Love Your Body

Love Your Body

Love Your Body

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

Music Credits: “Thaw” by Bnny

Love Your Body

How to love your body? It sounds like it should be the simplest thing in the world: to have gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of your physical body. It automatically and without any input or direction from you… keeps your heart beating, keeps breathing while you sleep, makes you sweat when you’re too hot, digests your food, and locomotes you from one place to another. It can even participate in making another human. It is truly a miracle and whether or not it’s in good working order is the undeniable foundation of everything else in your whole life.

When it comes to your body, there is so much to love! 

Why Do I Hate My Body??

I’m well aware from many years as a therapist and fellow human that’s not always the way we feel about our bodies, is it? Even though it’s a fantastic engine of life that supports everything you do, it’s easy to get kinda judgy about the way your body looks or whether or not it’s as “good” or worthy of love and respect as someone else’s body, and through this weird emotional logic that tells us that certain bodies are better than other bodies, that the people in possession of enviable bodies are more intrinsically valuable humans.

It sounds so insane when you put it all down on paper like that but… that’s what we are often socialized to do: judge bodies by the ever-changing scoring rubric of the current zeitgeist. (Lisa pauses typing to double-check her reflection, and yes, the hair is parted down the center and not to the left. Giving myself a point!)

Hairstyles are one thing, but when it comes to how our bodies actually look — their shape, proportions, fat-to-height ratio, and how these shapes, proportions, and ratios compare to those of a difficult to attain cultural “ideal…” that’s when we can start slipping sideways into something yucky. 

Being unhappy with your body because it doesn’t look like one of the “good” ones. Being angry with your body for not responding to your efforts to diet, restrict, or exercise it into physical compliance. Worse yet, you might even start hating your body and being consumed with worry and thoughts related to what you’re eating or how much you’re exercising. 

Sometimes I’ll have online life coaching clients come to me with these kinds of goals for themselves, and it always makes me uncomfortable. When self-worth is tied to body image… that never ends well. [Read: “Advice From a Body Positivity Coach” for more on that subject]

Body Image and Low Self Esteem

When it gets really bad, people can even start to feel really down on themselves, struggling with low self-esteem, and finding it difficult to accept themselves or feel happy — all because their bodies (which work perfectly well, by the way) don’t look a certain way. 

This is a trap, folks. One that lots of people, particularly women, stumble into. Sometimes even before middle school is over, they’ve been indoctrinated into believing that people with different bodies have different levels of status and respect in this world, and that, in order to have love, happiness or success, they darn well better look like they’re “supposed to” (or kill themselves trying). Let’s not!

Loving Your Body: It Can Start Today

In the words of the late, great Monty Python: “And now for something completely different!” 

Enter my guest on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast: My Growing Self colleague Stephanie O. Stephanie is a therapist on the team who specializes in relationships — the ones we have with other people, but also the kind of relationship that you have with yourself. She helps many clients with things like self-esteem and how to have healthy partnerships, but she has special insight into helping people with body image and how to love themselves. 

Health at Any Size

Stephanie practices “Health at Any Size” ideas in therapy, and walks with her clients step by step through the process of examining beliefs about bodies, learning how to reject unhelpful cultural ideas about the value of our bodies, and then move towards body image acceptance. Over time, she can help her clients have genuine gratitude and appreciation for their amazing bodies, and even learn how to love their bodies too. 

She is joining me on today’s episode of the podcast to share her empowering “how to love your body” ideas with you. If you sometimes feel like you hate your body, I hope that you listen. Grab a pen — Stephanie’s sharing a ton of ideas that I hope you write down and start using today!

You can listen to this episode right here on growingself.com or access it through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show while you’re there! If you have follow-up questions or comments for Stephanie on this topic, please let us know in the comments below so Stephanie or I can respond. Show notes and episode transcript are below. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Love Your Body

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

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Love Your Body Podcast: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size

Many people are obsessed with their body weight and size. Some obsessive tendencies can manifest in extreme diets or passive thoughts. But some might even bleed into other aspects of their lives, such as low self-esteem and sexuality.

When she was a college freshman, Stephanie learned about eating disorders in her Psych 101 class. She was shocked to find that signs of anorexia applied to her and almost all the women she knew. That’s why she thought it would be interesting to work with people with eating disorders in grad school. 

During that time, she was introduced to the concept of Health at Every Size. Since then, Stephanie has sought to incorporate this in her work as a therapist and life coach.

Why Do I Hate My Body?

Most of us now know that it’s no longer cool to hate our bodies. Body acceptance is in! However, we still tend to think negatively about our bodies, often in overt ways. It starts off with seemingly benign thoughts like, “I should eat healthier.”

But then, this may turn into an obsession with cutting down on calories. Stephanie explains: “Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together.” In addition, we tend to conflate health and morality. 

Because of the sneaky way we obsessively think of our bodies, many of us also treat our ideal bodies as the prerequisite to happiness. You’ve probably had these beliefs at one point in your life:

  • When I hit my ideal weight, I can finally get my crush to notice me.
  • If I become thinner, then I can wear the clothes I want. 
  • Once I get my body goals, I’ll finally be happier.

We become so engrossed in “that day.” But Cheri Huber reminds us: That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.”

The misconception that you’ll be happy in the future when you achieve the “perfect body” holds you back from living the life you want. The truth is, you can’t be happy in the future if you aren’t happy now. So, learn how to love yourself now.

The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance

If you are struggling with loving your body, practice self-compassion. It’s not a “you” problem. Rather, it’s a larger societal problem.

Society has perpetuated unrealistic beauty standards through the media and beauty industry. It has become so pervasive that it’s rare for someone to be completely satisfied with their body. In our society, we are conditioned to think we’re doing bad when we aren’t a “normal” weight. Thus, we should constantly try to work toward that unattainable standard.

Stephanie usually starts the process of body acceptance by encouraging them to consume more size-inclusive media. These can come in the form of:

  • Instagram accounts to follow,
  • podcasts to listen to, and
  • television shows to watch.

She shares, “Because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that.”

From there, they would work on challenging societal norms and standards by paying attention to how much value we put on size and weight.

It’s also important to deconstruct the messages we’ve been given. For so long, we’ve been led to believe that being fat is unhealthy and being thin is good. However, there is no significant correlation between health and size. Learning to question these beliefs is crucial to radical self-acceptance.

How to Accept Your Body

Finding the reason why you want to change your mindset and body perceptions is an important part of loving your body. Whether you want to stop counting your calorie intake or you just want to feel better in your skin, determining this gives you a purpose.

Another good way to start your journey is to get rid of your scale. Thinking rationally, it serves no real purpose. It’s just there. But it doesn’t need to be.

Body neutrality can also be a powerful thing. Stephanie describes it as:

  • Not loving or hating your body.
  • Not valuing your body using terms such as “fat” or “thin.”
  • Simply acknowledging what you look like.

Some people are resistant to this idea because they feel like they’ll let themselves go. If you ever feel that nagging fear about getting fat, then ask yourself, “What does getting fat mean to me?” 

Perhaps, you’re unconsciously linking being fat to lovability and worthiness. In that case, you have to remember that fat ≠ bad. Many people have harmed their bodies by trying to fight their natural state.

Health at Every Size

Society tends to attribute health and wellness as a personal responsibility. In reality, it’s widespread problems, such as marginalization and racism, that are huge health hazards. By sweeping these under the rug and blaming it on people’s laziness, we allow the unjust components of our society to proliferate.

Thus, the best way to improve our population’s health is to create a fair world without inequity. Just as Stephanie says, “We know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes.”

Yet, research on obesity in white people is being applied as a worldwide standard. Moreover, most of this research does not factor in fitness, further spreading misinformation that weight and health are intricately linked.

Love Your Body Now

If you’re struggling to love your body, the key is not losing weight. It’s appreciating your body for the things it does for you. Try saying these phrases to yourself and see what comes up:

  • I love my legs because they take me to new places.
  • I love my ears because they allow me to hear beautiful music.
  • I love my tummy because it protects my vital organs.

For Stephanie, loving your body simply means taking care of it. Alongside body acceptance, some other ways to love your body are intuitive eating and joyful movement. 

“So that's the home run message. How can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation, not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day. But how can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?

Remember that your body is worth loving and taking care of. Always was, always will be.

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Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about body image and acceptance? How do you think these insights can help you love your body and give it the care it deserves? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.

[Intro song: Thaw by Bnny]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. The band is Bnny with the song Thaw. It's a haunting song with a raw message, and that is intentional because we're going there today. Today, we're talking about you and your relationship with your body. 

It can be hard to love your body. How do you feel about your body? If you're like a lot of people, especially women, you don't like what you see in the mirror. You wish your body looked different, and a lot of people, especially women, get tricked into believing that if only you could attain this physical ideal of beauty that is unrealistic for like 99.999% of all humans. But if you could, then finally, you would get the love, the happiness, and success that you always wanted. 

This is a trap. We need to talk about it. Too many of us are socialized into basing our worth on the way we look. We spend way too much time thinking about how we can force our body to be different and get super vigilant about what we're eating or weighing ourselves. Or even taking this “healthy lifestyle” to an extreme that is not actually good for anyone, especially mentally and emotionally or physically, for that matter. 

If any of what I'm saying is feeling familiar and on point for you, I want you to get ready for a breath of fresh air. Today, I'm so pleased to be visiting with my colleague here at Growing Self, Stephanie O. She is a marriage and family therapist but she also has a real passion for helping people, especially women, liberate themselves from these really destructive and toxic ideas about self-worth, and particularly, self-worth based on the way you should look. 

Stephanie is here today to talk with us about how to practice health at any size, how to shift away from self-hatred and towards self-acceptance, and maybe even into loving your body the way it deserves to be loved. Thank you, Stephanie, for being here with me today. 

Stephanie Oliver: Thank you so much, Lisa, for having me. I'm really excited to talk about this and share this with people and curious what other people think and have to say as well. 

Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Well, we're going to have a good talk, and I'm just happy to be here because I like talking to you anyway. This is a particularly important topic because I think so many people, and I do not want to gender stereotype because I think a lot of different people struggle with this, feel a lot of shame, anxiety, discomfort around their body, the way their body looks, lots of messages like what kind of body they should have, their body is different. 

Then, we also get these messages like love your body, and that's pretty much when people just feel like laying down and taking a very long nap. 

Stephanie: Yeah, and I think the moral of that is that we spend way too much time thinking about our bodies in general, whether it's complete shame and self-hate of our bodies to just wanting to change it in some way, or wishing that it was different, or even more passive thoughts throughout the day like, “Should I or shouldn't I eat this? Or should I or shouldn't I look differently?” It just takes up way too much of our time and our brain power. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. You've been working with clients around this for a while. Can I ask you? I'm curious to know. How did you get interested in this, I think, fascinating subset of our profession? 

Stephanie: Yeah, so I think I can pin it back to actually when I was 18. I was a freshman in college, I was in Psych 101, and we were learning about eating disorders. I saw the diagnostic criteria for anorexia. It was restricting calorie intake, dissatisfied with the way that you look, fear of becoming fat. I was like, “Wait, isn't that everybody?” 

I hadn't really known any woman to not possess some of those characteristics, including me. I thought, “Well, this is a classified mental illness, so there's got to be more to the story than this, that it gives so many people experiences.” I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind until I went to grad school and thought, “Oh, maybe I'll work with people with eating disorders. That could be quite interesting.” 

I got exposed to this concept of Health at Every Size, which some people will be familiar with. It's basically an entirely new way of thinking about health, and size, and body acceptance, and the way that we think about weight and health in our society. It made so much sense to me, and I just went from there. I thought, “How can I incorporate this as a marriage and family therapist? How could I not perpetuate weight and size stigma, but instead, continue to challenge it since this is such a common presenting problem as a therapist? A lot of people come seeking help with weight, and size, and body image issues.” 

Why Do I Hate My Body?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well it impacts so many different parts of life too and relationships and sexuality, there are so many different things attached. I'm wondering, for somebody listening to this who's like, “I'm really glad I'm listening to this podcast right now. I'm ready to learn,” what are some things that you would imagine might be true for them that maybe you've heard from some of your clients previously around? What starts to happen when people are thinking about their bodies a lot? 

Stephanie: Well, I think, this day and age, it can actually be quite sneaky. I think before maybe when we were growing up, it was a lot more overt like, “Oh, I wish I had thinner legs, or bigger boobs, or a flatter stomach.” Now, I think it can sneak in a variety of ways because a lot of us would like to consider ourselves very… We know it's not cool anymore to hate your body, right? Body acceptance is in. 

I think that sometimes it sneaks in. It starts out as a pursuit of health. “I want to be healthier,” and then, you start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I want to be healthier. I've got to burn more calories.” It just kind of spirals from there, right? Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together, right? 

I think that it can sneak in in a bunch of different ways. I think with all of the images that we're exposed to online in terms of clean and healthy eating, and vegan diets, and gluten-free diets, and things like that, which can be really helpful for people and can be really important for people, can also turn into starting to obsess a little bit too much about what we're eating and how we're eating. 

Dr. Lisa: Like good food, bad food. That kind of thing. 

Stephanie: The other thing I think people will be familiar with is just conflating health and morality, right? Like what you were just saying, “I'm a good person because I keep healthy,” or “I'm a bad person because I didn't exercise today,” or even judging that in others. I think, too, not just oneself but making judgments on other people. 

I think, to just having this sense, and this is for all of my clients, I think, having this sense that there's a magical day in the future where everything is going to be exactly the way that they want it, “I'm going to be the exact weight that I want. My life is going to be the exact way that I want.” That day does not exist, first of all. 

Dr. Lisa: Do you have to say it out loud? Come on! No, I'm just kidding. It's like, “When I attain this thing, then all these other good things will happen.” 

Stephanie: “When I'm this weight, I will have the partner that I want. I'll be able to wear the clothes I want. I'll be happy.” My favorite quote from one of my favorite authors, Cheri Huber, who's a Buddhist writer, she says, “That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.” Right? 

Dr. Lisa: What an awesome quote.

Stephanie: I won't talk about solutions yet, but I feel like that day does exist in so many people's minds. It prevents us from accepting who we are now, living the life we want now because we think, “Oh, one day, I'll be this way.” 

I think another thing too is thinking that “At one point, when I was a different weight, or when I looked differently, I was happy.” I think that's a big myth that people carry with them. I have my clients find a picture of themselves at a time when they thought, “Okay, I like the way I am and this picture.” I have them look at the picture, and I say, “Well, were you happy, and were you pleased with your body at that point?” 

Most everyone always says, “I wasn't really happy then either. I also hated my body then, even though I'm looking back at it now, and I think I look good now looking back on it. But at the time, I still was so self-critical and still wasn't happy and comfortable with my body at that point.” I think those are things that most people can relate to. 

The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and that's huge. This is just so interesting. It's like there's this, I don't know, maybe it's conscious, maybe it's subconscious, this very powerful association. That “I need to make my body look a certain way or become this…” There's character, and morals, and virtue all tied up in it. “And if only I can do these things, then all these doors will open. I will feel good, and people will like me. I will feel loved. I will feel confident. All of these things.” 

This makes a lot of sense to me. This turns into almost this motivation to really being focused on your body because it's a vehicle. It's sort of like a symbol for all of these other things. That if we could only torture it into submission.

Stephanie: Yeah, it's the one you can only control, which you really can't that much. But we think we can. I think it's important for people to realize too that it's not really their fault if they think this way, right? We think this way, it's not a personal problem. It's a larger societal problem that was really put on us by unrealistic expectations by the beauty industry, by so many different things we were exposed to. Then, we continue to perpetuate it. 

There are estimates but I think 85% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and I'm sure it's more. I haven't really met somebody in my life that hasn't, at one point, brought up some type of dissatisfaction with the way that they look. It's very pervasive. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, can we just talk a little bit more? You mentioned, what I heard in there is we're taught to believe these things about ourselves that aren't true, and you just kind of alluded to culture. If you had to articulate what you think women and men are taught, and sometimes it's about men and their own bodies. I think that men are also taught about women's bodies and what that is. How would you articulate the messages that we inherit from these larger systems and take on board sometimes without even realizing it? 

Stephanie: I think the messages are, “You better be a ‘normal' weight, and if you're not, then you sure as heck better be trying to achieve a normal weight. It's not okay to just be complacent or be okay with the way you look. You need to be trying to achieve that norm.” I think that's broad enough to apply to men and women.

Dr. Lisa: If you don't look like this fairly unattainable representation of physical humanity, which is hard, you need to feel bad about that and guilty and be working really hard to make that be different, or you're a bad person. 

Stephanie: Yes. Yeah. Lindy West, who's a famous fat activist says, “Okay, you're fat, but you better be a fat person that's trying to be thin. That's sort of like okay, but it's not okay to just be okay with it.” 

Dr. Lisa: Wow, but I bet you have a different idea that maybe it is okay. 

Stephanie: I do. 

Dr. Lisa: Tell me more about that part. What's the alternate? Well, I shouldn't say because I love doing these podcasts and kind of talking about ideas and things that would be helpful for people, but I always feel so cautious and feel myself saying this over and over again. 

There is a process. There is an arc of growth from coming in and talking with somebody like Stephanie, and that's where you are. It's like with these messages and these things still very true and that there is a process that builds over time to be able to incorporate different ideas and stories. 

That's what I'm asking you about, is different ideas and stories. But my disclaimer is that it takes a while to get there. Because it's like another thing for people to judge themselves about, right? If they're like, “Stephanie dropped some great ideas.” Like, “Here's a better way to think,” and you're like, “I can't do that yet. I just want to make that.” 

Stephanie: …and the shame cycle is just… 

Dr. Lisa: Right? Okay, so with that in mind, where do you gently move people towards instead and I'm wondering what the process looks like in your work with clients? 

Stephanie: Well, I tend to start by exposing people to other types of input than the input that they're getting. I recommend people to more size-acceptance types of media, people they can follow on Instagram, or podcasts that they can listen to, or TV shows that they can even watch. That's my first approach to it because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that. 

Then, the other thing I do, which feels pretty safe to people, is work on the way that they view others first, challenging societal norms around this, so questioning things. I always tell people, “Just start to pay attention to how many of your conversations with your friends are around size and weight, positive or negative,” because I'm pretty radical. I don't think we should compliment each other on our bodies either, but just how much value is put on the way someone looks, your conversations with your family. 

People are pretty surprised to just slow down that awareness and realize, “Oh, it's a lot.” It's a lot. We talk about our looks a lot. The other thing I slide in is starting to understand that the relationship between health and size is not what we think it is. We think fat is unhealthy, thin is healthy. We have to start understanding that that has been fed to us over a long period of time, and it's not the whole story. There's science, there's research to back this up as well. It's not just an opinion, right? 

Getting people to start to deconstruct the messages that we've been given and how true they actually are can give people, give all of us a sense of purpose in terms of “Oh, I'm going to challenge this. I'm not just going to believe what I've been told about my weight and size. I went to the doctor, and the doctor said I was overweight. That doesn't feel like… I don't understand. How could that be?” Right? And not just accepting that right away and understanding that there's a bigger story around all sorts of things, and I don't know how much we want to get into it but that there's more to it than that, and we can really challenge it. 

One of my clients was saying that she complimented a friend and said, “Oh, you're looking so thin,” and the friend was like, “I actually got diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and I'm sick.” That was her wake-up call. “Oh my God, I was just assuming that this was a positive thing. She had lost weight but she was sick.” Things like that that we can work on, just rethinking our common narrative can be really liberating for people because it's harder to just turn inward and then live by that. But it's easier to start questioning society itself, which is where the problem comes from anyway. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see that. It feels helpful and, in some ways, easier to see that narrative and be able to challenge it around “Wow, I am complimenting people on their looks, assuming positive things about others by virtue of the way they look that may or may not be true,” and just really being exposed to different ideas, different kinds of information that shape our perceptions of reality. 

How to Accept Your Body

Stephanie: Absolutely. Some other things to start thinking about in terms of change, I'm really interested in people not wasting any more of their lives, in general, on whatever the thing it is, that thing they have, maybe. We waste an awful lot of our time on this. I know I don't want to be on my deathbed thinking about how I wasted time about my weight or the way I looked and things like that. Finding that reason why you want to start changing your thinking is really important for a lot of my clients. 

For some people, it's like, “I want to be able to look in the mirror again,” or for some people, it's “I want to stop obsessing. I want to stop counting calories and weighing myself all the time. It's exhausting.” By the way, that's another thing you can do, is get rid of your scale immediately. There's no reason why we need to have scales in our house. I tell people they can bury it in the backyard because you can always dig it back up again if you feel like you need it. But I do have clients that have literally buried their scales because it doesn't need to be there. 

