Mind-Body Connection

Mind-Body Connection

Mind-Body Connection

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

Music Credits: “Darkest Days” by Fake Names

Mind-Body Connection

UNDERSTANDING MIND-BODY CONNECTION: Therapy is fantastic for helping you understand yourself and life coaching helps you achieve your goals, but if you’re on a path of personal growth it’s important to view your mental, emotional, and physical wellness holistically. For example, have you ever considered how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect your body? Conversely, have you ever observed how your physical health can sometimes impact how you're feeling, or even the way you think? 

Most people are under the impression that physical and mental well-being are separate things to handle. However, your body and mind are interconnected like cogs in a well-oiled machine — they inform and influence each other. When we’re feeling anxious, our breathing and heart rate speeds up, and our muscles get tense. On the other hand, when we're down with a cold, we tend to feel hopeless, helpless, and pessimistic. These effects show a mind-body connection.

In this episode, we'll define the mind-body connection, how it works, and why it's important. By understanding the mind-body connection, you can make remarkable changes to increase your overall wellness. 

If you want to know how to take control of your life and sustain a sound mind and body, then tune in to this episode! 

In This Mind-Body Connection Podcast Episode, You Will… 

  • Understand the mind-body connection and its importance.
  • Find out why what you eat affects your mental well-being.
  • Discover how your thoughts and emotions can affect your physical health.
  • Uncover what happens to your body when you’re thinking negative thoughts.
  • Identify how stress affects your mental and emotional health.
  • Learn things you can do to bounce back when you are feeling low and stressed out.
  • Find out actionable ways to achieve physical and mental wellness.
  • Figure out when you can help yourself feel better through changing your diet or behaviors, or whether cognitive-behavioral therapy or coaching can help.

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this episode helps you get clarity and understanding around the way that your mind, emotions, and body all interconnect, and how to use this self-awareness to help yourself stay well and balanced.

Mind-Body Connection

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

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Mind-Body Connection: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

How do your mind, body, and mood affect each other? 

As we expand our understanding of the human mind, we start to realize how much our emotions and feelings affect our bodies and vice-versa. 

An example of the mind-body connection is that as we approach the winter months, many people experience winter blues. As our bodies react to the cold and lack of sunlight, we may feel exceedingly melancholy. We're also less likely to exercise and get much-needed vitamin D, which in turn, can contribute to how we feel.

You have more control over what you think and feel emotionally and physically than you think. When you figure out how the mind-body connection works, you can expect remarkable results that will surprise you in many ways. 

The Mind-Body Problem 

While mental-oriented strategies you get from therapy are helpful, they do not always translate to dramatic changes

I learned this lesson about ten years ago when I had a client who was dealing with anxiety. We had been working together to address this problem and had tried different methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, mindfulness skills training, and self-care activities. However, nothing seemed to work until he went camping.

He felt less stressed and more organized. He was also able to practice mindfulness — he even went so far as to assume that he was cured. After a while, he went back to feeling bad. 

It was then that he shared how he goes through a six-pack of Diet Coke a day. And so, I thought about having a little experiment. He swapped out Diet Coke for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. The week after the experiment, he came back feeling better. 

Mind-Body Wellness

There is a physical component to our experiences. It’s easy to spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues through talk therapy. However, my experience taught me that the way people think and feel have multifaceted causes. Unless we address the underlying issues in a person’s lifestyle that may be contributing to not feeling well mentally and emotionally, therapy may not be effective.

At present, I ask questions about the physical stuff that we can experiment on, especially when working with a new client who has mood symptoms. These changes have the possibility of creating a dramatic impact on their mood.

Conversely, a person's very real physical symptoms can sometimes be due to the following: 

  • What the person is feeling emotionally
  • What they are thinking
  • What they have previously experienced

Unless these people do deep work in therapy to think differently, manage their emotions, or resolve their historical trauma, the physical symptoms may not disappear.

Improving Mind-Body Wellness

The solution to making ourselves feel better can, therefore, be different than what we think it is. 

Whenever you are feeling low, tired, or stressed out, try out these simple tips in my shortlist: 

  • Consider having a physical check-up 
  • Assess your vitamin levels
  • Take care of your gut health
  • Stay hydrated

These tips can help you feel better — research shows that what you put into your body can boost your mood. For example, depressed mice had their intestinal flora altered. Just this simple change in their gut health made these mice happier!

Body Health and Mind

Note that if you are dealing with physical symptoms, it’s best to consult your doctor. However, if these symptoms come with anxiety, depression, and other related chronic illnesses, you may also consider talking to your therapist.

Now, you may go to your therapist because you think you have ADHD or depression. These conditions are real and valid. However, what you experience may sometimes point to other factors. For example, the medication in an asthma inhaler can create ADHD-like symptoms. Meanwhile, when you feel sick or are injured, your body’s natural response is to keep you in the house. You’ll feel tired, hopeless, and helpless. Are you starting to see the ties to your mind-body connection?

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

Evolutionary adaptation has taught our bodies to be aware of threats around us. When we feel anxious, our bodies interpret this to mean that a threat is approaching. However, the older, emotional part of our brains cannot differentiate between real and perceived danger. So, when we feel anxious, our bodies let out a stress response. 

Furthermore, an interesting study shows that the bodies of people who worry more and experience more stress heal less quickly than those who don't. People who have traumatic childhood experiences also have several long-term health conditions. Our experiences, thoughts, and feelings do indeed change how the systems in our bodies work.

Healthy Mind and Body 

Over the years, I have discovered there are three things that have a huge impact on someone mentally and physically. These are: 

For me, sleep plays the biggest role in this equation. When you lack sleep, you go through physiological changes in your body that increase depressive and anxious thoughts.

Another thing you must consider is exercise. People usually work out to feel healthy, but some do it to change the way they look. I think we must veer away from this kind of thinking — love our body, regardless of its shape.

Another problem is that some people cut back on working out because they are too tired or busy. However, getting into 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day can have significant beneficial effects. You’ll be more relaxed, have more energy, and improve the kind of thoughts you are having.  

Lastly, as much as sleep and moving your body are important, what you eat and drink are also big factors in your overall health. You can consult your doctor to see whether you are getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, and taking the proper medicine to help aid in your mind-body connection. 

Sound Mind in a Sound Body

Do not underestimate the power of the mind in changing the way you feel. The way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means. And when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever is happening in your life, you automatically have enormous control over the way you feel. 

Figuring out what’s in your mind is easier said than done. I suggest you try cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral coaching

Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to understand: 

  • How am I thinking? 
  • What are my core beliefs? 
  • What am I telling myself?
  • How do I intentionally shift that to feel better? 

Meanwhile, cognitive-behavioral coaching is best for people who don’t have any mental health diagnosis and just want to improve their mind-body connection. This is not focused on symptom reduction but on helping you figure out the different elements that influence what you are thinking and how you are feeling. It allows you to assess: 

  • How you are thinking and feeling,
  • How your mood state impacts your thoughts, 
  • What happens to your physical process when you’re thinking and feeling.

Resources

  • Subscribe to our website and other platforms to get updates on our latest episodes.
  • Check out the Love Your Body podcast episode with Stephanie Oliver.

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about the mind-body connection? How do you think these insights can help you take care of your physical and mental health better? 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 music: Darkest Days by Fake Names]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: We are heading into the winter season, which can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people, particularly when it comes to the way you feel physically and emotionally. 

I know that you're listening to this podcast because you care about love, happiness, and success, right? If your goal is to feel happy, healthy, energized, to have good relationships, and feel generally content with your life, we need to talk about something very important and that is your mind-body connection. 

I know that that term has gotten kind of a bad rap over the years as being in the realm of questionable holistic healer people, no opinions there, but it is also very, very true that there is an undeniable relationship between the way you think and your physical wellness and the way you feel emotionally. That all impacts the way you behave. And they also all impact each other. 

The way you think impacts the way you behave. The way you behave impacts the way you think and feel. There's this very real interplay that is not understood well by many people, and then to make things even more exciting, there is a very real relationship between your physical health and what's going on inside your body and the way that you feel day-to-day in terms of your mood. Likewise, the way that you feel emotionally can have very, very real physical impacts on the way your body functions, so there is a lot here to talk about. 

Today, we are talking about mind-body connection and more importantly, how you can use the understanding that hopefully, you achieve through this podcast today to create actual, substantial, positive changes in the way you feel and as well as your physical wellness. We have much to discuss on today's episode, and I'm so glad you're here to join me. 

If this is your first time listening to the show, welcome. I am Lisa Marie Bobby, I'm the founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm also a licensed marriage and family therapist and I am a board-certified life coach, and I draw from all of those different realms to bring you hopefully helpful information every single week to support your quest for love, happiness, and success, and this show is all about you. 

If you have questions or topics that you would like to hear more about, don't ever hesitate to get in touch with me: hello@growingself.com. You can track me down on Instagram: @drlisamariebobby or heck, you can even call us on the phone. We do that too so growingself.com if you ever want to get in touch. Hey, special thanks also to my regular listeners. I was on iTunes the other day and I noticed that there were a lot of really nice new comments about the show, so thank you so much for leaving those and for reviewing the show not just to make me feel good, although I like that too. When you rate and review the show, it helps other people find this information more easily. You are supporting other people in their journey of love, happiness, and success, so thank you for reviewing it and for sharing these episodes to people in your life who could benefit from the same information that you receive so thank you. 

What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

Okay, so let's dive into our topic today: the mind-body connection, why this is so fundamentally important, and how you can change the way this whole thing works. You have so much control over the way that you think and the way you feel emotionally and physically that you might not realize. When you can figure out some of these mechanics almost, it's a bunch of gear cogs working together, it can really create remarkable results but in surprising ways, surprising ways that you might not expect. 

Again, it's essential that we're talking about this now. I'm recording this podcast as we are lighting into October, and this time of year, seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing for people in the northern hemisphere especially. I think there are a number of different reasons for this but not the least of which is that our physical body changes when it's cold. We might not go out to exercise the same way, we might not get enough sunlight which can impact your vitamin D levels. This can have a surprisingly profound impact on not just your emotional state, but the way that you think. I really wanted to give you some ideas and actionable resources to kind of arm you going into this so that you can feel good all winter long. 

The Mind-Body Connection Problem

I also wanted to share that the information that you might hear on this podcast today could be a little bit different than that which you may hear other therapists or people in my industry talk about. I have to tell you, I came about this understanding kind of the hard way, the humbling way, after more than a few years of practice.

I'll tell you what happened that helped me truly grasp the power of the mind-body connection and create a very just clear example of how, as a therapist, I had really been seeking to help people through the ways that I knew how so therapy and talking about things and then just had some experiences with clients that were like, “Oh, I really need to be paying more attention to these other aspects of life that are so dramatically important.” 

I think in my own career, there's been this, looking back, this progressive evolution in the way that I seek to help people. When I first went into practice, I was very excited about psychodynamic stuff and experiential techniques. I had clients in my office, screaming at therapy pillows in the chair and crying cathartically, which was all great. We had a fantastic time there, magical moments in the therapy room, but I realized that while sometimes that led to change with clients, it really didn't always. It was interesting and they're like, “Wow, I never realized that my father's criticism was so impactful.” They'd walk out but come back next week and things had not really substantially changed for them. 

I found myself going back to the drawing board, and being like, “Okay, so the things that I was taught in counseling school aren't always translating into actionable results for my clients and what can I do differently?” Over the years kind of evolved into more of a cognitive-behavioral lens, which has a ton of evidence-based really solid research to support its efficacy. But even then, I think that's really what kind of led me in the direction of coaching, is how do we move away from talking about this stuff to actually doing it and helping people move forward? That has been my kind of just progression and my own way of thinking about how to be helpful to people throughout the years. 

Something really important changed for me, this is probably 10 years ago. I had been working with a client, who I'm sure would not mind me telling you the story. He's fantastic. We were together for quite a while because he came in, and he had pretty serious anxiety. All the symptoms: very irritable, snapping at people, being kind of reactive in relationships, having a really hard time sleeping, would stay up half the night worrying about stuff, really worried about work, in particular, a lot of future thinking, a lot of what-ifs, a lot of catastrophic thoughts: “If I do this, then this terrible thing will happen.” 

Really, it was very rea,l and he felt very stressed out a lot, that cognitively super problem-focused. His relationship was suffering because of it. We worked for a long time on this, reviewing family history stuff or doing a lot of cognitive therapy techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, which again, have been shown by research to work beautifully. Mindfulness skills training, looking at helpful thoughts versus unhelpful thoughts, shifting into a growth mindset, some strategies to help unhook his mind from problem-focused thinking, ways to sort of self-soothe, self-care activities

We did all of it, and it helped a little bit, right? But not dramatically, and I was thinking, “Okay, well, maybe this is just an organically based mental health thing.” I'm not sure if he was on medication or not. I would need to look at my notes but thinking like, “Wow, this is very entrenched.” Anyway, we're seeing each other week to week and then one week, he came bounding back into my office and he was so excited. Actually, I hadn't seen him for a week. He had gone on a camping trip. I think it had been two weeks and he came bouncing back into the office and he was like, “Lisa, I feel so good. Everything is so good.” 

He was telling me, he's like, “You know, I had the best time on this camping trip. I slept through the night, I found myself just being able to kind of relax and hang out with my wife and have a nice time and nothing felt like it was that big of a deal. I really unplugged from work, and I climbed a mountain. It was so great.” He was just so happy. It had been a couple of days since he's been back and he's like, “Ever since I got back, at work even, I'm able to kind of keep myself organized and not overthink and I'm feeling less stressed out and I'm not feeling grumpy and angry at everybody.” He's like, “I am cured.” 

We were both excited and high-fived each other, all of these things that we had been working on just fell into place. He was like, “It's so much easier now. I can do those things that you've been teaching me how to do, like shift into better, more helpful thoughts and not catastrophize and remind myself, my mindfulness skills, and all these things.” It was so good so anyway, we were both so happy and it was like, “Success!” Then, he left the office and came back, and I think it was a week or two later and I was fully prepared, to be like, “Maybe we're done. It worked, great. The answer is all these skills and maybe taking camping trips more often, right?” 

Because my goal is never to keep people in therapy their whole lives. We are here for a reason, we're here to help you solve a problem and then go be happy. So when I saw him again, I thought it might be the last time or he would cut back substantially. He came in and he was like, “Oh, I feel so bad.” He was telling me about what a jerk his boss was being and all this stuff that he was all stressed out about and he was angry and couldn't stop thinking about this and had been up for three nights in a row. It was just like he had fallen right back into it. It was such a dramatic change. 

I was like, “Okay, wait a second. What in the heck happened?” Because it wasn't just work, right? Also, we can't stay camping forever so it's like, “What is happening?” Instead of just kind of doing the same old thing, I was like, “This is so dramatic. There is something else here, and let's just investigate this.” We spent pretty much the entire session talking about: “Okay, what was different when you went camping and immediately after coming back?” We ran through all of it. He had been getting more exercise on his trip, certainly, and had been with friends and unplugged from work, all these are good things, but he gets exercise anyway. 

This is a person who exercised, he had an active social life so it wasn't that different. He had taken vacations before and did not experience this kind of benefit over the course of our work. He'd actually taken a couple of vacations, and he and his wife had gone to a resort and a tropical paradise kind of deal so we're like, “What is going on?” Anyway, so to cut to the point, one of the things that were actually a little bit different is the Diet Coke situation. I was like, “I'm sorry, the what?” He shared a detail about his life that I had not known before because it never occurred to me to ask, it never occurred for him to tell me. 

He's like, “Yeah, usually, I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I will easily go through a six-pack a day. I have them at work while I'm working. I have one with dinner but, obviously, on a backpacking camping trip, I am not going to trundle a case of diet coke with me into the woods.” He was like, “Do you think that could have something to do with the anxiety thing?” And I was like, “I don't know. Let's find out.” 

Actually, I did share that I'm such a nerd. I was a biology major in college, and at one point, I had actually written a whole paper on the impact of aspartame, which is a sweetener that's used in Diet Coke and other drinks, or at least it was. I don't know if it's still around anymore, but it has pronounced stimulating effects on people's nervous systems that look similar to caffeine, actually. Aspartame, for some people, not all people, people have different kinds of just reactions to different chemicals and additives based on their own body chemistry. I have a sensitivity to aspartame, and also a related food additive, MSG, which isn't a lot of things, but if I have too much of it, I'll get a headache, honestly and it'll actually impact my sleeping. That's why I was interested in writing a paper on it in college. 

Anyway, when he told me this, I was like, “Very interesting. Let's have an experiment.” The experiment was no Diet Coke. It's very stimulating between the aspartame and also the caffeine and caffeinated beverages. He was like, “Well, that's easy enough.” He swapped that out for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. Wouldn't you know it, he came back into my office the next week, and he was like, “We figured it out.” That whole experience was really incredibly interesting to me but also very humbling because here I was, and I can't beat myself up too much about this because we only know what we know at the time, but we had been working on anxiety together in therapy for quite a while. 

He was coming in every week, I was taking his money to help him figure this out and was really working very hard to teach him all these cognitive-behavioral strategies that I thought should work. But there was a physical component to his experience that was really creating a lot of these anxious thoughts, anxious feelings, anxiety physical symptoms that were consistent with anxiety: sleeplessness, racing heart, breathlessness, all the things. Until we removed that physically-based variable, he wasn't going to feel better no matter what we did in therapy. 

Mind-Body Wellness

I wanted to share that story with you to illustrate the point and the importance of really understanding the mind-body connection in a different way. Because it is very easy to spend a lot of time and energy and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues, completely overlooking all of these physical components of our lives that can have a huge impact on the way we think and feel. Until we address the physical components, all the therapy in the world isn't going to change it that much. That is a hard fact for card-carrying therapists like me to acknowledge. Again, it's humbling, but it's also so true. Since this client, I have seen that be true time and time again. 

Now, when I am working with a new client particularly, a new client who has any kind of mood symptoms, I start with the physical stuff and ask a lot of questions to see if there are any easy stuff we can experiment with. It might have dramatic impacts on the way they're feeling and that don't involve coming into therapy with me for six months every week because that would be fantastic. Not that I'm not super interesting and fun to talk to, just kidding, but really, we're here for a reason. 

That has been an important lesson, and what has also been an equally important and humbling lesson are people that I have worked with over the years who have very, very real chronic health conditions that are not in their heads. They are very real, they are actual physical symptoms that do require treatment. When we unpack this, the reason why they are having those physical symptoms is often, at least in part, due to the way they are thinking and the way they are feeling emotionally and also because of things that they have experienced in their lives like historical trauma. It comes out in the body in very interesting ways years later. 

They have been working with all these medical professionals to resolve all these physical symptoms that again, are real. They are not making them up. They are real things that are happening and yet, it's only when they do this deeper work in therapy to figure out some of their internal processes, and learn how to think differently, learn how to manage their emotions in a different way or process their trauma, these physical symptoms will melt away. Again, sometimes, in very dramatic ways. 

Being able to understand this interplay, I think, is incredibly important for everyone to understand because sometimes, the most direct route for helping ourselves feel better, both emotionally or physically, can be really different than what we think is the answer. Like my client: “I have anxiety; therefore, I should go to therapy.” Makes perfect sense, when the answer was actually something completely different. Here are some of the highlights that I'm going to share with you, things that I have learned over the years. 

Improving Mind-Body Connection Wellness

I just made a little, shortlist for you, especially heading into the winter, things that I would like for you to be thinking about and experimenting with, if you notice that you are starting to feel low, or tired, or stressed out, or even a little bit more anxious. Or even if you have been feeling that way even before winter happened, Lord knows there are all kinds of things for all of us to be stressed out and low about these days in the world. If you were my client coming in being like, “Lisa, I don't feel good,” I would be wanting to know a few things. 

First of all, and this is a real easy one, when was the last time you just had a physical, just a basic physical and your doctor does a blood panel and also maybe even does an assessment of your vitamin levels? We know that being low in certain vitamins and nutrients like iron, if you are low in iron or anemic, you will feel depressed. You will be exhausted and foggy and like, “Ugh, I can't.” Wouldn't it be simple to take an iron supplement or eat more spinach and feel 10x better without coming in talking to a therapist for six months? Sometimes, these things are just super easy. Iron is one of them, vitamin D is one of them. 

As I was mentioning at the top of this episode, particularly if you are like me, I sit in an office all day, basically like a little mushroom festering in my dark office. I need to be sure that I take a vitamin D supplement and make it a point to: “Yes, I wear sunscreen, but also get outside.” Your body creates vitamin D, it synthesizes vitamin D through your skin, so when you get sunlight, a substantial amount of sunlight, it changes your vitamin D levels. That is one of the hypotheses around seasonal affective disorder, is that people in the northern hemisphere, their vitamin D levels drop and this is true for everyone. 

There's also fascinating research on the impact of your gut health and your mood. Fascinatingly, your digestive tract is the second-largest manufacturer of serotonin in your body. Depending on your microflora, so probiotics, prebiotics, it can really have a substantial impact on the way that you're feeling. I don't know if this has been conducted on humans, but in mice, this is kind of gross, but researchers took happy mice as evidenced by being energetic and kind of curious and licking each other and running around their cages, and unhappy mice that were sort of just sitting there and not wanting to run around the maze or interact with other mice, the depressed mice. 

When they took some fecal materials or poop from the happy mice and seeded the intestinal tract of the depressed mice with the bacteria from the happy mice, the depressed mice became happier because of no other reason than the flora of their intestines. Again, very, very interesting to consider these implications and taking a probiotic every day is pretty easy to do for most people. Again, please don't start doing or taking supplements or things that might not be a good idea for you specifically based on my advice. I am not your doctor, but go get some blood tests, see if there's anything there. Vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, if you are deficient in magnesium, you will feel anxious. It's just a sort of straight line of magnesium and anxiety symptoms. 

Those are all really easily modified things. It is as easy as taking a vitamin every morning or getting more sunlight. Talk to your doctor about that if you think that it might be a thing for you, or if you don't have any known reason to not take a good vitamin supplement, especially during the winter, it's something you might want to consider. Also, there's some evidence that fish oil supplements can have an impact on mood and that can be another just super easy thing. 

Another thing that many people do not know about, I did not know about this, is the dramatic impact that even mild levels of dehydration can have on the way that you feel cognitively and emotionally. If you are stressed out at work, there are lots of things that you could do, but try drinking a big glass of water. It's so interesting, even if you are not even aware that you are thirsty, there have been so many studies. People who are just the tiniest bit dehydrated will experience more subjective stress, they will perceive things as being more difficult and complicated than they do after as compared to when they're well hydrated. They have this brain fog kind of experience so it's super real, and it's super easy, so drink more water. 

Body Health and Mind

Then also, there can be other things that are a little bit sneakier to sort of ferret out. For example, if I have somebody come in and say, “You know what? I think I have ADHD.” First of all, ADHD is so real and it is underdiagnosed for a lot of people, particularly women. When somebody shows up and is like, “I want to talk about this,” I first asked them about how they're sleeping and have on more than one occasion, referred somebody out for a sleep apnea test and they have come back and said, “Yeah, I had sleep apnea, and I didn't even realize it.” They got their sleep apnea symptoms treated and then “ADHD” was no longer a thing. 

There are also some interesting, and I won't go through all of them, but if you use an asthma inhaler, that can create ADHD-like symptoms because of the effects of the medication. If you have recently been ill, or have gone through surgery, or broken a leg, or something like that, your body will, by default, create an actual, essentially a depressive episode to protect you while you're healing. There's something called the sickness response. 

Your body is an incredible machine that has over hundreds of thousands of years evolved to keep you alive. That's the number one priority. And it has many interesting ways of doing that and one of them is that when you get sick or when you have been injured, your body will make you feel very, very low, emotionally. It will change the way you think. You will become more pessimistic. You'll feel more hopeless and helpless. You will not want to go anywhere. You will not want to do anything. You will feel tired. That is all of the criteria for major depressive disorder. 

It is your body's highly adaptive evolutionary response to keep you in your house, not circulating amongst people that might give you additional germs or to protect you from risking injuring your body again while you're in the process of healing. I've had so many clients come to me after an illness or a surgery and like, “I don't know what's wrong with me.” It's been three weeks or a month later and they have done quite a bit towards healing but they were genuinely surprised to learn that this was a thing. 

They thought it was depression with a capital D, and I think it just helped them to understand like, “No, you can expect that and it's a good thing that this happens. Your body is keeping you alive; it's doing its job.” The period after having a child, the postpartum period, is similar to that, so there are all kinds of interesting physically-based changes in your body and some of them are vitamin deficiencies but also based on your circumstances and your overall health, that can really dramatically change your emotional state and the way that you think.

