become an active partner in creating positive change related to systemic racism and the acts of violence that shock us all in moments like these. In order to think about what would be most helpful in service of that conversation.

 

I began combing back through my mind and honestly, my personal process of doing that work and why it was so difficult and being able to tie it back to some of what we know about how healthy racial identity is developed and what gets in the way of it. And so again, this is me talking for a few minutes on a podcast.

 

And so I'm going to certainly drop a few ideas that I hope will provide you with some understanding and direction, but please know that listening to this podcast or anything else for that matter is a drop of what this work really involves. For me personally, this is a journey that I'm probably on. 25 at this point.

 

And I am still very much in the process of figuring things out. And and also I would like to, before I even launch into this deeply ask in advance for your grace and patience, if, as, a person who is still developing herself and who does not have all the answers says, so something, I don't want to use the word wrong, but you know that I might perceive down the line as being like, dude, did I really say that?

 

I don't have all the answers. I am still figuring this out and I might say, or do something even over the course of this conversation that rubs someone the wrong way. And this, that anxiety right there is the anxiety that we all have to fight through and be brave around and do it anyway and say things anyway, in order to change our world.

 

I'll be a role model for imperfection in action. Okay. But a really helpful idea for me that I was not introduced to, until I went to counseling school, when I was 26 years old, was the idea of racial. Identity development and how it happens in stages over a period of time. This concept was introduced to me in a wonderful multicultural counseling competency class, right?

 

And this class was designed to help primarily white counseling students, which are absolutely the majority in every counseling program, to understand racism and how it impacted them personally and their worldview so that they could genuinely be of service to everyone grappling with this issue. But in particular to clients who identified as people of color, so as to not inadvertently damage them.

 

So that was really like the purpose and intention of the class. And there were all kinds of things that happened in that class, in service of it. But the idea that one of the ideas that really hit home for me, and I think launched my process in a new way was this idea of racial identity development and racial identity development is true for people of all races.

 

And the process is a little bit different for people of all races. So if when black people go through a racial identity development process, it is obviously going to be a little bit different from the ones that white people go through. But I'm just going to run through these with you really quickly, and then we'll go back and discuss, okay.

 

And this comes from home's work and I will be posting links to these handouts that I have here on the post for this podcast. But very briefly, there are six different stages and they may not be linear as always people can go back and forth or have these in different order, but they are, the first stage is called contact.

 

The second is disintegration. The third is reintegration. The fourth is pseudo independence then comes immersion and then comes autonomy. So six different phases. Very briefly. The first stage of contact is where there is a lack of understanding of even racism. This is like where white people are, colorblind everywhere.

 

The next stage of disintegration is when people become confronted with the reality of racism and how it is very much part of our society. And it generates a lot of bad feelings. The third stage of reintegration is something that happens particularly with white people who are trying to make themselves feel better, where disintegration has brought up a lot of big, horrible feelings.

 

Reintegration is how can I soothe these feelings oftentimes by doubling down in defensiveness and denial and even a reliance with racist ideas that seem. The fourth stage is something called pseudo independence, which is still very self-focused. It is a positive stage of racial development. And the stage people are moving into white.

 

People are moving into taking racism seriously and wanting very much to be a force of good in the world and to help change this. But it is often a lot of activity focused on how can I figure out how to be a good white person so that I'm still denying that I am a racist or have subconscious racist beliefs.

 

And I'm looking to other people to help, okay, what do I do? But it's very it is very it feels very fragile and unconfident and. Very much in service of how do I feel better? I like to feel better, please help. Okay. When people work through that, they can come into an immersion phase where they've worked through the feelings of shame and guilt and are settling in to the emotional experience of empathetically connecting with the realities of the world, a racist world, and actively investing in educational opportunities and growth opportunities to help them understand for their own.

 

So it's self-motivated because they want to know and they want to understand and they want to develop. So there's that fifth stage. And then finally, the sixth stage of autonomy is when God, he works some things out and understands the world a lot differently as a white person and your place in it, and feels like you can genuinely be a partner in changing it.

 

So those are a brief summary of the phases. We're going to talk through them deeply now for the purpose of understanding them and understanding how you and I, and we can work through these different stages productively in order. The very first stage of the white racial identity model. And this was a model created by Helms in the mid nineties to explain this process as it relates to white folks.

 

The first stage is called contact. And in this stage, there is a colorblindness in white people that is often characterized by a denial of racial differences. It is, we are one everyone is equal and everyone is the same and almost a refusal to participate in. Seeing the world through a racial lens, there is a disowning of it and.

 

I was certainly in that phase for a big chunk of my life. And there are reasons for that. Personally, I never had a conversation about race, racism, anything like that in my Lily white family. I personally did not know it at the time, but I was raised in a very segregated environment. I went to a very segregated 

 

school.

 

There was like one black kid in my entire school who, seemed nice enough, lived in a similar neighborhood, just wasn't exposed to any of those ideas. And what I was taught was like, you know what on Sesame street or the Muppets. Different Sesame street characters. They might have different colored skin and they all had similar life experiences and we need to respect and support people no matter what they look like.

 

And there were certainly ideas around that to be mean to people based on how they looked was not good. And we didn't want to do that. Like at a very elementary school level. We need to be nice to everyone. We went on a field trip. I grew up in Southwestern, Virginia, went on a field trip to the Booker T Washington plantation, where we were taught that yes, slavery was a thing that happened a long time ago and it was very regrettable and bad things happened.

 

And thankfully we're all past that now and stuff like that doesn't happen any more. And, there, there was also Booker T Washington who was a bright, hardworking boy. And he went to school. He tried really hard and he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made something of himself. And even for anyone who comes from a difficult background, if they work hard enough and try hard enough, they can have a nice life and that's the American way.

 

And we should all feel good about that. And so those were the ideas that I was raised with and I think that is true for many white Americans. Don't be mean to people based on the way they look or where they come from. And this idea of colorblindness we're all the same. And we're not going to think about people in terms of their racial differences, because we all have the same opportunities and it's all going to be okay.

 

Now what I didn't know at the time, but came to learn is that stance right there, the color blindness is very problematic because when you grow up in a white world with white people and white cultural ideals, what it means to be a person is what it means to be a white person. That what is normal is a white.

 

Cultural identity is a white view of the world. It is going to history classes that world history means white European history. And then we can talk about some of this other stuff too, but it is extremely insular and most white people by virtue of their white privilege are never in a situation where they need to think otherwise.

 

There is no other information. This is just the way that the world is. And what happens is that. If this is the model for the way that the world is and the way that people should be, if bad things happen to other people who are not white, it must mean that they did something to cause that they were behaving badly.

 

They were acting in ways that aren't really appropriate, particularly when we compare them to our cultural ideals and that if they are living in poverty or having, regrettable things happen to them, it's because no, maybe they weren't trying hard enough or they weren't working hard enough or they weren't doing what they should be doing because why else would they be getting those kinds of outcomes?

 

That is the danger and the risk of that very insular colorblind model is that it fails to see the reality of people in other cultures, in other racial groups and the forces at work that are very actively and deliberately trying to bring them down and standing on them and making it much more difficult for them to achieve and be healthy and well in our society.

 

And similarly along those same lines in a colorblind world it fails to take into consideration or account the impact of white privilege and how white people are benefiting in very real and material ways from this racist system. If there are no races, if there are no colors, then white people are getting the results that they're getting because they earned it.

 

Not because they have invisible advantages that not everyone does. There's no recognition of that in a colorblind. So that is the first stage of white racial development. Is that we're all the same. It's no, I don't see color. And also that goes along with that, is this sort of low key anxiety that if I am talking about race, that is a problem that we just need to like, pretend that's not a thing that'll make it better.

 

And certainly to be identified as a white person, that feels really dangerous because then there are these differences and what does that mean? And if I'm a white person talking about race, does that make me like what a Nazi, like also kids, white kids growing up, like we see the movies, we see, Alma, Stott, or other movies that, that highlight the terrible things that were, have been and are being done to black Americans and other people of color.

 

And that. The villains in those movies are horrible, racist, white people who are doing bad things. And so then we need to also reject that concept of white racial identification, because that is evil and reprehensible and wrong. The worst thing that you can call someone, a white person anyway, is a racist.

 

That's it's like calling somebody a Nazi or a pedophile. It's saying you are the most despicable type of human that could possibly exist, that you would absolutely support harming someone or oppressing someone or damaging someone because of this sense of racial superiority. And so there is a huge rejection of that in, in particular the first stage of white racial divide.

 

The second stage though, is a part called disintegration. And at that stage white people are confronted with some of the reality that people of other races of their experience. So while the first space was I'm colorblind, everyone's the same. Then there is new information around, why is this happening to people?

 

Why are the families of immigrants being separated and Mexican children being put in case. Why are people being killed by police officers? When they're suspected of some trivial petty crime, but they're being shot or shot jogging down their street, like, how is this possible then? So there's this new awareness in white people that bad things really do happen to people of color that we do not typically experience.

 

And those moments become a fork in the road. Either we can let that in and yeah, why is that happening? And what does that mean about what's happening in the world or, and what is often more common is this idea of what's happening? Why is it happening? And the fact that it is happening to other people makes me as a white person feel so much shame and guilt that this kind of horror is happening to, to people who maybe are like me.

 

That is such a bad feeling that I need to do whatever I can to protect myself internally, emotionally from that feeling of shame and guilt and horror. And so to do that, I need to blame someone outside of myself and find a reason why that makes sense. So in this stage, depending on the way that fork in the road moment goes, a white person can go into a phrase or a phase rather that Helms termed reintegrating.

 

Which is a way of a white person putting themselves back together and their own self concept back together, which is bad. Things happen to people of other races because they deserve it. And because they are failing to behave in a way that would be consistent with their being successful in this country, in this environment.

