How to Be Happy

How to Be Happy

What Brings You Joy?

[social_warfare]

A JOYFUL LIFE | Do you ever feel like you've lost touch with what really makes you happy? Or like you spend all of your time doing what you have to do, and almost never things that you want to do? Or, like so many people, do you go through your days with a vague sense of dissatisfaction — feeling like even on good days, they could somehow be better?

If so, you're in good company. So many of our life coaching and therapy clients come to us with exactly this situation: They just want to feel happy. They want to feel good about themselves, and their lives. They want to feel connected to others, and like they have meaning and purpose in their lives.

But they currently don't.

Too many adults, especially conscientious, hardworking, responsible and successful adults, spend so much time meeting their commitments to others they start to lose sight of who they really are, and what they like to do for fun.

It's an easy slide: Especially as you “adult,” growing into a career with more responsibility, settle into a marriage, and start welcoming children into the world, you life starts to be more about all the other people you have depending on you than it is about you. Over time it stops feeling like “life is good” and more like, “I have so much to do.” Can you relate? (Lisa raises hand)

Many men and women spend their entire days, morning to night, doing things that they need to do, or to be of service in the lives of others — be it a boss, a business, a spouse or a kid. Even the darn dog needs something!

Who has time for fun?

Sometimes I ask a Denver therapy client or an online life coaching client, “What do you do for fun?” and I get a blank look, a stutter, or a reddening face. (This is especially true of my American clients. I do work with people all over the world for online life coaching and the Europeans with their six weeks a year of paid vacation can often tell me exactly what they do for fun!)

How to Be Happy Again

So this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success is all about YOU: and helping you get reconnected with your authentic happiness so you can experience a more joyful life. As always, I'll be offering some insight, new ways of thinking, and actionable ideas you can start using today.

Specifically, we'll be discussing:

  • What the current “science of happiness” has to say about what moves the happiness needle… and what does not.
  • The biggest hidden culprit getting in between you and a joyful life
  • Simple strategies to get reconnected with the real you (who IS still in there!)
  • Why you can't buy happiness, but where to invest your resources to cultivate more joy
  • Life hacks to make more space in your life for fun and play

I hope this discussion helps YOU reconnect with your true self and what makes you most happy. You deserve it.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

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How to Create a Joyful Life

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

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

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Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships

SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

Relationships, by definition, include two people. But sadly, there are times when people forget to take care of themselves because they prioritize others so much. They may slowly feel exhausted and lost, and this affects the energy in their relationships. However, you can prevent this from happening by learning how boundaries in relationships can be beneficial.

In this interview with Denver Therapist and boundary expert, Kathleen Stutts we discuss the significance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. Kathleen gives us her thoughts on how to maintain lasting relationships with others while respecting yourself. She also talks about the different signs of having poor boundaries in relationships.

Listen to the full episode to know how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships!

In This Episode: Boundaries in Relationships. . .

  • Learn the importance of having healthy boundaries in your relationships.
  • Learn the common misconceptions and fears about building boundaries.
  • Understand why it's difficult for you to develop your boundaries.
  • Know how you can help the people you care about while taking care of yourself.
  • Know the different signs that you're in an unhealthy relationship.
  • See examples of healthy boundaries in relationships.
  • Discover how to handle people who disrespect your boundaries.

Episode Highlights

What Are Boundaries?

For Kathleen, setting up boundaries is a “healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of and what you're not in control of.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about boundaries. Usually, people associate them with conflict or relationship barriers. However, it's the complete opposite, as boundaries nurture and protect relationships.

Many people are afraid of setting up boundaries in their relationships. Here are two reasons why:

These fears push people not to build boundaries in their relationships. However, they are just products of misconceptions of these limits. 

Why You Need Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships

We need to develop healthy boundaries in our relationships to honor and respect ourselves

To be a good and decent person means having boundaries in your relationships. When there are no boundaries in your relationship, you're just stretching yourself thin. You'll end up burned out and exhausted.

When we become assertive and build boundaries, we reach a compromise with people. For Kathleen, letting your foot down means “we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.”

Being a people pleaser and taking other's responsibility as your own will only leave you exhausted. You'll always feel anxious maintaining that sense of harmony within your relationship, even at the cost of your stability. 

Kathleen reminds us that it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. We must take care of the things we can directly control and let go of the things that we cannot. 

Examples of Setting Boundaries in Relationships

It is difficult to see someone you care about getting hurt or having a hard time. However, it does not mean that you should shoulder their responsibilities or that you owe them. Remember that a healthy and loving relationship and setting your boundaries aren't mutually exclusive. 

Kathleen tells us that “It feels bad to see someone hurting if you're a good, kind person and you have empathy, but acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do.”

In moments like this, you can do the following:

You can Show Them Support. Instead of owning what someone else is going through, you can instead let them know they're not alone. You can be supportive while establishing your boundaries in that moment.

Offer Help. Offering help if you feel they need it, is always on the table. However, only commit to assistance you can provide. Keep in mind that you also have boundaries to keep.

By being transparent with your limitations, you can help and support the people you care about while also taking care of yourself. Just as Kathleen says, “The beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody, it is letting them know what to expect from you.”