It is also true, again, that people will commonly experience very, very real physical symptoms that are, again, I want to say, this not in your head. I think that people who hear that physical symptoms, there is a relationship with what is going on inside of them psychologically, it feels very invalidating. It feels like they're being told that they're just making it up or that it's not real; it's all in your head. I just want to say very clearly, that is not true. There are physical symptoms. Anybody who has ever had IBS, shingles, or high blood pressure, or God forbid, a heart attack will tell you that these are actual physical conditions that require treatment, and that they benefit from being treated. There are medications and things that help with this. 

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

What I think is not as well-realized is the impact of the way we feel day-to-day and what that does to all of our sort of physical systems. I think what is also not well-understood is the impact of the way that we think on our emotions and then the impact of our mood state on the way that we think. It's very circular. For example, going back to is the example of anxiety, when we begin to feel anxious, as we often do, being humans, again, we're created to survive in this world and part of that is being vigilant for danger, we're not often in actual physical danger most of the time. 

We are relatively safe: we are sitting in our offices, making podcasts, talking to people, eating our breakfast, driving a car, nothing bad is happening. Because we are so smart and creative, we have these gigantic human brains that are so good at going into the future or replaying events of the past and thinking if this, then that. We are solving potential problems. We are paying attention to what is coming down the pipeline. And we need to finish that assignment by this day so I can do x, y, z. Our brains are always working on stuff and trying to anticipate problems or kind of think: what could be a problem. 

Truly, the problem is that because you are so intelligent and creative, and this is actually worse for people who are exceptionally intelligent and creative, you're good at envisioning things. Particularly if you are a visual thinker, you won't just think about the impact of missing a work assignment sort of generally. You will see your boss's face and see this little mental movie of the consequences of x, y, z or visualize your car skidding off the road into a ditch. 

The issue is that the part of our brains that feel emotions, your brain is built in layers, there's a thinking part of your brain, and then there's a totally different part of your brain that generates emotions based on what's going on in the world around you. That older emotional part of your brain cannot tell the difference between things that you're thinking about and things that are actually happening. 

When you play a mental movie of your car flying off a cliff or your car is actually flying off a cliff, the part of your brain that feels will experience those things similarly. What happens is that the part of your brain that feels emotions will just be like, “Oh my gosh, my car is going off a cliff!” And will squeeze out all these adaptive survival-based hormones, your endocrine system, squirts out adrenaline, cortisol, your breathing speeds up, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense. You're preparing for impact. 

You just had a thought in your head, right? You're not actually going off a cliff but your body is like, “No, we're here. We're going to survive this.” Your body is having all these reactions. It changes many things in your body. It changes the way you digest food. It changes the way your immune system works. It changes your circulatory system. You're all awash in adrenaline now. Your body is in a totally different space, and this impacts many physical systems in your body: your digestive process, it impacts what is happening in terms of your blood pressure or your cardiovascular health, migraines, all these things are totally related. 

A fascinating study that came a while ago was conducted on two groups of people, as the best research studies are. A control group had a small, superficial skin injury put on their arm. They basically scuffed the surface of their arm, went down a layer or two of skin, put a bandaid on, and sent them home. The second group of people was identified as being chronically stressed. I think that they may have been caregivers, primary caregivers to people or partners, or possibly parents with dementia, hard stuff, but same deal. They scuffed up their skin, put a bandaid on them, sent them home, and then brought them back to measure how quickly their body was healing. 

You might imagine that people who were living in that day-to-day stress all the time had a lot of stuff to worry about, their bodies literally healed more slowly than those of people who weren't bathing in that stressful broth every single day. The impacts of this stuff are somewhat facetiously, but as real as a heart attack. 

Even in the 1950s and 1960s when this stuff was sort of first being explored, cardiologists would notice that they had to change the upholstery on the chairs in their waiting room a lot more often than the pediatrist next door because they had their type-A high-risk cardiac patients who were super stressed out about things. They were worrying. They were fidgety. They were like, “My appointment was supposed to start five minutes ago,” going up and demanding to be seen at the reception desk. 

That's sort of the stereotypical personality of somebody who has a more increased chance of having a heart attack, and it's because of the way they think, the way they feel, the way they relate to others, and the long term chronic impact that this has on what is happening in their body. This is true for all kinds of things. There's a well-researched assessment, it's called the ACE, which explores adverse childhood experiences, aka childhood trauma. 

If you have a high score on the ACE, so you've lived through really difficult scary things as a child, it is strongly associated with all kinds of long-term health consequences. Some of the thinking behind it is that when people experience serious trauma in childhood, it changes the way they're wired physiologically to a degree: being more vigilant, anticipating something bad happening. 

There's a good reason for that but it also shows up in health, and often, it's not until that earlier trauma is addressed and resolved that people can heal from things like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. These disorders are strongly associated with early childhood trauma. All this stuff is just so real and worth not just thinking about but working on. 

If you are dealing with physical symptoms and you are seeing a doctor and maybe you're getting what you need out of that, fantastic, just consider though that if it's along the lines of anxiety, or depression, or some of these chronic illnesses that show up in your intestinal tract, cardiovascular stuff, whole body kinds of issues, it may be worth talking to a psychologist just to see. You might just wander in and be like, “Here's what's going on,” and they give you an assessment, you walk back out again, nothing changes, that's fine, but what if there is something that is worth talking about? 

You can keep seeing medical doctors and keep doing the treatment and you should, and if you're not getting the results that you want, just consider that there could be other things to investigate, I guess, is what I want to say. 

Healthy Mind and Body

These things are all real and they're also very circular in nature. For example, one of the things that I've noticed in my own life and with a lot of clients is the impact of three things, in particular, both mentally and physically. Probably the biggest one is sleep, I would say. When you don't get enough sleep, your body changes in response to this. Again, everything that happens in your body pretty much is either to keep you alive or to procreate. When it gets very down to the basics, that's why we're here. 

When you consider that if your body is physically stressed, like not getting enough sleep, your body, when it is elevated, it physiologically changes the way you think for you without being asked. It is not in your direct control but when your body is like, “Oh, there's something's going on; there is a threat,” your mind goes into almost vigilance response. Your mind starts looking around for possible problems and scanning your environment for: “What are the bad things that could happen? What should I be worried about? What is going to be really hard? What is just not going to work out?” That problem-focused possible threats, you are designed to do that, it is not your fault. 

Everybody's body disorder does this automatically when they are physically stressed but the problem is that because you are so smart and creative, you will always find something that could be a threat, or could be a problem, or could be a thing to worry about. Since your mind is kind of primed to do that thinking, you will think about that a lot. As a consequence, it will reinforce this physiological, elevated state that will then make your mind even more hyper-focused on the problems and the threats and the things that aren't working out, that aren't going to work out: “This is what's going to happen and it's going to be so bad.” 

When you have that kind of inner thought loop happening in your mind, that is strongly associated with depression and with anxiety. When people experience a major depressive disorder or a depressive episode, that is what is happening. Depression changes the way that your brain works. It changes the way that you think. You have a different internal dialogue happening in your mind when you are struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

There is this interplay between those thoughts, what you're telling yourself, what you're envisioning, and blah, blah, blah, and then, the very real impact that has on your body so now you can't sleep. You're up until three o'clock in the morning worrying about all these things and running through the stuff in your head. That reinforces this physical threat, this physical like, “Oh, no, we're in trouble” physiological response in your body that then cranks up the knob on the depressive thoughts and the anxiety thoughts. 

That's what happens. Another thing that also happens oftentimes with these is when we feel tired, when we feel low, and we don't have any energy, when we're like, “Oh, no, I can't. I don't have time. I'm so stressed. I have to do all these things for work.” What happens when that goes on in your life? What happens in my life is one of the easiest things for me to cut is exercise. Like, “I don't have time or I don't have energy or it's too cold,” all these things so we don't. 

One of the easiest things that any of us can do to combat all of this, both mentally and physiologically, is getting even 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day. Walking is just fine. You don't have to go to a gym, you do not have to do anything heroic. You can seriously just jump around with a YouTube exercise video for 20 minutes a day. It has this really significant relaxing effect on your body. When your body relaxes, it starts to relax your mind and make it much easier to shift out of those threat-focused or problem-focused thoughts. It improves your sleep, which then also improves the kind of thoughts that you're having, and your energy levels, which makes it easier to get up like, “Yes, let's do more exercise because I have more energy.” And then, you can think more clearly. You can focus more easily. 

When your brain is working better, the things that felt really stressful problems, you're like, “Oh, I'll just make this phone call. It's not that big of a deal.” All of a sudden, you feel so much better because there isn't this looming thing you've been putting off. When you are taking care of your physical health in these really simple ways, there is this interplay that is huge, hugely impactful much more than that the isolated thing. 

We think about exercising as being good for our health or sometimes, people exercise to change the way that they look. If that is true for you, I will refer you back to the Love Your Body podcast episode that I did with my colleague Stephanie a while ago. We need to move away from that, but physical exercise has a huge impact on your energy levels and the way that your brain works. 

There's also a lot of evidence that getting regular exercise changes the way that your mind works in terms of not just reducing anxiety and depression, although there have been studies that indicate that getting about 30 minutes of exercise a day is around as effective as taking antidepressant medication for reduction of those symptoms. That's something to think about. Also, I just want to say that it is also true that for many people being on medications: antidepressant medications, anti-anxiety medications, or other mood-stabilizing kinds of medications, is a very, very important foundational piece of your overall kind of wellness plan. 

I don't want you to hear me say this and think like, “Oh, I should get off my medications because Dr. Lisa said that I could just walk instead.” Don't do that but you might want to consider adding a nice walk to your daily routine. It will help you feel better, it will help you think better, it will give you more energy, it will help you feel more able to solve solvable problems, and you will get a better night's sleep, all of which have this self-supporting positive impact on your wellness on all of these different levels. 

Sleep and exercise are hugely important, as is nutrition. Visit with your doctor, see if there's anything easy you could try to make sure that you're getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, keeping an eye on whether or not you're taking supplements that are messing up your kind of low-key stimulating things. 

I had another client who could not sleep and it was impacting her so tremendously. Super healthy person, super healthy lifestyle, was not a Diet Coke drinker, no obvious causes, and it took us months to figure out that she was drinking either a shake or it was a supplement, but it had maca. I'm not sure exactly what it was but there was some additive, it was like an herb that for many people probably didn't have any impact at all but for her, it was keeping her up half the night. 

One time, gosh, it's been a while ago but I experimented once with taking St. John's wort, which kept me up all night. I had the weirdest reaction to it. Just look around like, “Are there any herbal supplements or things that I'm taking?” Easy thing to experiment with. If you're having trouble sleeping or if you're struggling with anxiety and you are taking a supplement, what happens if you don't take the supplement for a week? Like that camping trip: “Here's how I feel when I do it. Here's how I feel when I don't.” Then we can have an ABA test. “Now, I'm going to start taking it again and now, what do I notice?” It's okay to have little experiments with yourself. 

Sound Mind in a Sound Body

Also, do not underestimate the power of your mind to change the way that you feel. Very well established that the way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means and when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever's happening in your life, you automatically have an enormous amount of control over the way that you feel. When you're in control over the way you feel, it has a positive impact, not just on your physical health, but also on your behaviors. 

When we have certain feelings, for example, when you feel worried about something or scared about something, the behavior associated with that is to avoid it, which makes perfect sense if it is an actual threat. But if it is a project assignment that you need to get done for work, and the way that you are thinking about it makes it feel really intense and stressful and overwhelming emotionally, the response will be to avoid that and procrastinate, which will not just make you feel more stressed, but it may actually lead to adverse consequences in your life if you start missing deadlines. Then, you feel really bad. 

Being able to figure out, “How am I thinking?” And I say that like it's very easy to do like we should all be able to sort that out, but the method of doing that is through either cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive part being operative here, which helps you understand, “How am I thinking? What are my core beliefs? What am I telling myself? And how do I intentionally shift that in order to feel better and to get better results in my life?” 

There's cognitive behavioral therapy, there's also such a thing as cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is where therapy is the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. If you have arrived in a space where you actually do have major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder that is quite entrenched, and it's impacting your ability to function, you need cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

If you're resonating with what I'm saying today and don't have an actual mental health diagnosis but want to make improvements in these areas, I would suggest cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is not focused so much on symptom reduction, but it's really helping you figure out just all of these different elements. “Holistically, what is the interplay between how I am thinking and how I am feeling, and how does my mood state impact my thoughts? And then, what happens to my physical process when I'm thinking and feeling this way? And then, when I'm in this physical state, what is the impact that is having on my mind and my body?” Hugely interesting and I think very useful and very productive for most of us. 

When I personally start not feeling so great, I've learned this over the years, “Okay, what's changed? What am I doing? What am I telling myself? Am I exercising? No, I'm not exercising. Yeah, I need to go do that.” Very reliably, usually within a short amount of time, it really changes the way that I feel. I've seen this work so many times for my clients, and I think it can work for you too. 

I really hope that this episode, this time we spent together today has given you some ideas for how to support yourself on every level, particularly heading into winter. I hope you experiment with them and see what kind of impact they have, and I would always love to hear about your outcomes or any follow-up questions that you have for me. If you want to leave comments, the post for this podcast is going to be growingself.com/mind-body-connection. 

You can cruise on over, leave comments for me, or get in touch through Instagram, or email on hello@growingself.com, or Instagram: @drlisamariebobby. Leave your follow-up questions or comments so I can address them and thank you, again, for spending this time with me today. I will be back in touch next week with more love, happiness, and success advice for you, and here's more Fake Names with Darkest Days.

[Outro song: Darkest Days by Fake Names]


How To Appreciate Your Partner

How To Appreciate Your Partner

How To Appreciate Your Partner

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

Music Credits: “Anything and Everything” by J Lind

How To Appreciate The Partner You Have

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I completely understand the importance of having a great relationship. Working on your relationship through marriage counseling or relationship coaching in order to make it as good as it can be is a worthwhile endeavor. Working on yourself in service of your relationship is also an incredibly noble and positive thing to do. The energy you spend in cultivating a healthy relationship pays off in every aspect of life.

However, truth be told, I’ve also seen a dark side to this quest for self-and-relationship-improvement as well, which is never feeling satisfied with your partner, or your relationship. This type of “relationship perfectionism” can take many forms, including comparing your relationship to what you imagine other people’s relationships are like, having overly high expectations, over-focusing on your partner’s flaws, or overlooking their strengths. This makes it difficult to feel in love with your partner, or even content in a relationship — even a really good one!

Love and Appreciation

Love and appreciation are key to happy, healthy relationships. Getting hyper-focused on relationship problems will actually start to create relationship problems because it shifts the emotional environment away from acceptance and emotional safety, and towards criticism and contempt. When those communication issues are present, even the best relationships will start to feel harder than they need to.

All relationships, just like all people, are a mixed bag with wonderful parts, challenging parts, and “growth opportunities.” Learning how to appreciate your partner for who and what they are is often the biggest area of growth for couples in counseling — and the most fruitful. 

Learning how to show appreciation can be the best thing that ever happened to your relationship. Also, paradoxically, showing appreciation (and feeling appreciated!) for your partner can be one of the fastest and most effective routes to creating positive change and growth in both of you. 

When any of us feel understood and cherished for who we are, we flourish. The same is true for you and also for your partner. On today’s episode of the podcast, I’ll be talking more about how you can release negativity and embrace the type of mindset that will help you and your relationship, heal, grow, and thrive.

In This Podcast Episode: How To Appreciate Your Partner, Learn How To. . .

  • Realize the importance of love, respect, and acceptance when it comes to relationships
  • Learn how to appreciate your partner
  • Understand how people can change, especially in a supportive relationship
  • Learn the importance of letting things go and minimizing control
  • Be made aware of the signs of an unhealthy and overly critical relationship
  • Discover what unconditional love means
  • Accept your partner for who they are and what they can give
  • Learn how to foster kindness and generosity, and stop negative relationship patterns

You can listen to this episode right here on GrowingSelf.com, or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there! If you prefer to read, I’ve also included episode highlights with links to all the resources and additional information I referenced throughout the podcast. Scroll further and you’ll find a full transcript too. 

Thanks for joining me, and I hope that this episode helps you and your partner create the type of loving and emotionally supportive relationship you each need and deserve.

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Appreciate Your Partner

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

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How To Appreciate Your Partner: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

Focusing On The Positive in Your Relationship

If your relationship has been feeling challenging lately, you’re probably thinking more about the issues. Wanting a better relationship is normal – and it’s completely valid. 

Often, a partner who initiates marriage or couples counseling has this unspoken hope that they can change their other half in pleasing or gratifying ways. However, the secret to a good relationship isn't in trying to change your partner in a way that agrees with you. 

Instead, “it is really about growing in your own capacity for love and appreciation and learning how to create an environment that nurtures growth that brings out the highest and best in both of you.”

Instead of zeroing in on the bad things, focus on the positives of your partner and your relationship. By shifting your view towards what's good and what you appreciate, you can improve your relationship and fall back in love with your spouse or partner.

Can People Change?

Finding the positive in your partner also has to be balanced with knowing your boundaries.

Your partner may hold beliefs or do things that you will not stand for. In this case, it’s okay to draw a line and say that you will not continue in your relationship unless things change. 

If you’re unclear about whether or not your relationship is unhealthy, refer to these past Love, Happiness and Success podcast episodes: 

But if you've decided that you are fully committed to your relationship and want to make it work, here's what you should be ready to give: acceptance, appreciation, and unconditional love.

When couples focus on understanding and appreciation, they foster goodwill and respect. All of a sudden, they stop being defensive. Only from this positive place can real change and improvement occur. 

Stop Negative Relationship Patterns

In a relational dynamic filled with negativity, relationships tend to self-destruct from the pressure and toxicity. 

You may think that this is because of personal differences and issues. Dr. Gottman, psychologist and relationships researcher, labels these as “perpetual problems.” Examples of these include:

  • Personality differences
  • Ways of being
  • Habits
  • Quirks 

These “perpetual problems” exist in every relationship, but here’s the punchline: it doesn't matter. What does matter more than anything else are negative feelings such as criticism and contempt.

Criticism may sound like the following phrases:

  • “Do that differently.”
  • “That's not right. I'm right and you're wrong.”
  • “Why don’t you do this?”

On the other hand, contempt is often expressed in the following words:

  • “You are ridiculous.”
  • “You suck.”
  • “You are hopeless.”

Criticism and contempt create rocky relational dynamics and elicits a lot of negativity from the other person. 

To stop this negative cycle, grasp your point of control, which is understanding: “What am I putting into this relational system and how can I think about this differently? How can I do this differently so that I am no longer part of the problem?

Understanding Your Partner

We are living in our own experience, so we understand why we do the things we do. We might feel groggy because we didn’t get any sleep. Or cranky because we had too much coffee. However, We often don’t have the same information when it comes to other people, even our partners. That’s why, in a negative relationship system, we start to tell ourselves a story focused on our partner’s flaws

To break out of this system, we have to understand our partner better. For this, we can look at outside factors and even internal reasons for why people are the way they are.

Grow, Together

“In addition to all of us individuals having our strengths, we also do have growth opportunities, and so does every relationship.”

So, aside from your partner, you should also consider your relationship as a whole. To learn more about your relationship, check out the How Healthy is Your Relationship assessment and then take our Attachment Style quiz for insight into you and your partner’s attachment styles. This will help you and your partner better understand where you are each coming from so that you can grow together instead of apart. 

So much unhappiness comes from subconscious expectations. They can be:

  • How love should be shown
  • Who should be in charge
  • What should be controlled
  • How people should communicate
  • How people should parent

In short, anything that has the word “should” can be a form of bias or unrealistic expectation. 

“There is a wide range of acceptable behaviors, and there is no one ‘should'. There is no truth with a capital T.”

The gap between what you believe should be happening and what is happening creates bad feelings in many people. Doing shadow work and examining your inner narratives about this situation helps prevent this gap from widening.

Doing this work also allows us to pull ourselves back from feeling hurt or annoyed when we’re not getting all of our needs met. Instead, we can think about what it feels like on the other side: “What is it like to live with me?”

This question is a good starting point towards having a growth mindset. All relationships will eventually encounter junctures that either one or both partners don't know how to navigate. 

When you have unconditional love for your partner and you aim to grow together, you can figure out how to go through difficult times together as well. 

By shifting into an appreciative and generous stance, we can create positive changes in our relationship. But remember: it has to start within ourselves. Only then can we bring that to the table of our relationship and do something great. 

Resources: How to Appreciate Your Partner

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the episode? If so, be sure to share it with the people you love. What were your favorite tips for appreciating your partner? Are there any challenges you’re facing that make it hard for you to understand or empathize with your partner? 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 music: Anything And Everything by J Lind]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. That is J Lind with the song Anything And Everything, as in, tell me everything about you and let me love you unconditionally for all of it. It's a beautiful song, it is a beautiful idea, and it's one that can be hard to put into practice, can't it? Today, we're talking about how to appreciate the partner you have because we all want an easy, fulfilling relationship that's full of light and love and fun. 

Sometimes, in our quest to create the kind of relationship that we really want, it's easy to get focused on all the things about our partners that are not ideal. While it is true that we all need to work on ourselves and grow in service of our relationships and bring our vessels to the table, it is also true that the royal road to a truly delightful relationship is often less about getting people to change than it is about figuring out how to accept, appreciate, and even cherish our partners for who and what they actually are, as they are. 

How do you find that balance between acceptance and unconditional love, and also growth and people being the best they can be? How do you feel genuinely loving towards your partner as they are, even if they are imperfect? This really is the holy grail of happy, healthy relationships. Creating exactly that is what we're talking about today on The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast so I'm so glad you're here joining me for what I hope is going to be a fantastic conversation. 

If this is your first time listening to the show, hello. I'm so glad that you found me and found this. I am your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist and I'm also a board certified coach and I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self counseling and coaching. I think because of this weird cluster of experiences, I come to this conversation with a little bit different of a perspective of the family therapist, all about systems and understanding how people interact and create positive or helpful interactions with each other. 

But also, as a psychologist, I'm always interested on how individuals are creating their own inner experiences, how people think, feel and behave. Then also, because of my coach training, for me, it's all about what you want to do with this information. Insight is not enough so on the show, we are always talking about topics that go deep. My goal is to help you achieve true understanding of what's going on underneath the surface. Also, then, talking about how we put these ideas into action and ideally, help you create more positive outcomes in your life as it relates to your love, happiness, and success so I'm glad you're here. 

Also, just a side note, if you're a new listener or a regular listener, I am so interested in what you are thinking about or dealing with in your life or what you think would be interesting or helpful for you to be hearing about on this podcast. You can always get in touch with me directly: hello@growingself.com with any questions or comments. You can track me down on Instagram: @drlisamariebobby to ask questions and jump in the pool of the conversation. You can also leave comments on the blog pages of posts or podcasts that I put out. 

I always check those and answer those personally. Anyway, we will have a conversation about what is important to you because that's why I'm here. I really care about that and I do these podcasts to be genuinely helpful to you. Interestingly, I recorded a podcast not too long ago with Jennifer Sands about making meaning after tragedy. 

In a conversation with her, I really kind of came into contact with something that I had known, but I think not fully appreciated: how much I get out of being here with you making these podcasts for you. It really brings me great pleasure and enjoyment to be of service to you so thank you for doing this with me and again, let me know how I can be of service to you because that's why I'm here and I'm listening so thank you. 

Focusing On The Positive in Your Relationship

On that note, to be of service to you today, let's talk about our topic because I'll tell you what, I have been a marriage counselor for a long time, a relationship coach for a long time. One of the things that I see over and over again is how difficult relationships can feel when partners are very much focused on negative aspects of each other, of their relationship, and also the dramatic difference it can make in a relationship and the way people feel about each other. 

When they are able to shift that focus into the things that they really genuinely like and appreciate about each other, it just feels so much easier and it could also be surprisingly easy to do depending on what your goal is. It can be extremely easy, even in marriage counseling, to spend a lot of time talking about problems and personality differences and early family of origin experiences that create these issues in both of you. 

Again, while it's always helpful to have some context for who people are and why people are, it can also really obscure the fact that everybody has strengths and growth opportunities. Everyone has gifts and sometimes, really by shifting the focus and figuring out how we can enhance the good parts of a relationship, it doesn't matter where you come from or why you are the way you are. It's figuring out how to be the best and how to appreciate each other for who you both actually are and honor that and prize that. 

It's just extraordinary when couples can learn how to do that. That's why I really wanted to share this with you. Let's face it, if your relationship has been feeling challenging lately, if you're like most people, you're probably thinking a lot about the issues, right? I have been there too. It's easy to feel irritated or resentful or wish your partner would do something differently, they could talk to you differently, the tone they're using, they could do things that would help you feel more connected or more in love with them

I think that wanting a better relationship is fantastic. Also, let's just acknowledge the fact that you've been listening to this podcast or other relationship podcasts hoping to get some tips just says so much about your hope for yourself and for the relationship and that's wonderful. People can absolutely improve their process, I believe that 100%. A lot of times, when people begin in marriage counseling with me or couples therapy or relationship coaching, yes, there is that hope for improvement. 