 

And so they're really into law and order. And if people could just assimilate and be more like us, it would really go better for them and coming into a place where, you know maybe white people do have privileges and maybe there's a reason why maybe there's a reason why that makes sense.

 

So it's very easy for white people to get stuck in that place where yeah, bad things happen in the world, but there's a reason why, and all of the reasons why are reasons that I tell myself that so that I don't have to feel anxious and guilty and ashamed that these terrible things are happening to people in the world.

 

And that at the same time, I am experiencing exactly the opposite. I am experiencing a lot of benefits and advantages in this culture, in a society because I am white. That can feel really bad for a white person. I know I have certainly struggled with that. And when we talk about the phrase it's getting tossed around lately, it's is white privilege and that's been in the media and the consciousness, which is a good thing, but I think that it's really difficult for white people to take on board what this means.

 

And it's also easy to reject. And white people, particularly in the stage of development, there is a lot of defensiveness and there's a lot of denial. My family were recent immigrants. I did not have a single relative in this country at the turn of the century. And my family did not participate in any of this badness and it's not my fault that maybe I do have privileges in the society.

 

Maybe it is easier for me to get a home loan, but I'm not a bad credit risk either. So a lot of rationalization or a lot of denial of The fact that other racial groups in our society are really actually getting worse treatment, a shorter end of the stick than we are. And there can be a lot of I'm a woman and I know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my sex or, I had Irish immigrants in my family and they were parlor maids and they were discriminated against.

 

And it's really not fair to lump me into this big, like that I'm a racist because I can't be a racist because first of all, I'm a good person who loves other people and I would never hurt anyone. And, I know I also know what it's like to suffer, so that does not apply to me.

 

So there's a big pushback and it comes from, again this discomfort and anxiety and pain that we feel when confronted with the truth. The reality that there is white privilege and that we are actively benefiting from it. Another thing that I first encountered in the counseling class that I went to, that I mentioned right around the same time, it's like, there's a white, racial identity development, but there's also this thing called white privilege.

 

I had not ever heard of that before. And I'm 26 years old. Okay. I did not know that was a thing. I also didn't know that native American boarding schools were a thing until that class. I remember learning about this and being like what really happened. Like I had no idea, but so let me share with you.

 

One of the things that I came across around that same time, and this is, this has been around for a while now, but it was enormously impactful for me at the time. And it really helped me begin to understand that White people do have enormous privileges in our society because of racism and to begin to like understand what that meant for me and to begin to see the world differently.

 

The article is by a woman named Peggy McIntosh. It's called white privilege unpacking the invisible knapsack. So the idea is that there's like this backpack of stuff and resources that white people get to carry around with them, that people of color don't. And she very helpfully put it into a list, which included things like if I want to, I can arrange to be in the company of people of my race.

 

Most of the time. Just true. To, if I need to move, I can be pretty sure that renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford in and which I can afford and in which I want to live. So I can find a nice place in a good environment that is attainable for me, that is not true for everyone.

 

Three is I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. Four is that I can go shopping alone. Most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed five. I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

 

And also I'll just add largely positively represented, right? Six, when I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. Seven. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

 

Eight. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege nine, I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race, represented into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit in with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

 

  1. When I use credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color, not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability 11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. Yep. Another one that stood out for me. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

 

I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. I can choose blemish covers or band-aids in flesh color and have them more or less match my skin. I can be pretty sure that if I asked to talk to the person in charge, I will be facing a person of my race.

 

I am never asked to speak for all people of my racial group. I am seen as an individual, not as an Emissary of a whole racial group. And so there are a lot of other really significant points that are made in this article. But I remember thinking about that and white privilege in a different way after being exposed to those ideas.

 

But even then, like the primary emotional experience that I had as a white person in my own white racial development was one of an enormous amount of guilt and shame because if this is true, and if I am benefiting as a result of this, then I am an active participant in a racist culture. I am benefiting from a racist culture.

 

And because of the way that racist is defined, which is being a bad, evil, horrible person, that means that I must be a bad, evil, horrible person. Because there wasn't another idea to counterbalance that. And so what I think is a much more helpful idea about racism and what it is this system that creates a value hierarchy of who people are categorized by race and how they should be categorized by race.

 

And that these differences are not equal. They are. Ranked in order of how like good or bad they are relative to each other with a white supremacist, ideal being at the top and that people of other races and other cultures are compared to this white ideal. That is really like the core of a racist ideology is that we're evaluating other races based on a sort of subjective.

 

Like what is normal based on this very unconscious white identity. Colorblindness creates an in our society. And then because of that sort of unconscious bias, that some ways of being are Biver to better than others. And the whiter you are, the whiter you act, the whiter culturally, you match this ideal.

 

The more rewarded you will be from that culture, like going back to Mr. Booker T Washington, like he was the good. Former slave because he worked really hard to assimilate himself into white cultural ideals. And also there is another very, I think, dangerous idea that goes along with that, which is that of assimilation that people who come here from other countries or people of other races need to work hard, to be more like us, to be more mainstream, to be more normal.

 

What is not said in those conversations is to be more white. But that is the implied kind of undercurrent of that. That is what Indian boarding schools were all about is we're going to take people away from their native indigenous cultures that an anti-racist would view as being not just legitimate, but valuable and beautiful and worthy of celebrating.

 

And we're going to take them away and we're going to teach them how to be so that they can have opportunities in this culture. So we're going to reform them by taking away their cultural identity, their belief system, their language, their family structure, their way of being, and try to assimilate them, which is really making them more, more white.

 

These are all very powerful forces at work in our culture and white people on the path of racial identity development can see these things going on, but get really stuck in either this sort of paralyzing guilt and shame that they need to fix by either blaming the victim or saying they have a point about assimilation and the differences between cultures, maybe some things are better than others, falling into that. Or there is another space that people can go into, which is just denial and saying all people have struggles. All people are oppressed. All people go through hard times. And because I also have done this and my family has done this. I am not this bad, evil, racist person, because I am a good person.

 

I would never hurt anyone. And so it's like, how do you reconcile being a white person with being a good person? It is an emotional crisis. Now the next stage of racial development, if you can keep getting through that, pushing yourself along, there is one that is called pseudo independence. Again, a term developed by home, through her research.

 

And this is the first stage of positive racial identity. Although an individual in this stage does not feel that whites deserve privilege. They look to people of color, not to themselves to confront and uncover racism. They approve of these efforts and comfort the person as these efforts validate that white person's desire to be non-racist.

 

And although this is positive, the white person in this stage does not really have a concept of how they can work to be part of the solution. And this is what I see. And probably what you see happening in our world right now with it. And it's a positive thing in many ways, as some of the protests and white people putting signs in their yards and blacking out their Instagram accounts and all of this and it's this, I want to be your ally in your fight because this is your problem, black person.

 

And I see how destructive and awful this has been for you. And I feel really bad about what you're dealing with and I want to be a good white person. So I just want you to know that I think what you're doing to protest and try to make things be different is great. And you should totally keep doing that.

 

And let me know how I can help, but I think you're doing a really good job. Keep going. There is still this idea of racism. And prejudice and racist policies are someone else's problem. They are not the problem of a white person. And I think going back to white privilege that they don't have to feel like your problem.

 

It does not have to feel like your problem. You can go for days, weeks, months at a time without talking about these things, without thinking about them without being put in situations where you're confronted by them. It is very easy to just put all that stuff back in the box. And I think a risk too is in service of managing your own guilt and anxiety and shame when these things are coming up in the world is figuring out, what can I do?

 

To help myself feel better as a white person. Should I donate money? Should I go protest? Should I put a sign in my yard, but it's not so much about what can I do to make this my problem and begin actually healing the racism and changing the racist policies in my culture. It is. And I hate to say this, but it's very self-focused, it's about, I need to feel like I'm a good white person.

 

And so what can I do to make myself feel better? Because these things are happening. And it really oftentimes creates this dynamic where people of color then put into the situation where they're like needing to soothe the feelings of anxious, white people who are worried that they're bad people because of being white and not really knowing what to do.

 

Which does not help. And I think it probably damages relationships further. I think a different stance and, once a white person has, I think gone through and done the work of cultivating a healthy white racial development identity is this idea that this is actually my problem.

 

This is something that I am profoundly uncomfortable with. This is something that I perceive my life as having been impacted by very directly. And what do I need to do to be part of a meaningful solution, having uncomfortable conversations with other white people about racism and what we are going to do to address this.

 

Those are difficult places to go, and they are really impossible places to go into until you have done the work of recognizing these different stages of development and the emotional obstacles that there are to working through it. So in a pseudo-independence phase of white racial development, there is a lot of awareness that there is a problem of racism, but looking to people of color to solve that problem and passively supporting you at a distance kind of desires to be an ally.

 

But, do not do anything. I just, I see you. Okay. The next phase, and this is a really important phase is one that is called immersion slash immersion slash immersion. So in this stage, a person makes a genuine attempt to connect to his or her own white identity. And be anti-racist stage is usually accompanied by a deep concern with understanding and connecting to other whites who are, or have been dealing with issues of racism and in another.

 

A resource I have here that this stage is characterized by discomfort with his or her own whiteness yet unable to truly be anything else. The individual may begin searching for a new, more comfortable way to be white in this stage, learning about white people who have been anti-racist alleys allies to people of color can be an important part of this process.

 

Whites find it helpful to know that others have experienced similar feelings and found ways to resist the racism in their environments. And they're provided with important models to change. I think that there is also something else that happens in this phase. That has been my personal experience in moving out of a preoccupation with not wanting to be a bad white person and doing things that are supportive of non-racist causes. 