It's a question, “Why is that there? Why am I tracking every pound?” Really questioning how much time is this taking. In that vein, I think working on this idea of body neutrality can be really powerful for people. “I'm not going to love my body; I'm not going to hate it. I'm just going to accept. I'm going to look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I look like.'” And trying not to value it at all in terms of “I look great, or I look fat, or I look thin, or there's a bulge here or whatever.” Just acknowledging it as a fact almost like, “This is what I look like.” People could start there themselves. That could be a really interesting process as well. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and this idea that you need to jump into this, “I love and appreciate my body exactly as it is.” It feels like too big of a step and just to experiment with “This is my body.” You're almost describing it as like a very mindful way without interpretation, or judgment, or values. It is just what it is.

Stephanie: This is extremely scary for people. That isn't easy. When we have a belief system over time that tells us, “No, if I do that, I'm going to let myself slip. I need to constantly be pushing myself, and I can't let go. I can't let myself slip. That's a really scary thing because if I'm okay with my body, then what if I get fat? What if I gain weight?” for some people, that fear is all-encompassing. 

Dr. Lisa: What do you do with that? “Stephanie, I can't. If I don't hate myself, if I don't judge myself, if I don't yell at myself every time I look in the mirror, then I'm going to stop trying, and then I will be fat and what does that mean?” 

Stephanie: What would happen if you were fat? What would happen if you gained weight? There's an assumption that fat is bad, right? It's not necessarily. A lot of people are fighting their body's natural state quite intensely to prevent it from being at the weight it wants to be. A lot of clients that I have have gotten to a point where they're like, “What if I just let myself be fat? There's a good chance that I'm never going to look any different than I have my whole life. So maybe it's time to just be okay with it, right?” 

I think that weight fluctuation, too, has really been linked to a lot of health problems so the more we diet, and we know diets don't work. 99% of people gain back all or more of the weight after two years of losing it on a diet, right? They're unsustainable, and they're unattainable. So that weight fluctuation can actually be really harmful for health. Pointing things out like that to them can sometimes be useful. But I think questioning like, “Well, okay, so you'd be fat, and? What does that mean to you?” Then, we can pull out some of people's own stigma and biases. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What does it mean? Our virtue? Lovability? Worthiness? Yeah. I want to go back to a point that you said. It was actually on my mind earlier today, and I'll tell you why. You mentioned a minute ago that people are often fighting viciously with themselves to try to not be the weight that their body naturally wants to be. I might have even, was it just last night? It might have been.

Health at Every Size

I came across this article that I read because I was thinking, “I'm going to be talking to Stephanie about body image and weight.” I have to share the link with you. It was a new article from a science journalist who's going through a lot of the research. The punchline is that there has always been, even among medical professionals, this theory about what creates obesity, but I've certainly heard before, which is calories in calories out. 

If you are consuming more calories than you burn, it gets stored as fat. It's sort of like thermodynamics, right? It sounds very reasonable. That is actually not true and that genetic variations, there have been experiments with mice, that a mouse with a certain genetic imprint, their bodies do different things with insulin production. In experiments, you can actually feed one of these mice half as much as a sort of standard-issue mouse diet, whatever that is, and they will still gain weight. 

Their body just simply does different things with energy and energy storage and that there's a high degree of just natural variability in humans. The discussion is that people who do maybe struggle with obesity or overweight are not eating more than regular people. They're not doing anything bad to create this. It's just their bodies. 

Stephanie: Yes. We have never been able to find any evidence that shows that fat people eat more than thin people. We've never. People try to prove it all the time, and it doesn't work. That article that you're citing right now is actually a pretty famous piece of research. It's not new. Maybe this one is new. 

Dr. Lisa: The article came out, or at least I saw it recently. 

Stephanie: The research is older, and people went through a lot of efforts to keep that message from the public because still, this moral sense of “We can't let people know because then, they'll think it's okay, right?”

Dr. Lisa: “They'll bury their scales in their backyard. The anarchy.” 

Stephanie: Yes, yes. Just so much of it is not at all our nutrition, what we put in our bodies. So much of weight is based on genes, genetics, socioeconomic status, our relationships, our friendships, our fitness. Fitness is the biggest personal predictor, the biggest thing you can control to keep your health up. 

Nutrition plays an important but very, very small part in it. It doesn't surprise me when I read things like this. Actually, we can't find that fat people eat any differently than thin people. There are thin people who eat tons of junk food. There are fat people that eat tons of junk food. There are fat people who eat very healthy and exercise a ton. There are thin people who eat very healthily and exercise a ton. We can't really find a difference in the… 

Dr. Lisa: Behavior, yeah.

Stephanie: A strong causality. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and just to support what you're saying, I will totally share this article with you. But citing research from a hundred years ago, stuff going on in World War II that this was coming out and just never gained traction. In agriculture, it was known that certain kinds of cows or other livestock just metabolized food differently, but it just never translated to humans. 

That's so important because it goes back to that idea of morality, of virtue, of good and bad, the sense that, “I should look different, and I should make myself look different. If I can't, that means something bad about me.” This anxiety that comes along with that, and what I'm hearing from you is like, “Just get off that bus!” 

Stephanie: Well, that's, I think, one of the key components of Health at Every Size, is that the best way to improve the health of a population is to work towards creating a more fair and just world and reducing inequity. We have studies that show increased heart disease in immigrant populations. 

We were able to sort of prove or research was able to show that the only contributing factor here is the stress on this minority population. But we're going to tell them, the information that we're going to give them from the health organizations is that they need to eat less butter, right? 

It's putting a personal responsibility on someone when it's actually things like racism, and size stigma, and any type of marginalization are huge health hazards. As long as we keep it in this sphere of “It's what you eat, and how much you exercise, and if you can't maintain a weight, you're lazy,” then we kind of ignore all of these other unjust components of our society. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and how we're all, in some way, personally responsible for creating that or maintaining that. I'm so glad that you're bringing this up because there's I think a positive way that it seems like, at least, in some ways, there has been some progress. Racism is still very much a thing, internalized racism, and the amount of stress that it creates for people of color, immigrants. 

I think it could be argued that discrimination of overweight people or fat-shaming is still widely accepted in a lot of ways. I think that people internalize, like we were talking about before, internalize that shame. They may experience hostility, or nasty comments, or lost opportunities, maybe assumptions made about them being a certain way that aren't true. The level of stress, and anxiety, and pain that causes, that's the real health consequence. 

Stephanie: Absolutely, and we know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes. All this research that we have on obesity and all this stuff, it's all on white people. All of the subjects in these tests are mostly for white populations. So everything is messed up, basically, is what I'm saying. 

In so many of these studies that link health problems to obesity, this is an important point people should know, fitness level was not accounted for in those studies. When fitness is accounted for, there's virtually no link between weight and health. There's a lot of misinformation. People are interested in publishing things that go along with what we already believe, and it's very hard to challenge those belief systems, I think, because of how this has become such a moral issue. 

Love Your Body Now

Dr. Lisa: I hear you. Okay, so if I were to synthesize very complex and nuanced ideas into a few chunks, I'm hearing you say that step one is getting familiar and understanding the stories that we are telling ourselves, stories that we've inherited just as an observer, right? Then, that second piece is really beginning to challenge them with different kinds of information. Then, the next phase really is trying to move into a practice of acceptance, of self-acceptance. 

Then finally, just to ask, in your work with people, have you worked with people over the arc of this process where they are able to change their relationships with their bodies to the degree that they can say, “You know what? I love my body. I am so grateful for this body I have,” and have it be a positive thing? 

Stephanie: I think that my clients who experienced success become people who some days, they love their body, some days, they don't think about it at all, some days, they may have an issue with their body creep back in again. But it's much more along just the normal experience of our relationships with our bodies and not being obsessed with it. 

I think that success to me in this field is taking care of your body. That success, just taking care of it. There are a few other things that we work on like intuitive eating, and joyful movement, and along with the body acceptance piece. But I think that success in the end is like, “I've got this body. I have it. It is what it is, and here's how I'm going to take care of it.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and then, I would attach maybe to that too is, it's worth taking care of, maybe potentially disconnect a little bit from the way it looks and to what it does. Because what I'm thinking about right now, having gone through two pregnancies, this experience of my body just starting to do all of these things automatically for me and for this baby that were in no way connected to me looking good, but to more like very useful in terms of: “I could do all this stuff!” Just being able to transport you from here to there. The physicality of movement is appreciating your body for breathing, and digesting food, and doing things. Yeah, it's amazing. 

Stephanie: I think that the people that we know that have a more positive sense of their bodies are the people who are able to say, “Oh, I love my legs because they make me run fast,” or “I love my skin because it stretches when I am pregnant. That's amazing.” Just understanding and being grateful for the functions of their body, and if we're struggling with that, the answer is not to lose weight, right? 

The answer is to find things that we like or enjoy or in terms of movement and things like that that our bodies can do. That's kind of the home run message, is how can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation? Not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day, but: “How can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?” 

Dr. Lisa: Yes, radical idea that perhaps, and this is a good message for everyone, that there is a path to being perfectly happy right now with normal ebbs and flows, where it is what it is, to find a path of gratitude and appreciation that is disconnected from your physical appearance and what that means, just being happy like, “This is it.” I love it. 

Thank you so much for sharing such a positive, empowering message. I'm sure that there are a lot of people who needed to hear this. It's wonderful even for me to hear and think about. 

Just to share, the last time I was pregnant, I got a doctor who started giving me a lot of crap for gaining too much weight too quickly. I started to develop so much anxiety about what I was eating, and when do I eat, what do I eat, all that stuff, and weighing myself was not good. Then, my scale broke, and that was three years ago. I never got another scale, and it's so interesting. Just that one data point that, especially women can get very weird about, it's a non-issue. It doesn't matter. 

Stephanie: It's not even really measuring anything. I want to say too that there are many doctors, physicians, nutritionists, mental health professionals, dieticians even, who do follow this Health at Every Size approach. There are doctors that I know who have actually stopped weighing their patients altogether and just follow this paradigm shift, just shifting our thinking. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that's wonderful and again, I think a message of empowerment is that if this is something that you're working towards, to advocate for that, and find a doctor who is familiar with these ideas and who practice this Health at Every Size and to find that network of support for this. Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for sharing it, and I will include if you'd like to share more information about Health at Every Size in the show notes of this episode and some other resources that we can direct people to and go from there. 

Stephanie: Thank you so much, Lisa. I really enjoyed talking to you about this today. 

Dr. Lisa: Me too. This is a lot of fun. 

You can find links to the resources that Stephanie shared today during our talk on the post for this podcast, which is going to be growingself.com/love-your-body. Also, while you're there, be sure to cruise over to the blog. Stephanie has so generously written a number of articles on our blog related to self-esteem, healthy relationships. She has a particularly fantastic article about what to do if you feel like you're walking on eggshells with someone in a relationship and another article around body acceptance and Health at Any Size

It is all there for you at growingself.com. Come over, check it out, and in the meantime, I will be back in touch with you next week with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast, and let's go out with some more Bnny. 

By the way, you guys, this whole album is fantastic. You should definitely check it out, Bnny. Bnny. All right, that's all for today. Over and out, my friends. I will talk to you next week. Bye-bye.

[Outro music: Thaw by Bnny]


Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

 

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Feeling connected to your cultural identity can be an important part of life satisfaction for many people, and it can be a large part of one’s identity as a whole. In my work as a therapist and online life coach, I have the opportunity to sit with people who are on this journey. Knowing one’s cultural identity and embracing it is not a requirement for feeling satisfied and it does not have to be a necessary part of happiness or contentment, but the key piece here is whether that is an intentional choice for you. 

For many people living in the United States, and across the world, knowing and embracing your cultural, racial, or ethnic identity can be a complex task. For the purposes of this article, I will use ‘cultural identity’ as a broad term to include race and ethnicity (although culture and cultural identity are not limited to these 2 areas), but it is important to note these terms are different and distinct from one another. Cultural identity can also include language and location among other things, and is largely socially constructed.

Embracing Your Cultural Identity 

Why might embracing your cultural identity be important anyway? There are many answers to this question, but from a therapist and life coach’s perspective, a big factor are the emotional impacts that can arise when we don’t. 

Feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, disconnection, and emptiness may arise when we feel confused or cut off from our cultural identity, and this can be especially complex in the face of white supremacy. It would be a disservice and unrealistic not to address the role white supremacy plays on how our cultural identity forms, how culture is communicated to us, and what it can mean to us. 

Embracing your cultural identity can help you feel more satisfied, more connected to yourself, your relationship, and your loved ones and give you more confidence in who you are. 

White Supremacy and You

Connecting with your cultural identity while fighting the current of white supremacy is no easy task, and has been something our ancestors have been doing for many years whether they are conscious of this or not. As America is generally recognized as a nation of immigrants, the issue of striving to feel connected and validated in our culture while being a part of “American culture” can feel like a balancing act. 

This is particularly salient for first and second generation immigrants, and immigrant families as a whole regardless of how many generations have come forth since immigrating. Walking the tightrope of trying to assimilate into a new country and culture while holding on to your own racial and ethnic culture is no small feat, and can lead you to feel criticized or invalidated at every turn when you aren’t “American enough” or “white enough” and you also aren’t “____ enough” for your cultural group. 

Understanding this for ourselves can be challenging enough, much less in the face of colorism and microaggressions that can permeate every day life. Colorism is a way in which white supremacy can show up within racial and ethnic groups, where proximity to whiteness is met with either giving or taking away power and privilege based on the tone of one’s skin. 

Families may have learned or had the experience that embracing their cultural identity, and not hiding it in the face of white supremacy, is dangerous. For many people across the globe, embracing and embodying your cultural identity is not always safe. This is an unfortunate reality, and being able to discern when you can embrace your cultural identity and when you can’t is a critical skill. 

However, what I see as a beacon of light in these situations is that you can cultivate and embrace your cultural identity in the privacy and sanctity of your own home or living space, as well as in your mind. Now that we have been able to acknowledge the role of white supremacy, let’s talk about ways to embrace and cultivate your cultural identity even in the face of challenge so that healing can begin.

Cultivating and Connecting with Your Cultural Identity

In order to begin cultivating and connecting with your cultural identity, you first have to identify the parts that make you, you. There are many routes you can use to discover your racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup, depending on how deep you’d like to go. 

Trace Your Family Journey

If you are able to speak with family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins they may be a great place to start tracing the journey your family has made across different states, countries, or cities. Depending on your relationship with them, this could be an opportunity to connect and share stories about family members and the history of your family.

Research Your Family Tree

Another great option is to complete genealogical DNA testing, or to complete some genealogical research on your own via a family tree. You could complete this yourself, or outsource to hire someone else to do this research for you. As mentioned before, culture can be broad and comprise the various parts of your identity, which may include your geographic location, the way you speak, and your personality. Regardless of how you define your cultural identity, it starts with identifying the major pieces of you that may or may not be visible. 

Explore Your Identities

Once you have started to recognize your identities, it is time to explore them and be curious about what they mean to you. This may be a little more challenging than it seems on the surface, as you will have to sort through the messages you may have received about a particular identity compared to what you actually feel or believe about it. 

This process is not always linear, clear cut, or easy, and it may be a continual process until you feel firmly rooted in what you think and feel about your identities. I also use identity in the plural sense, as we are all intersectional in that we are made up of many identities including but not limited to: gender, ability, age, race, ethnicity, and sexual identity. 

Connect with Others On a Similar Path

As you are exploring and integrating these various pieces of you, it may be helpful to engage with others who are similar to you to either share in the struggles of this work or find that you are not alone in how you feel. Many times we may feel isolated or misunderstood in who we are, but from my experience as a therapist and coach, all of us can relate to one another more than we may think. 

As you are doing this work, your emotions may range from joy, surprise, and excitement to confusion, frustration, or disbelief. At the end of the day, I encourage you to give yourself patience and permission to stand in your truth and not try to force yourself into neat and tiny boxes. People may share different opinions than you, but no one can define you or tell you who you are, only you can do that. 

Embracing Your Cultural Identity While Combating White Supremacy 

Embracing your cultural identity can be freeing and satisfying, but does not come without its own challenges, as white supremacy can be insidious in its various forms. As you are going through your own journey, doubts and inner criticism may arise as you’re exploring your emotions and beliefs about your identities. 

Paying attention to these emotions as they come up and exploring what may be beneath them can also help you better understand yourself, your fears, and anxieties about showing up in this new way. The tools you will need in your toolbox as you are embracing and understanding your cultural identity will be:

  • compassion
  • patience
  • kindness
  • curiosity

You will be using each of these tools often, so be prepared to keep them accessible to you. 

You will need to give yourself compassion as you feel conflicting emotions, patience as you feel confusion or stuck-ness, and kindness towards yourself all along the way. Curiosity will be important to combat feelings of judgement, and to explore every thought, belief, or emotion. 

Curiosity may look like, “Where did I learn this?” or “What is the origin story to this reaction or belief?” and, “Do I really believe/think/feel this, or did this come from someone else?” Feelings of shame or pain can be difficult to process, and here is where giving ourselves compassion and kindness is crucial. 

Going along with society or those in power is a survival strategy, and yourself and your family did what you had to do to get to this point and there is no shame in that. However, at any time we all have the choice to pivot and make the choices that best serve us now, which may include opening ourselves up to integrating all of who we are. 

I may make this sound easy, but please give yourself patience in understanding this, like everything else, it is a process that takes time. There is just as much value in the journey as there is arriving at the destination, and you may need to remind yourself of this often. 

When confronted with white supremacy or microaggressions, you have the power to remind yourself of your truth and who you are. You are able to reassure yourself of your identities and what they mean to you and about you, and no one can ever take that away from you. 

Embracing your cultural identity may look like not censoring yourself or contorting yourself to fit the majority, but it is important to recognize you may not always have the privilege and safety to do so. In those cases, reminding yourself of your values and identity in those moments will be important to insulate you from the effects of that. Giving yourself compassion in those moments and recognizing the strength and skill it takes to adapt and protect yourself is a huge aspect of this work, and will cultivate resilience within you. 

Embracing your cultural identity is not the path of least resistance, but is a trek worth embarking on. You can utilize these tools along with the support of friends, family, and people in your community you feel safe sharing with along the way, as social support is invaluable throughout this process as well. Please know, people across the world and all around you are working to embrace their cultural identity right along with you.

 

Warmly,

Josephine

 

 

 

Josephine M., M.S. MFTC Couples Counseling + Therapy

Josephine M., M.S., MFTC is a warm, kind, and direct therapist and couples counselor who specializes in communication, compassion and connection. She can help you reach your goals and create positive change in yourself and your relationships.

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What’s Your Problem?

What’s Your Problem?

Are You Doing More For Others Than You Should Be?

What is your problem? And what is someone else's responsibility? Learn how to set healthy boundaries with clarity and confidence.

What's Your Problem?

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

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

What’s Your Problem?

As a therapist and life coach, I often work with clients who are doing personal growth work because they’re struggling with feeling blamed (and even guilty!) for other people’s problems and issues because they are trying to figure out how to set healthy boundaries. Particularly hardworking, competent and conscientious people can have a hard time figuring out the line between taking appropriate personal responsibility (which is a good thing) verse being made to feel responsible for things that are actually someone else’s personal responsibility. Can you relate?

Unrealistic Expectations… of Yourself

People having unrealistic expectations of you can happen in toxic workplace environments, relationships with selfish people, when you’re enabling someone else’s problematic behaviors, in relationships where there’s gaslighting, or if you’re married to a narcissist. Those situations where people have obviously inappropriate expectations of you are more obvious to spot.

But accepting responsibility for things that are really someone else’s problem can happen much more subtly, and even subconsciously. Many people have unrealistic expectations of themselves in relationships, and feel that they should be taking on more responsibility than is actually healthy for them. 

In particular, it’s much more challenging to see that you’re taking an inappropriate level of responsibility when you have a “helping” personality. Helping others is something that you just naturally start doing and is a role that probably feels very familiar to you. This could be due to your role in your family of origin, or also just by virtue of the fact that you’re probably kind, compassionate, and competent. You see someone who needs help, you can do something to help them, so you step in.

But should you?

Here’s The Problem With Everything Being Your Problem

While being generous and helpful is not an objectively bad thing, here’s the problem with it: if you’ve been subconsciously taking responsibility or working harder than you should to solve problems for other people, or managing other people’s feelings, or doing things for others that they should really be doing for themselves, over time, it starts to create problems for you too. 

You’ll start experiencing burnout and exhaustion, feeling resentful, or start having trouble letting go of anger. You feel like you’re not getting your needs met in relationships. It’s hard to say no. You might even find yourself sliding into codependent relationship dynamics over and over again. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to change the dynamic if you’ve trained other people to expect that you’ll sacrifice yourself on their behalf.

For example, if you start setting appropriate boundaries with people you’ve been “over-serving,” they might get mad at you and tell you that you’re being mean. Or, if you allow other people to experience natural consequences for their own behavior, you might feel anxious and guilty. Emotionally, it can start to feel easier to just keep doing more than you should!