There is also often this kind of secret, unspoken hope that by getting involved in marriage counseling or couples therapy, often, and the person who initiates all this and makes the appointment, right? The secret unspoken hope is that this is going to help their partner change in pleasing and gratifying ways, right? I too, again, have been there, right? My husband and I went to marriage counseling. It was fantastic, a couple of years after we got married and that was my secret hope too, just like everybody else. 

That “Oh, this is going to get him to change and understand me and think, feel, and behave in ways that are more gratifying to me, maybe even be more like me because I am right.” I wouldn't have said that out loud at that time but if I'm honest, that was sort of a secret hope. I think that we all are living in our own perspective all of the time, right? The things we feel, the things we think, the way we perceive situations, that is what makes sense to us. 

That's easy. It is much more difficult to really look through the lens, the eyes, the perspective, the feelings, the thoughts, the history, the context of another human and understand how that makes sense and how that can be even strengths are positive, especially if it's something that we disagree with, or be different. This is hard for people coming into the process of couples counseling or marriage counseling and it was hard for me too when I did this and it's worthwhile. 

I have now been, as of October, married for 25 years, would you believe? Even to this day, if somebody invited me to sit down and make a list of all of the things that were different about my husband, I certainly could do that. It would be extensive if I was motivated to do that, it might even be detailed. As I was putting together that list of things, I could probably, if I wanted to, let myself feel bad about some of them, right? Grieved, annoyed. We're all human, right? 

There are always stuff that comes up that's a little bit annoying but the point is that I have learned over the years that just sitting around thinking about things that I'm unhappy with in my relationship, with my husband, are not helpful because I am committed to him and to this relationship and have found other ways of being that are just so much more productive. Not just in having a nice time day to day, but also in creating positive change and supporting growth in both of us because over time, we've both grown and changed so much. 

I see that often in couples that I work with. People do grow and change and evolve and yet, are fundamentally still the same people. Some things, people can change, but things like personality, ways of thinking, core values, core beliefs, those are much more difficult to change. Sometimes they don't change at all and that's okay. My husband is a much different person than he was and so am I. 

It's also true that the things that annoyed me about him and 1996 are still very much alive and well and that's all okay because the secret to a good relationship is not trying to get people to change or to be different so that they meet your needs in exactly the way that you want them to or that they are always agreeing with you or seeing things from your side of the table. It is really about growing in your own capacity for love and appreciation and learning how to create an environment that nurtures growth that brings out the highest and best in both of you. 

Can People Change?

In addition to that, I will say that this work does also mean finding a balance between figuring out your boundaries, things that feel legitimately intolerable for you and that you will not stand for, and that you cannot continue in this relationship until these things change. That's a thing and that happens and that is also very valid. You might be in a relationship where really, legitimately unhealthy, unhelpful things are happening and unless that is different, you cannot continue in this partnership, 100% valid. 

Get clear about what those are and find a way of talking about that productively with a goal of, as you may have learned from past podcasts that I've put out about having healthy boundaries, the goal here is not to say, “I demand that you do this differently.” It is to say, “Here's what I am going to do differently” or “This changes, and here's how long you have to show me that you can do that. If not, here's what you can expect from me essentially.” I will refer you back to the healthy boundaries podcast for more on that subject. 

That is a thing and that does require sometimes working on yourself enough to know when a relationship is actually unhealthy or even toxic and might even be irredeemable when it's time to call it quits. I have made podcasts on those subjects on what is a healthy relationship, leaving a toxic relationship, and also when to call it quits in a relationship. If you look back through the podcast feed, you can find information that I've put out on all of those. 

Again, that might be the case and some things for you to figure out in your relationship, but if you have done some of that work and decided fundamentally that you are committed to this person, that there is enough here for you that you would like to work on the relationship and invest in this relationship, and that you would like to have a more positive relationship with somebody that in your heart of hearts, you know, fundamentally, is a decent person. They have some rough edges, they have some sharp corners. 

There are some things that they do that are challenging or annoying or even hurtful, maybe not hurtful with a capital H, but low grade hurtful. Maybe you'd like to feel more connected, you'd like to have more fun, you'd like to have more communication, or more emotional intimacy. Those are wonderful goals to have in a relationship and the path to creating those are very often paradoxical. They begin with, ready? Acceptance and appreciation and unconditional love. This is a tremendously important paradox and it's true in psychotherapy. 

Back in the day, old school psychotherapists noticed that when people understood themselves and were in a positive relationship with a therapist who understood them, and also unconditionally had positive regard for them that they were not just understood but accepted for who and what they were when they experienced this relationship as being non-judgmental, as being affirming, validating, and appreciative for who they were, it became safe for them to say, “I would like to work on this aspect. I have made peace with these parts of myself and in doing so, I have become intrinsically motivated to continue growing in a direction that would help me feel more positive about myself and get better results in my life and feel better and have better relationships.” 

This is a fundamental paradox of change and it's true for individuals and it is also true in relationships. I have seen it happen so many times. When couples stop fighting with each other and really focus on understanding each other and understanding each other's perspective and appreciating it, there comes this feeling of goodwill and a mutual appreciation and this respect, this unconditional positive regard that all of a sudden, people stop being defensive. Like, “No, this is why I'm right. You're wrong,” and it turns into, “Yeah, I could see how you would feel that way and yeah, I should work on that.” 

It's just amazing. I think we're sort of conditioned to believe that we need to fight for our rights and that the way to get people to change or to promote growth is to be not aggressive about it, but very direct about it. While there's certainly a time and place for direct communication, people tend to respond better to all of us when we're in a positive relationship that feels good for them and that makes them feel like they want to be better partners for us. That's to say it very plainly but that's true. 

Now, again, if you are in a really, fundamentally unhealthy relationship where that is never going to happen, you should know that so that you can make different plans for yourself. Again, I have more information about that but for everybody else, if it's a generally healthy partnership that deserves a little time and energy and growth work to make it be fantastic, there's a lot of opportunity. Here is why, here's why this is. We just look at this from an individualistic perspective of how people do change and grow is through that self-acceptance and self-compassion process, but there's also a lot of research in the field of couples counseling around what happens in a relational dynamic where there's a lot of negativity. 

Stop Negative Relationship Patterns

I often refer back to the work of Dr. John Gottman, who has just done beautiful studies to explore relationships, healthy relationships that grow, and also relationships that ultimately fail. He has noticed, along with other researchers, that when negative relational cycles take hold and in particular, certain ways of being in a relationship take hold, it's just so toxic for both people and the relationship will self-destruct under that pressure. 

Interestingly, this is also true in the context of the fact that all relationships, all relationships have a certain percentage of stuff that Dr. Gottman has labeled perpetual problems. These are personality differences, ways of being, habits, quirks, stuff that is never going to be different and is not ideal feeling for one or both partners. Those are perpetual problems. They exist in every relationship and here's the punchline, it doesn't matter. Does not matter that your relationship has perpetual problems. 

It doesn't matter that you have angry fights, does not matter that you have bad habits, or don't communicate perfectly, or have annoying quirks, or even have significant differences in values, interests, ways of being, routines. There is all of this commonly present in the very best relationships and it does not matter. What does matter more than anything else are negative things happening such as criticism and contempt, compared with positive things that we're putting into a relationship: kindness, appreciation, gratitude. 

When things like criticism and contempt are very high in a relationship, it creates so many difficult relational dynamics and it elicits a lot of negativity from the other person. Criticism would be like, “Do that differently. That's not right, you're doing it wrong. Why can't you x, y, z?” Contempt would be, “You are just ridiculous. You suck, you are hopeless.” Kind of a meta message is, “My way of being is so much better than your way of being and I think that you might even be a bad person.” 

Criticism and contempt will tank our relationship and when those kinds of expressions or feelings are very much alive in a relationship, things start to get really bad. When you are critical and contemptuous in a relationship, i.e. when you are focusing a lot on the things about your partner that you wish were different, that will automatically create a negative response to you. Your partner will start responding to you negatively. They will begin behaving in unloving and unkind ways to you because they feel judged and criticized. I'm not saying that this is your fault. 

Relationships or systems, meaning that people fall into these patterns where they are having reactions to each other's reactions. I'm sure that if you are feeling critical and contemptuous of your partner, it's because that you have had experiences with them where they're doing things where you're like, “Ah! Stop.” It doesn't feel good to you. The point of control any of us have in our relationship is not saying to somebody else, “You need to be different so that I can have a better reaction to you.” 

It is understanding, “How am I reacting? What am I putting into this relational system and how can I think about this differently and do this differently so that I am no longer part of the problem? How can I be doing my best to keep my side of the street clean, to work on myself, and to be as positive and productive as I possibly can and the situation. Because if anything is going to change in this relationship, that's going to be why, is when I start taking responsibility for me.”

In a relationship where you're focusing on the problems, it is very, very easy to slip into criticism and contempt and frustration. That is not helpful and it isn't productive and it will make things worse. It will damage your relationship in the short term, but I'll tell you, that will also really begin to severely damage a relationship in the long term because here's what happens. When you have had experiences in your relationship over a long period of time that have been disappointing or hurtful or annoying or you're trying to tell your partner to change and they keep not changing, we are also all vulnerable to something called the fundamental attribution theory. 

That is a big, fancy term for saying something that, I think, has a lot of common sense wisdom, which is this: when we understand why people do what they do, we can either look at the situation and the context and say, “Oh, okay. That's why they behaved that way. They had a bad day, they were having a reaction to something that I said that maybe rubbed them the wrong way.” 

We can look at outside factors that help us understand why people behave or we can look for internal reasons why people are the way they are. “They are a negative person. They have character flaws, they are fundamentally unable to be loving and emotionally intelligent. They are broken in some way.” It's how we understand why people are the way that they are. Every single one of us humans walking on this planet is vulnerable to — when it comes to us and the way we behave — we have many situational reasons why we do what we do. “I'm tired, I didn't get enough sleep last night. I drank too much coffee so I was a little bit raa!”

We are living in our own experience, we understand why we do the things we do, we have reasons why and they're often true, but when it comes to understanding other humans, it is much harder to do that because we don't have all the information. We don't know that somebody drank three cups of coffee or didn't get enough sleep last night. We look at somebody who's being kind of aggro and we say, “Oh, that's a bad person right there” or “Wow, what's wrong with them?” 

When we have been living in a negative relational system with our partner for a while, we can begin to attribute a lot of this dispositional causality, meaning we start to tell ourselves a story about our partner that is focused on their character flaws, their personality flaws, these sweeping things about them that are negative and hurtful or unhealthy and that are never going to be different. That is why relationships end, is when people have been telling themselves that story about their partner to the point where they have come to believe it. 

I have much more information on that topic in yet another podcast that I did, which is how to stop a divorce and save your marriage. If any of this is feeling familiar to you, you should probably check out that podcast as well. This is super important to know because, again, when we have high standards and high hopes for a relationship and want it to be great to the point that we are focusing a lot on negativity, the biggest risk to your relationship is making those mistakes around perceiving your partner in such a way that kind of allows you to feel almost entitled to be critical and contemptuous of them. 

That it goes on long enough that it really begins to change your belief about who they are as people, how they are irredeemably unhealthy or too different from you, or “We're just not compatible.” Where do you go after that? There's no growth possible if you have convinced yourself that is the reason that you're having problems in your relationship. The answer is to become self-aware that this is a thing that we all do and we're all vulnerable to it. I also am vulnerable to this and everyone is. I'm not saying that with any criticism but it's just a fact. 

Grow Together

How do we become self-aware of our own tendency to think in these ways and then very intentionally and deliberately find different ways of thinking and feeling and behaving that will be much, much healthier for you and for your relationship and will actually promote the growth and positive change that you want? Because people can change and that's a question that I get a lot, “Can people change?” I have people ask me this who are in long-term relationships. “Can people change?” 

Sometimes, I also do dating coaching and people will meet somebody and start a new relationship and already be thinking, “Okay, is this who this person is? Can this be different? The short answer is yes and no. Again, many things about our personalities are hard-wired. I actually am going to be going in-depth into this in another upcoming podcast on compatibility and personality variables that often trip up many couples, honestly because these are things that are kind of baked in and that can't be different and that's okay. 

We'll talk about why that is, but it's also true that even though we all have fundamental ways of being, we all have life experiences that shape us, cultures that shape us. Every family of origin has a unique culture that shapes us. We will always see the world and other people through those lenses. We also have fundamental attachment styles that are very difficult to change. We can become very self-aware and intentional and over great many years, change attachment styles that were formed in very early childhood but that's okay. 

You can have a good relationship anyway even if you have an attachment style that's a little off-center as many people are. There are also other things like ways of thinking, core beliefs, even if somebody is kind of ADD, that is never going to be different and again, doesn't matter. Being different is not the goal. It's figuring out how to be self-aware and to use tools and skills and strategies to be a fantastic partner anyway, and also to embrace this new idea, which is all ways of being come with gifts.

They are strengths. There is light and dark in all things and it's very easy to get real fixated on problems and to completely lose sight of the gifts and opportunities and really positive things that people are bringing to the table, not in spite of their challenges or differences, but because of them. It's coming into a relationship with this kind of perspective that can really change everything. I will say, in addition to all of us individuals having our strengths, we also do have growth opportunities and so does every relationship. One easy way just to get a snapshot as to what some of those strength and growth opportunities are for your relationship is just to do a simple relationship assessment.

I have put one together on our website. There are many others, of course, but if you'd like to take my How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz, it's at growingself.com/relationship-quiz. It's about 22 questions, it's fairly high level. We have much more in depth relationship assessments we use for our clients, but I'll give you a snapshot on a number of different domains that are really important for most couples around what are strengths for you. 

I bet even if your relationship has been feeling difficult lately, it's unusual for somebody to take that assessment and not have any strengths or positive aspects about your relationship or about your partnership. If you've been feeling kind of “Ughh” about things lately, that might be a good place to start. It also offers, I think, a more structured roadmap around like, “Okay, here are things that we can work on” as opposed to just falling into bad feelings about each other because that tends to not be productive. In addition to embracing this idea of strengths, growth opportunities, and gifts, and all things, it is also really important to have an appreciative relationship that is founded on positivity to also become self-aware about your, and when I say your, I mean our, expectations about what should be happening in a relationship. 

I cannot even tell you, as a marriage counselor, how much unhappiness, and even mayhem, stemmed from people going into relationships with unexplored, and often subconscious, expectations about what relationships should be, what love is, how love should be shown, who should be in charge of what, how people should communicate, how people should parent. I don't know if you're noticing a pattern in what I'm saying here, that “should” word is the apparent part of this because we all have our biases about what should be happening that are very much coming from our life experiences, our cultural norms, what we learned in our families of origin or from other people. 

There actually are many different ways of being that are all just fine. There is a wide range of acceptable behaviors and there is no one “should.” There is no truth with a capital T. There are, if you imagine, kind of a bell curve at the extreme ends of that bell curve. There are sets of behaviors that are actually not helpful for anyone. There is abusive behavior, there is neglectful behavior. We don't want to go into those corners, but there's a wide range of behaviors in the middle of that that are actually okay. 

Getting very stuck on things being the way that you were taught they should be is just a recipe for unhappiness. One of the easiest ways to shift into appreciation and positivity is to get clear on what you were taught and what subconscious things might be bubbling around in your brain about what should be happening. Because that is often the cause of a lot of unhappiness and bad feeling, is like when there is a gap between what we believe should be happening and then what is actually happening in a relationship with ourselves, with friends, at work. 

This is not just unique to relationships, but the bigger that gap between what you believe should be happening and what is actually happening is what creates bad feelings for a lot of people. Sometimes, when we have feelings of distress or dissatisfaction, that's a signal to us. Like, “Okay, maybe I do need to make some changes here.” A lot of times, the easier way is like, “Okay, what am I telling myself about what should be happening? What is my own inner narrative about the situation?” 

When we can tap into that, that's really very, very powerful. I've additionally done some podcasts around getting in touch with your shadow self or how to understand subconscious thoughts. There are a lot of applications for those things in many areas of our life that if you're interested, you can just look back in the podcast feed for those episodes, as well. I'm going to put links to all these stuff in the show notes for this episode too so it'll be all in one place for you. 

When it comes to our subconscious beliefs about what our relationships should be, there are a lot. Think about just for a second what your ultimate relationship dream fantasy if your relationship was as good as it could possibly be. Most people, it's some combination of being with a person who really knows you, gets you, understands you inside and out, and loves you for exactly who and what you are, who does not judge you, or criticize you, but understands your point of view, who has compassion for your pain and for the things that you've lived through in your life, and who knows that you are doing the very best that you can do like every single day, you are trying really hard. 

Your ideal partner is somebody who you can be vulnerable with, who is emotionally safe for you, who loves you unconditionally, and who knows and has compassion for everything about you, even things in your past that you might feel bad about or even ashamed of like it's okay. Also, in addition to that acceptance, somebody who inspires you to be your best and who lifts you up, who encourages you, someone who you can learn from, grow with, build a beautiful future with together.

There's that but also you'll have somebody who doesn't expect you to be perfect. They accept your imperfections and instead, I think, focus on your growth, your wins, the best part of you. You are working so hard and trying so hard, are doing such a good job and you are better today than you were six months ago. Really seeing the impact of how hard you try, and if we wanted to get real granular, this ideal person also has a great relationship with their parents and with your parents, but who is also really good at setting boundaries. They are super patient, they don't ever yell at the kids. 

They're great with money, but they're not controlling. They're just good with money. They're fun. They like to do the things that you like to do. They make you laugh, they're easy to talk to. They're fun to have sex with. They smell good. They are hard workers but not workaholics. They are great parents. They're conscientious. They're successful in their careers. They're responsible, but they also like to have a good time. They're interested in you. They're interesting, they're educated, they have lots of friends, they're socially savvy but they really want to hang out with you. They're hot. 

They do things around the house without being asked. You don't have to bug them about it, and basically, they're psychic. They know what you're thinking, what you're feeling, what you're needing, what you're wanting without you ever having to say it. They shower you with love and attention, they make you dinner, they buy you presents, and feeling their love and appreciation of you no matter what. 

Okay, so as I'm saying all these things out loud, I just made this little list, but I have heard all of these things from couples that I work with, even me in my own life. If any one of these are feeling a little bit out with my husband, it's very easy to say something about that. When we think about this all as a whole, dump it all out, all of the expectations, all of the hopes and ideas that we have about what a relationship could be, I think it becomes easier to see that, “Oh, nobody can actually be all of this.” I think here is a moment of humility like, “I am not all of those things. I can't do all of that consistently every single day perfectly for my husband. 

I try to do most of those things sometimes but not all the time and yet that hope, that true need that we have inside of all of us is that hope to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are, even if we don't always say the right thing, or do the right thing, or even know what to do, that we make mistakes but that we're seen for the best parts of ourselves and not the worst parts of ourselves, right? I think just keeping that idea in mind, the things that we want from others, “How do we be that?” 

That's the real work that is available to any of us in a relationship and very consciously pulling ourselves back from getting hurt or irritated or annoyed when we're not getting all our needs met and thinking about “What's it like to live with me? Who am I?” I think, from that place, that growth mindset, that commitment to acceptance and unconditional love and positive regard can also be nicely combined with this growth mindset and this idea that we all have a responsibility to grow and learn and be the best that we can be. 

In every single relationship, there's going to be a lot of that happening throughout a long term relationship because we don't all learn how to be perfect parents or manage finances perfectly or talk about sex. Who gets taught how to have those conversations? Communication skills are not overtly taught unless you go to Montessori School for your whole life, emotional intelligence. These are things that people go to coaching to learn how to do because you don't get taught them otherwise.

In any relationship, we should, I'm going to use the word “should,” we should all expect that at some point, we are all going to run into points where like, “Oh, I don't know how to do that” or “My partner doesn't yet know how to do that,” but shifting into that growth mindset, this basic idea. “These things can be learned. People learn how to do this, we can learn too and let's figure out how to learn it together.” This will always ebb and flow over time. Case in point, my husband and I now have a 13 year old. We had figured out how to parent a younger child. Now we're like, “Oh, we're doing this.” I think we're both running into walls and have different perspectives and different ways of being. 

Trying to figure out what's a middle path and how can we kind of grow in our new approach to parenting a 13 year old, which is a total different ballgame and in a way that honors and respects both of our perspectives, but it's also the best interests of our child. Trying to figure out how to learn how to do this together really intentionally because it's very, very easy for especially parents to get into passionate conversations about how parenting should be happening, right? 

There are so many parts of a relationship where it's easy to do that. Money, who does what, priorities, time management, so many things, figuring out “How do we grow here and resist falling into negativity around it.” I think the principles that do hold true for good parenting also hold true for positive relationships and marriages and that we have warmth, unconditional love, unconditional positive regard and support and kindness and appreciation and generosity and high standards. This basic idea that people really should be trying and striving and growing and learning in the service of a loving relationship, that's good parenting and it's also good relationship skills for everyone. Applying those ideas to your marriage is what tends to work. 

Okay, I could go on, but I feel like this is probably enough information for one episode. I do hope that this conversation about learning how to appreciate the partner you have has helped you appreciate the importance of doing this — how it can lead to so many damaging and destructive things in a relationship while ironically, we think that we're trying to make it better, it's actually making it worse. How by shifting into this appreciative, positive, generous stance, we can actually begin to create really positive and powerful changes in our relationships, but it has to start with ourselves and then we can bring that to the table of our relationship and do something great with it. 

This podcast is going to be at growingself.com/appreciate-your-partner. growingself.com/appreciate-your-partner. There, I will include links to all of the past podcasts that I've referenced. You'll find a link to the relationship quiz that I mentioned. I will also link to some other articles about how to support appreciation, love, respect, healthy communication, and also some resources to the things that might be growth areas in your relationship. 

How to manage finances as a couple, how to talk about differences in sexual desire, communication skills, emotional intelligence, we all have stuff to learn and learning and growing is a solvable problem. In that spirit, I will let you digest all of this and I will be back in touch with you next week with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Until then.

[Outro music: Anything And Everything by J Lind]


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.

Resources

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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]


How to Deal with Stress at Work

How to Deal with Stress at Work

How to Deal with Stress at Work

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

Music Credits: “Train” by Starcrawler

Dealing With Stress at Work? Help Is Here!

Are you dealing with stress at work? Hey, in this era, who isn’t! Work can always be stressful, but in this particular life space many people are dealing with anxiety at work, dealing with burnout at work, and dealing with difficult situations at work that are simply next level. 

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to stay productive when working at home; dealing with conflict at work (or favoritism); coping with anxiety about needing to go back to work in person; dealing with burnout because you’re understaffed and doing the job of three people; are in a leadership position and trying to figure out how to keep your employees happy; or are evaluating whether to leave your job and carve out a new career path… help is here.

In this episode, I’m sitting down with my dear colleague, Growing Self career coach Dr. Kristi to discuss her top tips for dealing with stress at work, how to deal with burnout, and more. Together, we’re exploring a variety of different career-related stressors you might be facing, and how to deal with all of them. 

She shared so much helpful information during this episode around how to stay clear and empowered in a potentially disempowering situation, how to use mindfulness and self-care to manage stress on the job, how to communicate with your team in order to advocate for yourself, and how to make choices if you’d like to make changes to your working situation. (Whether that’s leaving a job, or working to create a better workplace environment in the position you have now.)

Dr. Kristi works with career coaching clients from all walks of life: leaders and business owners, as well as working professionals, and she has advice for you too. We’re talking about how to juggle work and life, how to set healthy boundaries, and how to stay sane whether you’re working from home or online. So much good stuff!

If you're under a lot of stress, feeling stuck at work, and looking for a way to reclaim your zen, tune in to the full episode!

How to Deal with Stress at Work

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

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How To Deal With Stress At Work: Podcast Episode Highlights 

Listen and Learn How To…

  • Pick up strategies for coping with work-related stress 
  • Discover how to use your bargaining power and advocate for yourself in order to feel more empowered 
  • Learn how to deal with stress at work 
  • Understand the importance of self-care for better work-life balance 
  • Know how to manage your stress levels both at work and at home
  • Avoid burnout at work
  • Grasp how career coaching can help you navigate work-related concerns

Tips For Dealing With Stress at Work 

The Stress of Working From Home 

The pandemic has brought about many changes and challenges in our everyday lives. As a career coach, Dr. Kristi has noticed some trends with parents who have to balance working remotely and parenting simultaneously. She points out that you are not alone. Many struggled to navigate through everyday life due to the pandemic. 

However, Dr. Kristi reminds us to look for silver linings in tough situations. She views these things as silver linings: 

  • More family time 
  • Taking stock of what’s important 
  • No time wasted on daily commutes 
  • Increased productivity at home 

About a year and a half into this pandemic, Dr. Kristi shares that more parents have seen more meaning in working remotely because it has paved the way for better work-life balance and more family time. 