 

But because of me wanting to feel better as opposed to actually making meaningful change in other lives for me, what this needed to involve was a very, and instill is a shift into personal responsibility for how do I, as a white person seek out information and educational experiences to help me develop a more clear understanding of what happened, why it happened, why we are such a racist culture in the United States, why does systemic oppression and racism occur in our society in this day and age?

 

And for me, this is still ongoing. Was a lot of, again, I talked about this in other podcasts, but I am a card carrying nerd. So reading books, listening to podcasts, doing more digging into some of these ideas that were presented to me in counseling school. And also I think doing some almost accountability work to understand how I did and do currently benefit from white privilege and some reflection around how my experience would be different if I wasn't a white woman.

 

So for example books that I have found to be really helpful going way back guns, germs, and steel I think at one, a Pulitzer prize, Big prize for exploration around how geographic factors impacted the way that different cultures developed and started to make sense of colonialism and how that happened.

 

That was helpful to me, I think, going to a lot of educational experiences. So for example and this come comes back to something else, I am now a mother of a white son who is going to grow up to be a white man, but how do I change his growing up experience so that he is introduced to the ideas and realities and things that I did not know about as a child growing up.

 

There were never conversations about it. So for example, this past year I wanted to take him to the deep south so that we could go to a plantation and talk about the reality of the lives of enslaved people and why that happened. And the economic forces that led to the enslavement. Of Africans from their country and bring them here to work on these plantations.

 

And this is what was going on. And I think experientially bring him there and see this is what life would have been like for you as a child at this time because of a slave economy. And that is what the United States was built on. And I think helping him emotionally connect, but also me to, connect with, wow this is why there is so much discrimination, is that in order for people to be able to do this to other people, they had to believe that the people that they were enslaving were sub.

 

And to be actively going into educational experiences, like for example, what is voodoo, right? And we went to an exhibit around voodoo and looked at how that was a sort of continuation of African spirituality that enslaved people were finding ways to, to practice and cultivate in their new situation, but really looking at it as an uprising of African culture.

 

And certainly I've had a lot of opportunities recently to go and learn about indigenous people and certainly in the. The United States and in Canada, but first nations people and the experience that they had when your pee and settlers and colonists came in and the decimation of their cultures, and, standing with my son at a big exhibit around what it was actually like to be taken away from your family and sent to a boarding school and being with him and watching him empathically connect with that emotional experience in a way that he was like, ah certainly talking as a family about what has been happening around immigration and how people who are trying to come across the border from Mexico, what is happening to those families and talking about why.

 

They are putting their lives at risk and putting themselves in so much danger to come hear what is happening in their countries. It's making it so important for them to do this. So not just looking at what people do, but why are they doing it? And, having recognition for the fact that when my family was worried about another war in Europe, they, my grandparents had gone through two world wars at that point.

 

And they came over in the fifties when Stalin was the next crazy person. Saber rattling on the horizon. They were like, no, this doesn't feel safe for us and our family. And they wanted to come to the United States. And what did they have to do to not just emigrate, but to be accepted and have the opportunity to become naturalized citizens.

 

They had to say, we were thinking of moving to the United States. Would that be okay? And the response was, yeah, come on in. Yes. Why not? Compared to the experience of ethnic minorities, trying to come to the United States and be accepted as citizens. And again, an earlier stage of white racial development might jump to the conclusion.

 

They were. A good solid family of people who would contribute to our culture and be good taxpayers. And that is an assumption. My family was a bunch of Belgium, Bohemian artists. My grandfather was a musician. Chain smoking cigarettes and cafes and talking about art. So just in case you went there, I just wanted to have that as a little reality check and the criteria for them being able to come to the United States, they had to know one person here who was able to vouch for them.

 

And I actually found this out over the past year, the person that my family knew and vouched for them was a suspected Nazi sympathizer who skedaddled out of Antwerp after the end of world war two, I don't know where that relationship went or what the involvement was of my family in that whole chapter of history.

 

It's lost in time now, but so that's who they knew, and that was perfectly acceptable by the government as being a valid character reference. For me as a white person, to be able to coming to grips just with all of that and thinking about how easy it was for my, flawed family is just flawed as any others to come here and to start a life of opportunity and all of the small daily things that I have that not other people can expect.

 

My mother passed away. I am now having to transport her car from her house to my house. And along the way, realized that her tags are expired. And I was worried about that. And I said to my brother-in-law like, what do I do if I get pulled over and her tags are expired because I can't get her registration updated because she's not alive.

 

And I don't have the title to her car. And he was like, they'll just explain to them. They'll understand. But in that moment, I was also like, would I get that same understanding and response if I were a Latina American or a Black American woman driving a car that wasn't mine and trying to explain to an officer that pulled me over, it's my mom's car and she died, but I wasn't able to update the register, would I get the same grace and the same patience?

 

So I just wanted to share these experiences with you because in this stage of white racial development, there needs to be a lot of personal reflection and personal responsibility and the ability I think to manage and reconcile the guilt and the shame, and to be able to move away from that and understand that everyone in the United States, possibly the world has been impacted by.

 

Race racially significant values and ideals, and that we are all brought up in a racist culture and that without a lot of very deliberate reflection and

 

intentional education and grappling with these ideas a white person in this culture does not have to think about it. It's very easy to just dismiss it and push it away. And as long as you're not a bad white person, that's all we can do. And the next level of development is really like sinking into it and allowing yourself to be heartbroken at the experiences that people in our culture have had allowing yourself to be.

 

Outraged about what has happened, what is happening? Another great resource. In the past, I don't know exactly when it came out. It has been a number of months out, but there's a podcast called 1619 that was produced. I think in conjunction with the New York Times, but talks about the 400 year history of slavery in the United States through the lens of of black American and, so many times listening to that podcast, I became aware that I was like, like feeling really like anxious, almost shaking, and to be able to not just tolerate, but seek out those kinds of experiences where we as white people are being emotionally impacted.

 

Not in the same way because we get to step in and step out again if we want to. So it's not in the same way as people of color in our culture have to do. But voluntarily going in there in order to allow yourself to feel and understand the reality of systematic oppression, racist policies, because when you're able to go into that place, it starts to feed.

 

Like your problem. And you begin to become very aware of the differences that are around all of us all the time and what is being taught to our children. And how do we, as a family, need to step in to be able to educate them around how to be a white person in a highly racist culture and what it means to be anti-racist.

 

And so here we come into the sixth and final stage of white racial development, which is the last stage. It’s reached when an individual has a clear understanding of and positive connection to their white racial identity, while also actively pursuing social justice. Home stages are as much about finding a positive racial identification with being white and also becoming an active anti-racist.

 

And another definition over here the autonomy phase can be an externalization of a newly defined sense of self as white as the primary task of this stage, positive feelings associated with this redefinition energize the person's efforts to confront racism and oppression in daily life alliances with people of color can be more easily forged in the stage because the person's anti-racist behaviors and attitudes will be more consistently expressed.

 

And they're not self-focused either. I think there's an emotional difference from someone who really takes the problem of racism in our culture, on as their own, as opposed to a white person who doesn't want to be a bad white person. So that's how Holmes describes that, that final stage.

 

And, and that's hard to figure out how do I love and appreciate things about European culture and also actively prize and see, and value the differences in other cultures as being similarly respectable and worthy and important and valuable. And that is seeking out cultural experiences of, the music of other cultures, the literature of other cultures, worldview, the art of other cultures and doing a lot of that with my son too, around that there's beauty in all things, but also how do we as white people and as a family understand and not forget what is happening in the world around us and act in such a way to Help other people who don't have the same privilege in our culture that we do and be active forces of change.

 

And I tell my son all the time, I say you don't have to feel badly about being white. And I'm sure that as he gets older, he will go through all of these stages of white racial development too. But I tell him, you don't have to feel badly about being white, but you do have to be aware of what is happening in the world and how you fit into that picture and to see what is going on in the lives of other people and be actively working to prevent the systematic oppression of other people in our country and recognize your privilege and not abuse it, but help use it for the betterment of the.

 

I don't know if that's the right thing to tell him or not, but that's what I got. And so

 

I don't know if this was a really uncomfortable conversation to have, or to hear. I don't think that I would have been able to do this with you at a podcast version even a couple of years ago. I think that I would have been too afraid of saying the wrong thing or having people be mad at me or some kind of backlash.

 

So I, that was probably enough to silence me, but I think continuing in my journey and understanding more and more, I think finding a role in all of this. Feels positive for me as a white person who is actively fighting a racist indoctrination in the way that I was raised and who is actively working on becoming a more active anti-racist in my own life.

 

And also helping my son develop an anti-racist identity as he goes through his formative years has helped me, I think, feel more comfortable talking about issues like this on this platform. And also I would like to acknowledge that being uncomfortable and feeling defensiveness and feeling rejection of these ideas and feeling shame and feeling guilt is all part of this process.

 

And it is too easy for us as white people to say, oh, this feels bad. I do not like this and push it away. And because of the privilege of not having to deal with it. And so I hope that having this conversation with you offers some kind of guidance and some conversation around a topic that we as white people never have to have.

 

I will also share with you some resources that again, have been super helpful for me on my journey. The book white fragility by Robin de Angelo has been magnificent. It has really helped me find. Words, I think to understand the emotional experiences that I was having along the way of my own development process.

 

And I think an increased recognition for how the feelings of shame and guilt and defensiveness have been active in my own life over the years and why, you know why that is. So that's wonderful. Another more recent book that I really appreciated and once strongly recommended is called how to be an anti racist by Ebrum X Kendi.

 

He did such a nice job of talking about how racism can impact all of us and the different miss lake areas in which people are. Judged, according to racial that racial hierarchy model and offers wonderful strategies from being able to move away from that kind of basic stance and into a more anti-racist stance that is more positive.