Personal Responsibility

To complicate matters further, you do have to keep your side of the street clean. Healthy adults do have responsibilities, and there are things that you do actually need to do in order to be a healthy, happy person and have positive relationships with others. It is appropriate for other people to have some expectations of you, too!

For example, it is your responsibility to be emotionally healthy, to be emotionally safe, to be self aware, to communicate productively, to work on your own emotional intelligence, and to invest in your own personal growth. It is your responsibility to learn and grow, and to be happy and healthy. It is your responsibility to follow through, to be trustworthy, to be honest with yourself, and to be honest with others.

Someone Else’s Personal Responsibility

But where do you draw the line between your responsibilities and someone else's? How do you figure out if you’re in a situation where you need to be doubling down on your emotional intelligence skills… or whether it's okay to simply say no and let someone else have their tantrum? How can you tell if you actually do need to show your partner love in a different way, or whether they have unrealistic expectations in your relationship or even trust issues? (Which would then be their problem to work on — not yours.)

It can be very, very challenging to get clarity about the line between where your sphere of responsibility stops, and where someone else’s starts. That’s the topic we’re tackling on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m calling, “What is Your Problem?” 

In it, we’ll be discussing how to:

  • Differentiate what is your problem from other people’s problems. 
  • Be aware of when you need to reevaluate a responsibility issue in your life.
  • Learn how to set boundaries and have healthy relationships with others.
  • Find out what your personal responsibilities are.
  • Discover the importance of allowing others to have space to grow on their own. 

You can listen to “What is Your Problem” on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts, as well as on the player of this page. (Don’t forget to subscribe!) If this podcast is helpful to you, I hope you consider sharing it with someone else you care about so they can benefit from these ideas too. 

I have show notes for you below, as well as a full transcript of this podcast at the bottom of this post. If you have any follow up questions I hope you leave them for me in the comments. I’ll answer them!

With love and respect, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

What's Your Problem?

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

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

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What is Your Problem: Episode Highlights

Personal Responsibility vs Inappropriate Expectations

Being blamed for something outside your scope of responsibility is commonplace. You may have experienced the following with a colleague or family member: 

  • Being mad when you don’t do their job
  • Get angry when you react negatively to something they did
  • Try to make you feel bad for the consequences of their actions

When you buy into the idea that you are unworthy because you can't take care of other people's problems, you can start feeling inappropriately guilty, and may even start showing signs of low self-esteem

Setting Boundaries

Without healthy boundaries in a relationship, other people will have the space to pass their responsibilities onto you. 

“While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible.”

Thus, turn your attention to the unhealthy dynamics that allow those situations. You may need to learn how to set boundaries with your parents, friends, or co-workers.

Boundary Setting Exercise:

To help you get clarity about your boundaries, try this simple exercise:

  1. Grab a pen and piece of paper
  2. Draw two circles, one inside of the other.
  3. In the inner circle, write what you need to do to feel confident that you are doing your very best in various situations in your life. What are your responsibilities? Write them down.
  4. In the outer circle, jot down what is in the realm of others’ responsibilities that they are trying to hand to you.

You can practice this exercise in your various relationships, whether involving your work or personal life.

Unrealistic Expectations

We often tend to take over people's responsibilities because others feel that we can do them. This dilemma is especially prevalent amongst strong, intelligent, competent, compassionate, and naturally caring individuals. 

As you bear more of the burden, you’ll eventually become more resentful of others. If you feel this way, remember that your anger and resentment are valid: “When people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them.” 

Moreover, you’d start to feel defeated, since you are unable to do all the work. When in reality, you actually can’t meet all these inappropriate expectations. You trick yourself into thinking that you're not good enough.

Take these emotions as a sign that there is a responsibility issue at the core of your life. You can also see it as a growth opportunity.

Your Personal Responsibility

It might be hard to hear, but you also have to think about how you may have contributed to this unhealthy dynamic. 

In addition, it’s much more exhausting to fight with other people about the things they need to change. After all, “When we blame other people, for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away.”

Here are some of the things you need to be taking responsibility for:

1. Having Emotional Awareness

Our feelings tell us about our needs and values. We have to be self-aware of our emotions so that we can make informed decisions. 

People who have disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries. We need emotional intelligence if we want to improve our relationships.

2. Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication

You need to communicate how you feel about what you need and prefer in an emotionally safe and effective way. It is your responsibility to talk about what you're thinking and feeling in a kind and respectful manner. 

You also have to manage your reactions; avoid screaming or slamming doors! It helps to learn how to be vulnerable safely.

3. Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness

Our personal health is our responsibility. Getting enough sleep, nourishment, and movement are basic needs.

If we don’t actively pay attention to our health and wellness, we cannot be our best selves or even be functional. 

4. Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries

First, you have to know what your boundaries and limitations are before communicating them to other people. 

Once you make these clear, you can then learn to turn down requests that don't serve your best interests. 

Remember: “Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.” It is our responsibility to protect ourselves from people who harm us and disregard our needs. 

Similarly, it falls on us to figure out what makes us happy and pursue opportunities for happiness. You have to find what fills your cup so that you can serve the people around you. “You can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's your job.”

5. Defining Your Obligations 

Another thing that falls under the realm of our personal responsibility is knowing what we need to do to hold up our end of the bargain. These can include your roles in your family or even at work. 

It is particularly helpful to sit down and write these responsibilities down. Then, communicate these with your partner or colleagues so that they can respond appropriately.

6. Having Empathy and Compassion

We are interdependent to those around us, from the way we respond to each other's actions. So being empathetic and compassionate with others should also be our responsibility.

What is Your Problem

Ultimately, finding out what is your problem boils down to control how you show up in the world. We need to live our lives with integrity to ourselves and to others. 

We don't need to do this perfectly. However, we do have to make a sincere effort to be considerate of others. This process takes time and effort. 

Other People’s Problems

Once you become clear about what is your problem, you can determine what other people’s problems are. 

Even if you set your values and priorities straight, other people can still be upset with you. And that should not be your problem

Others may think badly of you for setting healthy boundaries, but that's okay. You don't need to think about their opinions of you anymore because you know that you are a good person.

If another person becomes abusive in response, don’t think for a second that you need to change their reactions. At this point, resolving what is your problem requires keeping yourself safe and leaving. In cases of domestic violence, reach out to thehotline.org immediately.

Giving Space for Others to Grow

The foundation of a mutually healthy relationship is healthy boundaries on both sides.

Keep in mind that other people's personal growth is not part of your problem. It's best to allow them to experience the pain and discomfort of the consequences of their actions. 

Clearing the path for them can even hamper their progress. That’s because, in the absence of dissatisfaction and frustration, people won’t grow.

To help other people, you can share resources (like this podcast!) and even help them get a life coach to help them in their journey. 

[Intro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. That’s The Wimps. The song is O.P.P. In this case, O.P.P. stands for Other People's Pizza. But I still wanted to use the song, first of all, because I love this band. Second of all, today, we're talking about: “What is your problem?” What is your problem, specifically, compared to what is somebody else's problem? I have a whole category of things in my mind that are other people's problems: OPPs. Hence, the relevance of this song. And a nice intro into what we're going to be talking about on today's show which is figuring out what is actually your problem, and what is someone else's problem, and getting clarity and confidence to set boundaries between those things so that you don't get pushed around by other people. So that you are actually taking personal responsibility around the things that you do actually need to do in your relationships, and yourself, in your life. 

Good stuff in store for us today. And I'm glad you're here. If this is your first time listening to the show, I would to formally welcome you. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self counseling and coaching. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, so I specialize in relationships, but I'm also a licensed psychologist. I do have some insight into the quirks of humanity and the way people are. I am also though a board-certified coach, which I am quite proud of. 

I feel that coaching is a profession that has gotten kind of a bad rap in recent years. Honestly, in some ways, rightfully so, there are a lot of dubious characters out there running around offering all kinds of coaching with no training or real experience, for that matter, which is always kind of scary. But there's also a lot of very responsible, ethical, and highly-trained coaches who I think take the best of the principles of therapy and counseling. But turn it into transformational change, which is very worthwhile, and that is part of my orientation. 

I think every one of these episodes that I make for you on the podcast are with that spirit: not just talking about ideas but talking about ideas and then turning them into, hopefully, something that you can do something with. I do a lot of different kinds of experiential growth activities on the show. I have one for you today, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I hope you have fun listening. 

Very lastly, thank you so much if you're one of my regular listeners for the kinds of reviews. Oh, my goodness. I had the opportunity to look at The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast on iTunes lately and I was just floored by all of the reviews and the nice things that you guys had to say. Thank you so much for the reviews, and also for your questions. I know you guys get in touch from time to time with questions, and I read those. I consider all of them, and then I think about how do I answer that question in an upcoming topic, an upcoming episode of the podcast. 

While I certainly can't be like, “Okay, Stephanie. Here's what you should do.” Because I'm not your therapist and it would be inappropriate for me to give you highly specific advice for your life. I can absolutely talk about the things that are important to you and create growth activities that would be genuinely helpful to you. Because here's also the secret: I have a lot of people who asked me for specific advice like, “Okay, this is what my husband said. What do you think I should do?” I always am like, “Mmm.” 

The truth is that any good counselor or coach is not going to tell you specifically what to do. None of this is informational in nature. I have ideas, and I can make suggestions but those suggestions are around growth experiences. They're not specific, “Do this and then this will happen.” It is, “Let's hand in hand walk into this growth experience together. I will be your guide. Here are some things that would help you develop in such a way that you would know how to handle this situation. It would be congruent with you. You might even have a different perception of the whole experience in and of itself.” 

When people ask for advice, it's like this little head of a pin. It's the very tip of the arrow, but behind that is all of this opportunity for growth, like real meaningful growth, which is never an event. It is always a process. I don't want to deprive you of that process. I'm not going to cheapen this by even suggesting that there are black and white easy answers. “Do this and your life will be perfect.” If there are any other podcast hosts, self-proclaimed life coaches who are telling you that, either they don't know what they're talking about, or they're lying to you. I would never do that. 

Here today, we're going to have yet another growth experience together. This is going to be a good one. And we're talking about how to differentiate between what is your problem, and how to take effective personal responsibility for yourself in your life, and how to differentiate that from what is somebody else's problem. So that you can get really clear about setting boundaries and expectations and not allowing yourself to be inappropriately blamed or used or made responsible for things that you really shouldn't be. 

I think that's an important topic, and I know it's a pain point for you. It's a pain point for many of the clients that we see here in Growing Self. I've also gotten a number of questions about this very topic. And that's why we're talking about this today because as always, it's all for you. Let's jump in. 

Have you ever had someone say to you, “What is your problem?” In an accusatory way? How many times have you had somebody tried to blame you for something that is one, not your fault, and two, not your responsibility? It’s not in the sphere of things that should be your problem. It happens all the time. Examples of this would be somebody making you feel guilty when you don't want to do something that they want you to do. Or when somebody is being a jerk to you and then surprised when you have an appropriately negative reaction to them. 

“What's your problem?” Well, let me tell you, or what about this. This is very common. It happens all the time in couples counseling: Someone blaming you for how they feel and that you need to modify your behavior so that they can feel differently on the inside. Somebody's being mad at you for not covering for them or cleaning up their messes. That can happen. Oftentimes, in professional situations, if you're working on a team and you have a co-worker who's kind of slack, and you're doing all these things to try to make the project successful anyway. One day you can't, and then they get mad at you for not doing what should have been their job anyway. This is also super common is somebody making you or trying to make you feel responsible for the consequences of their own actions, what they're choosing to do or not do. 

Inappropriate Responsibilities

On the show, in service of healthy relationships and how to have them, we talk a lot about boundaries. When we have podcast topics about personal growth, which is also hugely important, we talk about self-esteem. But today, we're really going to be getting under the hood to talk about the unhealthy dynamics that you do have control over that actually create those situations. When boundaries aren't healthy, there's often this inappropriate responsibility thing going on. When people do have low self-esteem or struggle to feel confident, it's often because they are feeling blamed or believing these messages from other people. That, “You're not quite good enough.” Or “You're not doing this well enough to make me feel better about it.” 

When you buy into those things, that's when people start to feel bad about themselves. This is really kind of getting into the nitty-gritty of how do we assess, with confidence, what is actually my problem and my responsibility? What do I have control over? What should I have control over? Compared to what is on the other side of this line that not only am I not going to be responsible for that, but I'm also not going to feel bad about not being responsible for it? I'm not going to feel bad when I hand this one right back to you because you're its rightful owner. This is a conversation, again, that comes up all the time in many, many areas of life. 

Setting Boundaries

To sort of illustrate this, I would for you to either imagine or you could have an experiential growth moment with me right now. Pause this for a second, go get a piece of paper, notebook, whatever you got, and draw two concentric circles. One medium-ish sized circle on the inside and then around that circle, draw a larger circle. You have two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle is actually you and the things that you are in charge of. We're going to be talking about what those things really are and what they should be. 

While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible. We do need to conduct ourselves well enough in order to feel authentically good about ourselves and to feel confident. That, “You know what, I am actually being appropriate right now. I'm doing the very best job that I can do, and I know that because I've done this work.” Right? We don't just get it. We have to earn it and that's what this is. That's what goes into the inside circle. 

The outside circle is what is actually in the realm of somebody else's sphere of responsibility? That maybe they're trying to hand to you or make you be responsible for, but you're not really. With those two circles in mind, I want you to now think about how that shows up in different situations in your life. For example, it can come up in interpersonal relationships, certainly, where we're getting blamed for other people's feelings or when other people can't control us in the way that they like to. They get mad at us and like that. There's all kinds of things. 

Unrealistic Expectations

Even at work, it can happen especially if you are a strong, smart, and naturally competent, and also a naturally caring person, this is going to be relatively common for you. Because strong, smart, capable, competent, compassionate people can wind up accepting more and more stuff from others because they can do it. There's a part of them that’s like, “Well, it would be nice if I did do this for them.” And since they’re caring they’re, “Okay.” But what happens is that over time, all this stuff just gets heaped on and on and on. They feel like they're staggering under the weight of it all because it is actually too much. 

Predictably, what you can expect to happen if you are taking on more than you can or should legitimately bear is that you will start to feel resentful of others. You will start to feel angry, you will probably feel very tired, and also this defeated feeling because you can't actually do it all. When there's this voice in your head that's like, “Oh, but I should be able to do this all.” You'll start to feel bad about yourself because you actually can't, right? It's like you have inappropriate expectations for yourself at that point. 

Also, in relationships, this can lead to a lot of really negative emotions. If both you and your partner are colluding around this idea that you are actually responsible for the way they feel. And you're starting to walk on eggshells, and being super careful with everything that you say and do so that they don't go flying off the handle, it can make you feel really withdrawn, disengaged from the relationship to the point where you're not talking about how you're feeling anymore, what you're thinking. It's kind of this checked-out, burnt-out feeling. And it can happen in relationships. It can happen on the job. Really, anywhere where you have spheres of responsibility, this can happen. That's, again, why I wanted to talk about it today. 

Before we jump into the circles, why don't you just actually check-in with yourself for a second and ask yourself whether any of the things that I just mentioned resonate with you. Do you find yourself feeling guilty frequently? Or do you feel like you're running yourself ragged and just doing everything for everyone and it never ends? Here's the ringer: feeling resentful when other people, when you look around and other people aren't killing themselves the same way you are, and you're like, “Why aren't they?” Because you're so overwhelmed and exhausted and starting to feel kind of angry. 

Also, on that note, people will very predictably and rightfully feel angry when their boundaries are being violated. When you aren't getting what you need or when people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them. That can be a sign that the locus of responsibility is kind of feeling out of balance when you're having that experience. 

Lastly, in addition to that resentment and guilt and hostility, depletion, there are also often feelings of self-doubt. It gets mixed up with that. “Oh, if I were just better or if I were more organized, I could do more.” “If I exercised every day, I would have more energy to do all these things.” Also, this feeling of low self-esteem, like you're feeling like you've failed because you can't. No matter what you do, this other person in your life is always going to have a negative reaction, or it's never quite going to be good enough. Low self-esteem is internalizing those messages and getting tricked into believing that you're not good enough, that you're not doing a good enough job, that somebody else would get better results. 

I know that this is probably a little hard to think about, but these, to me, are all the signs and symptoms that there may be a responsibility issue in the core of your life that is worth examining as a growth opportunity for you. And again, I am not going to give you trite advice about: “Do this instead.” This is actually a real invitation to take this bigger picture look at what is really going on and not just what other people are doing. But here's the hard part you guys: how you might currently be contributing to this dynamic that you don't want to participate in anymore. 

I know that is hard to hear, and it can be challenging because I think many times, people are stuck in a situation, and I felt this way too. When I've been stuck in this situation, it feels we're sort of being lowkey victimized by people in our lives, right? “Well, they just keep asking me to do stuff.” Or, “If I don't do this, then it won't happen, and we're going to have piles of laundry around the house for three weeks.” Those things might be true, but when we blame other people for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away. It's just not helpful. A: It doesn't change anything And B: If everything is really someone else's fault, how can you possibly be empowered to change it

Your Personal Responsibility

You have to have responsibility. You have to have power in order to really take action and change your circumstances because other people can't do this for you. Particularly, in your relationships, if you're spending a lot of time and energy fighting with other people about how to get them to do things differently, again, that's an opportunity to shift this mirror around and look back at yourself. Because it's so much energy, and it's so exhausting to be fighting with other people about the things that they need to change. It is much more useful and honestly effective when we can think about: “Okay, what do I need to do to make this be different? What can I do to make this be different?” Then, focus all of your energy on that, specifically, because that will move the needle. 

Again, this is why when people ask me for relationship advice and like, “Well, let's crack into this.” It's really a discussion and it's a growth opportunity because I think people hope that I'm going to say, “If you say this to your wife, then she'll be different.” My friend, the actual process is so much more complicated than that. But it's okay. It's good. It's authentic. And that is what this is about. It’s authentic growth, right? 

With that in mind, now, let's go back and let's take a closer look at those circles of responsibility that I got you to write down on your paper. When we look at what is your problem, your personal responsibility is the way that you show up in the world. I'm just going to tick through some of these big ones. Some of them might be things that you're already doing, some of them might be growth opportunities for you, some of them, you might not have any idea what I'm talking about yet. That is also completely okay. These are just things that I have learned over the years on through my own personal growth work. 

Having Emotional Awareness

This is what actually matters when it comes to the things that we truly do need to take responsibility for. One of the big ones is emotional awareness. It is your responsibility. When I say “your,” I mean “our.” It is all of our responsibilities to be able to stay connected to our own feelings well enough to take guidance from them, to be able to listen to yourself to say, “I am feeling resentful. I am feeling depleted. I am feeling hurt.” 

We have to be connected to our own feelings so that we can A: advocate for ourselves and also take informed action from our feelings. Our feelings tell us about our needs. They tell us about our values. And if you're disconnected from your feelings, you don't have access to any of that. It's like if your whole body went numb and you didn't realize that you just cut yourself with a knife. Like “Oh, that is… I hurt myself. That is damaged. I have to stop. I have to go get a band-aid.” 

When we're disconnected with our emotions, we don't have that. You can't say, “Ouch. This is a relationship dynamic that is unhealthy for me.” Or, “No, I actually can't do that work project because I'm already feeling like I'm about to die.” People who are disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries between where they stop and someone else starts. That is a primary responsibility.

Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication

From that stems clarity about who you are, what you want, what you need, what is important to you so that you can do the next thing that is your responsibility, which is communicate in a really, not just clear, but emotionally safe way about how you're feeling, about what you need, about what you like: effective communication about possible problem-solving kinds of things. It is, again, emotionally safe communication that creates an emotionally safe environment for the people that you're interacting with. It is our responsibility to talk about what we're thinking and what we're feeling in a kind and respectful way. 

Also, with that is to manage our own reactions. Not screaming at people, not slamming doors, not saying snide, snarky, mean things when we're not feeling good. It's our responsibility to be emotionally vulnerable and kind and give other people the benefit of the doubt and manage the way that we are coming across. That is, if you listen to the emotional intelligence podcast I put together a while ago for you, that is one of the pillars of emotional intelligence. Two, really. It's how do I feel and then how do I manage my relationships with others? Meaning how am I being very deliberate and intentional about how I am coming across, how I am communicating, and making sure that I'm doing that in a respectful way that other people can hear? 

As we've talked about in other previous podcasts, when we lash out, when we withdraw, when we criticize, when we stomp around or sulk, there are predictably negative reactions from others in response to us. We need to take responsibility for that. 

Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness

Another very important thing for all of us to be taking responsibility for is our health and our wellness. Are we getting enough sleep? Eating well? Drinking enough water? Getting exercise? Going to the doctor? Taking care of health issues that need to be taken care of? Noticing when maybe we're getting depleted or we're not getting enough sleep we're not getting enough exercise? 