Workplaces are slowly opening, but many people don't want to go back to their offices. Dr. Kristi points out that this uncertain time has made people reflect on their priorities and lives. 

Concerns About Work 

Dr. Kristi shares some of the concerns of her clients: 

  • Not feeling safe about going back to the office
  • Missing collaboration and teamwork in a physical working environment 

She believes that it is essential to stand up for yourself and voice out your concerns to your employer or supervisor. She says, “reach out and do some creative problem-solving.”  

If you have a leadership role in the company, listening to your employee’s concerns is crucial in making everyone feel safe and protected, especially during this pandemic. The more creative leaders get, the better everyone seems to do. 

How to Cope with Feeling Unsafe at Work 

With the virus going around, people are concerned about going back to work. They feel unsafe in places that don't strictly enforce health and safety policies. 

Dr. Kristi's advice is to find a workplace that is supportive of your personal safety. If you don’t feel supported, advocate and reach out. If it's still not working, find the best fit for you. Dr. Kristi reminds you to know the following:

  • how valuable you are
  • what you want
  • what is acceptable to you

“You are not stuck. You have choices.”, says Dr. Kristi. It can be a sign to assess your career path and explore growth opportunities. If your job isn't valuing you, it may be time to make changes — or even leave. It helps to assess your work environment to determine what to do next. Don't be afraid to advocate for your salary and negotiate! Understanding your worth is critical to getting what you need.

How to Help People Deal with Stress at Work 

If you’re a leader, you have the responsibility to help your team stay afloat through these uncertain times. Part of the balancing act is to incorporate mindfulness and other stress management techniques. Remember, calmer people make a better workplace

It can be as simple as starting a meeting with a five-minute meditation. “Doing just a little bit everyday can really help overall stress levels, so that you have more clarity, and you’re better able to handle all the unknowns,” says Dr. Kristi. 

Dr. Kristi emphasizes the importance of doing something to keep your stress levels at bay. 

Various tools and techniques can teach you how to deal with burnout at work. When it is hard to control what’s going on around us, it is helpful to focus on things we can control, which is ourselves. 

How to Deal with Change at Work

While working from home is advantageous to some, it can also be a source of stress for others. This setup blurs the lines between work and personal life, especially for parents with small children.

Moreover, extroverts find the lack of social interaction challenging. Remote work also makes it hard for people with ADHD to stay organized and focused on their own. 

There are several strategies you can employ to set yourself up for success. You can hire a part-time nanny to look after your child. It’s also helpful to schedule your day like you would at the office.

If you're struggling with making it work alone, seek assistance from your supervisor. Doing so is understandably challenging for high-functioning people. But you have to remember, “strong is asking for help.” 

How to Deal With Being Overloaded at Work

Because of COVID, more and more people have realized how short life is. Thus, they have become more empowered to leave their jobs and pursue their passions. 

While that’s great for them, it can mean bad news for their co-workers. If you have to fill in for your team, remember to set your boundaries. Nobody can consistently work for 60 hours and not get burned out or sick.

Also, realize that you now have more bargaining power compared to the past. Find the best way to approach your supervisor and communicate your concerns. 

Dealing with Burnout at Work through Self-Care

In these trying times, burnout prevention and recovery are very crucial. Increased stress levels can cause tension in relationships, affect your immune system, and make you more irritable. Now more than ever is where the importance of self-care comes in. 

Dr. Kristi shares some ways to practice self-care: 

  • Get enough quality sleep 
  • Spend time outside or in nature 
  • Take five minutes to meditate, do deep breathing, stretching, or journaling 

There is power in starting your day right through meditation: “You're starting out your day from a place of being centered and calm.” It's a way of training your brain to cope better during stressful situations. 

Taking a moment to pause and collect yourself instead of pushing yourself to run on empty can help you become more productive

Career Development Resources For You:

How to Deal With Stress at Work: Show Notes

The music featured in this episode is by the band Starcrawler, with their song “Train.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://starcrawler.bandcamp.com/album/starcrawler Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about how to deal with stress at work? What’s your biggest work-related pain point these days? Do you feel more empowered to use your bargaining power for your welfare? Tell us by commenting on this episode!

[Intro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]

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

[Intro Song]

On this episode of the podcast, I'm so excited to talk to my colleague Dr. Kristi who specializes in career coaching. What I love about Dr. Kristi is that it's above and beyond like, “What am I going to do with my life” kind of career coaching. That's very valid but Dr. Kristi goes deep and really helps people figure out how to navigate a lot of stressful concerns related to jobs and professional development. 

The Stress of Working From Home 

Dr. Lisa: I am so excited to talk with Dr. Kristi today about how to deal with stress at work in this particular point in time where there's so much uncertainty and potential pitfalls and just weird things to even think about thanks to pandemic life. 

Dr. Kristi, thank you so much for joining me today. You with your pretty girl hair, it's always a pleasure. Always a pleasure but thank you. 

Dr. Kristi: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, it's been just a strange, not even just a year now, it's been going on for a year and a half. Going on to two years of just insanity with COVID. I've just noticed a lot of trends so I want to just sort of talk about those today. One, so people can feel they're not alone. A lot of people are in the same boat. Also to look at ways they can help themselves during this time. 

I think at the beginning of COVID, everybody was sort of… Nobody knew what was going on and then all of a sudden, everybody's remote, right? For working parents, that presented some unique challenges. Many of us also didn’t have kids at home. I know you, me, a lot of people we know. People like you, I think it was even harder on the ones with the younger kiddos. 

My kids are teens, they are old enough that they could discipline themselves around organizing school time and things like that but my clients with preschoolers, kindergarteners, first grade, oh, that’s just such a tough age to have to be navigating working from home and trying to school your kids. It was an especially challenging year. 

I think it was almost harder that things got better and seemed there was a light at the end of the tunnel and then Delta variant hit. A lot went up in the air again. Now, most of us, our kids are back in school although mine was just out again. I've gotten six notices in one week that they were around positive COVID cases.

Dr. Lisa: Really? Oh, Kristi. 

Dr. Kristi: It's not a normal school year even though they're in school. I think the vaccines obviously are helping things move in a more normal direction and I feel better about my kids being in school because they're old enough to get vaccinated, but I've had parents, again, my clients with younger kids have expressed anxiety that their children aren't old enough to get vaccinated. 

Yet, this new variant is hitting kids a little harder than the last one so it's just a lot of anxiety in general, and then now, what does work look like? I think that work has changed and I personally think we're going to see some permanent changes in what work looks like based out of this whole year and a half. I think some of it is good. I really do and I try and look for silver linings in horrid situations. 

So much about the past year and a half has been out of our control and hard but I think some silver linings were people, one, got more family time. We were all together holed up at our homes for a while there, and then, I think we also were able to take stock of what's important. I had a lot of clients tell me they really enjoyed having greater work-life balance without having a commute, especially people that had much longer commutes. They also told me they had increased productivity. 

Sometimes, again, the kid thing was a little hard when the kids were home too. But increased productivity with not being involved sort of in all the water cooler workplace chit chat, they were able to get more done in an earlier period of time. They were able to stop working and then not have the commute so they could be with their families and they really enjoyed that. Now, conversely, after a period of time, some people miss that social interaction. 

Again, it comes down to personalities. I have some people who were so overjoyed to be at home all of the time. They were fine not interacting with a bunch of other people. Whereas other people who are more social by nature and the Zoom thing just was not cutting it for them. The Zoom fatigue thing is real and they were just done and they wanted to get back in the office at least part-time. 

Now, we're at this weird place in time where some companies are saying, “Everybody back in by x date” and other places are saying, “Hybrid, you're in two days, out two days. We're staggering it because we're still following COVID guidelines, things like that.” Other companies have made pretty cool changes. A large company that I just did a stress management presentation for announced they're moving permanently to a four-day workweek because they recognized that increased productivity in people, but also, the work-life balance thing is so important to people. 

I think that companies that are doing well throughout all this are being creative because what's happening, at least what I'm seeing, is the companies were like, “Everybody's back full time starting on x date.” All of a sudden, I'm getting a lot of clients because they're like, “I'm not going back. I'm not doing that.” Because, again, they've realized throughout this pandemic that certain things are really important to them. 

Family time, work-life balance, and some taking stock of what they want out of life because unfortunately, many of us, and I know you dealt with this, have lost family members, right? We're seeing how short life is. I personally was extremely sick back at the beginning of all this. When you realize what's important in life, you're less willing, I think, to make concessions that aren't in line with who you want to be and that ideal version of yourself. 

I've had people reach out realizing through this time, they're like, “Wow, I don't love what I'm doing so why would I want to go back into an office five days a week when I either didn't love the job the begin with or I didn't necessarily love my coworkers all that much either.” 

Dr. Lisa: Right, right, and now, I'm risking my life for the pressure of being there. 

Dr. Kristi: Exactly, exactly. I think that's been nice. People are like, “I get to choose. I get to do something different.” Sometimes, even the act of enough people making that choice has shifted the employer into saying, “Oh, you know what? Okay, we'll go hybrid” because replacing employees is expensive. It takes time. It takes resources. 

Dr. Lisa: It's a new kind of collective bargaining. I don't know how organized it is but yeah, a critical mass of people are getting the attention of leadership. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely. Yeah, for the first time, I think, in a very long time. There has been some good that's come out of it. My hope is that people can really look at themselves and what they want looking ahead, and to speak up for themselves. Because a lot of times, people might be unhappy with how their company is responding or a certain policy, and when I say, “Well, did you address that?” “Well, no.” Well, then, first, changing jobs also takes energy and time and applying for jobs and looking for things so if it's something that's potentially is fixable, try to fix it. Speak up. Advocate for yourself. 

Concerns About Work 

Dr. Lisa: What an important message right there is that I'm hearing you say you might be more empowered than you realize. I think historically we're used to kind of doing what we're told in employment situations and you're saying that this circumstance has led you to have more power than you might even realize. What are some of the kinds of things that people listening or the career coaching clients that you've been working with are experiencing as stressful that you've been encouraging them to say, “Can this be different at my job?” What are some of the typical things you're hearing? 

Dr. Kristi: Well, number one is complaints about going back into the office, not feeling safe. That's number one. In those cases, encouraging them to reach out and advocate their manager, their team, because a lot of times, they're not alone and that's where that collective bargaining power comes in. Other times, it's that missing the dynamic. A lot of work environments, even if they don't want to be back full time, they miss that collaboration and teamwork that you don't necessarily get that same thing on Zoom. 

Even if you're having Zoom meetings, which is great to a point, you're still missing sometimes the magic that happens when you're all together in a room talking. I've had clients explain it to me the way they would explain it to their supervisor, and then, again, reach out. Do some creative problem solving and sometimes, it's actually during this pandemic before going back in the office, it's actually even having virtual events that aren't necessarily work-based. 

I've had more people come to me and they are in leadership positions who are my clients. They're like, “How do I get my team to feel good and engaged through all this?” Some of my leadership clients who are executives are doing just more fun online things. Ice-breaking games, fun things such as getting them bonded, and then, engaging in more creative activities. Then, looking at bringing them in one day a week for a joint meeting where they can do some of that dynamic collaboration type activity. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, just a totally different way. Listening to what people are saying and “How can we fill their cup and meet these needs” but do it in a totally different way, not just baked into the daily experience anymore and how can people ask for that even if you don't know exactly what the answer is. Because at the end of the day, and I love that you work with so many leaders and I think every leader listening to this podcast will understand that at the end of the day, it's your problem to figure out the how. You know what I mean? That it's their responsibility, I think, of working people to say, “Here's what I want. Here's what would help this feel better for me.” 

Dr. Kristi: For the leaders, that creativity piece, right? Because creative problem-solving right now, that's made the difference, again, with companies I've seen that have done really well and handled this versus not. I work with some leaders who, their organizations are client-facing jobs so it's this weird balance of meeting the needs of the people they serve, the community they serve with their staff who also need to feel safe and protected. It's an interesting balancing act right now for leaders. The more creative I've seen they get with how they address things and problem-solving, the better everybody seems to do. 

How to Cope with Feeling Unsafe at Work 

Dr. Lisa: Definitely. I'm glad we're talking about that but if I may ask, I know that you work with a spectrum of different clients, many leaders. I know that you work with a lot of medical professionals. Honestly, I know you have a lot of physicians that you see. That's probably a different animal. I'm curious to know, what advice or recommendations you would have for someone who might feel unsafe at their job or that they aren't being protected or supported and how to cope with that kind of stress

Specifically, I'm thinking of, and this isn't even a client, Kristi. This is my sister but I know that a lot of people are in the same boat, I'll tell you. She's a high school art teacher and when she started the school year, it was at a school district that was not requiring masks, and she, with what we've been through with our mom, everything that we can, especially also having unvaccinated children at home and breakthrough cases and all that. 

With her first day back to school, she asked students to put on a mask in her classroom. Not only did the students say now, she got in trouble with the administration for asking and she felt very unsafe and unsupported and it's led her to do some soul searching. I don't know exactly what's going to happen there with her career path but I'm wondering in general, you must have clients who are in similar situations where it feels like they cannot protect themselves and maintain employment. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, and that, the teacher thing just breaks my heart because that's going on in our district too, unfortunately. They're out there, basically, they signed up to teach, not to put their lives on the line. It just seems like a basic respect. At our school, there was at least support from administration so there are, and I know this from my kids who are in there, that there are teachers who have said, “You must wear a mask in my class.” The administration has supported that and actually sent an email out saying, “If your child refuses to wear masks, they will be dismissed.” 

This goes back to the leadership piece. I really hope that more leaders step up to do their part in ending this. Now, if you have an administration, that sounds like your sister did the right thing. She spoke up. She advocated for herself and she got in trouble. In that kind of case, I would absolutely recommend there are districts and it's hard because if you love your district, but then, you have to do that inward soul searching of, “Do I find somewhere else?” 

We have had teachers go to other districts for various reasons due to district-wide policies that it's always an option to look at a different district. If you love teaching, I would say, if that's your passion, absolutely. Yes, you could look for a different career but if it's your passion, try to find somewhere that is supportive of your personal safety. It's sad that there are administrations that aren't supportive of that.

Dr. Lisa: I love what you're saying though, that you're articulating this reminder to know your worth and know that you have so many options and particularly in this kind of climate where many employers are very eager to find and retain and keep happy, talented, great help. That you're a catch and you may have other options, If one place doesn't feel good for you, you find the one that does because you don't have to. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely. And I will tell you, again, just from all my clients are career clients in one capacity or another and so many of them have gotten jobs in the last, I would say, a month or so. I have gotten more emails the past month because I work with them on that. If you're not supported, obviously, advocate, reach out, do what you can, but if it's not working, doesn't feel like a fit, oh my gosh, so many places are hiring right now. 

Right now, one of my clients, last week alone, he got three job offers and needed to have a session with me to help walk him through which one, which is an amazing problem to have. Another one of my clients, a physician, same thing. She got offers from three different hospitals. It was helping her navigate which was the best fit. Absolutely know your worth, know your value, know what you want and what's acceptable to you, and if you're in a place that absolutely is refusing to support that, you are not stuck. You have choices. 

Even my son, he's 17. He's been at his same first job for eight months and decided there were things that he did not feel were supportive of him. I said, “Go interview. Everybody's hiring right now. Literally go interview.” He didn't even want my help with his resume. I'm like, “Literally, that's what I do for a living, but okay.” He applied to three jobs. The next day, got two calls, interviewed the next day, and was offered a job on the spot and he's 17. Everywhere is hiring right now. Yeah, it's absolutely in your power to do something if you are not happy. 

Dr. Lisa: I'm so glad we're talking about this and I had another question. I'll ask you that in just a second. Now, I have to circle back around. Just for the benefit of our audience here, say that we have somebody listening who is being showered with job offers because they are amazing and they have so many great opportunities. Do you have a couple of the sort of go-to ideas that you will assist your career coaching clients with in trying to evaluate different positions and which one to take if you have a lot of great opportunities? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, so it's hard because everybody's different. A lot of the work I do with people is identifying their personality, their value system. I do a lot of work with people on values and what drives them. A lot of times, you can have a similar job but the mission of the company might be different, or the specific field or way in which you would be using your skill set might be a little different, could be the area. 

Yeah, working with people to make sure whatever choice they make is in line with who they are and their values rather than external factors like parents saying, “You should take that one. It's more money.” Well-meaning family members. But at the end of the day, you are living your life and so you want to make the decision that it's best for yourself so I help people with that. 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, that's good because it's difficult, I think, to look at just hard metrics. What you're saying is even a couple thousand dollars difference in salary, which you could negotiate, is at the end of the day, so much less important to well-being, and health, and happiness, and reduced stress, and more job satisfaction, and a good fit with your personality, and the company culture. 

The meaning that you get from the work and how it sort of creates this whole life experience as opposed to just, “Well, this one has this kind of health insurance and so I'm going to do that.” That can be exactly understandable. All that matters but, I don't want to say short-sighted, but that's the word that's coming to mind. It has to go deeper. 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, I have them look at it holistically. Negotiating salary, that was something I just had multiple people do. Not to be stereotypical, but I do think I've seen this enough that I think it's true. Women seem to have a harder time advocating for their salary and negotiating salary than men. It's like, “Okay that's what you offer me? Well, okay.” Whereas my male clients are more like, “No, I'm not going to take that.” I'm like, “Okay.” Working with people on how do you go back, so you love the job but you are wanting a higher salary. 

I just helped a woman do this who had never negotiated a salary in her life. We had the next session and she was shocked. She said “They did. They raised the offer” and I was like, “See? Because you're worth it.” I wish women understood their worth as much as men often do. Again, that's not always the case but more often, I think women are not as comfortable advocating for themselves that way. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that's such a great reminder. I know I would struggle with that too. I don't know. It's a hard one. What we're talking about right now, just, I think, reminding everyone of the power of their worth, the number of opportunities and choices that they have, I think that those ideas in themselves reduce stress so much because it's like, “Oh yeah, I don't have to do anything. I have lots of choices.” 

Advice to Deal With Stress at Work 

Dr. Lisa: I'm wondering too if we could talk a little bit about people for whom for a variety of reasons, they are happy enough with their role, their job, they're not making big plans to stay, or maybe trying to find something different is harder than just dealing with the mixed bag of the current situation because nowhere is perfect, but there are other stressful situations that people are facing. 

I know when we were kind of corresponding, you mentioned a unique kind of stress that's coming up where it seems like people in a team are maybe getting different privileges around staying home or having to come in. It's a different facet of office politics. There's a resentment. Can you say a little? I don't know if I'm articulating that well but there are new wrinkles in working relationships these days. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, because with the hybrid model, a lot of employers I think are implementing in more corporate-type jobs with the two days in, two days out, or however they work it. But some places, if people are resistant to coming back in, some of the conflict that's come up is resentment by the in-person workers against the at-home workers, right? They're like, “Well, are they really doing all the work that we're doing? Because we're here and showing up every day and we don't see them.” 

I think there's, again, it's been more of my work with leaders and leadership-type roles where they've described this to me. Part of the work leaders have had a challenge is bringing them together in virtual meetings but also making sure that the work is known. Because it's easy when you're remote that you're doing your thing and working and they are really productive but the in-person team doesn't necessarily know that. It's how you relay that, but then, also, how do you make it feel safe enough? At what time do you then implement people coming back into the office? 

They can't stay home forever by logistics of the job itself. Then, it's been navigating gently, bringing these people back in, and changing those expectations as vaccines have rolled out. Because now, everybody can be vaccinated for the most part. There's obviously some high-risk cases, immunocompromised people, that kind of thing but for the most part, vaccines are widely available, widely effective. That has changed things again. Before, it was certain people it was understandable they didn't want to be in the office because it wasn't safe. Well now, it is much safer, not that you can't have a breakthrough case but they're finding it’s often, if you're vaccinated, not life-threatening. 

Then, it's a challenge of bringing resistant people back into the office, mending some of those feelings of resentment that they've been home longer than everyone else kind of thing. I think that's, again, a challenge that leaders have right now and it's where they've had to be creative. Again, it's where I've walked them through by doing some different activities than maybe they used to do, changing up team meetings in a slightly different way where everyone does a little check-in reports on what they've been working on that week. Again, everybody knows what everybody else is doing. 

There are all kinds of ways until we're all sort of either back. Some places are staying hybrid, which is, I think, great, but everyone's expected to come in at least two of those days or however it works. I think once we get to that point, it's going to take this balancing act basically by managers, directors, leaders, on how to make everybody sort of feel included and decrease that potential for conflict along with just the other thing I'm hearing: overall stress management techniques. It's a stressful time for everybody, whether you're in the office, out of the office, hybrid. 

Dr. Kristi: I've noticed an uptick in people in leadership positions bringing in mindfulness and stress management techniques to the regular team meetings which I love because I teach that to my clients anyway and it's so needed right now. It's just such a stressful time in general. I love that they're incorporating that. Just one of my clients told me they introduce their team meeting and started with a five-minute meditation. That's amazing. That's what we need right now. Everybody's up here with their cortisol levels and that's when you get sick, is when everybody's stress hormones are at a high level so even incorporating more… 

I had a huge national corporation bring me in for virtual stress management training and as a corporation, I would not have thought would necessarily, I don't know again my own thing, necessarily bring in mindfulness training and they wanted that. That was for several hundred people and they loved it and they said they'd been needing those type things just to manage day-to-day stress. I think people also underestimate the power of five minutes of stretching a day or meditation or just even deep breathing, five minutes of yoga. 

Doing just a little bit every day can really just help overall stress levels so that you have more clarity and you're better able to handle all the unknowns. There's so many uncertainties still right now. We don't know for sure what this next year is going to look like. There's new variations coming out every day it feels like, right? All we can have control over is us, not the world around us as much as we wish we could. By taking control of ourselves and engaging in a daily practice of stress management, and again, that can be anything. 

Some of my guys kickbox, that's their mindfulness. I have people who go run, people who rock climb, or whatever your thing is. Just something consistently that keeps your stress levels down during this time because that also boosts, besides your natural antidepressants, your serotonin. All the feel-good: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, all those feel-good chemicals in your body. That also then increases your immune system so that with all these things going around, you're more likely to be able to handle it without getting super sick. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely but what a great reminder though. It's like there are sort of these all these different spheres and things available to you to deal with stress at work but starting with yourself, taking a look at your personal daily routines, a mindfulness practice, maybe some thought-shifting. I love what you said is like finding ways of taking control, really over your inner experience. I know for me personally, I get stressed out when I feel I'm not managing my time well and when I don't have enough time to do important things and I'm doing all these other things instead. 

It sounds so dorky but my biggest stress management tool is making my list, making my plans, those kinds of… Yeah, it's so powerful. What I love is just this reminder to people that in addition to your personal kind of stress management practices if it's physical or if it's mental, there is opportunity right now to ask for that to be supported by your leadership in your workplace

Say, “Hello, Mr. person or Ms. person, let's have a Dr. Kristi come in and teach us some mindfulness techniques that we can use on the job” or “What are we doing to support mental and emotional and physical wellness in our group right now? Because I need that” and to have that be heard and respected.

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, and then, that makes for a better workplace because people are calmer. They're not as stressed. It's a win-win for everybody. 

How to Deal with Change at Work

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, that's such a good reminder. Are there other pain points that you've heard your clients describe lately about just areas of stress at work that are kind of unique to this modern experience that we're having that we should address? For example, and this is one thing that came to my mind, many advantages to working at home, cutting out the commute, potentially more time with your family. 

There are some people who experience working at home as being more stressful in some ways because there's this smooshing together of work and life in a way that isn't actually good. Whereas you had this boundary and a different space when we went to work. For some people, it's time management and productivity stuff. Has that come up for your clients? 

Dr. Kristi: Oh yeah, absolutely, especially with small kids in the home, right? I've had clients, again, have to get creative. If both parents are working from home, they've made actual schedules where they trade out. Someone has a meeting, the other one is doing. Some of them have even brought in a part-time nanny into the home so that they're able to do the meetings they need to do but they've gotten creative with putting a sign on the door like a stop sign that their three-year-old knows means daddy's in a meeting or mommy's in a meeting, that kind of thing and but also for them, for the clients. 

They told me they've had to look at that too because they say it's too easy to go out and want to go play with their little one or go read a book or go out to lunch. Again, it's something that you encourage how do you set boundaries around that. If you take lunch anyway, sure, go have lunch with your little one or however that is set up and then you go back into your office as though it's your workplace until your ending time whatever that is. That has been a challenge for sure because for some people with little kids, I think everything about this year and a half has been more stressful. 

I also have clients who don't have kids and it's stressful because they're either super extroverted and social people and it is really driving them nuts now because they've been home for so long or some of my clients have some ADHD tendencies. Staying organized and focused on their own is super challenging if they don't have someone there saying, “Okay, you need to do this, this, and this” or at least other co-workers that are also working, and then it keeps them engaged and focused. 