 

Also I mentioned Guns, Germs and Steel, the 1619 podcast was wonderful and there are also so many educational opportunities, I think in many communities and, some I think are more emotionally impactful than others. But to be able to go to museums, go to a native American powwow, show up in places that you might.

 

You might not usually learn about the culture of others and to be able to, I think also not just receive, but seek out the stories of what it has been like and what it feels like for people of color in our culture to be here and contrast that with your own experience. And again, it's not for the purpose of making you feel bad.

 

It's for the purpose of expanding your awareness to help begin this growth process and reconcile it and make this problem, your problem. Because at the end of the day, this problem will be solved and resolved by people who have the power to change. And certainly there are a lot of very powerful leaders of color in our country, and I'm so happy about that.

 

And there needs to be more. And that is not enough in order to really change the system. It requires the involvement of white people to see and understand the way that racism is impacting everyone in our culture, and to be able to change racist policies that perpetuate that. And it is only people who have power, who can do that, and it is time.

 

And it's also promising. We recently, at the time of this recording, saw the governor of Virginia. Finally remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Richmond. I don't know if you guys have spent much time in Richmond. I've been there, there are Confederate statues all over the place. And just want to run a little parallel.

 

Imagine going into downtown Dusseldorf, Germany, and there are statues of Hitler and Himmler, a Googler like standing there, on their horses and in a posture of being worthy of respect. It's the same thing. The Germans do not have statues of Hitler and they're really working to try to educate people about what happened hopefully, so that it doesn't happen again.

 

But the analogy is the same. And I think it was just last week that somebody was like, oh yeah, maybe we should take down that statue of Robert E. Lee, the statue that represents genocide and enslavement of innocent people. So hopefully we're getting there, but again, it requires a lot of inner strength and awareness and the process is not just an outer one.

 

It is an inner one. And the inner process is one that the white people need to go through.

 

I hope that this conversation was instructive and helped you. I'm going to link to the resources that I shared in the post for this podcast. Thank you for the researchers and the authors who first developed these ideas and put them in front of me. And thank you for all of the amazing teachers that I have had over the years.

 

I have been fortunate enough to have people of color as my professors and my clinical supervisors. And also my friends and my colleagues and, I'm deeply appreciative of the patience and the kindness that people have shown me as I have been working through and continue to work through my own process.

 

I know I'm very much a work in progress, but I'm grateful that people see. I have enough hope and care to try. And my sincere hope is that by all of us doing the hard work we'll get through it together and hopefully create positive change. That's enough for one episode.

 

Thank you so much for listening and I will be back in touch again soon with another episode of the love, happiness and success podcast.

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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Keystone Habits: The Key To Changing Everything

Keystone Habits: The Key To Changing Everything

Keystone Habits: The Key To Changing Everything

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.

You Are What You DO.

At the turn of the year it's a fresh start for everyone. New Year's resolutions are common, but unfortunately, both research and practice show is that resolutions don't work. They don't actually lead to real and lasting change. But there is something that will work, without fail, every single time: Dedication to one, powerful, keystone habit.

As a life coach, I'm in the business of supporting people through the change process. I know from experience that it takes much more than a desire to make positive changes happen in your life. It certainly takes more than motivation, which always ebbs and flows. It even takes more than a plan.

Making changes that stick requires understanding the way our brains work, and the way change occurs. This understanding allows you to essentially hack your way to inevitable success. This process may sound complicated, but it's not: When you find the right healthy habit to cultivate, everything can change.

What Is a Habit?

A habit is a behavior or activity that you routinely do over and over again. So much so, that you begin to do it unconsciously. A powerful habit becomes so ingrained in you that it feels hard-wired — the way you cover your mouth when you cough, put on your right sock first, or answer the phone. You don't actually think about it at all.

It is also true that the arc, even the outcomes of our entire lives are built on the habits that we engage in every day — most of which are almost entirely subconscious. Think about it: Your life, as it is today, is simply the outcome of everything that you've done up until this point. A few macro-decisions have the potential impact our life to a significant degree, like who you marry, the job you take, moving to a new town.

But even then, the actual outcomes you experience in any of these scenarios have much less to do with the circumstances themselves, and more about what your daily “micro-habits” entail. Plenty of people get into Ivy League schools, and don't have the personal habits required to be successful. So they flunk out. Pretty much any relationship has the potential to be a good one or a bad one, depending on how people are in the habit of treating each other day-to-day. All success or failure is determined by your habitual behaviors.

When you think about the changes that you might want to make in your life, and resolve to “save money” or “lose weight” or “have a better relationship” or “expand your social circle” or “keep my house clean” — all of those are fantastic hopes. But they will remain hopes until you understand and learn how to utilize the habits that are creating your current reality, and swap them out for the ones that will allow you to create the life you want — hour by hour, day by day, and year by year.

What is a Keystone Habit?

A keystone habit is a very special habit. It's one, powerful habit that “touches” many other aspects of your life. If you find a single, great keystone habit, it can begin working it's magic on everything from the way you feel, to the way you think, to how much energy you have, to how easy it feels to do other healthy things (and interestingly, harder to engage in the bad habits you might be prone to).

Let's be real: If you think about ALL the habits you might need to change in order to achieve your goals, it can feel discouraging. It can be overwhelming to sit down and take stock of the all things in your life that aren't working, and all of the personal habits you'd have to change in order to create the kind of results you want. Even just having one goal of losing ten pounds requires a number of small daily habits to make that happen: tracking food, consciously choosing healthy lower calorie options, saying no to junk and sweets, minding portion size, getting yourself to exercise, being mindful of cravings and impulsivity, and having a plan to deal with special situations like holidays or outings.

It's probably exhausting just to read that one paragraph! When you tack on other personal goals / resolutions of things you aspire to, like saving money, having a better relationship, being more productive at work, etc, it's even worse. That's because when you start breaking down all the small action steps that achievement in those areas would entail, it's enough to make you want to eat ALL the donuts, isn't it?

I want you to be successful at creating the change you desire in this new year. So for that reason, today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is all about how to find and lovingly cultivate one solid keystone habit that will carry you forward. I'll also be discussing how to make that new habit stick, so that this new year turns into a string of successes for you. 

Specifically we're discussing:

  • How to find your keystone habit
  • How keystone habits work to effect change in many areas of your life
  • Habit loops, and how to make them work for you
  • Habit stacking, and how to cluster winning habits into a life-changing force
  • How long it takes to form a habit
  • How long does it take to break a bad habit? Why it may be easier than you think.
  • Some tips and tricks to help you stay on track with a new habit
  • How to avoid some common pitfalls that could knock your new keystone habit off course

All that, and more, on this episode.

I hope that this info helps you as you craft your path for this new year, and that it brings you only good things.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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Keystone Habits: The Key to Changing Everything

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

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How to Be a Force of Good in The World

How to Be a Force of Good in The World

How To Be A Force Of Good In The World

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

Music Credits: Carlos Farina, “Cappriccio Stravagante: Adagio”

How To Be a Force for Good in The World

In the special space that exists between the end of one year and the start of another, we have time to pause. To rest. To reflect. It's the time of year when we think about who we were and what we learned in the previous year, and set our sights on who we want to be and what we want to accomplish in the next. We're releasing our old selves, and getting ready to embrace fresh, new incarnations.

And for many of us, that means thinking about not only how we can improve our own lives, but the lives of others. 

Being a force for good in the world is a lofty goal. It’s a righteous goal. It’s a challenging goal. If it’s a goal you’ve set for your own life, I have no doubt that it sometimes leaves you feeling discouraged, especially in times like these. 

You may ask yourself, how much can I realistically do for others, when I have my own problems to solve, my own bills to pay, my own family to care for? How can I stay connected with my power to help, when the need is so great and my capacity is so limited? 

These are all questions I’ve asked myself over the course of my career as a counselor and coach. In this episode of the podcast, I discuss how my thinking about what it means to be a force for good in the world has shifted over the years. 

Am I Doing the Right Thing?

No one comes to the field of counseling without a bone-deep desire to help others, and no one gets through the training without having that idealism tested. 

I spent my psychologist internship at a community mental health center, where the clients I saw every day had profound challenges. I worked with children who had experienced horrific abuse at the hands of their parents, clients whose addictions were slowly killing them before my eyes, people who could hardly function well enough to take their medication and make it to my office once a week, let alone live fulfilling, joyful lives

I saw so much suffering and could do so little to help. I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Am I doing the right thing?”

Giving Up Control

Tragedy forced me to give up the mindset that I could be the force that healed someone’s heart, or helped them make real and lasting change in their life. 

When a client dear to me died, I had to acknowledge the truth: that everything was beyond my control. I could do my best, but I couldn’t force anyone to heal, or undo decades of trauma, or erase a lifetime of poverty or neglect or addiction. 

I decided that what happened was not up to me. It was up to a power much, much greater than me. 

The Right Thing to Do

“I am not in control” became my mantra through the rest of my internship. When someone sat in my office and told me the heartbreaking details of their life, I asked for a loving force much bigger and wiser than me to take control and help them

I would use everything I learned in school and I would give them my full, unconditional, positive regard, but I couldn’t force any of it to land. I couldn’t make anyone get back on track. I wasn’t in control of their healing. 

I was reminding myself every day how little control I had when I met Bob, a cognitively disabled man in his fifties who looked like he was in his seventies because of decades of drugs and alcohol addiction coupled with decades of hard labor.

The great heartbreak of Bob’s life was a daughter he had had as a younger man, when his addictions were at their worst. He hadn’t been around for his daughter’s childhood, and he felt profound sadness and regret about not having a relationship with her as an adult. 

What’s worse, Bob was illiterate with a low IQ, and struggled to understand what was happening around him, much less express his feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and love for his daughter. He wanted to heal their relationship, but he felt powerless. 