If we're not really actively paying attention to that and meeting our own needs and providing ourselves with self-care and downtime, we are going to get depleted, and not going to be able to be our best selves in relationships, or be functional, for that matter, at work, or as parents, or in our other important life roles. It is our responsibility to be meeting our basic needs for things like nourishment and rest. 

Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries

It is also our responsibility, along those lines, to be both knowledgeable and clear about our own limitations and our own boundaries. If you can imagine building up from the bottom, that emotional awareness leads to clarity, leads to being able to communicate, leads to self-care. It's being able to say to yourself first but then, also to other people, “Actually I can't do that.” Or “I don't want to do that.” That is also completely legitimate. It's like, “What are my boundaries? What are my limitations? What is okay with me? What is not okay with me?” You have to know that in yourself first so that you can then say that to somebody else. 

It is similarly our responsibility to say no to inappropriate requests and also to say no to things that are not congruent with the best use of our time and energy and life satisfaction goals. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should. That is an idea that really trips up a lot of very competent, smart, compassionate people. Because they think, “Well, it's not that big of a deal. Yes, I'll do the thing.” When it would have actually been healthier, not just for them, but for everybody else for them to say, “Respectfully, no. There's a part of me that would like to but it's just not realistic for me right now.” It's completely okay, and it is your job to do that. 

It is also 100% your responsibility to protect yourself from other people who would either literally hurt you or disregard your healthy boundaries, disregard your needs. It is similarly your job to protect your children and other vulnerable people around you from others who may have the potential to harm them in subtle or very dramatic ways. It is also our responsibility to figure out what makes us happy and pursue those opportunities for happiness. That could be hobbies. That could be friendships that nurture us. That could be just having space to read a book. 

You're not doing anybody any favors when you are living your life in such a way that there's no space for you and the things that make you feel happy and satisfied and fulfilled. It may sometimes seem a little selfish to do that, but think about the converse. If you are literally giving everything away and then some, you are going to be irritated, grumpy, exhausted, resentful, angry, and not that functional. You are not of benefit to anybody else if you are grumpy, and resentful, and exhausted, and not that functional. 

You have to be doing things that fill up your own cup because you can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's not their job. It's your job. Again, this sphere of personal responsibility. It goes in a couple of ways but getting clear about what we need to do is so liberating and empowering once we figure out how to define those boundaries. 

Defining Your Obligations

Other things that are super important and within our sphere of personal responsibility is spending some time to get very clear about what do we actually need to be doing in terms of holding up our end of the bargain. Those could be personal obligations or responsibilities in your personal life, but also that may extend to your roles at work or your roles as a parent. 

If you're a parent, it is actually your responsibility to make sure that the basic needs of your children are met, to be providing income, housing, transportation, basic stuff, safe environment, an emotionally safe environment for your kids. That is also your responsibility. In other roles, it can even be helpful to sit down with a piece of paper. Like, “Okay, at work, what is my job description? What am I there to do?” To write down all of those tasks: “what is my job,” quite literally. Or in your home life, your personal life: “What are the things that need to get done and that I should be doing?” That could extend to the way that you show up in your relationship. You know, spending at least some time with your spouse, are the things that are your responsibility. It's making an effort to be a kind, considerate, loving partner for your spouse.

I don't know if you had the chance yet to listen to my recent podcast episode about love languages, but trying to be thoughtful about what your partner needs from you and how you can give that to them. That is, I think, in your sphere of responsibility, in addition to being an emotionally safe person and an effective communicator. 

It is also your responsibility to provide people with necessary information to be able to say, “Here's my job and this is what I am going to be doing. This is what I'm going to be doing.” So that they can make choices about what they would like to be doing in response to that. Again, you're not telling them what to do. You're saying, “This is what I'm doing.” Providing them with accurate information and that could extend to boundaries but it could also… Doctors are actually, disclosure, therapists run into this a lot. 

I know part of my role here at Growing Self, I certainly do see my own therapy and coaching clients, but I also do a lot of supervision of other therapists and coaches at this point. One of the big themes that comes up, especially, I think, for earlier career counselors is this idea of how to tell if they're working harder than their clients are. Because that can actually be a thing in the therapy world. A client might come in and sort of vent about all of these things that are happening in their relationship that they aren't happy with, that they would to have changed. And then, a therapist could say, “Okay, these are the things that I think would be really helpful for you. I think that this is where we should put time and energy into expanding.” 

We cannot control whether or not someone engages with that, whether or not they want to do that personal growth work or challenge themselves to do things differently in their relationship with their partner, that would actually help them get different results. I think early career therapists can often feel really bad. Like, “Why isn't this ‘working?’” I think it also has to do with these ideas about how personal growth works, how therapy works. I think that some people have this idea that just coming into a therapist's office or a marriage counselor's office and saying out loud, “This is the problem” and hoping for advice. “Okay, what do you think I should do to change it?” That in itself would change something and that isn't the way it works. 

I think that that's one of the dark parts of talk therapy is that people believe that if they're coming and talking to a therapist, they are doing what needs to be done in order to change and grow and evolve. Listening to yourself tell the therapist about how you feel is great. It helps build insight. which is always helpful but it doesn't actually change the results that you're going to get in your life until you turn that insight into action and are able to put in the time and energy and effort to doing things a little bit differently, like the things that we're talking about today: managing the way that you communicate, being clear about your boundaries, saying no, protecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and providing other people with information around “Here's what I'm going to do.” 

I could tell you that, as a therapist, until I'm blue in the face but that is actually where my sphere of responsibility ends. Whether or not you do that stops being my responsibility because I have done my part of this equation, which is providing you with new ideas and growth opportunities. That's kind of how this works in my profession, but this is also how it's going to work in your life too. I think if we go back to that thing that we were talking about at the beginning of the show, about how often we can inadvertently get in these situations where we're fighting with people, particularly with our partners to try to get them to do things differently or move in the direction that we want them to move in, that is not anything that you have control over. 

Where your sphere of responsibility ends is around: “This is what I need. This is what I'm going to do. This is what I'm going to do in response to whatever you decide to do.” Then, seeing what they do with that. So it gets injected from that inner circle at that moment and into somebody else's lane to do with as they will. Yes, we're interdependent, and the way that we show up in our relationships can impact the response that we have. But I have ceaselessly been amazed over and over and over again about how dramatically, and sometimes, even quickly relationships will change. And how differently people will feel when they start getting real clear about themselves and their own boundaries and their own needs and how they're taking care of what is their responsibility instead of looking outside of that sphere of responsibility for things to improve. Those are some of the things that are in your sphere of responsibility. 

Having Empathy and Compassion

Others that I will add, I do believe personally, and this goes back to one of my core values that is not one that is shared by everyone, but I do believe that we all have the responsibility to try to have empathy and compassion for other humans. I think that that's just one of the core principles of life worth living. Again, that's a values-based thing. I do personally believe that we all have the responsibility to try to do as much as we can, particularly when it comes to doing our own work and bettering ourselves. 

I think that investing in yourself and your own wellness is our responsibility. That can extend obviously to the health stuff that we were talking about. Well, clearly, we're here together. You're listening to this podcast so you could check this one off the list, but reading self-help books, engaging in personal growth activities, thinking about: “Who am I? Am I the best self that I could be?” Considering what your options are and being willing I think to experiment with new things and grow. 

What is Your Problem

It all really boils down to our responsibility is, ultimately, controlling how we show up in the world and making sure that we are living our own lives with integrity: integrity to ourselves, integrity to others, and that managing ourselves as well as we can. Not perfectly. That is not an appropriate expectation for anyone but a sincere well-intentioned effort to be doing our very best job of being a good person, being thoughtful and considerate and kind in our interactions with other people, being very willing to accept responsibility for the things that we do actually need to do, which is our health, our wellness, and also basic stuff of life that we do actually need to get done. That requires a lot of thought and energy into thinking about what those things are. 

If you're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all those, first of all, I'm sorry. But this is going back to that idea that when I do work with people in therapy and coaching, we dive into all of these things over many, many sessions. I'm trying to distill this for you into an exercise that we can talk about in the podcast episode of 45 minutes or whatever it is. Take notes, write these things down. My advice for you would be to give yourself time and space to think more about it. Write down: “What is my responsibility?” Fill in that circle. “What am I in charge of? What am I doing to take care of myself? How do I feel? Am I saying no? What, legitimately, are the tasks and things that are my job that are on my responsibility list?” 

Give yourself some time to do this because only then will you be able to say with confidence and clarity, “I am doing what I need to be doing. I know what that is and I feel really good about that.” Because then, that in turn, will lead us to step two which is figuring out what is on the other side of that boundary, that boundary of personal responsibility. 

Other People’s Problems

Once you have figured out what you want, what you need, what you need to do to create that, and get clear about what behaving with integrity and responsibility means to you, then you can get very clear and confident about all the things that are on the other side of that line. What is actually someone else's problem? Other people's problem: OPPs. These might include things like other people's reactions to you. If you are behaving well and in alignment with your values, and you're confident that you are being appropriate and clear and kind and responsible, then it leaves your domain of responsibility when it is launched out into the world and received by another person. 

I will tell you, if you are trying to set healthy boundaries with someone who does not have healthy boundaries, they will very likely get upset with you for doing that. They will try to make you feel bad about that. And they will have negative interpretations of whatever you do, despite your positive intentions. They'll perceive you as being not a nice, loving person, and that is okay. Because at this point, because of the work that you've done, you do not need them to think that you're a nice person because you already know that you're a nice person, that you're being really healthy and really appropriate. 

You can expect, again, unhealthy people, that that doesn't go over well with them. Particularly, if you've been caught in a dynamic with them historically where you have been doing too much and taking responsibility for things that aren't your job. As soon as you stop that, then that's not going to feel good for them anymore. They might try to punish you or make you feel bad. Again, I just want to pause for a second. There are degrees of punishment. It might be your mother that you're trying to set new boundaries with. Now, she's giving you the silent treatment because you're not doing what she wants you to do. That's completely okay and that's, again, within the realm of what a lot of people deal with. 

There is also though, a different thing if you are in a patently abusive relationship like domestic violence. If you are afraid for your life or for the welfare of your children, the things that I'm talking about right now about other people's problems and how to deal with them probably don't apply because you need to do whatever you need to do to manage that situation long enough to leave the situation. Don't think for a second that there's anything that you can do to change your partner's abusive reactions. Your responsibility is keeping yourself safe, which is doing whatever you need to do to stay safe and then leaving. That is your responsibility. Just know that the things that I'm talking about here do not extend to those situations. 

If you are in an abusive situation, if you're afraid for your safety, and that's showing up in boundary stuff, do not pass go. Go to the website called thehotline.org. thehotline.org, it is by, for, and about people who are stuck in violent and abusive relationships. They have tons of information and you can get free confidential access to a domestic violence counselor who can help assess the situation, and do a safety plan with you, and help start the process of getting you the heck out of there: thehotline.org

Giving Space for Others to Grow

Veering back into our lane, to continue the conversation about what is not your problem is managing someone else's feelings: feeling like you have to do certain things in order to make somebody else happy. No. You need to be responsible for yourself, and then they will have whatever reactions they need to have to that. It is also someone else's responsibility, not your problem, it is their problem, to set boundaries with you, and tell you what they need, and tell you how they feel and to say no to you, right? 

We can only ask for what we want or need or expect but then, the expectation is that it goes on the other side of the net. That an emotionally safe person will have done similar work to what I'm talking about right now and will be able to take on board what you're saying and consider that in light of who they are, and how they feel, and what they need, and what feels healthy for them, and then communicate back with you in an emotionally safe and authentic and respectful way so that there's a dialogue that starts. It is their responsibility to do that with you. You do not have to try to read somebody's mind, or anticipate their needs for them, or prevent their feelings from being hurt. Our job is to trust other people enough to tell us that because that is the foundation of a mutually healthy relationship: healthy boundaries on both sides. 

Again, allowing other people to have the time and space and feelings to do their own growth work. Other people's growth is on their side of the net. One of the things that I've learned over the years in relationships, personal relationships, and myself as a parent, as a therapist, is that one of the most precious things that you can do for someone that you really, really love is by allowing them to experience discomfort, to allow them to experience pain, even, and to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their own decisions and their own actions, so that they have the opportunity to get in touch with their feelings, to get clear about their values, about what they need, so that they get to practice communicating effectively, so that they have growth opportunities that come from the same place that yours do. That they're motivated by the desire to get different results. 

In the absence of dissatisfaction or frustration, people don't grow. They just kind of cruise along. If you are, I've learned this as a parent, out in front of your kid sweeping the path clear for them always, they don't get to grow. They don't get to learn. They don't get to try something, and I hate to use the word fail. Let's just not even. But have the opportunity to say, “Oh, that didn't work the way that I wanted it to. What could I do differently?” They have to kind of struggle with that and that is their problem. Again, you can provide them with information. Like, “Hey, I just read this book. It was so helpful to me. Here's the title. You might want to check it out.” You're done. Now, it's on their side of a net and they get to decide A: whether or not that is even remotely relevant to what they think they need and to follow through with that. Your work here is done. You tried. Those are all different examples of things that are on other people's side of the net. 

Lastly, to put all this together, I'll give you kind of an illustration of this. In my role, so I certainly do therapy and coaching, but at this stage of the game, I'm really the clinical director of Growing Self, at this point. A lot of what I'm doing is managing a team. I provide clinical supervision but also working with different people to keep all the wheels on the bus. As a leader, my sphere of responsibility, I need to create a really emotionally safe environment for everybody on my team that values authenticity, that values growth. This basic idea that we all need to talk openly about how we're feeling, and what we need, and potential problems because the whole theme of everything that we do here is around growth: What can we learn? How can we improve? How can we make this better? And then, it's okay that there are problems because that gives us the opportunity to reflect on our actions and grow and learn. 

This is all a good thing but it's my job to, not just make sure that everybody knows that intellectually, but to help them feel that way in their interactions with me. How I respond to people, how I invite people to share their thoughts or feelings, and my reactions to that, that's my job, one that I take very seriously. It is also my job to hold up my end of the bargain with practical matters. There are all kinds of things that need to be done. I have a task list. There are things that I need to do that actually nobody else can do. I need to do that so I'm very careful about how I manage my time, and I'm taking those commitments really seriously. I think it's also my job to do as good of a job as I possibly can. I put a lot of energy and effort and intention into the things that are my job. Making these podcasts for you, I care about that. I can do some little 20 minutes super light non-deep pod… There's a time and a place but I don't do that. 

I really want to go deep with you so that it's a meaningful growth experience. I put hours and hours and hours in each one of these, which is great. I love it. I'm happy to do, and I'm not complaining. But I feel that is actually my obligation to you, to be present in that way. That's my job. Also, my job is to know what my strengths are and also what my liabilities are. What am I good at? And what am I not that good at? So that I can either very proactively take steps to kind of either get help for the things that I'm not good at or get real conscious about like, “Okay, I know I'm not the best in the world at time management so before I start my day, I need to look at my calendar. Set my timers so I'm not late to anything.” That's my job. 

It is also my job to share ideas and to ask for what I need and also to be selective in what I commit to. I have people come to me all the time with business ideas or things that we could be doing, and I have to say no to a lot of them. Because anything that I say yes to means that there's less time and energy and effort for stuff that I've already committed to that is really important. Being responsible and thoughtful about the boundaries that I set and also be clear about what I would like to have happen with other people on my team. 

I think that all of the things that are my responsibility accumulates to being trustworthy, being emotionally safe, and creating an emotionally healthy environment for other people where they feel valued and supported with me. It's my responsibility to show appreciation, to do as much as I can to nurture and support the growth of others. All things that are my job. 

What else is happening is that I expect that if I ask somebody on my team to do something, they will say no to me if they can't. Or say, “You know what? I have all of these other projects and when I really look at the amount of time these are all going to take, something has to give. I cannot do one of these, and do this thing that you're asking, or maybe we could schedule it at a further time.” But this super reality-based conversation about what's possible and what's not possible. 

I feel like it's also other people's responsibilities to say to me, “Hey, Lisa. This thing isn't working that well. I'm not feeling good about this process. I think that this needs to be better.” Instead of suffering in silence and trying to make do with things that maybe aren't actually good enough. But maybe they're having sort of assumptions laid out like they don't want to upset me or they don't want to cause problems. Or that old friend of “Well, if I were just doing a better job, I wouldn't be feeling so overwhelmed or defeated or whatever it is.” I disagree. I think it's their responsibility to be communicating with me about how they feel because if I know, then we can work together to solve the problem. 

I trust the people that I am in a relationship with to care enough about me and our relationship to set boundaries with me, to tell me how they feel, to be self-aware enough to know how they feel. Also, to communicate with me in an emotionally safe and respectful way that are like “Hey, we have a problem. What are we going to do here to fix it?” 

That's kind of a simple work-based example of all of this in action about what's my sphere of responsibility and what somebody else's. But as you reflect on your own job or your own roles in your family, to think about what are you creating in terms of the environment and your responses to people. What, perhaps, has been bleeding over that maybe you've been attempting to control something that is in someone else's domain or trying to manage the responses and feelings of another person? 

I have all kinds of clients. Super hardworking, super competent who will tell me that they're actually doing somebody else's job in their department. They're doing a job and a half or sometimes even two jobs because they have a really mercurial boss. They are afraid that their boss will be upset if they say no to them. That is so toxic. That is not okay. Again, to get clear about how to set boundaries in a healthy way and also to set limits and to take care of yourself. Because if your toxic boss is actually going to scream at you if you're not doing 1.75 jobs that is inappropriate for your job description, your responsibility is to be operating in reality and thinking, “Okay, can I communicate what I need and have the situation change? What do I need to do to try to make that happen?” “Do I need to start making other plans for myself if I'm in a legitimately toxic work environment that is unhealthy for me, that isn't going to change?” It's your responsibility to figure out your way out of that instead of continuing to be sad and frustrated and miserable because that's your job: to take care of you. 

Anyway, so many examples of these differences. If you are one of the people who has written to me lately asking about how to handle specific situations with your spouse or partner that you're feeling unhappy about, and what do you think I should do, or what I think you should do rather, I hope that this conversation has illuminated that the answer to this in a more meaningful way than some basic high-level advice would. There are growth opportunities here, primarily to you, that will then cascade out into your relationship and impact the results that you're getting. Or if you are one of the people that has written in on Instagram about a crappy job situation or how to deal with a really unreasonable boss, I hope that this discussion helps you clarify and design a much more comprehensive, and ultimately, effective path forward for yourself that's based on your long-term health and needs and goals. 

Personal growth is messy and the answers aren't always easy. It requires work and depth and thought and intention and also a lot of courage. Because it's also one thing to have these ideas and be reflecting on them, but it's a whole other level when you set out about to do them. Then, experience what that feels like when you do. I hope that you take this in the intention that it was created, which is me trying to do a really nice job, making a meaningful podcast for, you and I am bouncing it over to your side of the net to do with as you will. I'll be so interested to hear if you have any follow-up questions or reactions and how these ideas work for you as you implement them in your own life. 

Thank you again for spending time with me today and I'll be back in touch soon with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast.

[Outro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]


Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

What is EFT?

EFT is an experiential approach to couples therapy, meaning that it’s not about learning skills and strategies (though you’ll get those along the way too). EFCT will help you understand yourself and your partner differently, so that the moments that would have led to anger or hurt feelings in the past, can actually become powerful moments of bonding and connection. 

If this sounds amazing… it actually is amazing. I’ve been honored to work as a marriage counselor guiding couples through this process. I can honestly say that when couples “shift” from viewing each other as hostile and emotionally dangerous to seeing each other vulnerable and in need of love and care — it is beautiful: empathy and compassion start to flow naturally. Through these new experiences, and shift in emotional perspective, everything about a relationship can change for the better.

The Practice of Emotionally Focused Therapy

Because Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is such a powerful form of marriage counseling — and so darn effective — I really wanted to unpack it for you on today’s episode of the podcast, so you can understand how it works, and how to use the principles of EFT therapy to benefit your relationship.

I’ve invited my colleague Anastacia S., M.A., LMFT to join me on today’s show to answer your questions about emotionally focused couples therapy and to discuss how EFT therapy works. 

Anastacia is an advanced, licensed marriage and family therapist on our team here at Growing Self. She practices Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and she is also a clinical supervisor who trains other therapists seeking to become EFCT marriage counselors. 

She has so much wisdom to share on this topic, and I’m delighted to share her perspective with you today! You can listen to her relationship advice using the podcast player above, or listen to “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy” on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts. (Be sure to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you’re there!) 