Some of my clients with some of those attention wandering or they get distracted, then it's working with them individually on creating some techniques to help them stay focused and engaged in the workday, but part of that also has been reaching out and saying, “Hey, I need a little bit extra help” from their manager, supervisor. In fact, one I had earlier today finally reached out. Super brilliant person in a brilliant line of work and I think sometimes, when people are super high functioning, it can be harder to ask for help because they feel they shouldn't need it because they're so smart when really, we all need help at different times. 

Encourage them to ask for this thing that would help them stay a little more on track during the workday and their manager said, “Sure, we'll start tomorrow” and started doing it. It really is going to be really beneficial for this person but it took them… He's also male, which sometimes, males have a little bit harder time asking for help and have shared that with me, that they feel like, “Well, I should be strong.” I'm like, “Strong is asking for help.” 

Dr. Lisa: “What does that mean?” 

Dr. Kristi: Exactly. He was like, “Oh my gosh, it totally worked.” I'm like, “Yes, it did and now, you can keep doing that.” That kind of thing, I think there are challenges based on certain personalities that working at home is harder and that's okay. It's working with that to set yourself up as much as possible to succeed. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, what a growth moment though because I've had that too and I have personally felt surprised. One client I'm thinking of is just phenomenally accomplished. She is also a physician doing so many things. That and working from home, experience is kind of floaty “What do I do next? Let me look at my email again” kind of thing. It's so interesting, this growth opportunity that people have, I think, who have been relying for a long time on this external structure and expectations of other people to kind of keep them organized, keep them on track. 

Then, in the absence of that, really having to develop this internal motivation and this internal organizational system for “How do I prioritize my time and energy? How do I stay focused” and managing themselves in a lot of ways without supervision. What important and cool work, personal work, to have this opportunity to do that. 

Dr. Kristi: Yes, and a lot of the time management work I do is with physicians because they're so busy and with their on-call schedule shifting all the time, it's harder to stay on a regular… Even self-care track with the stress management and mindfulness because their schedule is different all the time. Yeah, they have a special challenge along with dealing with a lot of medical stress right now. 

How to Deal With Work Overload

Dr. Lisa: Well, I'm glad that we talked about just that the work from home stress, different kind of stress. Were there other things that came to your mind when I asked? 

Dr. Kristi: Just one thing that actually came up today and came up with several clients is that so people who are feeling empowered to leave, absolutely. If that's what they're feeling, they should go seek out what's going to make them really happy. I have a lot of those clients. They're like, “Life is short, I want to go do something else.” However, I also have a few clients who are the ones left in a business where multiple people…

Dr. Lisa: Are dropping out.

Dr. Kristi: As it is, yes. Now, they're doing the work of three and four people because of so many people leaving. The stress level is just at the top. With those clients, it's been addressing tools on self-care, stress management. Again, what can be put in place as far as advocating for help during this time and looking at the bigger picture down the road? Are they hiring more people? Are there temp people coming on? Taking on the role of multiple jobs, I've seen more and more. 

I've also had several clients, due to the pandemic, have very unexpected layoffs. They weren't looking for another job but all of a sudden, they found themselves in the position of “Okay, I need to find something.” Again, that just adds to the stress they were already dealing with the pandemic. Yeah, I've seen all kinds of issues cropping up related on all sides. 

Dr. Lisa: I've heard that too and I'd like to talk just a little bit more. Somebody who's working in a job doing their thing, doing a great job, and a couple other related people leave and they're being asked to do their job plus the job of others. I think that there needs to be some balance. With my clients though, I always err on the side of the boundary side, right? But the balance between being able to have boundaries and being able to say, “Actually, no. I'm working 40 hours a week. This is the time I have. What is most important for you for me to be doing? And that's what I'll do.” 

Those kinds of conversations with their bosses versus on the other side, especially, I think, for small organizations, being a team player and having faith that other people are coming and this isn't going to last forever. How do you help people kind of negotiate when to maybe, “Yeah, do a little bit more” and also when to say, “You know what? Actually, no. I'm not working on Saturday. Your problem, boss” without being a jerk about it? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, and I think, again, it's a good time that you have more bargaining power to say things like that. Whereas in the past…

Dr. Lisa: I would never actually say that, just for the record, those specific words.

Dr. Kristi: I think you do have more power now than employees did in the past because in the past, they'd be like, “Well then, we'll find someone who will and see ya.” Now, everyone is hiring so they don't want to lose anyone else. I do think places are more willing to work with you than in the past. Again, it depends on the nature of the job and your position in the company, right? Because people who are in leadership positions, a lot of them right now are working 60 hours a week.

Dr. Lisa: And there's nobody else.

Dr. Kristi: There's nobody else to give them the work to but in those cases, if it's someone who just… multiple peers have left and they're taking on that work, we talk about who their supervisor is. One of my clients today, their supervisor is the CEO so it's a little tricky but they have more bargaining power than they realized. Part of it is empowering them and realizing that they have any bargaining power in saying, “No, I don't want to work 70 hours this week.” 

Then, some of my clients, it's very sort of ebbs and flows with that. They'll have to work a lot of hours and then it'll dip back down, but then, based on the nature of the job, if it's a cyclical type job, it goes back up again. Then, it's around stress management waiting for that dip again if it's expected but nobody can stay working 60, 70 hours and not burnout and not get sick. 

Yes, it's teaching them how to approach, again, based on their supervisor’s personality, all those kinds of dynamics. How do you approach them where it would be best received? Then, I actually have them practice with me in session sometimes. If they're really uncomfortable and they are not good at advocating or, not that they're not good at it but they've never done it, I'll have them practice with me just to get more comfortable with doing that sort of thing. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, just the ideas you're communicating too. Yeah, we can all step it up a little bit sometimes but that there have to be limits. The consequences of trying to do everything for extended periods of time is burnout, it has a negative impact on your health, probably your relationships, your mental wellness. You actually can't do it for extended periods of time, then it's unreasonable that somebody would ask you to. 

Dr. Kristi: It would negatively impact your work. You're not doing productive work 70 hours a week. You're just not. In fact, most people aren't even doing really productive work eight hours a day. They've done studies on it. You're usually really productive for four hours out of your day. I think that that's unrealistic, but again, the leaders are in the position of “You don't have anyone.” 

I know my husband, they just lost three people I think. He's actively hiring as fast as he can. Part of it from the leadership position is “Okay, how?” Because a lot of times, there's red tape, and you have to go through HR, and all that stuff, but like, “Okay, how quickly can we get the notice out there that we're hiring to get more people in?” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, definitely, and making that the priority. Yeah. 

Dr. Kristi: It's not an easy answer with that because it's a really hard time right now.  

Dr. Lisa: It really is and I'm glad that we're talking about different aspects of this. There's pockets of stress for employees also for employers, so on both sides of the equation, it can be really stressful. It can be stressful to be at work these days, it can be stressful to be at home. There's opportunities for stress in many different areas. 

How to Deal with Stress at Work through Self-Care

Dr. Lisa: Then, lastly, given all of that, my last question for you before we wrap up is lots of stress. What advice do you give your clients for how to manage their stress in such a way that it doesn't come out sideways either in their interpersonal relationships at work, it's easy to get snappy with people, or with other people in your life, your partner, your kids? What do you do with that stress? 

Dr. Kristi: That is something that I've had expressed to me a lot is because of increased stress, people are getting in more arguments with their spouse or their loved ones, or they're feeling just more snappy and more irritable. That's just where the importance of the self-care comes in. It's interesting because when people most need to use their self-care because their stress levels are high is when they tell me they're so stressed, they're not using them at all. 

Dr. Lisa: “I don't have time.” 

Dr. Kristi: “I don't have time. I don't have time to meditate.” That just kind of compounds the issue. It's just sometimes, people think, “Well, I don't have an extra hour a day for self-care. I barely have time for eating and sleeping and all that.” A couple of things: one thing I work with people on right away is sleep because that is the number one self-care thing. It's the foundation of everything else. If you don't do anything else but you get your sleeping right and you're sleeping quality, good amount of hours sleep, or you're rested, that right there is the best self-care you can do. 

I have so many clients that that's where we have to start because they're not sleeping well or their brain is going about all the things they have to do, they're not falling asleep. Yes, so sleep is number one. I work with people on that first. Beyond that, you don't need an hour a day. I would say if you have that on the weekend and you can go for a hike with loved ones or walk your dog out in nature, being outside at all any time of the day is so good. You get the benefits of the sunlight, vitamin D, again, tends to raise the good feeling hormones in your body. 

You only need a few minutes. Walk outside, walk your dog around the block, walk outside to get the mail, sit outside to have a cup of coffee in the morning, whatever it is. You only need five minutes to do a meditation. A lot of my clients, when they get up in the morning before the hectic craziness of the day starts, they'll take five minutes and meditate. They found it's more effective to do it every day just for five minutes than to wait until you have that magical hour and meditate once a week. You get the benefits, all the benefits just from a few minutes which is amazing. 

They've shown MRIs of what meditation actually does to your brain. It changes how your brain is operating so if you start out your day, you have a good night's sleep, you start out your day with five minutes of just deep breathing or meditation, you're starting out your day from a place of being centered and calm. Then, whatever happens in the day, you've set the tone for the day. Even if something chaotic happens, which often, honestly, it does, you feel like you can handle it better because you started out like, “Okay, I got this. Yes, it's crazy but I can handle crazy because I meditated this morning.” It's just interesting how it resets the pathways of the neurochemicals. I'm a nerd with all that stuff so I go into… 

Dr. Lisa: You're a psychologist. It's to be forgiven, right? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, I'm a huge nerd but I'm a big believer in looking at how your brain adapts and how you can change the neural pathways of your brain with the chemicals going around based on certain states you're in. If you get yourself in that state even once a day, you're training your brain to get back to that state easier, and then, you can use that when moments of chaos happen. 

You can get yourself calm faster, much faster. I think people think you have to be a monk who meditates for hours in a cave and we don't have that kind of time and it just takes a few minutes a day. I would say sleep and some kind of morning practice for five minutes, whether it's journaling, breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga, whatever. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah, and I heard some time away in there too. I think these ideas are so important, I think, for us to be talking out loud because I think I know that I do this. When you get super stressed and there’s work and there's all this stuff you have to do, it feels like the answer is to do more and to work faster and to spend more hours and to put in more time. What you're saying is that actually, the answer is to do the opposite of the impulse and stop. Go to bed, stop and meditate, go outside and that is actually the path to…

Dr. Kristi:  Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, Thank you, Kristi.

Dr. Kristi: In fact, some of my clients, I will tell them to schedule a lunch break if they work through lunch and I tell them, “No, go walk around, go get some water, do something totally non-work-related because you will be more productive in that afternoon than if you had tried to push through.” You get more done by stopping.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful reminder. Kristi, I feel you and I got a lot done today in this podcast. You shared so much wonderful information.

Dr. Kristi: Thank you.

Dr. Lisa: I really appreciate your time and your wisdom and I'm sure that our listeners today do too so thank you so much.

Dr. Kristi: Anytime, anytime. Happy to be here. Thank you, Lisa. 

[Outro Song]


Love Language Quiz

Love Language Quiz

What's Your Love Language?

Understanding love languages – and acting accordingly – can change everything in a relationship for the better. Learn more here!

Love Language Quiz

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

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

Love Language Quiz

As a marriage counselor, couples therapist, and relationship coach, I’m always working with couples who are seeking to make positive changes in their relationships. Sometimes, the reasons why couples have conflict go deep, but honestly, you’d be amazed at how often couples discover that the thing causing hurt feelings, emotional disconnection, or resentment in their relationship is actually NOT a difficult-to-resolve relationship issue. It’s the fact that they don’t understand each other’s love language and that, my friends, is a solvable problem.

Once couples connect the dots, gain an appreciation for each other’s love language, and start showing each other love and respect in different ways…everything changes: Toxic relationship patterns start to unwind, withdrawn partners start to open up, anger fades, and the path forward emerges. All by learning each other’s love language! 

Understanding Love Languages

I’ve seen couples come into counseling feeling very discouraged about their relationship, even to the point where they wonder if they’re in a compatible relationship or whether it’s time to call it quits. They talk about how frustrated they feel with their partner; how the walls between them feel insurmountable. So, when I invite them to take a love language quiz and think, “What’s my love language?” and “What is my partner’s love language?” they can feel skeptical at first. I mean, love languages? Aren’t our problems much more serious? Could it really be that easy? 

Actually, yes. A big piece of repairing a relationship is often that easy, but no one would fault you for dismissing the idea as superficial unless you really understood the significance of it. The idea of “love languages” has been batted around as a pop-psychology term to the point that the full power and significance behind these ideas is lost. When you actually take a deeper look into what love languages are, and what they’re attached to, you’ll understand that they are quite significant. 

Love Languages Go Deep

Much has been made about attachment styles in relationships: how we perceive others, how we show up in relationships, and what our patterns are. Less commonly discussed are more subtle realities around what we were taught about love: what love is, what it means, and what it looks like in action. These messages about what love “should” be are not taught to us explicitly, but we pick them up nonetheless — through every interaction we have with the people we’re attached to growing up.

These messages are subconscious and, as adults, we may not realize we carry a firmly established set of ideas about what love “should” look like. It’s even more difficult to realize that our partner carries their ideas about love as well – ideas that are different from ours (given the fact that they grew up in a different family, with different messages and relationship expectations). 

Virtually all couples who have not done intentional growth work in this area have subconscious expectations of what being loved and cared for should look like in action. Since we are not partnered with a clone of ourselves (thankfully!), it's incredibly easy to show each other love in the ways most natural and pleasing to us without fully realizing that these efforts are falling flat — or even causing painful conflict. This can lead to power struggles, a lack of emotional safety, blaming each other for relationship problems, and more.

Learn to Speak Each Other’s Love Language

We’ve all heard of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do for you.” However, when it comes to having great relationships, that’s actually not the whole truth. There’s a platinum rule of relationships, “Do unto others as they would like you to do.” Meaning that we need to sensitively show love, care, respect, and affection to our partners in the ways that are actually most meaningful to them, not necessarily to us. 

(More on the 12 biggest relationship mistakes, right here, if you’re interested.) 

But now we have a new problem: How to know your love language so that you can help your partner understand you better and show you love in the way that you can experience. Furthermore, it’s hard enough to get clarity around your own love language and ask for what you need. How do you figure out your partner’s love language and understand what they’re needing from you? 

Love Language Test For Couples!

That, my friend, is what we’re doing on today’s podcast: Love Languages Quiz. I’m going to be giving you insight into what the core needs are of the different “love language styles” so that you really understand yourself and your partner better. Then, I’ll be walking you through some questions (my informal “love language test” that will help you both know how to figure out your love language. With that understanding, it will be much easier to meet each other’s needs in a relationship, connect with your partner, have empathy for each other, communicate, and strengthen your relationship

Good stuff! You can listen to the Love Language Quiz podcast episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or on the handy-dandy podcast players on this page. I’m also including the episode highlights, plus a full transcript for you (below) if you’re more of a reader. 

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this Love Language Quiz podcast helps you easily create positive change in your relationship. It’s powerful stuff!

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. If you’d like to do even more “learn and grow together” types of activities with your partner, another great resource is our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” You can both take it and use the results to spark a productive conversation about your strengths and growth opportunities as a couple. 

Love Language Quiz

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

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

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Love Languages Quiz: Episode Highlights 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages refer to the different ways that people experience love. Some therapists don’t think they matter. However, learning about your and your partner’s love language can be a powerful and effective way to understand relationships and make them work. They even explain:

  • why we feel disconnected or unloved
  • why there is no positive relational energy in our relationship
  • why we think we’re not compatible
  • why our relationships don’t work

Often, the simpler explanation to these seemingly dire scenarios is that you and your partner have different love languages. Once you begin to understand these differences, you can work on how to get your needs met in a relationship and satisfy your partner’s too.

Love Languages, Explained.

We often hold this false belief that all people are the same and what is true for us is true for others. Unfortunately, this notion is highly problematic. This way of thinking can lead to hurt, anger, resentment, and feeling unloved. 

Love languages help you identify what you and your partner need in a relationship to make it work. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Never assume what your partner’s love language may be or think that you are the same.
  • Respect the things that matter to your partner even if you don’t agree or like them.

Remember: “The key to compatibility is not twinship; it is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences.”

The Different Love Languages

People feel loved in different ways. We are all individuals with unique experiences, cultures, and upbringings that shape how we think and feel. And this individuality can extend to our love languages.

Gary Chapman coined the term “love languages” in the 90s. He originally proposed that there were primarily five love languages in his book. These are:

  • Quality time
  • Physical touch
  • Gift-giving
  • Acts of service
  • Words of affirmation

I think there are two more love languages: building together and emotional intimacy. We’ll discuss each one so that you can identify what’s your love language.

Words of Affirmation Love Language

People with this love language need a verbal expression of affection. This includes saying:

  • A simple “I love you.”
  • Compliments like, “You look good today.”
  • Appreciative statements like, “This is an amazing dinner.” Or “Thank you for making this.”

Use the power of praise, compliments, and love often. If you find it hard to express your affection aloud, try sending letters, text messages, or cards. The key here is that you put what you feel for your partner in words.

Gift-Giving Love Language

If your partner’s love language is gift-giving, they feel loved when they receive tokens of your affection. They may also love to shower you with well-thought-of presents.

An example of a thoughtful anniversary gift for someone with this love language is a framed ticket of the first movie or concert you went to as a couple. Remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive to be thoughtful. Although, this does not apply to everybody because, for some cultures, the price matters. So, it really takes getting to know your partner to find the balance.

Acts of Service Love Language

As a love language, acts of service stems from the feeling of being together as a team. You’re both working on a shared life with shared responsibilities. People with this type of love language feel valued if you help them out.

This love language evolves as you grow older because your priorities change as more responsibilities come into your life. For example, in your 20s, acts of service may involve very different activities than when you’re in a different phase of life. For example, when you have children, taking care of the kids may be serving to take care of your partner too. 

Acts of service are more valuable when you do things for your partner without them asking. It makes them feel noticed, respected, and loved. In addition, research shows that “there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework stuff, sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction.”

Quality Time Love Language

People who prefer quality time love being with their partners and doing things together. It is “this sense that you’re partners in crime. And that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful.”

The type of meaningful activity you do with your loved ones depends on their personality or preferences and can take many forms. Sometimes quality time involves doing something very special together like a fun evening out, or taking a trip. However there are many small, day-to-day opportunities for spending quality time together that are easy to overlook, such as making it a priority to have meals together, tag along while running errands, or even watching the same series together. Small things count too!

Physical Touch Love Language

For some people, physical touch is how they feel loved. They need to literally feel and touch their partner through a big hug, a kiss, or an intimate evening together.

Sexual intimacy is essential for people with this love language, but it doesn’t always have to be the goal. Instead, “practice having a lot of non-sexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship.”

Another manifestation of the physical touch love language is being environmentally sensitive. For example, your partner may always want to be in beautiful places or enjoy food. So, you can also show them love through a variety of “creature comforts” in addition to literally touching them affectionately. 

Emotional Intimacy Love Language

Emotional intimacy is an experience of having emotional safety with your partner. You feel as if they’re not only your partner, they’re also a cherished friend who knows you inside and out.

Emotional intimacy can be confused with quality time. The main difference is it must involve meaningful conversations or things that you can only tell your partner. If your partner has this love language and you fulfill it, they will start to feel safe with you. The key is to listen to your partner with empathy.

Building Together Love Language

Building together is sometimes confused with acts of service because they both require doing things for someone. However, this is more concerned with your future together and not the feeling of being understood and respected. 

An example is planning your financial future. You, as a couple, have shared hopes about your finances, so you have plans to achieve it. This love language signifies a commitment to building a life together. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Time to take the Love Language Quiz! 

In this podcast, I’m going through a short love language quiz designed to get to know your love language, as well as your partner’s. You can also share this episode with your partner so they can understand themselves and learn your love language too. Here are some of the questions to think about: 

  • On a beautiful Saturday morning, what do you want to do?
  • What do you want your partner to do for your birthday?
  • After a long and tiring day of work, what do you need from your partner?
  • What is your most favorite thing about your partner?
  • What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner?
  • What is most likely to trigger an IKEA fight?

In this podcast, I’m helping you think about these answers from a variety of different “love language perspectives.” This love language test for couples is not scientific nor score–based, yet still really helpful in assisting you in uncovering your truth. The patterns in your answers may reveal what really matters to you. The frequency of your choices can explain what your love language is.

As you think, “what is my love language?” during this exercise, you’ll likely find out that you have more than one love language. That is valid, many people do! But you also need to know what matters most to you, because having that clarity is what allows you to express love meaningfully to each other. The key here is for you to understand the needs of your relationship based on the love languages you and your partner have. That’s what makes a relationship work!

Love Language Activity For Couples

Let’s put these love language ideas to work!

Once you listen to my “love language quiz” and think about your answers, I hope that you forward this episode to your partner so that they, too, can identify their own love language. Then, come back together to share your results and talk about the positive changes you can each make to show each other love, respect, and affection in the way that matters most to both of you. 

What’s next? 

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about yourself, your partner, and your love languages? How do you think love languages affect how you understand relationships? Share your insights in the comments below? And don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to keep helpful, pro-relationship, positive ideas and activities in your life every single week!  

[Intro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Isn’t that a beautiful song? The band is called The Sudden Leaves and the song is You Bring Me Home. I thought that was a nice intro for us today because today, we’re talking about how to create an emotional home base in your relationship through using love languages. Yes, everyone, it is time to talk about love languages. The term love languages refers to how you feel love, how you show love. It’s kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, but I think not the level of respect that it truly deserves. Because I think it’s emerged as this fluffy pop psych concept that sometimes gotten played down by real therapists who are much more interested in talking about mental illness and psychopathology. But that’s not what we’re doing here. 

The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast is all about helping you be happy, and have great relationships, and feel good about yourself and your life. Although I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, analyst, and psychologist. I’m also a board-certified life coach, which means that I want to do what works and bring that to you. 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages are incredibly powerful and effective when you learn how to deploy them for forces of good in your own relationship. It’s really incredibly important to know how to do this. Because as a marriage counselor, here at Growing Self counseling and coaching, I am often working with couples, who, at least when they start with me for couples counseling or relationship coaching, they’re not feeling good about their relationship. Neither of them, often, are feeling really loved, or respected, or understood, or appreciated by their partner. 

Unfortunately, in the absence of that positive relational energy, people can start to develop this narrative as to why that helps them make sense of what’s going on in their relationship. It turns into thoughts about: “Well, my partner is avoidant.” “They’re emotionally stunted.” “They can’t communicate.” “They had a critical mother; therefore, x, y, z.” Or even worse. If it’s been going on for a long time, they might begin to really genuinely believe: “My partner is a fundamentally uncaring person, and we are incompatible. Maybe they’re on the autism spectrum.” 

I literally have heard people in garden variety relationships with partners who are objectively not autistic. But they are feeling so unloved and disconnected in their relationship that they’re trying to find reasons why it feels so hard between them. They can go into all kinds of places. Big sweeping statements about their partner’s fundamental character flaws can obscure this much, much simpler, and much more manageable idea. 

Perhaps, your partner and you have different love languages. That my friends is a solvable problem as soon as you can figure that out. There are very specific and relatively easy things that you can both do to completely transform the way that you both feel in your relationship through intentionally using different love languages. This is really important. I’m going to spend some time, first, talking about love languages. There are several different kinds of love languages. 

Then, I am going to give you a love language quiz so that you can answer a few simple questions and think through them. Through that exercise, get a fair amount of clarity around what your most important love language or love languages—there can be more than one—what those are for yourself and, moment of truth, also what your partner’s love languages are. With that clarity, you can then begin using these ideas in your relationship as soon as today. By the end of this episode, I hope that you have more insight into this and some ideas about how to use it. Let’s just dive right in. 

How Love Languages Help You Understand Relationships

First of all, I’m going to briefly talk about the different types of love languages, just to give you an overview. Also, just talk about how differences between them can create hurt feelings, let’s say, or disappointment and expectations in a relationship because this happens all the time. I think we can agree that we all have ways of feeling loved that are meaningful to us, specifically. 

For example, some people experience love and connection the most when they’re engaged in activities with their partner. Even more interestingly, some kinds of activities elicit more feelings of love and connection because of the activity itself. For other people, that doesn’t mean a thing. Others may feel really loved and appreciated when their partners are telling them that they are loved and appreciated: saying complimentary things or letting them know that they are attractive to them, which is very different. Then, other people, they don’t feel loved unless it is a thoughtful gift that someone has shown them, that they were thinking about them very thoughtfully, turning their understanding of the most important things into a gift or an experience that was designed and curated just for them. That is how they feel loved. Many different ways of doing this. 