Be a Force For Good

I couldn’t heal the relationship between Bob and his daughter. I couldn’t say anything that would ease the profound loss he felt. 

But by giving up all control to affect any particular outcome, I was able to help Bob beam his profound love for his daughter out into the universe before it was too late. 

This is not something I did intentionally. I had no idea what I was doing at the time. But the result was a beautiful coincidence that I don’t believe was a coincidence at all. 

I hope you’ll be as touched by Bob’s story as I have been, dear reader. And that it serves as a reminder that you do have the power to be a force for good in the world, as big and impossible as that sometimes feels. 

Happy holidays,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Be A Force Of Good In The World

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

Music Credits: Carlos Farina, “Cappriccio Stravagante: Adagio”

Getting Back With An Ex

Getting Back With An Ex

Getting Back With An Ex

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

Getting Back With An Ex

If you’ve ever wondered about getting back with an Ex, you’re in good company. It’s very common to fantasize about reconnecting with an Ex. You might be looking for signs that you and your Ex will get back together, finding reasons to see them (do you really need that old toothbrush you left at their place?), or might be trying to figure out if you can be friends with your Ex. 

Attachment Bonds Endure

Even if, in your heart of hearts, you know that the relationship had issues (or was even toxic) it’s very hard to break your attachment bond. We don’t flip off our feelings for someone like turning out a light. What does it mean that you still have feelings for your Ex? Or that you want to stay friends with your Ex? Is that a sign that you should get back together? 

Stages of Healing After a Breakup

I’ve worked with many people as a divorce counselor and breakup therapist through their journey of healing from a broken heart, and heck, I’ve even written a book about it. (Here’s the link to Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love, if you’re interested.) Because of this, I know that one of the stages of healing after a breakup is missing your Ex, thinking about your Ex all the time, wondering if you’ll get back together, and trying to maintain your attachment to them — even if it’s just “being friends.” Nearly everyone goes through this, whether or not the relationship is salvageable (or even healthy).

These feelings are confusing, and it can be difficult to know what to do. And, frankly, they can cause problems.

This swirl of painful feelings can lead people to cling to an Ex under the guise of “just being friends” (or worse, “friends with benefits”) which makes it difficult for them to heal, grow and move on emotionally. Similarly, I’ve seen couples spend way too long breaking up and getting back together, over and over, until someone wisely calls it quits for the last time. 

But (and here’s the extremely confusing part) sometimes couples DO successfully get back together after taking a break and can go on to have a positive new chapter in their relationship with each other. In these cases, the separation was a catalyst of personal growth for both of them. It helped them make positive changes in themselves, which allowed them to have a better relationship with each other. 

It’s also true that some former partners CAN go on to have grand friendships with each other that they describe as being even better and more fulfilling than their romantic relationship ever was. 

Can You Get Back With The Ex? Should You Be Friends With An Ex?

So how do you know whether or not you should trust those feelings that are making you wonder if you should get back with your Ex? Or stay friends with your Ex? And how do you know when those feelings are keeping you stuck in an unhealthy attachment, or leading you into another round of eventual broken-hearted misery?

That is the zillion dollar question, and that is why we’re devoting a whole episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to helping you work through it. My guest today is expert breakup counselor and divorce therapist Kensington O., M.A., MFT-C. Kensington is an experienced breakup coach who, among other things, runs our online breakup support group here at Growing Self. 

She has worked with many people grappling with these questions and has helped them figure out whether to get back together, be friends, or just work through the grief of relationship loss and move on. Today she’s sharing her advice with you so that you can get clarity and direction too.

Expert Breakup Advice Podcast

Should you get back with the Ex? Is reconnecting with an Ex a good idea? Can you be friends with an Ex? That’s what we’re discussing! You can listen to this episode right here, or find it on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Show-notes are below, and you can find a full transcript at the bottom of this post. 

What’s your story? Did you get back with an Ex? Or try to be friends with an Ex? If not, how did you get over your Ex and move on emotionally? Share your advice with our community, or ask Kensington and me a follow-up question in the comments section below.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Getting Back With An Ex

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

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Getting Back With An Ex: Episode Highlights

Questioning whether or not ending a relationship was the right choice is a natural stage of any breakup. As breakup recovery counselors and coaches, we see this all the time at Growing Self. Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love” explains that it’s normal to question whether ending the relationship was right, or whether or not you and your Ex can get back together or at least stay friends.

This uncertainty and confusion around your relationship with an Ex can be especially intense in the winter, particularly during the holidays. You may have holiday memories that trigger longing for your Ex. You may have less to do in the winter, you may spend more time alone, and your thoughts may turn to an old relationship.

These questions are hard to answer, and the mix of lingering feelings for your Ex can make them even harder. After a breakup, it’s normal to not be able to stop thinking about your Ex. You may wonder if all that mental energy means something is unresolved. 

To help you sort through the confusion, Dr. Bobby is joined by Kensington Osmond, a fellow MFT, divorce counselor, and breakup therapist at Growing Self.

Getting Back With An Ex

Kensington explains that losing an important relationship naturally triggers grief, and a normal part of the grieving process is questioning whether ending the relationship is really the right choice for you.

These feelings can be especially confusing when the relationship was toxic or just not entirely positive, as rationally, you likely know that the breakup was for the best. You can be addicted to a toxic relationship, or an unhealthy one and powerful attachment bonds will keep you missing your Ex, despite what you know rationally.

Dr. Bobby acknowledges that some “breakups” really do transform into breaks, and couples reconnect and resume their relationship, hopefully having learned new things about themselves and each other in the process.

The key to knowing whether to listen to these feelings telling you to reconnect with your Ex, or dismiss them, is assessing whether you’re simply grieving and missing the person, or whether there are compelling reasons that the relationship may actually be right for you. Think through why the relationship ended and whether anything can be improved or resolved, says Kensington.

Missing Your Ex When You Were the Dumper

Normally the partner who ended the relationship had some time to disconnect emotionally before the breakup, and weigh out the pros and cons of staying together or calling it quits in the relationship. The partner who didn’t choose the breakup may be forced to wrestle with letting go of that attachment when it wasn’t their choice.

Still, even if you were the one to end your relationship, it’s natural to miss your Ex and wonder whether you made the right choice, Kensington says.

Growing Self hosts a breakup recovery group for people working through the ends of their relationships, where other people grieving a breakup can offer empathy and support. Sometimes, these groups offer better support than family and friends, who may not understand how profoundly painful a breakup can be if they aren’t currently experiencing it themselves.

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?

According to Dr. Bobby, the desire to remain friends with an Ex is often just the desire to not fully release the attachment. There may be a hidden agenda, or a clinging to the hope that if you remain friends, you’ll reconnect romantically at some point.

While there is no hard rule around being friends with an Ex, Kensington points out that it rarely works to shift from an intense romantic attachment to a friendship. The romantic element of a relationship needs time to fade away before a friendship can be formed.

Being Friends With an Ex

If you’re co-parenting or sharing a pet, you may have to be friends, or at least friendly, with an Ex. Or you may simply want to keep your Ex in your life as a friend. 

Whatever a friendship with an Ex means to you, it’s important to think through what those friendship boundaries would look like and how close you want the relationship to be, Kensington says. It’s also important to think about whether holding on to your Ex will keep you from forming new romantic connections with someone else. This may not be a tradeoff you would make intentionally, but not wanting to let go of the attachment could influence you more than you realize, she says.

How to Be Friends With an Ex

People want to stay friends for different reasons after a breakup. The dumper may feel less guilty if they offer to remain friends, for example. They may also simply be hoping that they can continue seeing their former partner, without the commitment of a relationship.

This leaves the grieving/still attached partner in a very vulnerable place, says Dr. Bobby, because they may be willing to accept this “friendship,” rather than let go, which could slow down their healing.

The key to navigating this, says Kensington, is developing self-compassion, which will allow you to advocate for yourself and set healthy boundaries with an Ex. If you can be kind to yourself and put your own well-being first, you can avoid connecting with your Ex in ways that won’t be healthy for you.

Kensington emphasizes that this is a journey, not a one-step process and that it takes time to release your attachment and establish a healthy friendship with an Ex if that is your goal.

Staying Friends With An Ex

Social media can be particularly triggering for people getting over an Ex. Seeing a post from a former lover can feel a lot like relapsing from addiction, according to Kensington. A picture of your Ex can put you back into a mindset that you’ve been working to escape. For that reason, consider unfollowing or even blocking your Ex, Kensington says.

Once your attachment system has died down a bit, it will be easier for you to assess from a rational place whether or not a friendship with your Ex is healthy for you. In the meantime, focus on letting go.

Reconnecting With Your Ex

There are certain situations when reconsidering a relationship is a perfectly reasonable choice, according to Kensington.

This may happen when the circumstances in you or your former partner’s life during your relationship prevented you from showing up in the way you wanted to show up. You or your partner may have since been able to do some growth work that could make another try worthwhile.

It’s important to remember you can only control your own growth work, and not your former partner’s, however. If they’re not interested in growing or changing, you can’t force them.

The key is thinking through these things intentionally together, and not just jumping back into bed on a whim.

Signs You and Your Ex Will Get Back Together

Before getting back with an Ex, look for real, tangible signs that something has changed for the positive, Kensington says. Think through the problems in your former relationship, and assess how they may have shifted since the breakup.

You may have a conversation with your Ex about what you’d like to be different in the relationship, and what has changed to bring that difference about.

Seeing real, intentional effort from your Ex (and yourself) to bring about positive change is a good sign your relationship may deserve a second try.

Back With Your Ex

If you do get back with your Ex, it’s important to take it slow, and really assess how the relationship feels this time around, as if it was a new relationship. There are stages to getting back together with an Ex — pay attention to where you and your partner are at. 