EFT Therapy

What is emotionally focused therapy? Listen to learn everything you ever wanted to know about EFT couples therapy and how it can help YOU transform your relationship. Ana and I are discussing:

  • What Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is, and how it’s different from other forms of couples counseling.
  • How attachment styles impact your relationships.
  • How our early experiences in our family of origin can impact our ways of relating as adults.
  • How couples fall into negative spirals of reacting to each other, and why that’s so toxic to your relationship.
  • What happens to relationships when we begin to create a “negative story” about our partners.
  • Why healthy, securely attached people can appear to have avoidant or anxious tendencies in a distressed relationship.
  • Understanding the pursue/withdraw pattern, and how to extract yourself from it.
  • How to cultivate a secure attachment bond with your partner through emotional connection and responsiveness
  • The difference between primary and secondary emotions.
  • Cultural differences (and similarities) around how we connect and bond.
  • What to do if you’re feeling like your relationship is too far gone for couples therapy.
  • And so much more.

Ana and I both sincerely hope that this discussion helps you restore the love and connection in your relationship, in order to keep it strong, secure, and healthy for years to come.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

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

Music Credits: “All This Love” by Russo and Weinberg,

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How To Be More Confident

How To Be More Confident

How to Build Confidence In Yourself

How to be more confident? If you have (like so many others) ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt or compared yourself to others, you know that feeling confident can seem elusive. While wanting to be “better” can feel like motivation for personal growth or self-improvement, sometimes this self-criticism can actually impede your personal development.

Consider the paradox of wanting to be more confident: When we don’t feel as confident as we think we should, it then becomes just another thing to beat ourselves up about. “I'm not as confident as other people!” Or, “I should feel more confident than I do!” Oh, the irony! But learning how to build confidence becomes much easier and more attainable when we stop seeking to “feel” confident and feeling bad about ourselves when we don't and, instead, start focusing on our relationship with ourselves. 

Self Confidence … Through Self Compassion

Does your relationship with yourself feel healthy and supportive? Do you know how to love yourself, and compassionately coach yourself through challenging life experiences? Or do you beat yourself up, judge yourself, or inwardly criticize or condemn yourself as you go throughout your daily life? 

The path to learning how to be more confident means learning how to have a healthier relationship with yourself.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

For people who struggle with confidence or have low self-esteem, their harsh inner critic can feel like the part of yourself that “really knows the truth.” It can feel like it’s trying to help you be better, by pointing out your flaws or shortcomings. But what we know is that growth requires emotional safety and support. If your inner critic is always tearing you down and making you feel bad, it becomes paralyzing. If you’re constantly making mistakes and doing the wrong thing, it feels like you can’t do anything: Not even the things that would help you grow and heal. 

Then you’re stuck! 

How to Build Confidence In Yourself — Compassionately

The key to creating self-confidence is learning how to have an emotionally safe relationship with yourself. This is a personal growth process that can be a journey to cultivate, for sure. But the rewards are enormous. Not only will you feel more confident, but this type of deep personal development work can also help you feel more optimistic, better able to meet challenges competently, and — perhaps even most importantly — improve your relationships with others too.

But how? How to build confidence through developing a relationship with yourself? On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m pleased to do a deep dive into this topic with my guest, Dr. Aziz Gazapura. Dr. Aziz is a psychologist specializing in social anxiety and self confidence, and he’s sharing his insights with us today. 

I hope you join us for this episode, which is essentially a “masterclass” in how to be more confident. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or right here. If you’re more of a reader than a listener, scroll down to find shownotes and a transcript below. 

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Be More Confident

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

Music Credits: “Freedom” by The Originals

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How To Be More Confident: Podcast Show Notes

  • Why Is Confidence Important?
    • Confidence is essential to having emotional freedom to take risks, successfully manage challenges, and create authentic and meaningful relationships.
    • One of the primary reasons that people struggle with confidence and low self-esteem is that they have a harsh inner critic that’s making them feel terrible about themselves.
    • How to Be More Confident By Being Kind to Yourself
      • Confidence is an inside job.
      • The art of building confidence in yourself is akin to developing a positive, healthy relationship with yourself.
      • This allows you to feel secure from the inside out: You can take risks, try new things, and allow yourself to be authentically vulnerable. 
    • Building Confidence By Being On Your Own Side
      • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where you become more “on your own side.”
      • This endeavor does not need to be a one-man job. If it feels difficult to “talk back” to your inner critic, that can be a sign that you could benefit from the support of a therapist or coach.
    • Breaking Free from False Self-Protection
      • Often, it feels like the inner critic inside our heads is trying to protect us from harm or danger.
      • However, they’re an outdated protective strategy that feeds us information that is not necessarily true. It holds you back. 
  • Social Anxiety vs. Lack of Self Confidence
    • Signs of Social Anxiety
      • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
      • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance. However, the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront them.
    • Social Anxiety is a Verb, Not a Noun
      • Rather than having social anxiety, think of it as doing social anxiety. 
      • It is reversible as long as you put in the effort to break free of your patterns.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • Self Confidence: Be Willing to Fail Forward
      • The more you are willing to make mistakes, the quicker you’ll develop the skills that help you feel confident and competent.
    • Forge Verified Faith
      • Once you’ve practiced your social skills a number of times, you’ll be willing to take more risks. 
      • You then get faith in yourself that you can do it. 
    • Be Authentic, Not Nice
      • When you’re more focused on being nice, you approach people from a place of fear, not genuine love and connection. 
      • Doing this can build up resentment since you are unable to express your own needs and emotions.
    • Consider Therapy for Low Self-Esteem
      • Therapy is a good place to start. Your therapist can guide you through a systematic approach to build your confidence. 
  • Making Assumptions
    • We Attract What We Project
      • We're in an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. 
      • So when we have self-critical thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 
    • Negative Assumptions Are a Sign of Low Self Esteem
      • Most of us assume that people are against us because we are against ourselves. 
      • Initiate a dialogue with your inner voice so you can combat this chronic assumption. 
  • Building Confidence From The Inside Out
    • Cultivating a growth mindset that allows you to experiment and practice (with a minimum of self-judgment) is key to building 

[Intro Song]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. You're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[Intro Song]

Dr. Lisa: My guest today on this episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. Dr. Aziz has a background in clinical psychology but he's a real expert in confidence. He's here to talk with us today about why self-confidence is important and really kind of unpacking that term with us because we hear all the time from every direction that we should be more self-confident; we should have higher self-esteem. For people that struggle with this, that quickly turns into just one more thing that makes them feel badly about themselves, like, “Oh, god, no, I'm not confident enough.” So we really want to dive into this topic to explore what the impact of confidence is in one direction or another, on life, on relationships, on a career. Dr. Aziz, as a real expert on this subject, I'm so pleased you can join us today to share his wisdom with you. Thank you, Dr. Aziz.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Bobby. I do think that's ironic, right? Someone's feeling maybe a little bit low about themselves or anxious, and then they have this idea, “I should be more confident… urghh I'm not”, and then made worse. So that's, I mean, I'm so glad we're having this conversation. I did start by clearing that one up. So people are free.

Dr. Lisa: Let's just start there. Because it's true. I mean, I think people that struggle with self-confidence, which is, okay, hi, everyone, right? But doubts themselves from time to time. Like, there's always this giant list of things that we all need to be we all need to do. And now we have 75, self-anointed life coaches, and our Instagram feed every day jumping up and down, telling us that we should like ourselves more, be more confident. And it's just like, “Oh, okay, great. Why, why is that even important?”

How to be Kind to Yourself

Dr. Aziz: Sure. Well, I mean, from subjectively our own experience, I like to think of it as a relationship. If you imagine having a relationship with a friend or family member or a spouse, and what is the quality of that relationship? Is it are you connected? Are you distant? Are you loving and kind and patient? Are you impatient and frustrated and critical? And there's really no difference with the relationship with ourselves. 

We are either distant and disconnected and kind of zoned out and not really present with ourselves or we can be harsh, critical, impatient, judging, angry. When we live that way, whether it's a relationship with someone in your life or relationship with yourself, when you're living that way, it's painful. It can be limiting. It feeling bad aside, it also can be very restricting and limiting to your life because when you're feeling low about yourself, you're feeling like you are unworthy or unlovable, you're not going to take risks. You're not going to put yourself out there. You're not going to really live up to what you want to do and what you want to create in life. So I think it has a kind of a one-two punch effect on us when our confidence and self-esteem is low.

Dr. Lisa: I am so glad we're talking about this, this way and in this language because I think you said something just so insightful, which is really like that self-confidence, right? To be self-confident to be in this almost mood state of self-confidence. It's like people think that that means that they need to feel a certain way; they need to project themselves differently to others. It's almost like how they should be out in the world is air quote, self-confident. 

But I love the way that you're talking about this in terms that I think is much easier to understand, like more relatable, which is that let's just toss that self-confidence term out the window. Almost what we're really talking about, is the quality of the relationship that you have with yourself. Is it supportive? Is it patient? Is it kind? Or are you being mean to yourself harsh with yourself, beating yourself up, tearing yourself down? How does your relationship with yourself contribute to how you feel in relationships with others?

Dr. Aziz: It is the most important thing in a lot of ways because everyone can just use this as a little thought experiment. Imagine yourself spending a day with someone that you love, maybe it's a lover or a close friend or your spouse of 15 years. You guys got a little date time away from the kids and you're out in a beautiful park or near a waterfall or going to the movies or whatever you love to do with someone that you love. And I say, “Well, great, how are you feeling? What's that day like?”, and you say, “Well, inside my head, I'm judging myself, I don't think I look very good. I don't. My clothes don't fit well, and I'm boring. You know, I'm worried about what's going to happen next, because I'm not good enough.” 

It doesn't matter what you're doing. It doesn't matter who you're with. It's pain, it's suffering. So if we don't get a handle on that, if we don't learn how to work with that, those voices in our head, critical side of us, our insecure parts, if they run the show, if it dominates us, then we're going to suffer and of course, our relationships are going to suffer too, right? Because we're not coming out as our best or most free self, we're going to be a lot more restricted, a lot more guarded, a lot more inhibited. So it makes all the difference. 

I do think that thinking of it that way, as a relationship with yourself, I often say confidence is an inside job. Because if people confuse that persona, that bravado, that appearance of confidence, the people that like really puff that up, actually, and you probably know this from your work and everything. It's like the inverse inside, they're the most insecure; it's a compensation. So we want to step away from needing to look confident or be anxious inside and actually say, “Okay, how do we fundamentally approach ourselves and life so that we can truly feel more relaxed, more accepted, more acceptable, and then more courageous, to move forward and really connect with others in a deeper way?” 

Dr. Lisa: I love that. Just to hear you talk like you speak about this. So insightfully and so compassionately, and I hope that this is okay to ask about, just in looking through your materials, you mentioned that at an earlier point in your own life, it sounds like you struggled to have a good relationship with yourself and I can only imagine the amount of empathy and just genuine understanding that must have come from that experience. Is it okay to ask you about that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that is the source of not only my empathy for this and understanding but also my endless hunger to serve in this way. Because I experienced firsthand for many years, what it was like to live with pretty severe social anxiety and all of its cousins that people might not notice. But excessive niceness, people-pleasing, excessive guilt, worrying constantly of what other people think of me. So even after I got past some pretty strong inhibition and avoidance, and kind of broke through to the next level of at least appearing a little bit more confident, I was really tormented and suffered a lot with this relationship with myself. With that led to was this endless, obsessive hunger to say, “Well, how do I liberate myself from this? How do I? I was in therapy, and I go to workshops, I go to trainings, and I would always be listening specifically for that, “How do I like myself? How do I stop this critical beast in my head that seems like I don't, I'm not in control of it?”

Over time, fortunately, with enough growth and exploration, I was able to really discover how to shift that. We could talk more about that in this interview. But the beautiful thing is, I say, confidence is an inside job and we need other people. It's this beautiful synergy, right? I didn't really fully free myself. I mean, look, of course, we all have self-criticism, we all have some self-doubts. I'm not saying that that's gone forever. But I mean, it's night and day different the way I live my relationship with myself now, and it's not where it is today because I just did it all myself. It's truly other people. It's listening to shows like this. It's reading books. It's doing the work. 

As we do that, and as we take the risk to be more real and more vulnerable, as we change the way we talk to ourselves, we treat ourselves, you can experience a fundamental shift in the way that, I encapsulate this with people that I work with now, as I call it being on my own side. And in fact, the people I work with, the groups that I run, it kind of had, they came up with its own acronym, OMOS, on my own side, OMOS. That's a common phrase people will talk about is how you know how to be more on my own side because when we're on our sides that's kind of another way of saying what we're talking about here. So yes, I made a shift in my life from being many years very not on my own side, very against myself, to fundamentally residing where my center of gravity now is on my own side.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.  I'm glad that you bring up the part about how hard it is to do on their own, because it's almost like you're lost in this forest almost with this person who's mean to you and like telling you all these terrible things about yourself. I think that when you are alone in that, it's very easy to get tricked into believing that that mean voice is true. I think it requires a connection with somebody else, at least in the beginning stages of this journey to say, “No, don't listen to them. That is not true. Let me show you how to think differently or what to do to talk back to that inner voice.” It's very difficult to do that without someone almost like coming in to get you, and I want to say that out loud. Because again, I think a lot of times people believe that they should be able to do these things on their own, or like read a blog article or listen to a podcast and be like, “Okay, I know what I should do, now.” I just want to say that it's very hard to do this. It's one thing to hear what you should do, or what helps, but the doing of it is a collective endeavor, I think.

Dr. Aziz: Yes. The whole purpose of this inner critic, that's something I became very fascinated by, like, what's going on? This seems so maladaptive. This seems so not healthy, like what's going on. What I've discovered over time is… I love this idea of being in the woods being in the forest, and you got this character next to you that's criticizing you. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: But it actually as sort of purposeless as it might seem, just mean or it actually has a very specific function. The way I guide clients to see this, I said, “Well, what if that voice were true? You know, and it's, you're ugly, and you're not smart enough, and you're not gonna succeed?”, and all these things, like, if we were just to say, “Okay, let’s take it at face value, it's all true. Where is it steering you towards in your life?” When people reflect on this, what they often find is it is guiding them to downsize their life. To avoid risk, avoid stepping into the unknown, avoid trying new things, avoid connecting, avoid being vulnerable, and really kind of keep life as contained, armored, and small as possible, and so dense. 

Dr. Lisa: Protective

Dr. Aziz: It's a protective voice. Absolutely. It's an outdated, protective strategy to survive through basically armoring up and avoiding life. What's very helpful to see that, because once you start to notice it's actually the first step because all of a sudden, imagine you've had this character with you for years in the woods, and you think, maybe you think, “Oh, it's a jerk”, but you also think it's looking out for you. It's giving you real information. It's, maybe, it's even a friend or…

Dr. Lisa:  It's truth.

Dr. Aziz: It's a truth. All of a sudden, people start to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute”, and often tell like that's, I call it the safety police. It's trying to keep you safe by corralling you. I'll say that your safety police is not the voice of truth. It's a propaganda campaign to keep you in the woods to keep you out of your life. This brings us to other people because the safety police will love to say, “First of all, you know, you're screwed. Sorry, you're over. It's your genes. It's your family. It's your history. It's your age, it's your appearances, whatever, don't even try. And by the way, don't tell anybody about this, because you're so messed up. If people knew how messed up you are, they certainly wouldn't love you. So you got to work this out on your own. Just go read a blog article, listen to a thing, don't tell anybody.” Honestly, that's doomed to fail. We can get a little bit of insight, we can get a little bit of growth. 

I'm a big believer in education. That's why you have this podcast. I do my own. To really transform this in a fundamental way, we got to involve other people and it doesn't have to be so it could be paid help or counseling or groups. It could also just be like, “Okay, I'm going to read this book, but I'm going to talk about it with my friend, I'm going to talk about it to my spouse.” There so many people I come across who come into my world who want to do coaching or the things and they're like, “I can't tell my spouse” I'm like, “Okay”, I meet them where they're at. I make a note on like, “That's a problem.” because if you have so much shame, about the anxiety that you can't even tell the person extensively that you're closest with, that's a red flag that we want to make sure that we address so over time. You can because you're afraid right now, but that's going to be the biggest source of healing and liberation, to bring other people into your world and your safety police who's in the woods with you is going to yell ‘til it's blue in the face, saying, “Don't let anyone in. Don't let anyone. It's too dangerous.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to have a corrective emotional experience where you are emotionally intimate and vulnerable with someone who does love you and who is able to receive that in a healing kind of way is so transformational. I just also want to say out loud for the benefit of people listening to this who might not be in that situation is that it does also require an emotionally safe relationship. But I see that not everyone and not every relationship is ready for that kind of authenticity as powerful as it is. 

So as a couples counselor, one of the things we have to do sometimes, as people sort of grow together, like pacing themselves on each side because it can be very unhelpful, even damaging if people are like, “Okay, I'm ready to share and be vulnerable with you now” with a partner who is angry with them or not ready to receive them in that way. There can be I think, some couples work that needs to happen in order for it to be a good experience, and not another bad experience that supports that she is your safety police is then like, “I'm never doing that again.” I think that's what can be really confusing for people sometimes. 

Signs of Social Anxiety

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let's talk about this. One of the reasons that I wanted to speak with you is that in addition to your workaround like confidence in coaching. You have a background in clinical psychology and you've done a lot of researching and writing on the subject of social anxiety, which is, it's in the DSM, and it is sort of in that more disordered realm. I'm curious to know, how you would characterize serious for real social anxiety as being different from a confidence problem. How did you articulate that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's really a matter of degree when it comes to social anxiety. I think everyone experiences social anxiety. All that means is we feel fear of other humans. That's really what it means. And typically, it's a fear of being judged, disliked, rejected, and that underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy, unlovable. So that rejection means something damning about us because if someone is like, “Oh, yeah, someone might not like me, but I know that I'm okay.” or “I know that I'm worthwhile.” or “I know that I'm, even if I'm not good at this thing, I'm still a worthy human”, then the person's probably not gonna experience my social anxiety.

They might feel a bit of nervousness or something but it's a different ballgame. So there, we need those. Those are the sort of the fundamental agreements, and not agreements, ingredients for social anxiety. Again, we all know that experience, maybe it's at a party, maybe it's with someone you find attractive, maybe it's with a boss or a supervisor in authority, maybe it's in front of a group of people. I mean, people don't call public speaking social anxiety, when they're afraid to speak in front of a group. But that's what it is that some are afraid of this group of people. The more people, the more there's the potential judgment. Now, I'm more scared. So I think it's pretty prevalent. It's very common. Everyone's got it. It's just a matter of where and how often and how much does it come up for you. 

Now, most people, it comes up in certain areas, and then they feel more relaxed when they're not in that environment. When it starts to get into the more chronic or severe social anxiety, it follows you everywhere you go. You're nervous in a group of people. You're nervous on a date, or if it's severe enough, you might not even engage in these activities, you might not date, which is what I did, I didn't date for many years. I didn't speak up in groups. I wouldn't raise my hand. I wouldn't do all these things. Because the primary way that we deal with it when we're a lot of social anxiety is avoidance. Scary, it feels bad, so I want to avoid it. The problem with that is, the way avoidance works is the more we avoid something, the harder it becomes to confront it. Because we don't have experiences, we don't have evidence that we can handle it, all we see is it's dangerous. I avoided it. Glad I got out of that danger, better avoid it again next time.

To make things worse, the story is if I did speak up, if I did share, if I did ask that person that whatever it is, I would go terribly wrong. By never testing it, we solidify these stories of lack or not enough or unlovability. When people someone's got a long pattern of social anxiety, which the average person with social anxiety, more severe case of it will not seek any help for 10 years. That's unfortunate. That was my case, too. But what I love about social anxiety is though it is such a… people think of it as like a solid thing or “this is who I am, this is my genes” and it is so different than that is so much a pattern. It is a specific pattern that we run. I like to think of it more as a verb than a noun. So it's, I am doing social anxiety and as long as I do these certain patterns, I will have social anxiety and someone who just has more severe diagnosable social anxieties, “Oh, you've just done the patterns for longer and more environments and it's completely changeable. It's completely resolvable” And that doesn't matter. 

I've worked with people that had social anxiety for 40 years, and I've worked with people where it just kind of started to get out of control, maybe in the last year or two. Regardless, it can be changed, as long as someone is willing to make a change in their patterns, and be willing to step by step in a supportive, I love that you brought that up, in a supported way. Confront some of the things that are afraid of be open to things possibly being different, and to bring it back to earlier, to start with transforming their relationship with themselves. Because I know there's a one-to-one correlation, if someone has a high level of social anxiety, they have a high level of inner criticism, very toxic level of inner criticism that I've never seen. Anything other than that. So that's one of the first places we start.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It's so important too and I'm glad that you brought up the thing that can happen with social anxiety, or any kind of anxiety really, is that anxiety always leads us to avoid. Well, usually, anxiety can lead to other things, but many times it leads to avoidance. I mean, at a fundamental level, the antidote to anxiety is to move into it and do reality testing and try to do things differently. If you're not giving yourself the opportunity to have different experiences, both inside of yourself or with other people, what happens is that it enshrines anxiety. That anxiety almost gets more and more powerful and more and more true, because it's never, and I say true with my little air quotes here, because it is never questioned, it's never tested. 