Who is right? What’s the right way to give and receive love? The fact is that they’re all the right way. But couples can get into very vicious and painful fights about whose way is the right way when they are different within a relationship. That just boils down to the fact that we’re all individuals. We all have a set of life experiences, family of origin cultures that shaped us, and particularly, how we relate to others. Depending on the way you learned what “being loved” means in action, you won’t feel deeply loved and cared for unless love is being spoken to you and shown to you in your language. Hence, the term love language. 

This phrase was coined by a guy named Gary Chapman in the ’90s. He wrote a book, The Five Love Languages. He proposed in his original work that there were primarily five love languages. There was quality time, which is doing things together; physical touch, which can range from hand holding to hugs to sexual intimacy; gift-giving; acts of service, meaning doing things that need to be done without being asked; also, words of affirmation, so praise, affectionate statements, compliments. He found five. 

Actually, in my experience, I think that there are two others. I think that there’s this planning and building component that’s important in many relationships. There is also emotional intimacy, which is incredibly important for many people. I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t in Gary Chapman’s book. Maybe emotional intimacy was so far away from his own personal love languages that it wasn’t even on his radar, perhaps. But it’s very true for many people. We’re going to be talking about it on today’s show, just in case it’s yours. 

The first thing to know about love languages, this is going to change everything, is this central idea that all humans are vulnerable to believing that other people are pretty much the same as we are. We have things going on in our own minds, in our own emotions that make sense to us; and therefore, we project onto others that the same things are true for them. This causes all kinds of problems in many different aspects of human relationships. 

Certainly, with couples is when people assume that love means the same thing to both of you, that if you love having sex with your partner, and you feel so connected, and close to them, and they don’t always want to do that with you, if you don’t understand that they have different ways of experiencing sexuality or feeling loved, it’s like, “Why? Why don’t they want to do that? Do they not love me anymore? They’re not attracted to me anymore? Why don’t they want to be emotionally close to me?” It’s because it doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to you. But the risk here is that there’s a lot of personalization that goes into that assumption and a lot of hurt feelings. 

In contrast, if one person feels that sexuality and romantic evenings are the pinnacle of connection, and they are partnered with someone whose number one love language is acts of service and is really wanting material help in getting things done around home improvement projects, or child care, or just taking care of business, that you’re both going to feel really annoyed and disappointed with each other because you’re wanting things from each other that almost don’t compute. 

Yes, you might understand that your partner would really like to be intimate with you, but you don’t understand why and vice versa that your partner really wants to clean the garage all day on Saturday, and they want you to be excited, and show up, and proactive. They may not understand that that act of service is the third ring of hell for you. It is not something that you enjoy. And it’s certainly not something that you associate with love, and respect, and the fabric of your relationship. 

When there’s conflict around that or push-back or like, “Do we have to?”, you or your partner might feel like, “What do you mean ‘do we have to’? Am I alone in this life? Where are you? What are we doing together?” It turns into this big existential relationship threat that you will have no idea about. There’s this ferocious anger coming at you all of a sudden. They’re like, “Well, why are we even doing this together?” That can be really surprising unless you understand how deeply these roots go into attachment, and love, and what love means. 

In contrast, if couples don’t understand what’s going on, they will be blindsided all the time by these weird reactions and people getting extremely upset about things that seem mysterious. Like, “What? I just said I didn’t feel like going on a hike today. Why are you crying all of a sudden?” They don’t really know. But if you understand that your partner’s love language is something and they were just reaching out to you in a very vulnerable way like it felt to them, this moment of connection, if you understand that that’s what’s going on, you will know how to handle these things completely differently. And you will begin knowing how to really give your partner that love and affection in the way that is most meaningful to them, not only will you stop having these surprising fights that seem to come out of nowhere, your relationship will feel so much stronger and better for both of you. Because let’s face it, we’re all really craving love. We all just want to feel cared for, and understood, and loved, and respected. Knowing what that means to your partner is the path to create the kind of relationship that you want

First of all, my first tip is don’t assume that you know what your partner’s love language is or that it is, or that it should be similar to yours. Just if you take one thing away from this podcast, let it be this idea that what is important and meaningful to you does not have to be important or meaningful to someone else. But in a loving committed relationship, even if your partner doesn’t experience things in exactly the same way that you do, if it’s important to you, they need to at least respect that it is important to you and be willing to go along with it because it is important to you. It does not have to be as personally important to them. It’s absolutely okay for you guys to be different individuals with complementary strengths in a vibrant relationship. The key to compatibility is not twinship. It is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences, right? 

The Different Love Languages

Let’s do a quick run-through of the main types of love languages, just to give you an overview.

Words of Affirmation

First of all, there are words of affirmation. This means that people really feel loved when there is verbal acknowledgment of feelings. They feel loved when you say “I love you,” literally. Or “Hey, you look great today.” Compliments, appreciative statements. “Oh, my gosh. This was the most amazing dinner I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for making this. I really appreciate this.” For your partner to feel loved by you, they need to be hearing this. If it is hard for you to say these kinds of things out loud, you might consider a little card, or a letter, or a text message even counts. But it’s like, “How do I make my feelings for them, my appreciation for them overt in language, verbal language?”If it doesn’t happen in verbal language, it doesn’t mean the same thing because it’s their love language. 

If over the course of this podcast you learn that this is your partner’s main love language, you can’t also just do it one time and then think “Oh, yeah, I told them that I loved them in 2017, so they know.” It has to be frequent. Daily. Multiple times a day. They need to be hearing from you how great you think they are. Let that idea sink in, especially if you’re not naturally a verbally expressive person. That one can be a little challenging. But again, lots of things can change if you learn how to do that well. 

Gift-Giving

Another love language is gift-giving. If your partner’s love orientation is built around gifts, you will probably have experienced from them what it feels like to be presented with something from them. Because the other thing about love languages is that people, your partner, is probably showing you what their love language is by the way they treat you. Going back to the first one, if your partner is following you around all the time, telling you how great you are and how much they love you, there’s a good chance that their love language are words of affirmation. 

If your partner gives you presents or is doing amazing things, jumping out of a cake on your birthday, their primary love orientation is probably gift-giving. Think about if your partner is doing this, what it feels like to get a present for them? It’s probably very nicely wrapped. It is probably thoughtful. They have probably spent a lot of time thinking about what you might like that would signify something special between the two of you—framing the concert tickets from your first date, and wrapping it up, and giving it to you on your anniversary. That is the kind of thing that a gift-giving person would do. It is going to be important for you to do some of that for them. 

I also just want to say out loud right here, don’t confuse gift with expense. There does not need to necessarily be a monetary component to gift-giving. Although, for some people that come from some families of origin, the expense of the gift actually does matter. I’ll leave it to you to think through whether or not that might be true for your partner. But generally speaking, the gifts that are most meaningful and valued are the ones that come through your thought and from your effort, not from your wallet. 

This one can be a tough one because if your partner has a strong gift-giving orientation, and you don’t, this can be a big step. For example, thankfully, neither my husband and I are hugely gift-giving people. I am anti-gift-giving. I do not like it when people give me presents. I don’t know what it is. I always just feel uncomfortable and like, “Okay, thank you.” But I don’t love it. If I were partnered with somebody who really needed gifts and thoughtful curated things for me, I would have to spend a lot of time and energy on that and be very intentional with how I do that. I just say that out loud to highlight the fact that sometimes, it’s a stretch if your partner has a way of feeling loved that’s very, very different from yours. 

Acts of Service

Another important and, I think, under-noticed love language for many people are acts of service. I think what that stems from is this feeling that you’re together on the same team. You’re working together on this shared life and there are a set of responsibilities that have to be managed for that. When they feel helped by you in material ways, it is very loving for them. I think that this is an interesting one because it can evolve over time. 

For example, and this is super stereotypical, but for a couple to meet and connect in their early 20s, and they’re off going and doing fun things together, and concerts, and motorcycle rides, and having a good time, that feels like what the fabric of a relationship is built on—having a good time together, having experiences because that’s really what fits for that phase of life. As relationships evolve over time, and mature, and the circumstances of life become different, particularly, as people get older and maybe their relationship expands to include a family, and a house to maintain, and jobs to juggle, to pay for the family in the house, just mountains of stuff and a social life, now, the kid is in T-ball, there’s just so much stuff that feels legitimately overwhelming for many people. 

In this new context, acts of service can become the most significant way that people feel loved, and respected, and appreciated by each other. It’s almost being seen like, “Oh, my God. I’m drowning.” For a partner to take the initiative to notice that the windshield wiper blades need to be replaced, and without asking anybody, just go ahead and do that. Order them on Amazon. They come to the house. They’re now on the car without somebody having to say, “Oh, my God, the windshield wiper blades.” It’s amazing. That is very, very meaningful for a lot of people. 

But this is also a very humble love language. It is easily missed because it might not seem directly related to your partner’s heart. But for an overwhelmed eight-armed dervish overworking parent, to have somebody else just notice like, “Oh, you know what? That laundry needs to be folded and put away. I’m just going to go ahead and do it,” they could fall into your arms weeping with gratitude. I will also just say that research backs this one up. There is now research that shows. This is, again, my apologies for any of my same-sex couple friends, but in heterosexual relationships, there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework, stuff together, direct correlation between that and sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction. 

What that means in layperson’s terms is that when men vacuum, there is more sex. I want to just remove this idea that there’s sort of a reward-punishment thing going on. Like, “Oh, you’re a good boy. I’m going to have sex with you now. That is not it, and I don’t want you to think it is. What is true is that when men are more deeply involved and equivalent partners when it comes to running a life, there is this natural feeling of love, and feeling respected and appreciated. Also, in practical terms, more energy to be intimate, compared to, say, a stereotypical again, my apologies, working mom who comes home, and does a second shift, and now has to vacuum, and fold the laundry, and is falling into bed at 11 o’clock at night, just exhausted. There isn’t any margin left for sexual intimacy compared to a relationship with a partner who did all the stuff and now, they can both go to bed together at night. There’s very real aspects of this that can strengthen a relationship enormously for both people. I just want you to think about that. 

Quality Time

Another important love language is that of quality time. Quality time people feel loved by you when you are together out in the world and doing fun things. Also, fun things that are fun for them, many times. They are probably craving magical moments with you where you’re doing something, and there’s shared enjoyment. For some couples, and this is going to be a little bit different depending on the personality and the culture of your relationship, but for some, and particularly if you have a partner who likes adventure and travel, doing something interesting or fun or new, it will be very, very meaningful for them when you’re their adventure buddy. 

I think it’s partly a shared experience that feels like a bonding moment, but also opportunities to have conversations or learn about something new together. Or make a memory, a memorable memory together. It feels connecting to them. I think it touches this kind of deep level. This sense that you’re partners in crime, and that you get them, and that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful. 

If your partner is one of those active people who really likes doing special things, it’s important for you to take the initiative and make some plans that are in alignment with their interests. While it’s always helpful to make it fun, I think that there’s also opportunity to have those points of connection in more of the null day-to-day activities. Some people go to the grocery store together or watching a show together. That’s a very small subtle thing, but you’re still sharing the experience, and having the opportunity to talk about things, and ride in the car on the way there and back. 

For some very efficient families, that turns into this divide and conquer. Like, “Okay, I’ll watch the kids. You go to Target. We’re going to do this.” But it creates a lot of separation. While it can be efficient and get things done, it misses these natural opportunities for time together on just a day-to-day basis. Eating meals together might actually be really important to your partner who is oriented in this way. Then, of course, sprinkling in magical moments and genuinely fun and interesting exciting things are really fun, too. So, yay. 

Physical Touch

We have to mention that physical touch is an extremely important love language for many people. For some people, it’s really one of the only ways that they really, really feel loved and cared for. By literally feeling you, having you hold their hand or give them a big hug, or kiss, or spend an intimate evening with them, that’s when they feel that you are connected, that you’re a couple, that you’re in this together, and that there’s this bond. For some people, you can tell them that you love them a thousand times, and buy them presents, and go on trips, but they just don’t feel special unless you are hugging them, holding their hand, and giving them a squeeze. It’s really important to them, and it must be acknowledged. It must be honored, too, I think, because it’s really important. 

I will say sexual intimacy can be very, very important to physically-oriented types, but it’s also important to not always make sex the goal or outcome or physicality. Because when that happens, it can actually limit day-to-day natural affectionate physical touching. Because if every little interaction needs to turn into sexual intercourse, then people will begin avoiding that, so you’ll have less hugs and less kisses, more physical distance because cuddling on the couch will always turn into having sex. I think we need to have flexibility around that for both partners because that can unintentionally damage sexual intimacy when there’s this pressure-y feeling but to even acknowledge that and practice having a lot of nonsexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship. 

Another little fun fact is that if your partner is very physically oriented, in addition to physical affection and intimacy, it may show up in other ways. They may be very environmentally sensitive, want to be in beautiful spaces. They may be foodies, really into tastes, and textures, and smells, and clothing. There’s this whole physicality around people like this. Just to take that in mind as well. To think about how you can show them love that is physical in nature without necessarily being physical affection like a nice dinner or a special treat, design types of experiences. Music even can actually be important. Just to think about how the spectrum of physicality and how you can show your partner love in that way. 

Emotional Intimacy

We just kind of had a quick overview of Chapman’s love languages. Let me talk about two others that I’ve seen over the years. One of them is emotional intimacy. What emotional intimacy refers to is the experience of feeling deeply understood, emotionally safe, like your partner truly gets you, as a friend too, in addition to as a romantic partner. 

Running through all of the love languages I’ve described, there’s this kind of thread, which is all of the love languages require a deep understanding of your partner. That gift-giving, when it is meaningful, really comes from this deep understanding, and recognition, and appreciation of your partner. But I think emotional intimacy is a more direct experience of all of those. They can be confused with quality time, going and running around doing things and having conversations. But consider that a couple could spend a weekend camping, and making the fires, and going on the hikes, and talking about things that are maybe not necessarily deeply meaningful conversations. They aren’t sort of tinged with this not necessarily vulnerability, but just this experience of, “I only tell these things to you. You are special. I am sharing with you my very important secret feelings. I’m not even sure how I feel about this yet, but I wanted to share it with you because it’s coming up for me.” 

It’s having meaningful conversations and experiences that are emotionally safe. It’s this experience of, “I can tell you anything, and it would be okay. I feel unconditionally loved and accepted by you for exactly who and what I am. It’s okay for me to not be okay. It’s okay for me to be in the messy middle of something and not actually know how I’m going to get to the other side and just share that with you without you telling me what I should do or how to fix it.” Right? It’s just like this shared space, this emotional space. 

Emotional intimacy people, they don’t care as much about what they do, or the stuff is getting done, or even physical affection. Really, they feel loved when you ask them how they’re doing and then listen to the answer with empathy. When they feel that you care about how they’re feeling, and want to know, and are inviting them to tell you, that is really what makes them feel loved, and connected, and validated, and appreciated. They need that, so just know that.

I will also add that for some people that is a skill that needs to be developed. That’s in alignment with some of the emotional intelligence conversations that you and I have had in the past. We can create another topic on that, specifically. I just wanted to say out loud, if you don’t know how to do that, that’s okay. You can learn how to do that, and it is very important that you learn how to do that, to communicate with your partner in a way that really fosters genuine emotional intimacy. Because without it, a relationship will wither, and you won’t know why. Not to be scary, but grizzled Gen X here has seen a lot. You don’t know what I’ve seen.

Building Together

Another and the last love language that we’ll be talking about today that is not in the Chapman book is also this idea of building together. Building-together people can sometimes be confused with acts-of-service people because building often requires many things to be done in order to achieve the big hairy goals. But acts of service are more about feeling understood and respected because your partner is seeing the things that have to be done. There’s a shared responsibility, and they can step in to take something off your plate is what feels often most meaningful about that. Building together is a little different because people who have a strong building orientation, they actually care less about the tasks and more about what it means and where you are going as a couple. Building equals shared commitment. This can be actualized in tasks. 

Say your partner really wants you to do a budget with them, okay? It’s not about doing the budget and like, “Okay, how much money are we going to spend in July?” It’s really around, “We have shared hopes and goals for our financial future as a couple, and we are working towards something. Ten years from now, this is what our life will be like because we are doing these things today.” It’s very future-oriented. It’s making plans, and then, doing things in the present moment that actualize those plans. 

An acts-of-service person would be very happy if you painted the bedroom because it needs to be done. A building-together person would be very happy to paint the bedroom because it will increase the resale value of this house, so when you sell it, you’ll be better able to buy your actual dream home, which is this. Already, there’s a magazine picture of it cut out on a little bulletin board. That’s the dream board. That’s the building-together person. Some of the activities can be the same, but the intentions and the meaning behind it is pretty different. 

If you don’t understand that about your partner, that these future plans and being in alignment about future plans are really how they feel loved and secure, that your partnership is forward-moving, there’s commitment, that’s how they feel loved—big, heavy ideas. I thank you, though, for talking through these with me. Because, again, if you don’t understand this and what’s really happening underneath some of these little moments, like when your partner comes in for a hug or when your partner says, “I think we should paint the bedroom on Saturday,” you can miss so much. I hope that this overview helps you understand more deeply what’s at the core. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Now, I also promised you a love language quiz, and I’m going to give you this quiz. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a pretty clear sense, as if you didn’t already, but you’ll have more clarity around your love language and that of your partner too. It might actually be a fun thing, particularly, if you’re listening to this on your own right now. Send this to your partner, get them to listen through it, and get them to listen to the love language quiz so that they have more insight around their own love language and yours so that they can show you love in the ways we’re talking about, too. 

Okay, let’s do a love language quiz together now so that you can get clarity about your love language and that of your partner’s. 

Here is question one: You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning, and the first thing you want to do is…? What just popped into your head? Was it… 

A: Have sex with your partner.

B: Get in the car and go do something fun for the rest of the day.

C: Have a leisurely brunch with your partner and just talk about everything that’s been happening lately, work, stuff, life, friends.

D: Would you love to have your partner take care of the kids for a little while or handle another task, so you can just go back to sleep for a few more minutes? 

E: Are you waking up thinking about what wonderful things your partner might have in store for you today? Are you hoping that they might have made you breakfast? 

Is your hope that you might get a kiss and an “I love you so much” from your partner, who’s just laying there in bed beside you, just staring at you with love in their eyes, and say, “Oh, my God. You’re so beautiful,” even when you just wake up? 

Or when you wake up on a Saturday morning, is the first thought in your head that’s about: “What are we going to do today? We need to get started on this big home-improvement project, need to go to the hardware store and get some stuff, planning for the next big thing.” 

Is that what your ideal Saturday would look like? Think about that. In those responses, you are going to have some ideas about what your love language is. 

Okay, here’s another one: Think about your upcoming birthday, your next birthday, and what you would like most your partner to do for you. Is it, first of all… 

A: plan a romantic sensual evening? 

B: Take you out to do something that you love, like going on a fun weekend, seeing a show, getting together with friends? 

C: Nothing fancy, just clear the calendar, so they can spend the whole day connecting with you. Going on walks, talking about what the last year has been like, what you’d like the next year to be like.

D: Would you love for them to handle all the to-do’s so that you can take the day off and just have some guilt-free self-care time? Go to the spa, get a pedicure, go ride your motorcycle. 

Are you wishing that they would surprise you with a thoughtful, meaningful gift? Bonus points if it’s extra special and nicely wrapped. Are you wishing that they would give you a card or a letter that is just them pouring out all their heartfelt feelings for you? 

Or would you like your birthday to be all about their connecting it with a milestone for your shared life together? That they would propose that they would say, “This time next year, you’re going to be pregnant.” Or “This time next year we’re going to be living in Los Angeles, and you’re going to have your dream job, and here’s how we’re going to do it.” Is it celebrating the milestones and talking about what’s next? 

Okay, next question: After a really rough day at work, just imagine you are drained, you’re fried, you’re frazzled, you’re all the things like, “Ahh.” What do you really, really need from your partner? Is it…

A: A big, long hug? 

B: Getting their help in shifting gears. Like going for a walk together, watching a fun show, talking about vacation plans, and like, “Hey, let’s get out of here. Let’s go for a ride. Whatever.”

C: Is it that you really, really want their full attention while you just talk about everything that happened? What’s going on for me, how you feel about it, and feel they really understand you, just why this day was so hard and what it feels like to be you. 

D: After a long day, you would really like for them to figure out what the heck we’re going to have for dinner, and make it, and then do the dishes, so I don’t have to deal with it. I’m just going to lay here on the couch and stare at a wall and back. Somebody else is making my dinner. I don’t care what it is. 

E: You would love them to get you a little care package or special treat or nice thing that reminds you, like when you wake up tomorrow morning, there’s a bouquet of flowers that can stay at your work desk all day so that you feel loved and cared for and they know that you’re going through a hard time because you’re looking at the flowers. 

If you just had a hard day, do you love being reminded that you are strong, smart, and competent, and you’re doing a really great job under difficult circumstances? “All those people you work with are jerks, and they don’t appreciate you enough. You are amazing. You’re going to get to the next level and just never have to talk to any of the people again. I am on your side no matter what happens.” Is that what you want? 

Or lastly, do you want from them a reminder that, “We’re doing this for a reason and our future holds something so much better. You’re going to be in this place for six more months, and then here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s what’s going to happen after that. This is just one step on the large and winding staircase towards our ideal life that we are building together. I’m here with you in that.” What do you want? 

Now, you might also be thinking that, “I want all of those. Yes, please. I would like every single one of those things.” Valid. That is absolutely valid. But what means the most to you? As you think through these, if you could only have one, what would it be? Then, what would be the second most important thing for you? Because if everything is important, nothing is important. This exercise is about how to get clarity around your love languages. These are all nice, but think about which ones would be most meaningful for you. 

Okay, now, next question: What is your most favorite thing about your partner? 

Is it that they are a great kisser, and hugger, and they smell good, and it feels wonderful to be with them, and you love your sex life with them, that they make you feel really good? 

Or is your favorite thing about your partner that you guys are adventure partners? You have so much fun together even if you’re just out doing random things. They can make you laugh while you’re in line at the grocery store. That kind of thing.

Is your favorite thing about your partner that you feel understood by them? That they really care about your feelings, and they’re your best friend, and they know you inside and out. You can share anything, and it is emotionally safe. 

Is your favorite thing about your partner the fact that they proactively take care of practical things and your shared life together just to make your life easier? 

Or is it that they are incredible about treating you with special things or experiences that make life worth living? Are they thoughtful and just, “Bing, here’s the cherry on top” that you weren’t even expecting but somehow, they just magically know exactly what to do. 

Or is it that you feel like your partner is your number one fan. They are always reminding you of how much they love you, and appreciate you, and they’re attracted to you, and they think you’re smart. They just fill up your cup with words of admiration, praise, and affection. 

Or lastly, is it that your partner is really deeply committed to the vision of your shared life together? That you know your values are in alignment, you are going in the same direction, and you’re actively creating the life that you both want? 

Okay, two more questions. The next question I have for you: What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner? 

Is it wishing that you had more physical intimacy? Like, “Yes, hugs, kisses, but also, I would like to have more sex. I would like to have more sex with my partner. When I feel connected physically, that is when I feel closest to them.” 

B: Is it that you wish you had more fun together? Do you feel like your life has kind of got a little bit boring, and you just wish that you had more opportunities to go out and do fun things and things that you both have a good time with? 

C: Is it that you wish you had more emotional intimacy in your relationship? Deep, honest conversations that make you feel connected, more emotionally validated, less maybe criticism and more just unconditionally positive emotional support?

Or is it that you wish your partner was more proactive about day-to-day things that you don’t feel like everything was on you? Everything from childcare to cleaning to just stuff that needs to get done. Do you feel like you’re always having to bug them to do stuff instead of them just noticing things that need to be done? 

Or is it that you wish your partner would put more thought and energy into thinking about what would be nice for you? If it was planning gifts or trips or even meals or evenings. Just feeling considered and that they were trying to make things special for you and nice for you, the way that you would make it special and nice for them. 

Or is it that you wish your partner was more positive about you or more demonstrative, more complimentary, more expressive of their feelings of love and respect for you? Or do you feel you have to ask them to say something nice to you? Is that what you would like to be different? 

Or lastly, do you wish that you and your partner had more shared hopes and dreams for the long haul and that your partner was more actively involved in building things with you? Is it hard for you to get them to talk about the future and what they’d like just so that you can feel you’re moving forward together? 

Just as an aside here in the quiz, and not to be certainly negative at all, but I think that considering our points of dissatisfaction with our relationships can also be very illuminating when it comes to understanding our love language and also that of our partner. Because if you have a love language that your partner either is not aware of or is indifferent around, one of those things that I just said is probably going to be a little like, “Ooh” for you. That’s completely okay, does not mean a bad thing about your relationship. It’s just a growth opportunity, right? That’s why we’re doing this, as always. 