Look for red flags and green flags that the relationship is struggling, or going well. Follow up on the problems you’ve run into in the past, and how they may have changed since your first experience with this person, Kensington says.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your own relationships is learning about your attachment style, according to Kensington, and how it affects your relationships with others. This can change how you respond to your partners, and create healthier relationship patterns going forward.

People fall into a few different categories when it comes to attachment styles, with some of us having a deep, driving need for intimacy and closeness, and others feeling uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness. “Secure attachers” tend to be pretty comfortable with closeness, and to not feel too preoccupied about their relationships.

The ways we attach to our partners affect how we respond to them, and becoming aware of your own attachment style can help you step back and respond with intention, rather than simply reacting.

Building emotional intelligence is another great way to grow before re-entering an old relationship (or a new one). Close relationships require talking about feelings. Learning to be more in touch with your own and aware of those of others can make those conversations easier for you. It can also help you manage your feelings in a way that’s better for you and your partner.

Getting Back Together After a Breakup

Unless you’ve done some work on yourself, and your partner has as well, the relationship is unlikely to feel much different from the first time around, according to Dr. Bobby. Good intentions and big promises simply aren’t enough to change old patterns for the better, unfortunately.

When people breakup, get back together, and breakup again, it’s likely because they haven’t found the tools to change deeply ingrained patterns — either theirs or their partner’s — that keep the relationship from functioning in a healthy way.

The most important thing to remember if you’re going through a breakup and thinking about getting back together with an Ex, according to Kensington, is that you’re not alone. This is a very common response to releasing a powerful attachment bond, and it can feel very difficult and intense. Listen to podcasts like this one, read about breakup recovery, and join groups of people going through what you’re going through who can offer you real empathy and support as you heal.

[Intro song: Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby : Anyone going through a hard breakup, or divorce has gone through this horrible purgatory stage of ending a relationship where you're not together, but it is definitely not over emotionally. And this is such a confusing place, you might be questioning yourself—did you make the right choice? Thinking about maybe getting back together with an ex and trying to figure out if that's possible, or maybe just trying to figure out if you can be friends with your ex, and what that might look like. 

These boundaries can get very weird, and it's just an incredibly confusing time. And this is often true anytime a relationship ends, but in my experience, this ambivalence and desire for connection can be more powerful at certain times of year. For example, around the holidays, many people have memories about their relationship, miss their exes, a little more than usual, can be a triggering time. 

But I think even just in wintertime, in general, there's less going on, you're by yourself and your house more. It can really lead you to miss your ex and think about the relationship, and it's really a vulnerable time. You might be idealizing good parts of the relationship and more prone to thinking about trying to reconnect with your ex. And whether or not that's a good idea.

It can be so hard to figure out what your truth is, when you're dealing with these emotions. It can be hard to figure out your truth, that much harder even to figure out your boundaries, right? Can you be friends with your ex? Is reconnecting with your ex possible? If it is, is that a good idea for you? So many big questions. And it's such a hard space to be in. And I think anybody in this place needs some guidance and support. 

So today, that's what we're going to be talking about on our show. And to help you with this. I have asked my colleague Kensington to come on this episode with me and share her advice and perspective with you because she is a real expert on this subject. Thank you Kensington for joining me.

Kensington: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Well, I'm so glad we're talking about this, particularly with your expertise. I mean, of all, there are many people on our team, obviously here at Growing Self who do a lot of coaching with people going through divorce and breakup recovery kinds of work. But you also have a ton of experience — when you were getting your degree in marriage and family therapy at BYU, you ran a group for people working through breakups. Here at Growing Self, you lead our online breakup support group. And so every week, you're talking to people just in the trenches of this experience. And I know that you have so much insight to share, you've written blog posts at growingself.com on this topic. 

Maybe we can just open this up — I'd love to hear your thoughts about how, I guess, common it is for people like, particularly in those beginning stages of a breakup, to be grappling with these kinds of feelings and ambivalence about the relationship, even after it's officially over. Do you hear that a lot? 

Getting Back With an Ex

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question, Lisa. And I would say almost everyone is grappling with that. I think, after someone who's been such a significant part of your life is no longer in your life in that same way, it's really normal to go through grief. Right? It's normal to miss that person and that friendship. And so I think it's really natural to be grappling with these kinds of questions.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. And that, I think, I think what's so confusing for people is that those kinds of feelings can come up, you know, that when, when an attachment bond is ruptured, we have these feelings, we have this grief, we miss people, whether or not it was a good relationship. 

Kensington: Absolutely, and I will say that's one of the things that I've seen my clients find the most confusing is that, they can look back and even if it was, worst case scenario, a really unhealthy toxic relationship. They'll still find themselves missing that person and, missing all of the good parts, but also missing just having someone around to share their life with. 

So, I think that it can be really confusing to hold both like, “I know this relationship wasn't right for me.” And also, “I really miss this person,” and holding both of those things at the same time.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, that it's like that head versus heart kind of split. Like, intellectually, I know that this person was not good for me, it wasn't going to end well, but I just can't help myself. I think about them all the time. They miss them. Yeah. Yeah. So, and I think I think the hard part, and the confounding part is that sometimes relationships do go through ups and downs and relationships. 

People take a break, and then do actually wind up reconnecting and getting back together again. And I think many times when people are having these feelings of like missing someone, they take that as, “because I feel this way, I should try to reconnect with my ex.”

Kensington: Yeah. And I think that, you know, I think that there are absolutely situations where you should think about maybe getting back together and explore that option. But I think that there's, there's other reasons at play, aside from just missing your partner, right? 

I think, kind of like we said, really, no matter, no matter how good or bad the relationship was, you're going to go through that grief process. And so the grief and the missing that person, on its own, maybe isn't a good enough reason to get back together with somebody. But, certainly sometimes there are good reasons to explore that possibility.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, if you could, let's just start right there. And I mean, now, this is a podcast episode, and I know that you spend many, many, many sessions and groups like helping people work, work through these and like, you know, find their own truth. But, but I am curious, like, just for the benefit of our listeners, what, what would let me ask a better question like, what, what would you advise? 

What kind of questions would you even ask somebody to sort of help them sort through that and figure out what to listen to somebody who, mixed bag of a relationship, but they still really miss this person. How do you help them get that clarity around? Are these just like normal feelings of missing somebody that everybody has, and you should still keep moving away? Or when is this a sign that you should? Maybe try to reconnect somehow?

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. And I think that one of the first, when I'm talking about this with clients, one of the first places where we start is—why did the relationship end? And I think, in that question, sometimes I'll get just kind of the official reason for the breakup from clients. 

But a lot of the time there's, there's more to the story than just whatever the official reason was that you share with family and friends that you decided on together. So really going through all of those reasons why your relationship really just wasn't working, and wasn't fulfilling, your needs and your partner's needs. 

I think that that's a really important place to explore, because it can help you figure out okay, are those things changeable, and resolvable? Or if they're not changeable and resolvable, are they things that maybe are okay to accept about the person and about the relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Like, what was the relationship actually, like, for you? Yeah. And kind of digging into that a little bit to help people, just the experience the reality. Now, but there's, okay, let me ask you this. Because many times when a relationship ends, it's, it's kind of one person that's like, “I don't want to do this anymore.” 

That person has often had the opportunity to work through some things prior to that, like they've kind of been disconnecting for a while, whether or not their partner knew that — which is awful. But have you found it different for partners who were broken up with, and maybe even like, surprised that the relationship ended? Do they sort of miss the relationship in a different way, then people who were the ones who initiated the breakup or divorce, and who also can still really miss their partner and second guess themselves at how do you experience that differently?

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. And so I think that there are no hard and fast rules, but what I've seen most of the time is that, the partner who maybe initiated the end of the relationship, kind of like you've said they've, they've had some time to disconnect emotionally. Right. 

They've had the time to kind of weigh in their mind, “Okay, what am I going to be giving up? Am I sure I want to do this?” And so then the partner who, you know, wasn't their choice for the relationship and often gets stuck doing that kind of work after the relationship is already over. Yeah. So having to go back and figure out how to disconnect from an attachment that for them is still very real and very much there. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: It's so hard. 

Kensington: Absolutely. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Because then, they, I think when somebody kind of like works through it, and sort of eases themselves out of a relationship emotionally, like before it officially ends, even though they can have some regrets. I want to just honor what a difficult situation that is for people who are going through that, just like ruptured attachment, and like just the panic. 

I mean, that like physiologically based like, attachment, withdrawal that goes along with that, and then also having to kind of sort through what their relationship was like for them, because you idealize a relationship when you're in that, that space.

Kensington: Yeah, no, it, it's so hard. And, not to, not to plug the group too much. But I think that's, that's what you know, is so I've seen be really helpful about the breakup group that I run is just helping people connect with others who are going through that attachment, withdrawal, and that really painful, painful place that sometimes your family or your friends just, they see all the reasons why the relationship wasn't working, but they're not going through that actual attachment withdrawal themselves.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Okay, well, then, and I, we are not here to make an infomercial for the group for sure. But I am curious, what, how do you experience the way that group members respond to each other, that is different than what somebody is friends or family makes it. 

Because it's really easy, like when you're not in that place, and you see somebody who's like really suffering with this attachment, loss, and just the pain of that, but like, your friend can say that, “He was not nice to you. He was mean to you. I saw it, he cheated on you,” like, reminding friends have all these things, but the person is going through it is like, “You don't understand.” Right? 

So what, what do you see that's different with the people in the group? Like, did they also say now that, “He was actually really mean to you,” or are they like, what's the difference?

Kensington: Yeah, great question. So I think, really, what, what feels to me, like, the biggest difference is just empathy. Right? Because they're, they're able to still provide that feedback to each other around, like, what, “These are all the reasons why this relationship wasn't right for you, right? These are all the reasons why it needed to end.” But also have that really deep sense of empathy for, all of that is true. 