It really requires a lot of courage and support, to begin to examine it. To think maybe the story in my head is not the whole truth. Maybe if I do start having a different kind of relationship with myself – treating myself differently – I can feel differently and have different experiences with other people. But it can be scary to start that process because as you brought up so astutely, it feels like an existential threat to do so that something terrible will happen. But I'm glad you're talking about it in this way.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. People think of it as like it's a brick wall, or it's a solid thing, or maybe a cliff is a better metaphor, right? It's real. I like to say instead of it being a brick wall, it's actually more like a curtain or a cloud of vapor, you can walk right through it, and yet, you don't tell someone… Yeah. Right. I love that. Yeah, you could tell someone that they're like, “I don't know, it looks like a wall to me.” That's why I love, love, love the power of groups. For years, I've been doing group work primarily, because it's so inspiring for people to see other people just like them, “Wait a minute, that person took a step in the, you know, towards their fear. Maybe I can, too.” One of my favorite things is, we would do them in person. 

I'm in Portland, Oregon. For this last year, I've been doing them all virtually. But we gather a big group of people, I have a workshop coming up, it's probably maybe 150 of us there. We will, I teach things and help people experience a shift in the room or the virtual room as it were. But then there's always an action step. So we will go out for a 30-minute break, and we're going to go do something. We're going to go test that edge right now. So even if people are alone in their city or whatever, during a virtual event, they come back together, and then we talk about it and we explore it. So what people have is they have an immediate experience. It's no longer theoretical, like, “Oh, I heard that in a book. Maybe I'll try it.” It's like I just did it and here's what happened. 

The way I see it is it's all positive. Either a lot of times people say, “Wow, I did this thing. And I mean, it was so much easier than I thought when I actually did it.” And sometimes people like “I did it, and it was really uncomfortable.” And then I'm still giving them a thumbs up. I'm like, “Great.” And then sometimes people will say, “I went out there and I try and I just, I was so in my head and I was judging myself, and it felt awful. And I failed.” And I still give that a thumbs up because I say, “You know, if you've been avoiding something for years, and you walk around, or you know, I'm gonna pick up the phone, or I'm not and you really wrestle with that edge of action. That already is a win.” Well, I think of it. Yeah, we think of it as like the action it's only a win. If I've leaped over, it's like no, even just getting ready is a huge win. 

We want to reinforce that. If it is really painful and you're beating yourself up, great, let's like let's study that. Let's get really curious. Because that's that's a piece of the social anxiety that you've been running. That's a piece of the pattern piece of the recipe that's been going for 10,20, 30, 50 years. If you discover it right now and you see it, you can start to change it, and that's liberating.

Dr. Lisa: It's so liberating, and I'm glad you are talking about that. So like, verbally with your group, because I think, to what can be very normal and expected, I think, from my perspective and your perspective, but maybe not sometimes for the perspective of our clients, is that if you have been struggling with social anxiety or low self-esteem and avoiding people because of that, that they're called social skills for a reason like there are actually skills involved with talking to people and making conversation and making eye contact. If somebody does this, I say that, and I think that people that have really been holding themselves apart from others, that they get rusty in some of those skills. Then when they do attempt to interact with other humans they may be awash in judgment when they're doing it, but also because they're sort of rusty, and they're like, “Oh, what do I do with my hands right now”, like that whole thing. 

How to Build Confidence in Yourself

Dr. Lisa: But sometimes they do come across as being rusty, and they have experiences with other people that make them think, “Oh, they hated me, I was terrible. That was horrible.”, really kind of needing to reframe that is, “No, this is why we practice is to test it out. And how did it go? And what were you telling yourself in that moment? And how did you feel? And how do they react?”, and really kind of like, using it all as learning opportunities to kind of like really learn how to be with people. I'm glad that you're offering people the opportunity to do that because that can be very hard.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That's what comes back to the we need other people, right? Because I'll highlight this in anything I'm teaching where imagine someone picked up the guitar, and they never played the guitar before – they played it maybe a handful times, five, six times in their whole life – then they pick it up. They're like, “I'm gonna play this song.” They can't play the song very well. Do you say… Well, I guess we're the kind of person… Right, it's like, “Well, I guess you're the kind of person who will never, never be good at the guitar. I mean, it's just not that hard for you.” Everyone kind of laughs because they see how absurd that is. But I'll point out that's exactly what we do when we have a couple of conversations. 

What we need to do, and I use the guitar metaphor is if someone wants to get better at the guitar, or my son, he's seven years old right now, he wants to learn how to play chess better, and yet, he doesn't. He hates losing. He hates losing so much even hates losing a piece. Like he was playing this morning with his brother and he lost his queen. He was in tears. He's like, “This is terrible. I'm no good, I lost.” What I'm trying to help him see is like, “Okay, you like to win?” He’s like, “Yeah, I like to win.” I was like, “Okay, you know, how do you think you win?” He's like, “Well, I guess had to play a lot.” “Yeah, that's right, you need to practice a lot.” And so if you practice, like what does that mean to practice a lot, though? I'm unpacking that with him. 

We can see it means making moves when you're not sure if they're good or not, getting feedback, and I lose my piece, and being willing to be messy, being willing to make mistakes, being willing to lose the pieces, being willing to lose games. I'm trying to help him see is that if he if he's willing to fail forward fast, like, the more he's willing to lose the faster and the better he'll become.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: That's not just for chess. That's not just for the guitar. That's for social skills. That's for public speaking. That's for being engaging and funny with a group. That's for dating. I mean, that's for every way that we can interact with people.

Dr. Lisa: That's so incredibly powerful. Such an important reminder that that kind of growth mindset, and how do you stay in the ring when it is hard? How do you identify with this idea of practicing is failing, is being uncomfortable, but that incrementally over time, we get stronger, and our skills build, and we feel better? 

I don't know if this is true for you, but in my experience, the core of self-confidence. Yes, part of it is inner dialogue and your core self-belief. But it's like, I think people who have had the experience of observing themselves, doing hard things and like developing competence and not giving up, that turns into this confidence that just is this like, very deeply felt. “Yes, I can.” It's because they have that it's rooted in this experience. To my ear, that is what you're describing.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if we think about confidence, the word actually comes from Latin — confidere means with faith. How do we get, how do we have faith? It makes me think. There's a book by Sharon Salzberg about faith. She talks about bright faith versus verified faith, and how we need both in our lives. Bright faith is that it's never been done before. We've never done it before. We just, we feel it’s possible. We're called to it. We hope, we wish. It's a dream and we have to have that because we gotta step into the total unknown sometimes in our lives. We got to do things we've never done before, or at least, hopefully we are for growing and exploring. 

Ideally, bright faith gets turned into verified faith, which is exactly what I hear you talking about is like, “I think it's possible for me to connect, you know, more freely with others and be comfortable in my own skin and laugh and be more focused in the moment and the conversation than on myself. I mean, I think it's possible.” That's the bright faith. But then once we've done it a number of times, once we've done we have to be willing to take those risks. All of a sudden, yeah, you've done it 5, 10, 20, 30 times, and someone's like, “Hey, you want to come to me to this dinner party? You want to come to this thing, this mixer?” Like, “Yeah, okay.” Because I know that you put me in a room full of people and I can interact, I can do that. That's that verified faith that only comes. We earn it, we forge it, we build it.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. important takeaway. Thank you so much for describing all of that, that's wonderful. I love the chess metaphor, too, with what your son is going through. It's so funny like we try, I'm a mom, to like trying to teach our children this idea of grit. It's really so instrumental in so many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to personal growth. I'm really glad that you're talking about it in that way. Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, too.

We've been talking about the importance of confidence, and we've been talking about the social anxiety piece. But you also wrote another book called “Not Nice”, which is about the overlap, the intersection of struggling with self-confidence or being worried about other people and a tendency to like, people-please, over-give, feel guilty. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about how those things are related.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I believe in a lot of ways that nice, and I called it Not Nice, it's a bit of a controversial title, people might hear that and think I'm suggesting people be jerks or cruel. What I very quickly address literally, unlike, aside from the copyright page and stuff, the first page of the book is a chart that says nice versus not nice, and it's got two columns, and it just really shows the distinction between what I mean by nice and niceness, for the most part, when people are behaving nice. 

They're not actually focused on kindness and generosity. They're focused on being polite. They're focused on not upsetting others, they're focusing on following the rules. They're focusing on getting approval. It's really often coming from a place of fear, rather than love and connection. That's how I'm using the word nice. I say the opposite of nice is not to be a jerk. The opposite of nice is authenticity. It's to be real. It’s to be boldly yourself. You say what's true rather than what's quote, “nice”. Yes, there's so much nuance to it. That's why that book is like 550 pages. There's still more nuance that I couldn't get to about, but I've tried to give a lot of examples of how do we really communicate in a way that's quite, “not nice”, that isn't just kicking down the door and telling everyone they're stupid. There's a way to persevere too, with kindness or with tenacity, keep bringing up a subject, or have the conversation you've been avoiding. 

Like anything else, there's a skill to that, and if we don't do it, we're not going to be good at it right away, we're going to be messy, but we got to lean in. Because what I discovered along the way is that this niceness that I'm talking about is just another form of social anxiety. It's like a more adaptive form. Instead of someone being really avoidant and I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm just going to live in my apartment and never go out, the nice manifestation of social anxiety is more functional. You have friends, you have family, you have relationships, you have work, you're much more engaged in life, but you're living a persona of the nice person. 

The person or the nice person, it's just a different cage. But you got to say, yes, most of the time, because if you say no, that's mean, that hurts people's feelings, that's selfish, you got to be giving almost all the time. Because, same thing you want to be mean or selfish, you don't want to hurt people's feelings by saying anything too direct or too real. So even if you feel away, or even if you have a perspective, you don't want to share that because that could upset them. What ends up happening is people are engaging with others, but they're not taking these risks. They're not talking about what they really want. They're not saying what they really want. They're not being who they really are. It starts to dead in their experience of life and relationships. It starts to build up frustration, starts to build up chronic health problems It starts to build up resentment inside because we're not able to take care of our needs really effectively.

The other person is walking all over me or taking advantage of me because we're lacking the boundaries and the assertiveness to be for people to really feel where we're at. We were actually being deceptive. We're hiding where we really are. I say I mean that because, like the social anxiety side, then I live with this excessive niceness for many years. It was really detrimental to my relationships, particularly intimate relationships. You can't be excessively nice and truly intimate at the same time. They're not the same thing. Yeah, that became such a common occurrence for myself. Then all the clients I saw this invite, I realized I had to write another book about that.

That book is guiding people on that journey from discovering niceness. Discovering maybe its toxic effect in their life, and then a willingness to step courageously into being more boldly authentic in their lives.

Dr. Lisa: That word that you just used, that courageous word is something that I often think about and talk about with clients. I hear what you're saying that the book is really about reconceptualizing, being nice as really being almost afraid, in some ways of relationships, and again, just sort of another manifestation of not wanting to rock the boat. But in doing so, it really hollows out that emotional intimacy at the core of a relationship. I think it's so, not just easy, but predictable for people who don't talk about how they're feeling and prioritize what they imagined to be the needs of others. Through that niceness, that they can become so resentful, or feel like they're getting walked all over. 

But I tell you what, as a couples counselor, the person on the other side of that often has no idea that they are being experienced, as you know, pushing boundaries or being insensitive or not loving, because their partner isn't talking about it. It's very interesting, like the meaning that people on both sides of that equation can make because somebody is becoming increasingly hostile and withdrawn and resentful, and their partner's like, “What is going on?” Because it isn't getting discussed.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to have those real, authentic conversations, and it feels scary, but boy without it, I think again, people feel like they're protecting their relationships by being nice, but it is exactly the opposite. They are like that mental image that's coming up is like the air being released from a balloon, right? That over time, there's just nothing there. So I'm really glad that you're talking about that.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great metaphor about the balloon, just the shell. That's all that's left is all you're left with is the structure of the relationship. No life, no vitality, no energy or passion to it. You're actually…

Dr. Lisa: Writing a real estate. Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, exactly. We're bound by our sales by our stability. That's in a way, that's really what the nice approach is, it's prioritizing too much stability, too much certainty, and not willing to step into the unknown and the uncertainty. That's what people do often in relationships. There's a lot of uncertainty.

In the beginning, “Is this person gonna like me? Are they gonna call me back? “I'm so excited.” Then what we want to do is we want to capture that and make it certain and make it predictable and make it controlled. That leads to structures that try to control it. But that also leads to a lot of our own behavioral patterns. I'm going to say this, but not that I'm, and that's what I see often, especially if you do a lot of couples work, I'm sure you see this, that people have been afraid to be real with each other for the last five years because now they feel like there's quote, “too much at stake.”, and yet, it's kind of like a slow bleed, where maybe you don't have any blowups, but you're losing in the long game. People not knowing that I really have seen that. 

In fact, I have a little metaphor I use in the book about boundaries to see to, and it's a little thought experiment to have the reader reflect on how expressive are you with your boundaries. So I say, imagine you're in your backyard, and your backyard is next to your neighbor's backyard. There's no fence in between just to cut the lawn goes across both. You're sitting in your back porch, and you see your neighbor gets out of his house, and he starts to walk over towards you. He walks into your yard and says, “Hey, how's it going?” As he walks, he walks towards you. He steps on some of the flowers you have in your garden. Then he goes over and there's you have your peach tree in the backyard and he walks over and he looks at your peaches like, “Oh my gosh, your peaches looks so great.” He grabs a peach juicy ripe one and bites into it and keeps walking towards you and says, “How you doing today?” I just say, “What do you do? What do you do in the situation? What's happening? Are you angry about the flowers? Are you upset about the peach? Do you say anything about the flowers? Do you say anything about the peach? Do you feel like, ‘oh, I don't know what to say so I can't say anything.’ Do you mention it?”

It's just a kind of silly thought experiment but it highlights exactly what you're talking about with couples with that person might be like, “What? I'm just being friendly. I'm coming over to say, ‘Hi.’”, and they have no idea they stepped on the flowers. They have no idea you have an issue about the peaches because you never say anything. If we really want to start to live with more freedom, we got to be able to say, “Hey, great to see you. And, you know, I've been saving those peaches, if you want to have some I can give you some but please don't pick on without talking about first though.: It's as simple as that, those little things. 

Sometimes, if someone's been nice for too long, they don't even think it can be that simple. They think it's got to be this huge nuclear combustion of like what you've always been doing the last 10 years is “I hate this about you.” It's like, actually, it's better for it to be more of like a combustion engine than a nuclear bomb going on just little things that you say here and there throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month. That might not even seem super confrontational. They're just simple statements, simple questions, that can really get you back on track.

Dr. Lisa: Totally. But again, I mean, going back to your original points about confidence, I can really see how that's so closely related. Because if you doubt yourself, if you feel like you shouldn't say that, if you shouldn't upset. People are working very hard to kind of like maintain relationships because you're pretty sure that people don't like you, or whatever it is. 

It's so hard to talk about how you really feel. There's that understandable, like tendency to withdraw. But that things build up to the point that when you finally do say something, it is World War Three, and you're like screaming at the neighbor for eating a peach, and he's like, “Okay”, back away slowly. It actually does mess up the relationship. So by stepping into that air quote, “conflict”, but that authenticity and talking about how you feel as you go, it's one of the most important things that any of us can do to maintain high-quality relationships. That's fantastic.

Therapy for Low Self-esteem

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. That's why just to bring it back to what I was mentioned, the workshops earlier, it's the same thing, and I run a group program that's all about helping people become more, that's called Total Social Freedom. It's about how do we really break out of that lifelong pattern of my avoidance and niceness and social anxiety and just be more free around others. 

What we do is we systematically build a 12-week program. Each week, there's another layer that gets added. I'm a big believer in the gradual exposure. I think, I don't know where it's in there somewhere in the middle of week, six, seven, they have an assignment to say no three times that week. The goal is like instead of having a world war three, you just build the muscle by lifting us like look for something small that you can say no to it's something really small, and the same thing, a couple weeks later, we have them like what's one conversation you could go have? That would feel like it's leaning into that edge, but it's not the most intense conversation in your life. It's just, can you go talk to that person?

I find that if we give people that support to systematically do it, then they start to build that confidence of, “Oh, I can do this, it can go well.” Ultimately, the goal that I have for people is not just to increase their confidence, but as a change in their identity. So they start to say, “Oh, I am the kind of person who can have direct conversations, I am real, I am authentic, I am directed”, becomes who they are. Because then they're going to behave that way more and more and more. Eventually, it just becomes that's their new reality.

Dr. Lisa: Wow, that's really powerful stuff. That experiential component where people are really actively doing that reality testing, like, “Okay, the voice in my head tells me this is going to happen. But when I actually did it, that happened”, and that over time without support are really accumulating this new sort of like encyclopedia of experiences that help them reconceptualize what's real, but most importantly, who they are through that. That's really deeply transformational stuff. That's really great. 

Hey, I know that I know that we don't have a ton of time left and wanting to wrap up. We have talked about the experiential aspect of building confidence, and also the identity pieces communication, circling back around though, so you and I both know, I think from our psychology background that the cognitions that people have around self-concept around how they think. Going back to that idea of how to have a better relationship with yourself. A lot of it is learning or relearning how to talk to yourself and sort of shifting from one kind of inner narrative to a new, more helpful one. 

Dr. Lisa: Are there any things that you've seen over your years of practice that are some usual suspects that people who struggle with confidence usually have going on in terms of their inner narrative and some shifts that you find yourself routinely encouraging people to make like I'm thinking of jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about how other people feel? Or have you seen other things to be more, more impactful?

Dr. Aziz: Sure, absolutely. I mean, at some of the common ones are feeling a sense of certainty about knowing what someone's perception is typically about you like it's the might be called mind-reading and cognitive therapy, take it one step further, I call it projected dislike, where it's not just I know what they're thinking about me, I know, they don't like me.  I just feel it when I walk into the room, and it feels very true. I'm certain of it. I'll even look for evidence and I'll confirm that and look for it, or make it happen in some way. 

We often bring about those reactions to us. Because of that, I think there's a lot going on nonverbally, energetically, emotionally. I think the more they study thought, it's really fascinating how much thought can be measured. So thought can be measured as waves if they put device, EG, on your, on your scalp, for example. But there's also it's a squid, have you heard of that one, the super quantum interference device, where they can have…

Dr. Lisa: Are you talking about particles behaving differently when people observe the experiment or not?

Dr. Aziz: This one is actually it's a, if we could find it, it's if you look it up online, that seven liter like squid, reading thoughts or something. It's like a device that's measuring something in the quantum realm. I'm not going to really understand the physics of it, but they can basically measure your thoughts from outside of your head. So the idea is if we have enough refined instrumentation, that probably are already discovering and probably going to continue to discover that your thoughts are emanating out of you beyond the boundary of your skin beyond your own head. 

It's the same thing with like the energetic field of the human heart has been measured out, like 10 feet or more than the roots 30 feet, I don't know. So this idea that we're like all self-contained is a sort of a outdated reality. What's much more true is we're an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. So when we have these very like self-judgmental, self-critical unmet enough thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: Then it gets real murky because really it’s “Aha! I knew it, you see?” So we really want to intervene on that one that jumping to the conclusion that people don't like me. What I always help people with that one on is, you think it's about them, it's about you, and you not liking you, or maybe more specifically, a part of you inside judges you. So what are you judging yourself? That's one of the first things that we start with people like, what's your list? What's your, I like to probably talk my books out of things, I like to take stuff that's maybe more complex, or I don't like to use a lot of psychological jargon with people, because I like to keep it very simple so people can just pick it up and run with it and tell say, “Let's make a why I suck list.” You have that, right? What is that for you? Because we have to start looking at what this grudge list that people have been holding against themselves for decades, ostensibly to make themselves better, or to pressure themselves into growing or whatever weak story is there. But we got to face that we got to start looking at that. We need to bring in a lot of that on my own side work. That's self-compassion work. 

One of the ways I'll have them do that is to start to dialogue with that critical voice too, and have a book called, On My Own Side, which guides people how to do this, where they can dialogue with that voice. Start to find the fear and vulnerability underneath that part and start to really get to the core of it, which is usually some sort of pain that's underneath that hypercritical voice and really meet themselves with a lot more love, a lot more patience, a lot more compassion, a lot more humanity. Then as they do that, it starts to melt away this chronic assumption that people are against me because you no longer are against you. You can start to see a lot more clearly.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow, powerful stuff, man. Just I feel like we could talk for two more hours about just all of these things that you brought up at the end about how we can really, through our thoughts and expectations, almost create the experiences with other people that support our preconceived ideas, which are based on how we feel about ourselves, not actually how others feel that it is a projection. That by really understanding that wounded part of yourself and having a dialogue with it and getting to know it compassionately. That's a very powerful path of healing.