Okay, very last question, and this is my IKEA relationship question. If you don’t know what an IKEA is, it is a Swedish retailer. They sell furniture and home goods. They’re these giant furniture stores, basically. They are all over North America, Europe, Asia. If you live within 300 miles of IKEA, you will be able to relate to this. But in the event that you haven’t, as you listen to the questions, just think about another trip to a furniture or home-goods store that you may have taken with your partner in the last year or two. All right. Here’s the IKEA question. Virtually, every couple has had a fight related to an IKEA excursion. It’s impossible to not to. I have had one. Everybody I know has had one. 

Now, the question is what is the most likely thing to trigger your IKEA fight? Is it…

One: That you start feeling stressed out, frazzled, exhausted, overwhelmed, and/or hungry? Like you just have got to get out of that IKEA ASAP into the light of day, but your partner wasn’t done yet, and you’re freaking out?

Or is it B: When you start venting about how much you have hated wasting a day of your life trapped in an IKEA? You would so much rather be doing something else. “This was a wasted day. We could have gone on a bike ride, we could have done anything, and I’m stuck here.” Is that why you would have gotten in a fight? 

C: You get into fights about IKEA because you’re not on the same page about what we thought we should get. Now, we are in a fight about different perspectives. “Who was right? This is wrong. You are being ridiculous, and we were not in alignment. I thought we were here to get a new kitchen, you thought we were here just looking around. You think it’s a bad idea to get a new kitchen.” Miscommunication. 

D: Your fights in IKEA are usually related to when you feel resentful that you are the one thinking about what we need. You are planning the decor. You’re picking everything out. You are thinking about what would be a good thing to have in the kid’s room. Your partner is present, but they are completely checked out and passive. They are not participating in decision-making. They’re just standing there. They’ll do something if you tell them to but not until you told them to, and it is just bugging the heck out of you. 

E: You will get in a fight in or about an IKEA because one of you thinks their stuff is cheap and that we should aim higher, but the other one of you thinks it’s a good bargain. It’s fine. It’s just as good as anything else, really, and it doesn’t cost that much. What are you trying to do to our finances anyway? There’s big vicious arguments about the quality of the stuff that you should have in your life. 

Or another IKEA fight reason is that you start to bicker when your partner is stressed out, and getting really grumpy, and impatient, and irritable just being negative, and cranky, and saying negative things and, “Why are we here?”, feeling like they’re mad at you for being there at that IKEA. This isn’t fun anymore and they should be nicer to you. 

Lastly, do you get in fights related to IKEA because you would love to go to an IKEA or anywhere for that matter and buy furniture together but your partner doesn’t want to because maybe they’re not that committed? “What does it mean that you don’t want to buy furniture with me?” Okay, let all those sink in. 

You may have gotten into an IKEA fight for a different reason than the one that I’ve described, but those are the big ones. They are also the ones that are primarily related to love languages. 

Those questions, like everything else on this love language quiz, are in order. There is, first of all, questions about physical affection. Then, questions, number two answers are about quality time. The third question in line is about emotional intimacy, or the third answer I should say. The fourth answer is about acts of service. The fifth answer is about gift-giving.  The sixth answer is about words of affirmation. And the seventh answer is about building together. 

As you write down all your questions, you may start to notice patterns in your answers. Was it primarily the second question? Was it primarily the seventh question? Again, this is not a scientific score-based kind of thing. But primarily, if there are patterns around your answers, if you mostly resonated with number one and maybe secondarily number six, you know that your love language is primarily physical affection and then also positive affirmations. That’s just something to know. But it’s also really important to think about, “How would my partner have answered these questions to the love language quiz?” 

Better yet, instead of making assumptions, you could send this podcast and quiz to them. Get them to listen and actually tell you, “You know what? These are my love languages. These are the times that I feel truly loved by you, and this is what I wish I had more of for you in our relationship.” Those can sometimes feel challenging conversations, especially if there’s defensiveness or like, “That’s not true.” Let’s try to avoid that, as always. 

Just having open conversations about this can really open the door to understanding each other more deeply, and being able to show each other the love and respect that you each deserve, and learn how to do so in a way that is genuinely meaningful to your partner. Because if you keep trying to show your partner love and respect in the way that’s important to you and not in the way that’s important to them, your efforts will fall flat. They will not feel loved and respected by you. It will be to the detriment of your relationship. 

It’s a pretty easy fix to turn it around, to know your partner better, and to show them love in a way that’s meaningful to them. I sincerely hope that this podcast episode has given you some actionable guidance on how to achieve that in your relationship. Thank you for spending this time with me today. As always, so much more for you at growingself.com. Come on over. We have all sorts of articles on the blog. We have relationship quizzes. We have other podcast episodes on things like communication, getting on the same page, healthy relationship skills and so much more. I hope you check them all out because they are all here for you at growingself.com

Alright. Thanks, everyone, and I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode.

[Outro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]


Meaning Making

Meaning Making

Meaning Making

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

Music Credits: The Lawrence Collins Band, with their cover of You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

MEANING MAKING THROUGH ADVERSITY

In my work as a therapist I often find myself reflecting on what a mixed bag life is. There are moments of truth and beauty, of unconditional love and generosity, of truly noble selflessness and courage. And there are times when life smashes you to bits. 

What has been very interesting to me over the years is to observe (and, frankly, live) both of those things simultaneously: That in the darkness of devastation and ruin, those small lights of hope, growth and true goodness are often found. In fact, it is often true that going through something truly awful can stimulate growth and transformational meaning in a uniquely powerful way. 

For the record, absolutely no one wants tragedy, loss and grief to be their “path of growth.”Yet, when adversity strikes, as it does to us all, eventually, it is what we have left. The seeds of both consolation and of new hope and growth are left for us, in the rubble. But we have to find them. 

Meaning Making To Cultivate Healing

How we find hope begins with meaning making: Shaping a new story for ourselves allows light to start breaking through the darkness, and becomes a beacon leading us forward.

When you’re sitting in the rubble of devastation, having lost a loved one, after a traumatic breakup or divorce, after a job loss, or coping with a health crisis, it can feel impossible to even think about how to move on when your life is falling apart. It feels like your life is over. And in some ways, it is. Your life, as it was, is no more. How do you go on? How can you possibly reconnect with the goodness of life? Or even with hope?

If this experience is striking a chord within you, I’d like you to know that there is hope — even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. In fact, there is an ocean of hope, healing and personal growth for you. It becomes available to you when you allow yourself to begin to make meaning. When we can find the “why” and allow ourselves to be comforted by them, healing begins. 

Post Traumatic Growth

Amazingly, through the act of meaning making and healing, many people arrive at a point where they find that their lives have been transformed in astoundingly positive ways. Not in spite of their adversity — but because of it. 

Clinically, this is referred to as “post traumatic growth,” and it is very real. It can take many forms: for some it’s a new appreciation and gratitude for the remaining opportunities in their life, for others, it takes the form of deeper and more meaningful relationships, a new friendship community, a new career path, or a newfound understanding of their own emotional strength and why they matter. Yet others experience meaningful growth in their spirituality, are able to find forgiveness for themselves or forgive others, or discover a purpose in life that they didn’t have before. Some people even experience what they consider to be miracles. Powerful stuff.

The possibilities are endless, but the path itself is hard. Very hard. One of the things that can help you through this is connecting with other people who have gone through similar circumstances. Others have passed through the dark night of hopelessness and despair, and in doing so, found their “guiding light” and followed it forward. You can too.

Meaning Making Podcast

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast we’re sharing stories of meaning making through adversity, and how you can find yours. My very special guest today is Jennifer Sands, an author, speaker and 9/11 widow. 

She lived through her worst nightmare when her husband was killed in the attack on the Twin Towers twenty years ago. She knows a lot about what it feels like to have everything ripped away, and yet somehow, start anew even when life as we know it comes crashing down. She and I went in-depth about meaning making and the purpose of suffering, and how we can use our pain to help others.

If you, or someone you love, is currently struggling to find a light during dark times in order to heal, grow, and eventually, become a light in the life of others, I sincerely hope that you listen to this episode. You’ll hear Jennifer’s inspiring story (and I get really personal about my own), and through it all we’ll be talking about how to cultivate post traumatic growth, find meaning in tragedy, and ultimately, be a light to others.

Show notes are below, and you can find the whole transcript at the bottom of this post. I hope that this discussion helps you, if you’re feeling lost right now. If this post makes you think of someone you love who is suffering, do share this post with them. 

Wishing you love, hope and healing, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and Jennifer Sands

P.S. Be the messenger. Jennifer and I both talked about the things that helped us make meaning and find “the light” in the darkness. For both of us, a well-timed message from a stranger was transformational.

If you, personally, have done some of this hard-won work and have a message that someone else might really need to hear, I hope you share it. If you’re thinking about sending someone a note, please do. Otherwise, please share any ideas that brought you hope, comfort, and meaning making so that they may benefit one of our fellow travelers who needs to hear it right now in the comments  section of this post. 

Specifically:

  • What meaning have you made from your hard life experiences?
  • What gave you strength during those times?
  • What helped you grow?
  • What was the first glimmer of hope after your grieving process?
  • What is your life like on the other side?

I hope you share your story! — xo, LMB 

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Meaning Making

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

Music Credits: The Lawrence Collins Band, with their cover of You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Meaning Making: Podcast Episode Highlights

Jennifer’s 9/11 Story

Twenty years ago, Jennifer’s husband Jimmy worked as a software engineer in the Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. The morning of September 11, 2001, Jennifer bid Jimmy goodbye and said a prayer for his safety as usual.

At 8:46 AM, the first plane hit Tower 1. Jennifer heard the news just a few minutes later. And at 10:29 AM, the building collapsed. 

At that very moment, life as I knew it was over. My whole world came crashing down with those towers and I was left with a broken heart and broken dreams and a broken faith.”

However, Jennifer’s story did not end here. She was able to find life after loss

She reminds us: “Whatever you're going through, it might seem hopeless, it might seem like a dead-end street, but it doesn't have to be.”

Contrary to popular belief, living through a traumatic experience can lead to growth. You can:

Meaning Making through Spirituality

For some, trauma can lead them to undergo a spiritual change. This transformation is what happened to Jennifer. 

Before 9/11, she did not consider herself to be spiritual at all. She did pray to God, but her view of Him was superficial and short-sighted. She admits: “I never really analyzed my relationship with God until it appeared that God had failed me.

Jennifer’s anger and bitterness towards God eventually turned to hope, peace, and trust. But the process didn’t happen overnight. 

One Christmas, a Salvation Army man handed her a card with a Bible verse. It read: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to give you hope and a future.”

After that incident, Jennifer started to read the Scripture. She realized that she can live the rest of her life without Jim, but not without Jesus. This realization opened up a new world and life for her where she found peace and growth.

If you are in the depths of your despair, you may find it hard to believe that a time for healing will come. However, most people who are now on the other side feel grateful for how their experiences changed them for the better.

Meaning Making and Life Purpose 

Carlos Castañeda wrote: “Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you: I haven't touched you yet.”

The brevity of life reminds us to think very carefully about what we want to do and where we want to invest our time and energy. 

If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want to have done?

Meaning Making After Loss

I lost my mother to COVID-19 last year. On the day of her mom’s funeral, I received a message from a listener named Barb that helped me deal with my loss. It said: 

“A person who truly chooses to be of real help and service to the people they can minister best to, and offers to do it for free or very little charge is truly a blessing and a gift to all they help.” 

It was like was magic. Barb did not know about my mom and how giving she was, yet she was able to deliver the perfect message at the perfect time.  

Service was the meaning I found from my mom’s passing, which is only one way of meaning making after loss.

Using Our Pain to Help Others

Jennifer believes that our hardships “equip us to encourage and support other people who are going through similar situations.”

Here are just some examples: 

  • Jennifer now ministers to widows, whose experiences she acutely understands. 
  • For me, I drew from my horrible break-up at age 16 to write my book Exaholics and guide others in their break-up recovery.

Truly, suffering has meaning and purpose. Often, the most powerful way of meaning making is asking “How can we use this to help others?’

We All Have a Choice

We can’t rush the process of healing. Know that you can take your time and show yourself some compassion as you work through your pain. 

However, we must choose at some point whether we want to stay miserable or find meaning in our suffering.

Another quote from Carlos Castañeda proves wise in this regard: “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong and the amount of work is the same in either direction.” 

Jennifer is a testament to this. She used to dread waking up and facing another day without Jimmy. However, with the help of God and the people he used to steer her in the right direction, she was able to move forward and find meaning.

She says: “You can stay in bed all day and you can be miserable or you can get out of bed and see what God has planned for you, or what will come to you that day.

Finding the Message or Being the Messenger

Sometimes, we need a pinprick of light to urge us to move forward from a dark place. For Jennifer, it was the card for the Salvation Army man. For me, it was Barb’s email.

We have to be on the lookout for these signs that are knocking on our doors. 

Alternatively, you can be the messenger for others. 

I want to invite you to share your stories about the things that happened after you experienced hardships in your life. Here’s what I would like to know:

  • What meaning have you made from your hard life experiences?
  • What gave you strength during those times?
  • What helped you grow?
  • What was the first glimmer of hope after your grieving process?
  • What was your life like on the other side?

If you are willing to share these with our community, leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

Some people in our community are lost in the darkness. So, let’s all light little candles and hold them up for them until they can begin their process of meaning making and move forward, too.

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Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about meaning making? How do you think these insights can help you or your loved ones who are in the thick of despair? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover our various episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Anyone who's been around this rodeo known as life a time or three knows well that things don't always work out the way that you want them to. Sometimes, truly horrible and traumatic things can happen even to very good people. We are then left in the aftermath, trying to put ourselves back together again and make sense of what happened and somehow find our way forward.

Today's episode is devoted to your healing and growth. We're going to be talking about how to use one of the most powerful and healing tools any of us have available which is meaning-making in the face of adversity. This one is for you if you are currently struggling. If you are going through a breakup or a divorce, or perhaps you've just lost someone close to you as so many people have in this, the plague years that we're living through.

But perhaps more broadly. Perhaps you've lost a dream or your health or a job. When any of us lose the most precious and important things in our lives, it is so overwhelming and it is so painful and you don't even know what to do sometimes when you're in the midst of us. In these moments, this is when finding our way towards meaning-making can be the path out. It is a light in the darkness and sometimes, it's a small light. Sometimes, this is this tiny little birthday candlelight that helps to put one foot in front of the other and just basically keep breathing. Sometimes, that's all we have and sometimes though, that light can turn into something very powerful like a lighthouse that leads you.

Sometimes, even in a completely different direction. But growth and healing happen when slowly and eventually, we do find meaning and adversity and start putting the pieces back together again. Not just emotionally, but psychologically. If you are in the thick of things right now, I want to say out loud, you do not have to rush this process. It is absolutely okay to just be devastated and broken and you do not have to make meaning immediately. It's alright just be sad and at some point, the path forward is through piecing together a story. The way we accomplish this, the psychological path of healing is through the construction of meaning.

On today's episode, we're going to be talking about how to do that for your benefit. If you're like so many who have lived through some of the hard things that I've talked about, I actually have a very special show planned for you today. Because I have actually been marinating on this particular episode for quite a while and I wanted to tie it in with an important anniversary. An important anniversary for all of us which is the 20th anniversary, believe it or not, of the 9/11 tragedy.

As you well know, that was a day that so many hopes were crashed and lives collapsed along with those planes and the towers that day. It ended lives. It started the war. It was incredibly traumatic and for many, many people. Particularly of my own generation who were 20 somethings at that time who was trying to figure things out and figure out what to do with our lives, for many of us, that day, that moment in history was galvanizing. As horrifying and tragic as it was and is. It also generated a lot of meaning. It kind of forced us into making meaning to reflect on our life path, our career path. It brought our values into a very sharp focus and at that time, many paths were altered including my own.

I am sitting here today with you, Dr. Lisa now, 20 years later making this podcast and sharing these things with you. I am now in the role of a helper because of what I experienced on 911. It is the reason that I said, “Wait a minute. What am I doing with my life?” I went to counseling school and I wanted to do something more meaningful and constructive because on that day, my cousin Jimmy was sitting at his desk in the office of Cantor Fitzgerald. Which as you may recall was one of the top floors of One World Trade Center. The floors just above where that first plane crashed into the building. He died that day as so many did and it was horrifying and terrifying.

It also slapped me awake and helped me create some important meaning that I might not have had otherwise and it launched me on a different trajectory and an incredibly meaningful personal growth process. Here we are today thanks in part to the terrible events of that day. That happened not just for me, of course. It happened to many. Thousands of families and individuals had their worst nightmare come true that day and were left in the destruction to put themselves back together again and to make meaning and they did. Not just did they heal, but beautiful things grew out of this rubble. There is much to be learned from the wisdom of these thrivers, not survivors. They are thrivers. Some of them became activists, some of them found meaning in spiritual growth, so others found meanings through service or creativity or generativity more.

One incredibly inspiring person who exemplifies the power of meaning-making on the path of healing is Jennifer Sands. Jennifer is the author of three books including A Tempered Faith, as well as an inspirational speaker who has spoken to many many thousands of people, touched their hearts. She is here today to speak with you. This is a very personal interview because I should share that Jennifer is also my cousin-in-law. Jennifer is Jimmy's widow. She is a true expert on how to use the power of meaning-making to heal in the aftermath of a tragedy. Today, I'm just so excited to have her finally, after all these years on the show. It's time to tell her story and talk about how we can all make transformational meaning to pull us through. Jennifer, thank you so much for being here.

Jennifer Sands: Thank you, Lisa, for inviting me. I'm so thrilled and honored to share my story with your listeners.

Dr. Lisa: Well, it's a long time coming. Then, so maybe we can just start there. I'm wondering if we could begin with, if you're comfortable with it, just sharing your story and your perspective of what happened that day and how it impacted you.

Jennifer’s 9/11 Story

Jennifer: Yeah. It's 20 years later and even now, I still feel like I got punched in the stomach when I think about the details of that day. Back then, no one ever would have convinced me that I would ever recover from it. No one would have convinced me that I would ever laugh again or smile again. I never would have believed anything good could ever come out of it but I've learned a lot since then. I've learned that God can bring blessings from brokenness. He can bring triumphs from tragedy. He can bring meaning from madness and that's my story. I'd like to share some of that with your listeners. I really hope that it will encourage them and inspire them and help them to see that when something terrible happens, traumatic happens, but not even anything to the scale of 9/11, but even the little stuff, God can still bring something good out of that if we look to Him and if we trust him.

My story takes a long time to tell but I'm going to condense it for you so that you can just get the basics down. First of all, you know that Jimmy and I grew up in New Jersey. We lived in the same neighborhood and lived just a few blocks away from each other for 30 something years but we never knew each other. Never even met until a dating service set us up on a blind date. This is back in 1995 so it's long before eHarmony and match.com. This was like an old-fashioned dating service where a real live person actually matched people up.

Dr. Lisa: Oh I was gonna say the algorithm knew but it was actually a human.

Jennifer: The truth is it cost an obscene amount of money to do this when we could have just walked down the street and introduced ourselves to each other. It was really pretty funny but the first day was love at first sight and we were married very soon after that. We were only married for five years. We did not have any children but we were madly in love and we just looked forward to a long life together. We were both scuba divers and Jim was also a very gifted underwater photographer, as you know.

Back then, I was working full-time in a pharmacy. I'm a pharmacist and Jim was a computer software engineer. As you mentioned, he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. His office was on the 103rd floor of Tower 1, the North Tower. We live in New Jersey and his job was in New York. That's a two-hour commute so he would spend two hours there and two hours back so four hours a day spent traveling which was brutal for him. Because he was on the road so much, I was worried about him. Because I'm worried about everything. His car breaking down, car accidents. I worried about everything.

Every morning, when Jim left for work, I prayed for God to keep him safe. I did indeed pray that morning of 9/11. It was six o'clock in the morning and Jim left for work and I prayed for his safety. Then, 8:46 AM is when the first plane hit the first tower. That was Jim's tower. Around nine o'clock in the morning, I called the pharmacy to check in with them. I had off that day but I had left some things from the night before, working the night before. I just wanted to see if they had any questions and that's when I was told that a plane had just hit Tower 1.

I couldn't believe what I heard and then I turned on the television. Just like everybody else, I couldn't believe what I saw. It was like the end of the world. It was the end of my world and I remember frantically trying to get in touch with him. I was calling his cellphone, his pager. Back then they had pagers. His office phone and I could not get through to him and as far as I know, he was unable to… Well, I never got a call from him. I don't know if he was trying to call me but then, 10:29 AM is when Tower 1 collapsed. That's when I knew it was over. I knew he never could have gotten out of the building I knew he couldn't have survived it. At that very moment, life as I knew it was over. My whole world came crashing down with those towers and I was left with a broken heart and broken dreams and a broken faith.

But fortunately, my story does not end there. I hope that your listeners will realize that whatever they're going through right now, their story does not have to end there. Whatever you're going through, it might seem hopeless, it might seem like a dead-end street, but it doesn't have to be.

Dr. Lisa: That's good to know. Also, that is actually what it feels like and I'm glad that you're talking about that. I think you said the words like, “There is nothing else like this. I am broken. I am done. There is nothing. It's so devastating that it's impossible to imagine that there is anything on the other side.” I think people listening to this right now who are like, “Yes. I understand what that feels like. It's just impossible.”

Just as an aside, so I know, and what we have talked about on this podcast before, is the idea of post-traumatic growth. I think we always think of trauma as being this flattened view like a pancake and you never get up again. That is actually not the experience for a lot of people. Living through something really traumatic does actually lead to growth eventually on the other side if you do productive things with it. That growth can happen in a lot of different ways. For some people, it's an appreciation of life, or reinvesting in your relationships with others or new possibilities or career change, connecting with personal strength. These things are hard-won. They don't happen overnight.

But another really common factor in this is oftentimes a spiritual change. I just wanted to mention this because the listeners of my podcast might be like, “What are we talking about today?” Because typically, just as a counselor, I don't ever want to impose ideas about beliefs or religion on people because I feel that it's up for all of us to decide our own path and I have respect for many different belief systems. But because it is such a central part of your story, and also as a counselor, as a therapist, I think that connecting with some kind of belief system or faith is often such a big part of meaning-making. I really did want to dive into this deeply today.

One of my questions for you is were you a very spiritual person prior to living through what you did with Jim? Because I heard in your story that you had been praying for him. Was that there before?

Meaning Making through Spirituality

Jennifer: I would not consider myself to be spiritual at all. I would not even consider myself to be a Christian back then. I did pray to God every morning but my knowledge of God was so superficial and so short-sighted. To me, God was really no more than like Santa Claus. Don't be naughty, just be nice and he'll give you whatever you ask for. I've thought that since I'm a good person, I can ask for Jim's safety every morning and God will just keep answering my prayers with a yes. “Yes, he'll be fine.” I would go to church occasionally but only when it was convenient for me. Again, I wouldn't call myself spiritual in that sense. I could care less about Jesus back then. I knew nothing about the Bible. Never owned a Bible, never read a Bible, had no interest in it, wanted nothing to do with Jesus.

That was the extent of my spiritual life before 9/11. It was basically just praying to God every morning and assuming mistakenly that He's always going to answer my prayers the way I want it answered. I always just thought that again, that if I'm a good person, then God will do what I want. That's just not how it works and I didn't understand that back then. Then, when 9/11 happened, keeping in mind that I prayed for God to keep him safe. When Jim didn't come home that day or any day after that, I was consumed with anger. But my anger was not directed at the terrorists.

Don't misunderstand because I'm certainly not defending them or minimizing what they did. We're not even gonna go there. That's a whole other conversation. The thing is I prayed to God every morning to please keep him safe so my anger was directed at God. I knew he didn't cause it to happen but he allowed it to happen so in my mind, it was his fault. Maybe some listeners can relate to that as well, being angry at God. Maybe that's something they're dealing with right now.

Dr. Lisa: Right. It's almost like a double trauma in a way, losing Jim but also, if your map of the world was that there's an omniscient, all-powerful God in charge, I can only imagine what a betrayal that must have felt like for you too. That was just sort of ripped away. How could it possibly have allowed that to happen?

Jennifer: In fact, one of the chapters in my first book is titled God, How Dare You? Like how dare you? Very arrogant but I think, like many people, I never really analyzed my relationship with God until it appeared that God had failed me. I think that a serious life crisis will determine how we respond to God. We can either become angry with him like I did at first or we can trust Him. We can either accuse Him like I did or we can trust Him. Something like 9/11 or just any serious life crisis, it can either make us turn away from God or it can draw us closer to him.

It was a fork in the road for me 20 years ago and as I stood at that fork in the road, God used many different people to steer me in the right direction. Some of these people had been in my life all along like my family and my friends. Other people just came into my life for a fleeting moment, and then, they were gone and I never saw them again. Other people came into my life and have remained there but God really used all of them collectively in that first year after 9/11. He used them to support me, to encourage me, and to show me His love. To show me His love. Some of them helped me to realize that being angry with God was proof that I still believe there is a God. Otherwise, right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, exactly. It wouldn't have occurred to me to be angry with God because I don't share that sort of map of the world. But there was so much energy directed in that way.