Also, this is really painful and really hard and you're not crazy or messed up or broken. For, for being in pain, about the loss of something that, that may be ultimately wasn't in your best interest.

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, yeah, I could hear that, like coming from somebody who knows what that pain feels like and struggling with that own attachment. Like it just lands differently because of that empathy. That's, that's a good point. Okay, well, such a confusing time. 

But just, just to have that message that that that pain, that longing has, oftentimes is not an indicator of how healthy or good that relationship was, it means that you're going through that, that emotional separation thing, which is which is different. But now, let's let's talk about the other piece of this. Because while somebody is going through that emotional phase of like, missing someone, longing for contact, that's part of it. 

Sometimes what I have seen is like, people wanting to be friends with their ex, right? can sometimes be a manifestation of like, wanting to stay connected. It's almost like that, that bargaining phase like, “I'm maintaining my connection to this person.” And if the person is in a lot of pain and missing someone, sometimes it can be like, “Because if we're friends, I might have an opportunity. And if we're hanging out sooner or later, we're gonna fall into bed again.” 

So there's like a little bit of a hidden agenda there. So, the question for you is, in your experience, to what degree is that like, usually what's happening when somebody wants to be friends with their ex? Or have you also seen someone who is in that space of longing really shift into having an actual legitimate friendship with an ex? That's just maintaining good parts of the attachment, but releasing the attachment to the romantic relationship? 

Have you seen that work?

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. So I think, again, like for all of these questions, there's not like a hard and fast like, “Absolutely, yes” or “Absolutely, no.” But I will say, I think if you're still in that phase, where you feel this longing for closeness and attachment to somebody, it's really, really hard to then shift into that friends only mindset. It also kind of depends on what, what friends means to you. Right?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Kensington just made air quotes, to those of you who are not watching the video right now. What “friends” mean. Yeah.

Kensington: Yeah. I think that there, obviously, there's situations where you're going to still need to be acquaintances, or friendly with your ex, right? 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Co-parenting. 

Kensington: Co-parenting, right? Or sharing a pet.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Working together.

Being Friends With an Ex

Kensington: Absolutely, yeah. And so, I think that it's, when I, when I hear my clients say they want to be friends with their ex, there's lots of questions that come up from me, but one of the first ones is, “Okay, well, what does? What does friendship mean to you? Like, what? You know, are you looking for a best friend where it's still, feels like the relationship? Just minus a few things? Or, are we talking more of like, being acquaintances, but being like, cordial and friendly when you see each other?”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, yeah. Well, what I, what I think I'm hearing is that you're spending a lot of time helping people get real clear about what those boundaries are, and like, a different picture of, like, a very different kind of relationship.

Kensington: Absolutely. And I think,  it's also, it's also important for people to evaluate really like, why they want that connection with that person, right? Does it feel like there's, there's something that that person can still add to your life, and you can add to their life in some way, that's not going to limit you in terms of, moving on and creating romantic connections with people? 

Or, is it really like, if you're really honest with yourself, is it really about just trying to hold on to that attachment, that you're losing in any way that you can, even if it's not in your own best interest?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That's a great point. Is it? Is it a way of trying to prevent pain? Is it like methadone? 

Kensington: Right! Yeah, pretty much. 

How to Be Friends With Your Ex

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, yeah. Well, okay, a couple other other things related to this. One thing that I know both of us have experienced around this, is that it can be super hard for somebody who's like really, in that pain place, and like suffering, when their ex may want to be trying to air quote, be friends. 

But sometimes for different reasons. Like, in my experience, sometimes a person who has initiated a breakup will feel guilty about that. And like, “Oh, we can be friends.” And, or, and this is much less charitable. But I think it's also true that the person that initiated the break up, it's pretty sure that they don't want to like be in a capital R relationship like this is not my person, but it's Saturday and I don’t have anything better to do. 

So do you want to, like come over and hang out and like, kind of like meeting their own needs through this friendship, that the person on the other side who's going through this attachment withdrawal is super vulnerable? And like, it's hard to set boundaries? And like, can you speak a little bit to that and what you've seen because I think that that is just this layer of complexity, like somebody is minding their own business and then they get that text from their ex and they're like, “What's up? You want to come over?” 

You know, like that thing?

Kensington: Absolutely, no, that's, that's a great question. And I think that this is something that I see a lot. And this is, it's really hard when someone has decided, “You know what? The best thing for me right now is to not really have a connection with this person while I'm healing and trying to move on.” But then the other side is still reaching out to them and trying to maintain that connection. 

That's where I think you've got to get really clear about your boundaries and really be comfortable advocating for yourself. So, in my work with clients, going through the end of a relationship, we talk a lot about self-compassion. And one of the pieces of self-compassion is really learning to advocate for yourself. Almost being like your own big brother, big sister, parents, to really have your own back. 

I think that this is one of those situations. And it's not easy, and it helps if you can have supportive people to talk through this with but really important to have your own back. Yeah, and set some of those boundaries. But it is so, so hard, especially when you're still you're grappling with missing this attachment so much hard to say no to it.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Oh, that's great advice, Kensington, that to have your own, own back. But also, do just want to acknowledge how difficult it is to come to that clarity. Like for yourself to say, this is not good for me then. So I need to not do this with you. Because that emotional part is like, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to be doing.” That is I mean, and that doesn't happen overnight. That's a journey.

Kensington: Oh, no, yeah. And I think, with all of these things that we're talking about today, like I, I really never see anyone who like, we talk about it once, and then they do it perfectly from here on out. It's a process. And it's a journey. And that's part of why, you know, the self compassion piece is so important, because it's so crucial to be gentle with yourself as you're trying to navigate. 

You know, setting boundaries and creating new skills and doing what's best for you.

Staying Friends With an Ex

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I'm just thinking too that I think people have to, like, go around that merry go round. Sometimes it's almost like, like drinking way too much and having a horrible hangover. And then okay, I can't do that anymore. And then you do it again, you're like, “Yeah, I can't do that anymore.” 

You have to sometimes that, that old idea that relapse is part of recovery is just like noticing how you feel after you have contact with this person. And on that note, okay, this is a question that comes up all the time, I'm sure comes up all the time for you. But that idea around staying connected on social media, because that's a different order of friendship, right, but can be incredibly difficult and triggering for people. 

So and that's, that's sort of a level of friendship in the sense of maintaining a connection. What have you seen as being the impact of that social media connection? Or? And how do you help people grapple with that very real aspect of our lives?

Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, first of all, yes, I see this all the time. And I think, again, there's no like, hard or fast rule about what you have to do. But what I've seen a lot of the time is that social media can almost act like, man, it's like really, when you're in recovery from a substance abuse, you know, disorder, right? And every so often, you get, like, sent like a little hit.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: The vodka ad.

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. It's a similar situation, when you are just scrolling on social media, minding your own business, right? Like, trying to have your own back and like, do all these great things, and boom! All of a sudden, you see this picture of your ex doing something and it, it puts you into this headspace that you've been working so hard to get out of. 

I think that's one of the reasons by a lot of my clients will choose as a way to continue having your own back to either disconnect on social media from this person, or at the very least, maybe mute them, right, so maybe you're not unfollowing each other but you're not seeing their stuff anymore, or even blocking them. Right? 

That can sound extreme, but I think that it's really, it can be really, really helpful so that you're not constantly getting these extra triggers.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. And I think I think what I'm hearing you say, in between the lines, as we're talking about all of this, too, it's like that, perhaps part of getting that clarity around, that basic question, “Is it actually healthy for me to try to have a friendship with like, a real friendship with this person? Or is it healthy for me to try to reconnect with this person?” 

I think what I'm hearing you say it's like, you have to lower the the static, the noise, like the emotional storm and triggering in order to kind of connect with your authentic feelings to think about the relationship in a more — I hate to use this word, but I don't know what other words to use — like a rational sense. It's like, but all the social media stuff and the, like, it contributes to the emotional confusion that.

Kensington: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah, I think that there's just there. Anything you can do to minimize the triggers and the bombardment, that's going to just like really hurt and kind of, yeah, I guess trigger like this, this attachment pain over and over again. 

Anything you can do to limit that is going to help you just feel a little bit more clarity about, “Okay, how much of this is just me going through the attachment withdrawal process? And, and how much of this is maybe something else that I should work through?”

Reconnecting With an Ex

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Well, let's talk about that piece. Yeah. So I think we've, we've been talking about how, when you're in pain, that is the hope that is the fantasy that, “This is all a terrible mistake, they're going to realize they love me, and everything's gonna be different, we're gonna get back together.” Like, that's, that's the fantasy that pain is telling us, right? 

That needs to be worked through, or, but there are also cases where people work through and really in a healthy, sort of rational way, reconsider their relationship. And there are actually opportunities to try again. Can you talk us through what you've seen that look like, when it is actually legitimately healthy and positive for everybody involved? Like, why would, why would a breakup even occur in the first place? If that were true? 

Kensington: Yeah, great, great question, Lisa. So I think, one thing that I've seen a lot of the time is that a breakup will occur when, when both people are just really not in a place to be the their best selves, right. And then, after taking some time apart, and both going to therapy or doing other kinds of personal growth activities, really become in a better place and more able to step into their best selves and be their best self for a new relationship.

Then, it can be a great idea to reconsider getting back together with somebody. So that's, that's one situation where I've seen that really work that I would say, like, the biggest caveat is that some of this is out of your control. True, and you can only control yourself and the personal growth that you do. But ultimately, you deserve to be with a partner who is also working on themselves, and who wants to bring their best self to the relationship. 

If you see them working on themselves, again, whether that's through like, self help stuff, therapy, coaching, whatever it is, right? Those can all be great signs that they are taking personal growth seriously, and it could be a good idea to maybe just reconsider when reentering the relationship, if you like.