Dr. Aziz: Yes, well said absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Good stuff. Gosh, well, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and perspectives on this important topic with us. Again, I feel like there's a lot more to talk about so if you would ever like to come back and continue this conversation, the door is open. 

Dr. Aziz: I would love that! A part two. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, a part two. But in the meantime, I'm sure my listeners are very interested in everything that you had to say. If any of you would like the opportunity to learn more about Dr. Aziz or his books, or his courses, or his groups, or all other fun stuff he has going on out. There's also a podcast called Shrink for the Shy Guy podcast. You can find them all at DrAziz.com. Is there anywhere else that they should follow you? Are you on social media or anything like that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean the website will link to all those things. But I'd say I'm probably most active on YouTube, we have usually one to two videos that come out each week where I'm teaching stuff for free, a lot of insights. Usually, what I'll do is I'll take run a lot of groups. So I'll take some of the key insights and teachings from the groups and then record videos that I think are gonna help everyone based on what we're doing in those. 

So that's a great way to get active to get support. So yeah, the website is a great place to start. You can look it up on look me up on YouTube, as well, more than the podcast, but any place that you want to get plugged in. I mean, that's why I'm doing this is to reach people who think, “Oh, this is who I am. I'm just I've been this way for x years. And I guess that's it.” I guess the final message I would have is like you don't have to settle. 

The past doesn't equal the future. In many ways, it's irrelevant how long you've struggled with something. If you're willing, you can make shifts really fast and not just manage it, but truly transform your experience of being around others. To really start to experience a level of intimacy and connection with yourself with others that gives life depth and meaning and fulfillment. That's absolutely possible. It's absolutely your birthright if you're willing to claim it.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. What a beautiful note to land on. Thank you again, so much for spending this time with me today. It's really been a pleasure. 

Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. Thank you.

Episode Highlights

  • How to be Kind to Yourself
    • You need to learn to work with the voice inside your head describing how you treat yourself and think of yourself.
    • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where “you are on your own side.”
    • To transform in a fundamental way, you need to involve other people such as counseling, groups, a friend, or your life partner.
  • Signs of Social Anxiety
    • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
    • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance.  And the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront it.
    • The way to deal with social anxiety is to test it. You need to be able to confirm that you are not unworthy and not unlovable.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • You would need someone to give you feedback. Someone who you can be messy with, make mistakes and be vulnerable to.
    • The more you are willing to lose, the faster and the better you'll become.
    • You would need bright and verified faith. Bright faith is the feeling that an action is possible without having done it before. It then turns into verified faith when you have accomplished the task several times.
  • Therapy for Low Self-esteem
    • An example is a 12-week program where gradual exposure is used.
    • The participants are encouraged to find small things that they can say ‘no’ to. This would result in being able to have authentic and better conversations with other people.

How Premarital Counseling Works

How Premarital Counseling Works

Use Premarital Counseling Strategies to Strengthen Your Relationship

Premarital counseling is so important for couples getting married. It’s a positive, empowering experience that helps you get clarity about the strengths of your relationship and work through potential problems before they become serious relationship issues. Most importantly, going through meaningful, high-quality premarital counseling with a marriage and family therapist teaches you how to keep your relationship strong through thick and thin. While intentionally and proactively cultivating positive aspects of your partnership, instead of trying to fix relationship problems once things are feeling hard. 

But did you know that — no matter how long you’ve been with your partner, or whether you’re even getting married — you can still use the principles of great premarital counseling to strengthen your relationship? Couples married for decades can still use empowering, proactive, and productive strategies to make healthy, positive changes to their partnership… and you can too.

On today’s episode of the podcast, I’m speaking with my dear colleague Brenda Fahn. Brenda is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she teaches our Lifetime of Love Premarital Program. She has provided private premarital counseling services to countless couples over the years, and today she’s here to share some premarital counseling strategies that you can start using in your relationship right now.

If you want to jump right in, tap here to listen to:

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you’re there! 

You can also follow me (@drlisamariebobby) and Growing Self (@growing_self) on Instagram too, if you’d like to stay on top of all the latest pro-relationship info we have planned for you over the next few months. 

Lastly, you can listen to this episode on the player at the bottom of this page, or if you prefer a transcript of the episode we have that for you too (all the way at the bottom). 

I had a blast talking to Brenda (she’s as fun as she is smart) and I think you’ll get so much out of this interview. If you have additional premarital counseling questions you are welcome to leave them here for me/us in the comments section and I’ll respond to you ASAP.

Show notes are below — enjoy!

Xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How Premarital Counseling Works: Podcast Episode Show Notes

Do you want to learn the secret to a long-lasting and happy married life? Then, tune in to this episode to discover some valuable insights into how premarital counseling works, and how you can start using expert premarital counseling strategies in your relationship — no matter how long you’ve been together!

In This Episode with Brenda, You Will…

  • Discover the benefits of premarital counseling.
  • Learn how premarital counseling can prepare you for married life.
  • Identify the common problems in married life and how to face them.
  • Find out why conflicts matter.
  • Know how to become more proactive and authentic in your relationship.
  • Understand the importance of honesty when answering premarital counseling questions.
  • Discover how long-term married couples can strengthen their connection.

Episode Highlights

The Problem With Most Premarital Counseling

Often, couples exploring premarital counseling don't fully understand the value of premarital counseling for the success of their relationship. On top of that, they're not seeking premarital counseling through a professionally trained couples and family therapist (to no fault of their own, they just don't know). Typically, when couples begin seeking out premarital counseling, they're turning to a religious or Christian premarital counseling service that usually consists of a couple of awkward conversations with a priest or pastor. It's not meaningful and doesn't teach them the important healthy relationship skills they get in real-deal premarital counseling.

These couples think they’ve done “premarital counseling” but they haven’t, really. It’s not authentic, or meaningful. They wind up getting superficial guidance, trite advice, and general instructions. Basically, an informational pamphlet on “How to be married” (which is not that helpful, let’s face it). Understanding the difference between religious vs. secular premarital counseling can prevent this problem.

The other problem with most premarital counseling is that many couples really do not understand the importance of good premarital counseling. They think that premarital counseling is simply a checkbox to tick off, like renting the tux, or ordering the cake. And when couples don’t address the questions they need to ask before marriage, they’re ill-prepared to weather the storms that come.

The Importance of Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling helps couples envision and think about what life will be like when they are married. It also allows them to be more mindful and conscious of how they will make their relationship work. When done right, it’s a great marriage preparation course. Other benefits include:

  • preparing couples for the challenges of married life 
  • helping them differentiate normal experiences from problems to deal with
  • minimizing the risk of disconnection, separation, and divorce
  • normalizing counseling

Moreover, it helps couples catch a problem sooner before it becomes too late to fix. And because it happens when they are in a positive mood, therapy is more successful. As a result, premarital counseling can strengthen the foundations of their marriage. Effective, evidence-based, non-religious counseling can create positive changes in a relationship. 

These ideas can help all couples: As couples evolve throughout major life transitions, there are new and important things to discuss productively. We all grow and change as we move into different stages of life. If you’ve been married for a long time, it’s also worth knowing how to discuss the challenges that you face now — as well as the ones that might be coming down the pipeline. 

How are you staying connected now? How are you solving problems together now? Are the strategies and systems that worked for you at an earlier stage of your relationship still working now? 

These are positive, proactive conversations to have with each other throughout the course of your marriage — not just at the beginning. 

The Myth and Truth About Being in a Relationship

People sometimes believe that getting into a relationship is an endgame. So, they stop working on it. They don’t account for the changes that happen, especially when they get engaged. They fail to realize that they have to expand themselves to adapt to their partners. They also have to work on themselves so that they show up better in the relationship. 

Also, it’s actually at the beginning of the relationship that couples benefit from counseling. This is because they are still happy and positive. Counselors can help them figure out what makes them feel that way. From here, they learn what they can continuously do to keep their relationship working. 

According to Brenda, this helps because “our brains are really good at remembering negative things. They’re not always great at remembering positive things unless you’re conscious about it.”

Premarital counseling helps couples get very clear about their strengths and all the things they love and appreciate about each other. It also helps them create strategies to help each other feel loved, respected, and emotionally connected. 

Focusing on these things can be an incredibly powerful way to strengthen your relationship no matter how long you’ve been together.

6 Common Premarital Counseling Topics 

There are six plus premarital counseling topics that couples work through during premarital counseling. These include things like:

  1. Communication
  2. Conflict resolution
  3. Marriage and money
  4. Sexual intimacy
  5. Creating agreements
  6. Maintaining emotional intimacy, and more

Often, it’s only during premarital counseling that couples have deep, productive conversations about how they’re feeling in these different aspects of their relationship and what they could each do to make their partnership feel even stronger and more satisfying. 

“Communication is the key to life, regardless of what subject that is,” – Brenda 

The key is that, in premarital counseling, couples are talking about these things before they become issues. Although marriage counseling and couples therapy can be extremely effective in helping couples resolve issues…couples are there to talk about the things that aren't working for them, and that are causing pain. 

Premarital counseling is, in contrast, all about discussing important things that we need to be talking about openly but that aren’t necessarily problems or issues. This is a great takeaway for all couples — premarital or not. Figure out a way to talk about important things without it being in the context of a conflict, or argument. 

Why Constructive Conflicts Matter

Sometimes, couples are afraid to speak up when things are not okay because they are avoiding conflict. But Brenda shares that “If you don’t have conflict, I think you might have a bad relationship because you’re not letting yourself be seen.” She also discusses that not only is it okay to have conflict, but it is normal.

The important thing is to learn how to bounce back when these things happen. You have to know how to become happier partners in your relationship despite the conflict. You must also learn how to express that you still love and care for each other.

Remember that conflict is simply an opportunity for couples to have a deeper and more authentic understanding of one another.

Why Are Some People Afraid of Going to Premarital Counseling?

While premarital counseling is good for marriage, not everyone does it happily. Some couples even dutifully attend a couple of premarital counseling sessions to check the box, but avoid talking about meaningful things with their premarital counselor. It is because these people fear that when they discuss these future problems, they are “rocking the boat” and creating problems where none exist.

As Brenda puts it, “Couples who talk about sex have better sex lives. Couples who talk about their finances are more successful. And couples who talk about their conflict learn how to get through it.”

It’s easy for couples to avoid talking about important things proactively. Premarital counseling teaches couples how to be brave and talk about their real feelings from the start. All couples can learn from this wisdom though: What have you been avoiding discussing in your relationship, and how can you be brave and authentic in order to have necessary conversations with your partner in a positive and productive way? 

What Pre-Marriage Counselors Want for Soon-to-be-Married Couples

Pre-marriage counselors help soon-to-wed couples prepare themselves for their future. The counselors want them to learn that conflict is not about playing the blame game. Instead, it is about how you can compromise to stay connected with your partner. This is just one of the many pieces of advice premarital counselors give to soon-to-be-married couples. 

Ultimately, premarital counselors want couples to learn how to enrich themselves. It begins with acknowledging that you and your partner are both growing and evolving humans with feelings and quirks that are unique. How do you love, respect, and appreciate each other for who you truly are? Pre-marriage counseling is also only the beginning of this conversation. Talking about each of your feelings, values, goals, hopes, and dreams should be something happening throughout your relationship — especially as you both continue to grow and evolve. 

Advice for Married Couples

Brenda believes that the concepts learned in premarital counseling still apply to married couples. She also adds that it is crucial to have an openness to learning when it comes to relationships. You also have to constantly be intentional in improving or maintaining your connection.

Long-term married couples can still attend premarital counseling courses. In doing so, they learn how to make their relationships work better. Healthy and happy couples are ones that are proactive. They put the effort into educating themselves and growing together. 

Brenda also adds that most of the time, when people say their relationship is getting boring, that’s not truly the case. What is happening is you are not allowing yourself to grow. And you have to do that and bring it to the relationship to make it better.

Premarital Counseling Resources

The info shared in this podcast is just the beginning. If you’re interested in learning more about premarital counseling here are a few links to learn more about:

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the podcast? Do you think you need to try pre-marriage counseling with your partner? How will neglecting counseling affect married life? Share your insights and questions — we want to hear from you!

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How Premarital Counseling Works

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

Music Credits: “I Do” by Derek Gust

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Intro Song: I Do by Derek Gust]

Dr. Lisa: That was “I Do” by the artist, Derek Gust, I thought a great introduction to our topic today. Today, we are talking about premarital counseling, pre-marriage counseling. Not just what it is, not just why, but I really want to empower you in understanding the purpose of premarital counseling and how you can use some of the principles of great premarital counseling to strengthen your relationship. No matter if you are about to be married or if you have been in a relationship or even a marriage for many years, you can still use these ideas to strengthen and heal and grow your relationship. That is what we are talking about on today's episode of the podcast. 

The Problem With Most Premarital Counseling 

Just to jump right in, pretty much everybody has gotten the memo, at this point, that premarital counseling is generally a good idea. It's something that people do typically, though, as part of the wedding planning process. Usually, when people do premarital counseling, it is, unfortunately, of the variety where it's two or three very awkward conversations with a priest or pastor who's going to marry you. Then people think, “Great. We have checked that box. We have gotten premarital counseling. We are good to go.” 

They haven't done real, effective, meaningful premarital counseling, to their detriment. That, in itself, is part of the reason why I am making this podcast today, my friends, is to help you understand that this is not a box-checking endeavor. This is actually really important. It would be a mistake to devalue real, authentic, and deep premarital counseling because of the impact it can have not just on your relationship but on the entire trajectory of your marriage and on your future together. 

When you do that superficial type of premarital counseling with a pastor, you get a worksheet. You get some general instructions: say please and thank you, have date nights, prioritize your relationship, all that trade advice. But they don't really get into the nuts and bolts of the actual, not even tools and strategies, but mindsets that you need in order to have a really amazing marriage. They don't go into helping you understand each other or why you do the things that you do. They certainly don't help you anticipate the drift that occurs in every relationship over time so that you can see it coming and make proactive changes to keep it from impacting your marriage negatively. 

Because people don't get that, you then, have these nice young couples or—who are we kidding, marriages these days, it's a couple of 38-year-olds—glide off into marriage, thinking that they've done premarital counseling, they're good to go. Then, life starts to happen. There are the curveballs, and the transitions, and the lost jobs, and moving from one state to another, or welcoming kids, or if you are coming into the marriage with children already, that's a whole other set of challenges. 

Every couple, even the cutest, happiest, healthiest, most in-love ones, over time, will have to figure out how to talk about very challenging things that are emotionally triggering to both people. There is always going to be unavoidable conflict. I say conflict somewhat loosely because I think of conflict as not an argument, necessarily, but people being in different positions, and having to talk through their thoughts and feelings, and get back on the same page, and resolve problems together, and problems that you may have different opinions about in terms of the solutions. 

That is simply the work of being in a relationship. Then, on top of that: how to stay emotionally connected, how to be good partners to each other, how to understand and unconditionally love and respect your partner even when they think, and feel, and behave differently than you would. This is the growth process. This is just normal and expected. When you go into really, truly meaningful and effective evidence-based premarital counseling, you get a lot of that information that you don't get when it's this superficial experience that so many couples get. 

Today, in this episode of the podcast, what we are doing is diving into the kinds of ideas, the kinds of growth moments, the kinds of information that you get in actual premarital counseling. I have invited my colleague Brenda, who teaches our Lifetime of Love premarital counseling class. She does a ton of individual private premarital counseling. She's a Prepare-Enrich-certified Premarital Counselor. Brenda knows what is going on. She's here today to share her wisdom with you. Brenda, thank you so much for joining me today.

Brenda Fahn: Thank you, Lisa. I love talking about premarital counseling. I tell my premarital couples, they're my favorite because they're coming to be proactive, usually. They're coming to learn. They’re coming to make sure that they have better knowledge. It also shows that they really care that they're saying their relationships are important. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I always appreciate my premarital clients.

Dr. Lisa: I know. Me, too. I'm so glad for that. One of the things that always comes into my mind when we talk about premarital counseling, or I feel like, at our practice here at Growing Self, we do a lot to try to educate people around the importance of premarital counseling. I think it's because both of us have had so many years of experience working with couples who've been married, 5 years, or 10 years, or even longer, and who come in when their relationships are absolutely on the brink. 

They have had years and years of not doing the things that we teach in premarital counseling. I don't know if you've had this experience, but I have personally sat with some couples that are pretty far gone and thought, “Oh, my gosh. If you guys had understood some of these things in the beginning and not had all of these damaging experiences with each other over the years, we would not even be sitting here right now.”

The Importance of Premarital Counseling

Brenda: No, exactly. And I think that's one of the most important gifts premarital counseling does is it normalizes and de-stigmatizes going to counseling for a lot, especially for certain couples who might be more hesitant to come and say, “Here's what it was like when we didn't have a lot of problems, but it actually was pretty good. We got a lot out of it. We got some knowledge. We got some understanding of our relationship. We got to know what's more normal, what to expect.” 

When I have couples even come back, some of those premarital couples will come back for one or two sessions just to say, “Hey, we're stuck in this piece.” I think the premarital counseling really helped them be comfortable with that process and to realize it's okay. It's okay to catch it sooner because like you said, sometimes it's just too late. Dr. Gottman will say, “Catch the problem within a year.” But most couples wait up to six years before they address issues. Think of what's happened in those six years of disconnection or conflict that's been unresolved versus if you catch it within six months. There's a much better prognosis, like anything in life, if you catch it sooner.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. You bring up such a great point there. Also, I love what you're saying that in premarital counseling, it's a unique experience where couples will come into sessions with me, or you, or your class when they are in a good place. Because what we also know from research is that it is actually when your relationship is feeling fairly good, you both have positive regard for each other, things are going pretty well, that is actually the time when you can make positive changes in a relationship, where you can grow together or understand each other more deeply in a really powerful and effective way. That is the time to come and work on yourselves together. 

Whereas, in brink-of-divorce type of relationships, it is not emotionally safe. People are so defensive and mad at each other. That is not conducive to growth at all. It's a whole paradigm shift to come in while you still like each other. And Brenda what you’re saying is that you bring up a good point, too, is that when you have done premarital counseling and if it's a positive experience that felt good for both of you, it becomes that much easier to say, “Yeah, let's go see Brenda again for a couple of sessions,” at the first sign of trouble, so it doesn't even become a capital P problem. That is one of the primary benefits.

Brenda: I'm sure you know this, too. The more stress or the less safe a relationship feels, the harder it is to have empathy, the harder it is to hear actually, even physically. For some people, it's just hard to hear when they're really defensive. You're working against so many variables if you're already in a high-stress situation where you're feeling like the other person doesn't really have your back, maybe doesn't care versus premarital couples are coming in saying, “We really care about each other. We want to make sure.” A lot of them have come from divorced families, too, that will say, “We don't want to repeat. We didn't see great relationships. We saw how people did things poorly.” 

They're putting this as a priority because I think that adage gets used a lot of “Relationships are work.” It's the work of consciousness and mindfulness. There's a saying that even if you don't do anything wrong in a relationship if you don't do anything right, it will still die. But you have to be doing a lot of positive actions to keep the feelings going. It doesn't mean that the feelings have to go away. They can wax and wane, obviously, but to say, you don't let your emotions just take over like they did at the beginning of a relationship. You're saying, “What do I need to do? What actions do I need to keep taking to keep these emotions in a positive element in my relationship?”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, my goodness. You brought up such a great point because that was honestly one of my first questions for you: why is this so important? What do people not understand about premarital counseling? And why do it for real? So far, you've mentioned that just the act of doing, deeper work premarital counseling will make it so much easier to nip potential problems in the bud going down the road. 

Also, when you learn, specifically, what to do to stay in a good place with each other over the years, that is worth so much like exercising, and taking your vitamins, and eating your vegetables. In relationships, it's not waiting until you get sick. It's what you're doing all along. So many couples, when they're getting married, they are just awash in all kinds of love and positive things. They think, “This is just the way it feels because we love each other. It'll always feel this way.” 

They're not doing the relational equivalent of eating their vegetables or getting a good night's sleep. They're just coasting along on good feelings. When those feelings start to change because they will always, they don't have any tools to start to re-inject positive interactions and energy back in. Is that it?

The Myth and Truth About Being in a Relationship

Brenda: Yeah, definitely. I think part of it is to say maybe there's a myth of like, “Once I get into a relationship, I can relax.” So many people are so hard, like, “Let me get into a relationship.” But I tell all my couples, “That's when you get to expand.” This relationship will hopefully expand you, sometimes, in really uncomfortable ways. This is hoping to grow, what it means to learn how to love better, to learn how to be loved, to learn how to be the better version of yourself, and to give that to your partner. 