Jennifer: Exactly. I realized that I can't be mad at someone who doesn't exist. Obviously, I'm missing a piece of the puzzle here because I believe He exists. I'm screaming at Him, I'm glaring at Him. All of these people really just helped me to be more open-minded and they really helped me to understand things that I didn't understand before. I started reading the Bible. That really helped me a lot. My anger and the bitterness, all of that eventually turned into hope and peace and trust and it didn't overnight. It was a process. It took over a year for it to happen, but it happened. I have dozens of stories that I can tell you but we don't have time for any of them. I can tell you one in particular that I think did make an impact on my life.

This is one that I would say is an example of someone that God just kind of put in my life for a fleeting moment and then never saw again. It was Christmas. It was a few weeks before Christmas of 2001. That was torture because that was the first Christmas without Jim. Somehow, I found the strength to go Christmas shopping that year. Somehow, God knew that I needed to be in a particular store at a particular time so that I would pass a particular Salvation Army volunteer, those bell ringers. I put a dollar into his red kettle and he handed me a little card which I just stuffed in my pocket.

After that traumatic shopping experience, I just wanted to go home so I ran to my car, I got in, I slammed the door, and then I lost it. I just had a major meltdown in the car, sobbing uncontrollably because all of that anger, all of the bitterness, all of the emptiness and the despair and those questions without answers. Then seeing all of those happy women in the store shopping for Christmas presents for their husbands, that really pushed me over the edge. I went into my pocket for a tissue because I was still crying and I pulled out the card that the Salvation Army man had given me.

On it was a Bible verse and it's this. It said, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.” I had no idea who Jeremiah was back then. I didn't know he was a prophet from the Old Testament but those words “hope and a future” jumped out at me. I realized this must be something from the Bible but it felt to me like God had just broken the silence and spoken to me which he did through that card. I never saw that Salvation Army bell ringer again but God used him that day to steer me in the right direction.

Because of that Bible verse, I started reading the Bible and I really learned a lot. I learned a lot about God, I learned a lot about Jesus, I learned a lot about myself. To make a very long story short, there came a point in time when I realized that I really can live the rest of my life without Jim, but I cannot live the rest of my life without Jesus. That is when everything changed and that's when I really did find that peace and that growth and he just opened up a whole new world and a whole new life for me literally. A whole new life for me.

Dr. Lisa: That's such a beautiful story. I'm really hearing loud and clear the crux of the meaning in that is that, I hope this isn't oversimplifying it, but it's because of that experience, it really transformed your spirituality in a very powerful and meaningful way. You might not have had that had you not gone through this experience.

Jennifer: I don't think you're minimizing it at all. I think you nailed it. It was a transformation and I don't think that ever would have happened without it.

Dr. Lisa: That's the hard thing. There's a part of me that feels bad saying this but I think that for people who are in the depths of that despair, the thought that you and I know Jennifer is people who are now on the other side who can say, “You don't know this yet, but a time will come.” I have in my role as a therapist, so many times, more times than I can count. I've experienced this personally. It was like, “That was horrible. I would not wish that experience on my worst enemy.”

The fact that I lived through that, there's a part of me now that feels really grateful for this experience in some ways because these are the things that changed for me. This is what I learned. This is how I grew. This is how I evolved because of that but it almost feels cruel to say that out loud to somebody who's in the depth. Do you know what I mean? Like it's a disconnect. Like, “Someday you'll feel grateful for this experience.”

Jennifer: It doesn't make them feel better.

Dr. Lisa: That is not what anybody wants to hear right now.

Jennifer: But it's still true. It's just you can't deny the fact that it is true. We know tough times mold us and shape us and transform us. We don't want go through those tough times but that's how we develop and change and transform.

The Brevity of Life

Dr. Lisa: My relationship, obviously, to Jimmy and to 9/11 was extremely different than yours. Just in my very small role in his life but I think that there are many dimensions of meaning-making. Part of it is spirituality and I know for me, at that time, I was reading just a lot of different books. I had recently read one by Carlos Castaneda where he was talking a lot about how the presence of deaths in our lives can really heighten our awareness of what is positive and important in our lives and help us make decisions.

There's actually a quote that I wanted to pull out from this that I think was powerful for me at that time and helped me find the meaning in the experience. It's this: “Death is the only wise advisor that we have in some ways. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong, that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you I haven't touched you yet.”

What I hear in that isn't even so much a spiritual component. It's this idea that there's an end. That there's a hard stop and you don't get more choices after that. To think very carefully about what we want to do and where we want to invest our time and energy and values. Because it doesn't, at least in this earthly existence that might go on afterwards, but that's always around the corner.

That seems sort of morbid in some ways but it was really very significant for me at the time because it's like, “What then gives life meaning and purpose? What can I do that's valuable?” Through that experience, coming to the meaning of being of service to other people and expressing my life in some ways in that way.

Jennifer: I totally agree that there are many lessons to be learned from 9/11 but one of them is truly the brevity of life. It's the brevity of life.

Dr. Lisa: The brevity of life and the suddenness. No one saw that coming. It's just over. If I could die tomorrow, what do I want to have done?

Jennifer: That was 9/11 but we see it now with COVID. We see it with anything. Life can change in the blink of an eye. You can be done here one minute and got here one minute and gone the next. Or your loved ones could be here one minute and gone the next so I believe exactly what you're saying. I totally agree with it. We need to make the most of our lives while we're here, while we're still here and still able to do this. Let's treat everyone as if today is their last day. Let's live our lives as if today is our last day because guess what? Inevitably, one day, it will be. That's a given. It's a given.

Like you said, life will go on somewhere after we leave this planet. Eternity, right? But while we're here, we need to make the most of it and I think what you said before, kindness and service. That's also important because we all have a purpose. I believe that God has a purpose and a plan for every one of us. He also gives us free will and choices to make. We don't have to follow his plan. We can follow our own plan but if we follow His, it will truly fulfill the meaning of life that He has planned for us which will be so much more fruitful and have so much more meaning than anything we could have ever designed for ourselves.

Being of Service to Others

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let me ask you a question though. Because again, going back to this idea of making meaning. As you know, having lost my mom to COVID last year, that was… Nobody really saw that coming either. She wasn't one of those people who was on a ventilator for three weeks. She died of a blood clot on the way to the hospital. It was so sudden and unexpected. Having the shock and the trauma and having to change that story, right? Because the first story, and this is how we have to make meaning, the first story, honestly, and I'll tell you this. I felt like I killed my mom because I didn't realize that she was that sick.

It was all the second-guessing. Like, “What if I had taken her to the hospital? What if we had gotten her care sooner?” It's just this very painful story and having to shift that narrative and to find meaning in what happened which I did. Which was, “This was probably for the best.” It's terrible that she got COVID and that she died. I'm so sad that that happened but this was the way to go. That she was spared like prolonged suffering. Even after that, and I don't want to go into too much in the podcast, but there are so many other things that have lined up since then that would not have happened had that not been her exit ramp out of the world. I think it was actually supposed to happen at that time.

Can I tell you a story? Nanny. Okay, everybody who's listening. We called our grandmother on the Irish side Nanny. Jimmy's grandmother too. She had a statue of Mary that I had kept in my office where I had been broadcasting my podcast on. It was a day or two before my mom died that I came into my office and that statue had fallen off the shelf, totally randomly fallen off the shelf and it had smashed. It was really weird, Jennifer. I walked into my office and I was like, “What happened to that statue?” It was Nanny's statue and I felt very uneasy. I was like, “Jesus.” I tried to glue it back together. “What do I do with it?” But I swept it up and I put it in the trashcan. It was smashed to smithereens but I felt this weird sense of foreboding.

What else was interesting is that my mom's been kind of sick for a couple of days leading up to that and we weren't sure if she had COVID or not. But two days before she passed, she actually called an ambulance because she was having trouble breathing. They came to her house and they said, “You're not that sick. You're fine. You're okay.” Well, it's okay though because if she had gone to the hospital, Jennifer, she never would have come out again so there's that. But my mom had tried to call me that day and I didn't answer the phone because I was working and doing things and I was like, “I'll call her back later.” What happened instead is that she called her sister and they had the most beautiful bonding conversation. I talked to my mom about it later that evening.

They had talked for a long time and there had been some ups and downs in that relationship over the years but my mom was so happy when I talked to her that night. She was like, “I had the best conversation with my sister.” She said, “When I told my sister that the ambulance came, my sister cried and she said “Pat, I was so worried about you. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you.” My mom said, “You know what? In that moment, I knew my sister loved me.” Everything that had happened, it was so beautiful. I remember talking to her and I was like, “Mom that's awesome. I'm so glad you had that moment with your sister.” Having no idea what was coming down the pipeline, Jennifer, just a couple days later.

Looking back after the fact and being able to make that meaning and that sense that there was closure, there were sort of signs that it was coming, helped me wrap my mind around this. Like, “No, it's okay. It's okay that it happened this way.” Because before, I had been totally blaming myself and beating myself up. Actually, I want to do a shout-out right now too and to let you know this too, Jennifer. That in that period, it was actually the day of my mom's funeral. I was feeling so bad. I was feeling like I was just… I had stayed up all night the night before putting together a slideshow for her. Just all of her life and all these pictures. It was just my mom being this selfless angel doing all these wonderful things for other people. She was just such a giver.

I was just like, “Oh my god. I was such a horrible daughter. She did all this stuff for me. What did I do for her?” At my mom's memorial service, I read that book The Giving Tree because that was basically my mom. I was just feeling so terrible and I actually had a listener of this podcast, shout out to Barb, send me this random email that day, the day of my mom's memorial service. I get these every once in a while but not like this message from Barb. I actually snagged this for you. “A person who truly chooses to be of real help and service to the people they can minister best to and offers to do it for free or for little charge is truly a blessing and a gift to all they help. Your calling and your life's work makes such a large difference for so many known and unknown. Now, I am known to have been helped by you and on behalf of all the unknowns, I thank you and express my gratitude for your insight and for your continued help.”

That was the note that I got on the day of my mom's funeral when I was feeling this terrible worm. That was my mom's legacy. My mom was so generous and such a giver. Even though I hadn't been the best daughter in the world, she's here because I'm here doing this. Also, Jennifer, because of Jimmy. I feel like these things are legacies. That was the meaning that I was able to find in it was through service and I just wanted to share that story. For you so you know but also for listeners. There are so many ways of finding meaning. Mine, personally, is through service. Yours is through spirituality. There are other ways that we can make meaning.

Jennifer: There are many other ways and I think what you're saying is such a beautiful story and I thank you for sharing that and how much Barb encouraged you on a day that you really needed it. You needed it.

Dr. Lisa: That was magic. You know what? She was connected to something.

Using Our Pain to Help Others

Jennifer: Yeah, because she couldn't have known it. That's how I look at it, hindsight. You can look back on that now and you can see, again I'm coming from the spiritual aspect, I see God's hand and God's fingerprints all over that. Like, “This is what Lisa needs today and I'm going to put Barb on the job right now.” Things like that happen all the time if we look for them. If our eyes and our mind are open to that, we see stuff like that happen all the time and it's amazing.

I think that you went through such a horrific loss with your mom and me with Jimmy and so many of your listeners have gone through loss or some sort of… Whatever your problem is, whether it's financial problems or relationship issues or health problems, you name it. Everybody has something you're struggling with, but the thing is we're all on this journey. The things that we're dealing with, I think that they really equip us to encourage and support other people who are going through similar situations. To be able to reach out to them and say, “Listen, I went through that same thing. I was tested the same way. Listen to what happened to me. Listen to what God did in my life. Let me help you. Let me come alongside you.”

Because here's the thing. None of us were made to stand alone. None of us were made to stand alone. We hold each other up and it's a blessing for both sides, for the one who's holding up and the one who is being held up. There's a verse in the Bible that says, and this is just a paraphrase, that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others in their troubles. I like to think of it as God recycling our pain. He recycles our pain.

Whatever you're going through right now, it is making you so much more useful to God than you ever were before. If you're in the middle of it right now, you may not believe it or understand it, but it doesn't make it any less true. Because I believe that God wants to use you and God wants to use your experience with loss or grief or financial crisis or a broken relationship or your health problems, whatever it is, to comfort others who are going through that same thing.

Because we really can't understand what someone is going through until we walk in their shoes, right? I have a special place in my heart for widows and I can assure you that that place in my heart did not exist before 9/11. I never would have understood what they go through until I went through it myself. Now, I can have a ministry to widows because I know what they're going through and I know what they're feeling and thinking.

Dr. Lisa: Right. That part of them. That meaning is this depth of understanding and the compassion and the empathy that you have for other people and being able to connect with them in their pain. Let me ask, and I hope that this is okay to ask, but this is coming up for me right now. Here's a different situation. I don't think she would mind me sharing this but I have a personal friend and found out several months ago that her husband has a terminal brain cancer. It's a glioblastoma, I think it is. They have prime of life. They have kids, family, all that jazz and he is dying. I'll just say this.

This friend grew up in a religious tradition that was very traumatizing for her. It was not a positive experience and as an adult, she has really moved away from any kind of spirituality she identifies as an atheist. Not only does she not have this sort of opportunity to make meaning in a spiritual way, she is now in a situation where she has other people in her life who are saying things to her. Like, “God has a plan” or just “He'll be fine in the afterlife. His suffering will be over.” Those kinds of things that are not only not helpful to her because of her spiritual orientation, but they also actually feel hurtful. They feel invalidating. They feel offensive and she is not anywhere close, probably, to being in a space of making meaning.

She's really in the thick of it but I am curious what you've learned over the years. I'm sure that you've talked to many kinds of people about the path to making meaning for someone that might not be spiritual in nature. Because I think that there needs to be a space for that conversation too because that is a very powerful and important process of healing and meaning for many. I know it was for you. It was for me and in my own way but not for everyone.

Jennifer: No, I'm not sure I can speak on that because that was… my journey did include the spirituality so I'm not sure. My heart is broken for your friend because she has walked away from the faith and that's not God's fault. That's because we're dealing with fallen human beings who create a religion that is not… I don't even know what religion it was. It doesn't matter. Jesus wasn't very thrilled with religion either. He was not happy with religion. For Him, it wasn't about religion. It's about relationship and clearly, she didn't get that. She had such a bad experience that has tainted her so I feel bad that happened.

Dr. Lisa: Well, that might not be a fair question, honestly, to pose to you because I know that your perspective is very well developed but I think it also needs to be part of the conversation for people who might be listening to this, who need to find meaning in other ways. I will say that what I have experienced over the years just in my role as a therapist is that sometimes, it is in the depths of kind of pain or loss or despair that we get a lot of clarity about the things that are most important to us. That feel most valuable.

It could be relationships. It could be service. It could even be finding a passion or a cause. Even activism. I think for many people, there's a lot of meaning in justice and being able to right wrongs. As you are talking about, and maybe even in a secular way, kind of going back into the fire for someone else, that's, I think, very common theme. Like people who have recovered from substance use disorders. That they have this wonderful heart for helping other people and a lot of empathy for what that feels like. There's a lot of meaning. Or people who have lived through other traumatic life experiences, sexual abuse survivors, sexual assault survivors, to be able to help others through it. Even in a roundabout way.

I don't even know if you know this about me, Jennifer, because I don't talk about this stuff but I went through a, at the time, it was an incredibly traumatic breakup when I was a teenager. In the great scheme of things, it's not like losing a loved one to death but at the time, it was horrible. I was a teenager, I was so in love with somebody, and he broke up with me and went out with my best friend who lived across the street. It was just as bad as it gets when you're 16 years old, right? At the time, it was just awful. Social ramifications.

As an adult, I wound up writing a book about breakup recovery and how to detach from a toxic relationship emotionally so that you can move on with your life. I remember writing this as an adult and kind of reconnecting with that 16-year old that I once was. It was like imagining that crushed… Because it went on for years and it was awful. It was not a puppy love thing. It was really bad, actually. It was very traumatic at the time but reconnecting with her in the past as this adult, kind of like sending a mental message. It's like, “Because you went through this, this book was created that is now in the hands of other people who can learn and grow because of this.” I think that's a source of a lot of meaning for many people. “How can this be? How can we do something with this? How can we make this matter? That suffering isn't just suffering?”

Jennifer: Right. Suffering has meaning and purpose. It does and I'm glad you, I did not know you wrote a book about that so I'm impressed. I'm sure that it has helped many people because you're looking back all these years later and you're thinking, “Okay. Well, yes. At the time, it was traumatic but now in the scheme of things…” But there are people who are going through that right now, that need it right now and that's kind of like how I look at my books. I have three books and the first one was written less than a year after 9/11 so it's all this raw emotion. I look back on that now and when I read that book, when I read, when I skim through my first book, I'm horrified. I'm like, “Oh my gosh. I was such a different person back then. That was a totally different person but that book is helping people who are in that stage of their journey right now.”

I think you probably will agree with me on this. That writing really was such a great form of therapy for me because it forced me to confront the details of that day of 9/11 and the issues of my faith. It was cathartic and it was painful to write but it brought forth so much emotional healing, spiritual healing. I think that sometimes, in order to get through something, you have to face it head-on, full force. That book, once it's done, but I look back and I see, “Okay, I certainly wouldn't have been an author. I wouldn't be an author and a speaker right now if 9/11 hadn't happened.” All three of the books are getting out there and helping people. I know what you're saying and I agree with it wholeheartedly because what we go through really can be recycled to help other people because we're not made to stand alone. We help, we hold each other up, right?

Dr. Lisa: Right and that is often the most powerful of meanings is “How can we use this to help others?” Now, I'm coming from my perspective and I don't want to impose my belief system on it. There are many ways of finding meaning.

Jennifer: Wow. That's a great quote. So true, so true.

We All Have a Choice

Dr. Lisa: I think there's another idea here which is also actually from Carlos Castaneda. He has another quote. He says that: “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong and the amount of work is the same in either direction.” It really is. I think, just as a final thought here, it does take an enormous amount of energy to be in pain and to be suffering and to be devastated and to do the work of grief which is to be devastated and to feel the pain and to do all of those things. You cannot rush that process and it's hard work. It's also hard work to shift into meaning and to create another story that is also true but that one that feels more hopeful and that has more opportunity. It's hard either way.

Jennifer: The amount of work is the same but the outcomes are so different.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, they are. Say more about that.

Jennifer: You have a choice. We all have a choice. It's been said many times, you can be bitter or you can be better, right? It is a choice. We can choose to stay miserable. We can choose to stay in our grief and I agree with you. You can't rush the process of grief. It's as individual as a fingerprint and everybody grieves differently you can’t ever… Don't let anybody ever tell you, you should be over that by now. You don't ever get over it. You get through it. There is a process to grief but getting stuck there and parking there is not healthy. It's toxic. It takes so much energy to stay miserable and it also takes a lot of energy to take that step forward. To get out of bed every day, to take the next breath. That takes a lot of energy too but it's going in two completely different directions.

That's the fork in the road that I was at 20 years ago. That was the fork. I could stay in bed every day, all day. I really wanted to do that. I didn't even want… I hated waking up in the morning because as soon as I woke up, the first thought in my mind was “Ugh, I have to get through another day without Jim.” I really did not want to wake up because to me, it took so much energy to wake up, to get out of bed. But once I did, I think that when we try to move forward and when we allow our minds to be open to the people that are brought into our life and who want to help, that growth will happen if we want it to. I really think it really comes down to that desire. Do you really want to stay miserable? Or do you want to make something good out of this?

I like to think of life as a big cake. I don't know if you've ever heard that analogy before but I like to think of life as a big cake which I personally believe is made by God. A cake is made up of many different ingredients, right? But some of the ingredients in and of themselves are quite delicious like chocolate and fruit and sugar, nuts. They represent the blessings in our life. They represent the gifts and all the good things in our life. Then, there are those other ingredients that are kind of repulsive in and of themselves like raw eggs and flour and oil. By themselves, they're pretty repulsive and they represent the trials and the heartaches in our life. I believe that God takes all of those ingredients, different people, good and bad, different circumstances in our life, good and bad, different events in our life, good and bad. He takes all the blessings and the gifts.

He takes all the heartaches and the trials and mixes it all together and he can make something really good out of it if we let him. That's the key is if we let him. Do you have a desire? Do you really want to be better? Do you really want to move forward? Do you really want to have meaning? Do you really want to find a purpose in all of this? Because there is purpose in suffering. Suffering is not meaningless. Do you really want to discover that? Do you want to see what God has up his sleeve for you? Because that's a choice that you make. You make that choice. You can stay in bed all day and you can be miserable or you can get out of bed and see what God has planned for you, or what will come to you that day. I really believe it is a choice that we make.

Dr. Lisa: That's very powerful. You're right that it requires effort, in that darkness, from that place of not even wanting to get out of bed, find that tiny little pinprick of light. I think the first one after my mom, for me, the meaning was that she didn't suffer and that my sister and I were both there at the hospital. That was meaningful to me as it's like trying to put all these little pieces of meaning around “Okay, this was better than what it might have been.” Those ideas brought me a lot of comfort. For the benefit of our listeners here who might be going through that and in that laying in bed part, what was that first little pinprick of light for you? That little glimmer of meaning that started to haul you back out into “Okay, there's more here.”

Jennifer: I think it's hard to say what the very first pinprick of light was but one of the first was the story that I shared with you earlier about the Salvation Army Man giving me that card. Those words: hope and a future. Yeah, to see this promise, that the Almighty says, “I have plans to give you hope in the future.” I was mad at him at the time. Really angry with him at the time and he's telling me, “I have plans to give you hope in the future.” That was that glimmer of hope. I needed to have that tiny little… I love how you said in your introduction is taking this little birthday cakes candle and turning it into a lighthouse because that's really exactly what happened. You described my whole story in that short little bit.

Finding the Message or Being the Messenger

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, but you know what's so interesting? What's coming up for me right now is that for both of us, that glimmer, that meaning, for me, first of all, it was like, “Okay my mom doesn't ever” but also that message. Barb's message and you had the Salvation Army guy. I wonder if there's a little kernel of truth in there for everyone which is “Be on the lookout for messages and things that are trying to knock at your door or be the messenger.”

Jennifer: Absolutely. Or be the messenger because again, whatever you're going through right now, you can help somebody else who's going through it also. Whatever you've been through.

Dr. Lisa: That is amazing… Actually no, really. Okay, how about this? How about we'll end this episode with that as an invitation? As a closing question for listeners here, me and Jennifer have been talking about our stories but I want to hear your story. Anybody listening to this, I want you to think about what meaning have you made from those really hard life experiences. Either things you learned, what gave you strength, what helped you grow. If you wanted to share anything that has happened in your life that would not have happened if you hadn't lived through that experience, or that first little glimmer of “Well, maybe there's something else here. Any of those messages.”

If you are willing to share those, you can come to… I'll do a little post on the blog for these podcasts. growingself.com/meaning-making will be the URL. growingself.com/meaning-making and just leave them in the comment section. This will be a living bulletin board of random meaning-making stories that we can all share because there are a lot of people right now who are currently lost in the darkness. They do not have any candles. They do not have any light. They are just in pain and hopelessness and devastation and do not know why any of these things happen and that is okay. That is where we all go for a while.

I think we should all light our little candles and just hold them up and they will still need to light their own candle. You will have to find your own meaning in order for this to work but I think that there is a lot of value and inspiration in hearing stories of what has been meaningful for others and other people who got it through. If you are feeling like you would like to be the messenger today, if you would like to be the Salvation Army guy or if you would like to be Barb, growingself.com/meaning-making and share your story. I'm going to read all of them.

Jennifer: That is a great, great way to just hear from your listeners. I think that we can all encourage each other in that way. To really be a source of encouragement.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, exactly. Thank you so much though for coming today, Jennifer, and for sharing your story. I hope that, particularly for people whom spirituality is an important part of their meaning-making, I'm sure that they have gotten a lot of inspiration out of that. I just want to honor the transformational process that it launched in you. But also to let you know that it also launched a transformational process in me as well. That Jimmy's life lives on in many people: in your life, in my life. That there was a lot of meaning there so thank you.

Jennifer: Thank you for inviting me to share it. Thank you listeners for listening to it. Please, I really do admire you and I applaud you for your dedication to helping people get through their life struggles. Because you've had enough life struggles of your own, that's, again, why you're able to recycle that and pay it forward in that way.

Dr. Lisa: We are definitely all in this together but I hope… I've said this to my listeners before but for you too, because of how much meaning I find in this work, it is such a positive and healing and uplifting thing for me to be able to do this. It really does give me and my life so much meaning. I think I get more out of it than anybody listening but that's just my suspicion.

Jennifer: I really doubt that. I doubt that. You are definitely made to do this. You are fulfilling your life purpose.

Dr. Lisa: Thank you, Jimmy.

Jennifer: Yes, yes. Thank you.

Dr. Lisa: Thank you again.

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