Stages of Getting Back Together With an Ex

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, well, that sounds like a process in itself. I mean, I'm sure you've worked with people who are reconsidering, but I mean, even just that word implies, like a lot of thoughtfulness. It's not like you, you go out, you go out for drinks and your hookup and now you're back together again. So not that. What does this reconsidering involve, from your perspective, when people are really being intentional about it?

Kensington: Yeah, I think it you know, it involves, obviously, like a lot of personal growth on the side of each person, but a lot of conversations with each other. So spending time together kind of testing the waters to see if, if things really could be different, maybe going and talking with a relationship counselor together. But really taking it slow, I think is one of the biggest things here, right? 

Where we're not immediately just jumping back into bed together, right? But, but really trying to be mindful and intentional about, okay, these are the things that were our issues before. Like, this is what I've tried to do to work on these things. This is what you've tried to do to work on these things. But kind of test out some of these dynamics and see where we're at.

Signs You and Your Ex Will Get Back Together

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, yeah, I'm thinking right now, this wonderful article that you wrote for our blog, I think it was stages of getting back together, I believe was the title. And in it, I think you, you talked about what I thought was just such a great point, which was—what's going to be different this time around? And like, why would it be different, right? And that can be hard to figure out. 

Because I think sometimes people want things to be different in terms of the way they relate or communicate. And they also have intentions that it will be different. Yeah. But there's almost like, what, what would literally have changed that we make it be different? And so for somebody who's in that space, what would be your recommendations of like, things, things to look for, like, if say, communication was a problem, or emotional invalidation, or even trust can be an ongoing problem, right? 

What would be actual signs that something has changed, versus somebody telling you that they intend for it to be different? That's a big question. And I hope that's not too much.

Kensington: Great question. Yeah. I mean, I think that this is where, again, if you and this person have had some conversations and talks about, “I've changed in these ways, and this is my plan on how I want to do things differently.” This is where like, the taking it slow, and getting to know each other again, process becomes really important. 

If it's emotional invalidation, for example, that was really hard in the relationship trying to set time on a regular basis to even just talk about your day or talk about something hard that happened recently, and, and see, right? Like, does this conversation feel different from how you feel in the past? 

I think that those actually seeing some behavioral changes, and maybe it's not going to be perfect every time. But then, you know, like, like seeing some of those efforts to make those changes, I think, I think those can be really good.

Back With the Ex

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby : Yeah. Well, this, this is my own nerdy way of saying it, but you're talking about observational data. Yeah, like I like, okay, so we have like a pond, it's sort of covered with ice. And I'm going to walk out on this four inches with you and see if that holds. And if it does, then we'll go a little bit further. But you're saying that when going slow, it's how does this feel? Is this different? 

Can I trust, right, that this is going to be the relationship that I want it to be this time? But I also think too, that personal responsibility, like what, who am I as time around? Is that the right way to say it?

Kensington: Absolutely, yeah, I think that, you know, and it's almost like getting to know, and a new person where, you know, if you're entering a new relationship, you know, if you're trying to be intentional about it, and you're gonna take it slow, and get to know each other and, you know, be looking out for red flags, but also green flags and signs that things are going well.

I think it's the same when considering getting back together with an ex, right? I think, again, since we have a history, it's so tempting to just like, jump right back in and pick up where we left off. But if we want to create a new pattern, it can really require going slow and being deliberate, trying new patterns, seeing if they work, right? And looking for all of those signs that like you said this really would be different.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Yeah, got it. Yeah. Well, it's just that, that same idea, that having an attachment bond to somebody is not the same thing as having a healthy relationship to somebody and that’s something that you need to create on a different level. 

So related to that, and again, this may be too hard of a question, because I'm sure it looks different with every client that you've ever had in some ways, but would, can you identify any sort of patterns or themes, like when you've worked with clients who have done work on themselves, and maybe after a separation, and then go back into a previous relationship, or even a new relationship for that matter. 

What have you noticed being the most important things for people to be gaining self awareness around in terms of their own patterns? Emotional intelligence, reactivity, ways of relating to other people that you've seen being key to having a different outcome when they go back in again, because the personal responsibility piece is so important, right? What have you seen?

Kensington: Absolutely. So I think one of the big pieces of self awareness that I've seen be really helpful for people is understanding their attachment style, and how that comes out when they relate to other people. And so I think, just understanding that, and then being cognizant of, “Okay, what's coming up for me in this interaction with this new person? And, how can I respond deliberately, instead of just reacting,” right? That can be  a great, like, really tangible place for people to start.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: If we could stay there for a minute, just just for the benefit of our listeners who may not be really, or maybe have heard the term attachment styles, but don't really know what that means. What can you say a little bit more about what, what you're talking about there?

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, attachment theory, talks about really like, what we, what we need in a relationship in order to feel safe, and how we respond to closeness and other people. And so there's, and I'll let people do some of their own research. But there's, there's a few different main categories of attachment type. 

There's a secure attachment, which is what we're all working toward. There is an anxious attachment, which means that we tend to really desire that closeness with others and feel really nervous and be reactive, when we feel like we're not getting that from someone else. And a more avoidant attachment style, where kind of that vulnerability or closeness in a relationship feels really scary, and can react based off of that. 

That's, that's just like a very brief overview. But really, I've seen for people to understand what some of their tendencies are, with how they attach in romantic relationships. I've seen that be really transformational and how they, then attach to new partners moving forward.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Definitely, it's easy to say, “Okay, I know that I tend to feel really nervous when somebody isn't like, calling me every day or texting me at certain times. And then I tend to get angry and lash out,” and just like, knowing that, “Okay, this is what I do.” And then developing ways of managing those feelings can really change outcomes in a relationship and so that to have a different experience.

If you're getting back with an ex, that's going to be something important to think about inside of yourself, as well as maybe your exes and whether they've done work on that area. Are there other things or that you've seen being important for people?

Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, I was — the attachment styles is a big one. I think another one that I've seen be really important is just emotional intelligence. So being able — one of the really important pieces of a relationship is emotional intimacy and closeness, and that involves being able to talk about our feelings. 

Really, in order to talk about our feelings, we have to know what they are. And so gaining kind of this emotional intelligence piece around “Okay, what are the feelings that I'm experiencing on a regular basis? Where do I feel them in my body? How do I experience them? What are their names?” Right? That can be really, really important work to then be able to share that with other people.

But also create new patterns around okay, well, when anger comes up for me, I can know, because of X, Y, and Z, and here are some things that I know that I can do to help me with my anger, so that I'm expressing it in an appropriate way, instead of lashing out against my partner.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Okay. So attachment styles, emotional intelligence work. I mean, that's a lot right there.

Kensington: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Is there anything else? Are those the biggest ones? Would you say?

Kensington: I think the, I mean, some of the two main ones coming to mind for me, and I think that you could certainly spend several months or even years, right? Like working on those in yourself. But I think that, yeah, for most clients, those are two good places to start.

Getting Back Together After a Breakup

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, definitely. Well, and this is so helpful, because this is a very, like, concrete, tangible thing. And I think my takeaway from this is that if you want to get back with an ex, and if it is going to be a positive and better experience for both of you, the work that you're describing needs to have happened or, or that there is a plan to maybe do some of that together, like through couples counseling. 

But unless there's that real reflection on your part, and your partner's part, it's probably not going to feel that different, even if you do get back together again, right?

Kensington: Absolutely. I think that, again, when two people get back together, and I heard this so many times, they have the best of intentions, and there's so many promises made around, “We're going to do things differently. And I'm not going to do this anymore.” And I think that those promises are wonderful. And, I believe that for most people, they're coming from a good place, and they're genuine. 

But if there's not some of that work, both like the insight based work, as well as the behavioral change, work to support those promises, even the most well-intentioned people are going to fall back into old patterns, not because they want to do that necessarily, but just because patterns are really hard to break out.

Breaking Up and Getting Back Together

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: They are, they're comfy, they're strong, they happen automatically, without anybody even noticing it takes a lot of intention to break out of them. Is that what you think is happening when you see, like partners, breaking up and then getting back together again, and breaking up? Is that what's going on? Is that people like want to be together, but they haven't done the work on these old patterns?

Kensington: Yeah, yeah, great question. So I think, yeah, nine times out of 10. I think that's what's going on. And, again, it's all good intentions, and people wanting to do better and be their best selves. But it's really hard to do that when there's some underlying things that haven't haven't been addressed, such as patterns or not knowing your attachment style.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: So much good stuff, Kensington. You share just so much fantastic information with us today. I'm so grateful. And I'm sure our listeners are to people who are struggling with just the enormity of all this. Any, any last words that you might have for them? I know you spend a lot of time with people who are in this emotional place, but what do you want them to know?

Kensington: Yeah, I think first, first and foremost, just know that you're not going crazy. And you're not alone! I think that going through the end of a relationship is such an isolating experience, and especially if the people who we're sharing with again, is, well-intentioned as they are, just either haven't been there, it's been a really long time since they've been there. 

There can be some pretty invalidating things that are set. And really if, if there's anything that I've seen from my work in this area is that, this intense missing of this person. Even if, again, even if, you know it wasn't a great relationship and it needed to end. You're, you're really not going crazy, like it's normal. It has an explanation, and I know that so many of your podcasts listen. In your book, EXaholics, you talked about the biological component of losing that attachment.

I think that understanding that is really helpful for people. So yeah, you're not alone. And, all of your feelings have a very rational explanation.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. That's, that's such a nice note to end on that it's legitimate. It is normal. There's nothing wrong with you. Yeah, and that, that people do understand. Well, thank you again for sharing your understanding today, Kensington. This is wonderful.

Kensington: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

[Outro song: Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las]


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