So if that was easy work, it wouldn’t actually be that rewarding. The thought that “This should be easy,” is actually a paradox of saying, “No,  because it's harder, it actually gives it a lot more value.” This is challenging you to step up in life, not to just relax and say, “I can do whatever I want now.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. In premarital counseling, for you, Brenda, to be delivering that message to people, while they're still really motivated by feelings of love and affection that they want to do everything that they can to have a great relationship between that and some of our couples that feel like they've been through a war, by the time they get into marriage counseling, they don't want to do the things. They don't feel like being generous to their partner, who has been so mean and unkind to them. It's so essential to be learning about this in the beginning.

Brenda: Yeah, no. Exactly. Because we both do emotion-focused therapy to say that people get into these dances like anything, and they become polarized in a dance of negativity. It's hard to start to convince someone to come back. When someone comes in already positive, they're saying, “How do we build this?” You probably have couples come in, sometimes, they go, “We don't have much to talk about this week. It's actually going well.” 

I'll say that's great because I love those weeks where you feel like things are going well because now we can look at what are you doing that's making this feel good. Our brains are really good at remembering negative things. They're not always great at remembering positive things unless you're conscious about it. Even a couple saying, “There's not much to talk about,” there's probably lots to talk about, but it's the good stuff. It's saying, “What are you both doing every day for yourself and for this relationship that's helping to be in this place?”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. That, too, they don't know yet what they should be talking about because it doesn't currently feel problematic. That's what I love so much about your approach, both in the Lifetime of Love class and with your individual premarital counseling. I know it's different in the class because you just walk through a number of topics. But with our Private Premarital Counseling, you always do an assessment, either it's our free in-house premarital counseling assessment or I know that since you're preparing for the fight, you do that assessment a lot of the times. Because it's like an X-ray. It can help couples be like, “Oh, yeah. We haven't actually talked about this.” 

And I'm curious. What are some of the things you see come out, either from that assessment or from the information that you present to couples in your premarital class that you find, isn't shocking, necessarily, but it is new information that premarital couples being like, “Oh, yeah. We haven't thought about that, or we haven't talked about this part, and we should.” Have you noticed any patterns around what seems to be most important and under-discussed, unless you create those?

Common Premarital Counseling Topics

Brenda: Yeah. That's a good question. I think that the major theme that comes out of married couples or premarital couples is communication. We feel like we don't communicate great. Communication and conflict resolution, which go hand-in-hand, usually come out the most if we don't know how to do this differently. I think what comes out, it's not like I wouldn't say it's one topic, because there are some couples who need to work on finances. There might be some couples who need to work on their sex life. I don't feel like there's one theme that I'm like, “Oh, we need to talk about this.” 

I think every couple comes in usually knowing that they have one or two things that they've either been avoiding, maybe mind-reading, or making assumptions, and maybe scared to talk about. It's trying to bring those things up in a gentle way that you… Communication is the key to life, regardless of what subject that is. Where do you guys get off track around communication about any topic? 

I think a lot of education goes with that, too. Seventy percent of conflict doesn't go away, according to Dr. Gottman. It's differences of personality, habits, opinions, lifestyle. How do we learn to live with this? How do we get away from trying to change pr control? What do I need to do to adapt, and accept, and understand who you are better and where you're coming from? I think if couples are on finances, we go deeper to say, “Where does this come from? What's the meaning of money? What are your habits you've had? What did you see, as a child around money? What are you still holding on to that, maybe, is giving them a way of you guys having a better communication about this?” That could be finances, sex, habits. 

Sometimes, couples have a really hard time saying, “You know, what? I really don't like that you”—I'm trying to think of a good one—“don't exercise more. I feel like you're not healthy. And that makes you unhappy. I'm worried about you, but I don't know how to say that in a way without making you feel bad.” Almost every topic comes back to how are we communicating with each other. Couples are going to two camps, a lot of times, either we're avoiding it and hoping that's going to go away, or we're saying it in a way that's pretty critical and attacking. We don't know how to come together, and show up, and be vulnerable in these issues, and really hear and see each other.

Dr. Lisa: Oh, my goodness. It’s so important just to develop those skills about how to talk about these issues that feel hard. Because if you have that, you can resolve any issues. I appreciate what you said that a lot of times there isn't a final solution. But resolve it in the sense of understanding each other and developing appreciation for each other, not even just despite the differences, but because of them towards acceptance and growth and unconditional love.

Why Conflicts Matter

Brenda: If we feel like they care, and I think the one thing that I like the most to tell couples is to say, “You may miss each other. You're going to miss each other in relationships. You're going to disappoint each other. You're going to hurt each other. How do you come back? You fall. How do you get back up?” That's a really important concept for what makes happier couples. But it goes away from what some people think. 

I have a lot of couples who will say, “If we have conflict that must mean we have a bad relationship.” That's not the case. Actually, if you don't have conflict, I think you might have a bad relationship because you're not letting yourself be seen. You're not letting yourself show up as much. You're not letting yourself have your partner look into the nooks and crannies of what makes you, you. 

If you're doing that, then you're going to have conflict, but that's okay. It's giving couples a lot of the times permission to have it, tried to have it in a healthy way, and to say, “Even when you miss each other, how are you coming back? How are you making those small movements to say, ‘We're still on the same team? We're still in this together. I still love you and care about you.’”

Dr. Lisa: Brenda, we need to think up a different word for conflict. As you're talking, I always and I try to teach couples this, but we need a new word. Because when I think “conflict,” and you do, too, clearly, you just said it, but here's an opportunity to understand each other more deeply and authentically. Whenever people are being authentic, they're going to find that they're not exactly the same as others. This opportunity for understanding, I'm gonna put that in the hopper, Brenda. We need to get a new word. 

Brenda: We’ll be like Shakespeare, come up with a new language around it. 

Dr. Lisa: That’s right. That is really a key core skill that you're always going to, in premarital work, is how to talk about things, how to be authentic and vulnerable, but also just setting expectations around the goals for communication. Through that, you cover a ton of topics. There's sex, which can be very difficult to talk about. Also, we do a lot of financial therapy for couples here in our practice, in general, but especially for premarital couples at the beginning of their relationship to get finances straightened out. I think that there are different mindsets for people who do reach out to us for premarital counseling. I think that people who come to us for premarital counseling are wanting a deeper experience. 

I speculate sometimes that the reason why people shy away from the type of growth opportunity, that say, working with you would offer, is that they have this even subconscious fear that “if we start talking about some of these things, we're going to realize that our differences are too great, or that we're not compatible somehow, or we're going to discover things about each other. I love this person so much. I would be crushed if our marriage got derailed. I would almost rather leave the lid on it. We'll just deal with that after we are securely married because it's almost like this threatening feeling.” 

Have you heard that expressed at all in couples counseling? Or the people who come to see you they're like, “We want to bring it on.”

Why Are Some People Afraid of Going to Premarital Counseling?

Brenda: There's probably been some of both. I think there's sometimes… I definitely noticed some couples who are really hesitant to admit to any issues going on. Because if Prepare-Enrich testers gauge that, they’ll say if you're trying to make yourself look too good, we're also going to catch that. We can see it's hard for you to admit things like, “I will always be happy with my partner.” If someone says, “Yes, I'm 100% of the time happy,” then we talk about that. What's going on that you think you might not ever doubt this relationship or that you might not ever wonder if you married the wrong person? 

I really want to normalize that those are the moments, usually, that we want to run. You could say there's a different language that we use in psychology around that. But to say when things are tough, sometimes, we want to run, but you would run to another relationship where you’re going to feel the exact same way, most of the time. So, I want to normalize those feelings that it's okay to be afraid. All of us are afraid to look inside, but what's the cost of not looking inside? 

Our brains are not good at avoidance. We think they are, but they're really not. There's a lot of energy and, sometimes, shame and power that goes into trying to avoid these things. That's why research would say couples who talk about sex have better sex lives. Couples who talk about their finances are more successful. Couples who talk about their conflict learn how to get through it. I think it's trying to just give people permission to say, “No. There's light when you bring it out. There's darkness, actually, when you're trying to keep it at bay.”

Dr. Lisa: The way that you framed that, Brenda, was so profound because I think I even understood something differently about premarital couples feeling hesitant to do premarital counseling because of what the possible consequences could be. You're saying that that in itself is an indication of an avoidant tendency when it comes to addressing relational issues. That in itself is a really strong indicator that you should because it's like retraining you to move towards authenticity and manage that anxiety of talking about things openly as opposed to indulging that avoidance reaction that we know will always, ultimately, cause harm in the end, even if in the moment it feels protective.

What Marriage Counselors Want for Soon-to-be-Married Couples

Brenda: I think there are, obviously, we see couples after years where they want to blame the other person to say, “He's the bad guy.” “She's the bad guy.” We want to help couples not get there to say we're not playing a blame game. We want you guys to see that you interact with each other, sometimes, in ways that trigger each other. We should come up with another word besides trigger because I use that word too much. But we want you to both see how you play your own role and that there's no bad guy or good guy. This is both of us struggling. We're all really imperfect people. We're trying to find a way to still stay connected. 

That disconnection equals loneliness for a lot of people. That's the most painful thing in relationships. So, how can we stay connected even in the moments where we see parts of ourselves we don't love, parts of our partner we don't love? How do we get back to our better selves versus trying to pretend they're not there or stay away from them? It really does give them more power if you try to avoid. Using mind-reading and making assumptions is really dangerous for couples. 

That's why I tell couples all the time in the class, “This is just the beginning of your conversation. I want you to continue these conversations. I want to make it less scary so that you guys know you can go here. It doesn't overwhelm anyone. It doesn't scare anybody. You can get through this.”

Dr. Lisa: Oh, my goodness. That in itself, Brenda, you're modeling exactly the type of emotional safety that we hope that couples can create, really. I just love what you said that the goal here isn't some imaginary, perfect ideal that is impossible to attain. The goal here is acceptance of who we each really are and how to stay connected and loving in the midst of that. That's so important.

Brenda: I will say most premarital couples come away feeling grateful that they have the opportunity to talk about things that would have been hard on their own that we did facilitate. Most couples who come in for premarital counseling don't have 10 issues they need to deal with. They have one or two that they're stuck on. They just don't know how to get through those. So they come in with pretty solid relationships, but they have a few issues that they just haven't known how to navigate. Again, I think going to the scary places makes it less scary. That's my hope, is that then when they go there, they can do it again in the future with or without a therapist.

Understanding Premarital Counseling Questions

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Then, another question for you on that note, and I know we've talked about this a little bit, but assessments can be a very important part of the premarital counseling process. Again, we have our free 200-question premarital assessment that we can give to clients. I know that people on the team like you who are Prepare-Enrich-certified, there's a whole other assessment process that you do that is also really valuable. 

Why would you say it's so important for couples to be open to doing this assessment, as opposed to just popping in and telling you about the two things that they want to work on? Why would you do that assessment with a premarital couple, anyway? What information do you think it can generate that they may not be consciously aware of?

Brenda: One is it covers topics, sometimes, topics they haven't even thought about. I hear that quite a bit. We're not even sure what we're supposed to be talking about, or maybe what we're missing. The Prepare goes over about 12 different topics. Some of them are just topics that couples haven't thought about in that they haven't framed it in that way—everything from talking about sex to finances, to roles, to responsibilities, to partner’s style and habits, to leisure activities, to how are their family and friends influencing their relationship, the communication, and conflict. It's a structured way to look at their relationship and to also see their strengths. 

I want to go over their strengths to say, “Hey, these are the areas you guys are getting along really well.” Now, there's sometimes still one or two questions where you say, “Hey, let's talk through that and see how you both are feeling about this one piece of communication,” let’s say. But I think it just brings up, in a structured way, topics that they maybe haven't thought about, but they've been issues that maybe have been bothering them, but they might not bring them up organically. This helps give them, one, some template to look at. And two, it helps them, then, identify things that, maybe, were bothering them that they hadn't articulated or put into language yet.

Dr. Lisa: That's such a good point right there because especially with premarital couples, many times, they're getting along well. There's not Problems with a capital P. Even if there are little annoyances, or they haven't quite elevated to the point where there has to be the talk about the problem. And so they’re like, “Ah. It's not that big of a deal.” But you're saying that the assessment will provide a safe, structured way for them to talk about those things that maybe haven't reached that level of importance yet. But it’s still so important to discuss so that they don't turn into a big, hurtful problem. 

Brenda: Some of the questions are even like, “I can see this becoming a problem versus it is a problem.” But anticipating events around the preparative parenting expectations and marriage expectations. So it's saying, “I think this might happen. I’m afraid this might happen.” 

We're also talking about future fortune-telling of where they see the future going that it's not there yet, but there is some fear or hesitation. It is a feeling of like, “Well, should I bring it up now? Or do I bring it up after it's happened?” “Your mom said something that was so offensive. I couldn't handle it.” Or instead, we’re saying, “Hey, what do we do if that situation comes up? How can I support you in those moments?” Again, it's proactive. I can't think of a better word just to try to anticipate or sometimes avoid certain situations.

Second Marriages and Premarital Counseling

Dr. Lisa: Proactive is the perfect word. You're getting out in front of it before… Well, that's super helpful. Then, another question that I had for you. I think that there can also be a thing with premarital couples who are that kind of stereotypical: they're young-ish, or it's their first marriage for both of them. Those are often the couples who are doing all the things. They are the wedding planners, and the color-coordinated flowers and bridesmaid dresses and doing the premarital counseling, and everything. 

Then, there's this other thing that happens, I think of it as your first baby. When you're pregnant, you have the shower, and you have the photo shoot with your belly bump. Then, by the time you have your second or third kid, you might have a friend drop off a trash bag of old clothes on your front porch, that kind of thing. 

Brenda: You’ve done this.

Dr. Lisa: Right? It’s like, why? I think that there can, sometimes, be that difference in energy with somebody who’s getting remarried after having been to that rodeo once before. I'm wondering if you have seen any differences, or differences in importance, even, with couples who may be getting married for the second time and thinking, “Eh. Why should we even do premarital counseling,” or having different needs in a premarital counseling environment? What would you say to them if that were the circumstance?

Brenda: Their case? The couples who end up coming are usually the ones who just say, “We want to do it differently.” Because, one hypothesis, there might be more of why our divorce rate’s higher in second marriages and third marriages. There's one hypothesis that said you didn't learn what to do differently. You just jumped into another relationship without becoming, sometimes, more educated or self-aware. If you want to lower your rate of divorce, I'd say the need to have more self-awareness is really important, especially because it's usually more complicated. You, a lot of times, are dealing with an ex or exes and dealing with children involved. So there's more stress. The honeymoon period doesn't last, always as long or very long at all. 

The couples who come in to me are just saying, “We want to make sure that what we learned from this last relationship, we're going to do it differently, and how to navigate those relationships.” If you think of someone who's coming in and adopting, maybe, really hard ex with their partner, “Okay, how do we deal with this? How do we be on the same team because that can create a lot of conflict and division? How do we parent each other's kids?” 

The Prepare-Enrich test does do step-parenting expectations, what role might the ex play in the relationship that could be an issue. Then, we're, again, talking about that and bringing it to the light to manage thoughts, feelings, hopes, and expectations to hopefully have a better chance of fighting together and being on the same team.

Dr. Lisa: That's so important because that is so hard, just the circumstances and dynamics. We also do a fair amount of blended family therapy here. But again, it's that importance of premarital counseling, to be talking about these things proactively before it becomes a yucky-feeling issue, not just in your relationship, but potentially, having kids who've decided that they hate your new husband or whatever. Let's not do that because that's just so hard to unwind. 

Brenda: Talking through, I think, for a lot of times, that still comes up in certain areas—finances, sex, conflict—to say, “Hey, I'm really scared to trust you with money because my last spouse ran up our credit card bill to $30,000.” You're bringing in, sometimes, some of those fears to talk through it to say, “Okay, what do you need from my support? I know that there are moments you're not reacting to me. You might be reacting to an ex. And how can we not create some disconnection for us?” And to own that and to see that for what it is versus pretending it's not there.

Dr. Lisa: Absolutely. The awareness about your old trauma triggers from past relationships. We’ll encourage my listeners if you haven't already, and if you just had a moment of recognition from what Brenda said, did a podcast not too long ago about trust issues in relationships. You might want to check that one out because I think that what Brenda is saying is that's a really common experience. If you've had a traumatic relationship, there's no other way to say it. How do you go from having those reactions and projecting those things onto your new partner? I'm glad you brought that up. 

I know we don't have a ton of time here, and I'll let you go. But before we do, I wanted to ask you one last question, which is, unfortunately, and I wish it were different, I'm still trying to figure out how to help change this zeitgeist, but in the kinds of conversations and the work that we do and that we're talking about right now, Brenda, is around premarital couples to be proactive, talking about important things before they become a problem. 

Is there any thoughts that you have for somebody listening to this podcast, who's 10 years into a marriage, nobody is doing premarital anything, that boat has sailed, but to still be able to use some of these ideas or concepts in order to be able to strengthen and support their existing marriage? If you were to apply the power of premarital work during the marriage, do you have any thoughts?

Advice for Married Couples

Brenda: I think, to be honest, the application and the understanding of a lot of the concepts that I teach to premarital couples are relevant to any couple, regardless of how long they've been together. I frequently have one couple within a group that has been married for a while. They do want to do a checkup or be more intentional about the relationship. Those people do still come along fairly often.

I would say there's a thought that every long-term relationship is going to have two or three different kinds of relationships. Sometimes, you're at the end of one, and you can start another one. I think that these concepts have been what really makes relationships work with couples who've been together, who are both open to having a new relationship, and getting away from the past to say, “What do we need to do differently?” I think those couples, if they're both open to it, then it can be a great tool for them. I've seen that happen with couples where they've said basically, “Let's start over it. That worked for a while, but it's not working anymore.”

Dr. Lisa: I think this openness to learning “What do we now have to do to have a good relationship?” I can't even tell you how happy I am, right now, to hear that married, long-term couples come to your premarital class. That's the best thing I've ever heard. 

Brenda: Glad I made your day, Lisa. That’s awesome.

Dr. Lisa: Well, good. I left you this message. It's never too late for premarital counseling. Even if you're well into a marriage, that it's not too late to say, “You know, what? What could we be doing better or differently?” Come and even show up for couples counseling and say, “We don’t really want a premarital experience. We don't have many specific things, but we just want somebody to get a sense of what we're currently doing. What are our strengths? What are our growth opportunities?” And help coach them on how to be better partners for each other and just have that be the intention of relational growth work.

Brenda: I think, hopefully, again, it gives couples a lot of education. I do some attachment work in, even, the class to say, “Okay, if someone's anxiously attached and someone's avoidantly attached, what's that look like?” That doesn't matter if they've been together 2 years or 10 years. They still start to see patterns. I think it takes away some of the shame to say, “It wasn't us. This is how this relationship looks like. Now, we know how to do things differently. We don't have to keep doing that.” 

Dr. Lisa: I love it. But that's always the truth. The healthiest, happiest couples are the ones who are proactive and really putting effort into educating themselves about how to grow, how to increase their understanding about the attachment styles just throughout the process, as opposed to the ones who are like, “Nope, we're fine. It's not that bad.” Then, by the time they show up, it's so bad. 

Brenda: When I tell couples if you feel like things get boring, it's probably not the relationship. You're probably holding back parts of yourself that you're not sure if the relationship can handle. We're always changing. We're evolving organisms. As people, we’re always looking to learn ourselves, and create ourselves, and recreate ourselves. Are you bringing that to the relationship? If you're not, if you're trying to keep it really contained, it's going to feel flat. Most people don't want that. 

Esther Perel would say, “People don't want more sex, they want better sex.” People want better relationships, but that means you have to, sometimes, go to scary places within yourself to bring that into the relationship: what you feel, think, and who you are.

Dr. Lisa: I love it. What a wonderful note to end on, Brenda. Then, a takeaway for every couple: no matter what stage of relationship you're in, think about what you aren't currently talking about that maybe you should be. I love that. 

While you’re saying that, Brenda, made me think of a little tool that we have for free on the website of growingself.com is our How Healthy Is Your Relationship? quiz that anybody can just come and take. It's not a ton of questions, probably 20 questions, but a little assessment that can help you be like, “Oh, are we talking about this? Should we be talking about this?” This is a little roadmap but to be thinking about what the growth opportunities are in your relationship and being proactive about it, whether or not you're already married. I love it. 

This has been so good. Thank you so much, Brenda, for spending this time with me today and just for sharing your wisdom with my listeners. So good.

Brenda: Thank you. I do love these couples. I hope it helps marriages be long, and happy, and successful. This would be my hope. 

Dr. Lisa: Me, too. Thank you, again.

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