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

Boundaries must be present in your relationship, and it goes both ways. You must know the limits of your boundaries, and the person in your relationship must realize their boundaries as well.

Here are the common signs that you have unhealthy relationship boundaries:

You're taking other's responsibility as your own. 

When people you care about have a hard time, you step in and do everything for them. This action is a sign that you have unhealthy boundaries in your relationship because you're taking the opportunity from them to learn and grow.

Kathleen adds that “When we try to rescue people from them, we're taking away, we're violating some of their rights—their right to feel bad.”

Others don't respect your boundaries.

You must be aware if another person is always stepping on or over your boundaries. It's okay to follow through with your limits and let others know what they're doing wrong.

You need boundaries to establish what is and isn't good or okay for you. You can't brush off instances like these when your boundaries are disrespected or overlooked, they'll only get more frequent and hurt more in the end.

You might not speak up because you're afraid of conflict and/or making people uncomfortable.

When people have wronged you or have stepped on your boundaries, you should let them know right away. Keeping silent about what you feel will only make things worse. You and your relationship will suffer.

Remember that setting up boundaries does not mean conflict. You must steer away from this common misconception. 

What to Do When Someone Crosses a Line

However, there would be times when people would disregard your boundaries. You must be wary of these instances, especially if they happen more than once. If it happens almost always, then you might be in a toxic relationship.

Here are the things you can do when such situations happen:

  • Let them know that they're disrespecting your boundaries.
  • Show them there are consequences to crossing your boundaries.
  • Reach a compromise. 
  • If following through with limitations or the situation is too much, consider working with a coach or a therapist.  

Building Healthy Boundaries: Where to Start?

Kathleen has helped many of her clients build healthy relationship boundariesLearning how to create boundaries is a process. You cannot impose them in your relationships, especially if you were unaware of their importance. 

Luckily, Kathleen shared some of the things you have to consider in learning how to build healthy boundaries. Here are some of them:

Understand why you're feeling this way. Have some time to reflect and ask yourself why you're feeling anxious, exhausted, or inadequate.

Here are some of the questions that may guide you in your introspection:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?
  • Why am I feeling bitter, resentful, or angry?
  • What makes me exhausted and burned out?

Develop a sense of self-compassion. For Kathleen, this means stepping back and looking at the whole picture while being compassionate with yourself.

By seeing the bigger picture, you learn why building boundaries in your relationship is complicated. It may be because this is how the people in your life taught you to treat your limits. 

Learn how to self-validate. Once you know why you have difficulty building boundaries, you must remind yourself that what you're feeling is okay and valid. 

By learning these things, you get to shift your perspectives, seeing relationships and boundaries in a new light. Hopefully, you can start standing up for yourself and make healthy boundaries slowly. 

In the end, for Kathleen, building boundaries means being authentic. “That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person.”, Kathleen says. 

Sometimes we avoid building boundaries for many reasons, but you're developing deeper and meaningful relationships by having limits. 

Resources

Kathleen Stutts has shared with us the importance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. What are the things you picked up in this interview? How did this interview change your perspective on building boundaries? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness! 

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Boundaries in Relationships

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

Music Credits: edapollo, “Relearn Me”

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

[Relearn Me by edapollo ft. Akacia plays] 

That was the song Relearn Me by edapollo. I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it. But the song is gorgeous. And it's the perfect, I thought, introduction to our topic today because today we are going to be talking about how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. And I know that this is a topic of great importance because we hear about it all the time from our therapy and coaching clients. Here at Growing Self, a lot of people are working on this. And we've also had so many listener questions come through on Instagram, Facebook, on the blog at growingself.com around how to establish healthy boundaries in a way that allows you to have positive, high-quality relationships and maintain really good connections with others. 

That is where we're going on today's episode of the podcast. And I am so pleased to include in our conversation today, my dear, dear friend and colleague at Growing Self, Kathleen Stutz. Kathleen and I have worked together for many years. And Kathleen is a true expert on the subject of healthy boundaries. She is a licensed professional counselor here. And she also does team training for us from time to time. And we have people from all over our group come and sit at Kathleen's feet to learn how it's done. And today, she is sharing her wisdom with you. So Kathleen, thank you so much for being here.

Kathleen Stutz: Hi, thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I can't wait to talk with you about this topic of how to create healthy boundaries. I know that you frequently do this work with your clients. Again, you train others around this. But I can also attest to somebody who has had a personal relationship with you for many years, that you live it.

Kathleen Stutz: Thank you. Thanks very much. I take that as a very, very good compliment. That means a lot to me. 

Dr.Lisa: It's good. You really—you're like a role model for me. I'm like, “I wish I could be more like Kathleen.” Because you have so much clarity around what you can do, what you can't do. And when you say no to me, like I feel happy anyway. There's something about the way you say it.

Kathleen: Definitely one of my passion topics, a topic I'm passionate about. And I love to talk about it. So I'm happy to be here. 

Define Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. Well, what do you say we just, we take it from the top? Because I think sometimes just the term boundaries gets thrown around all over the place to mean all kinds of things. So from your perspective, what do boundaries mean? What is a boundary in the sense of, you know, what we do? Because sometimes, like an aside, sometimes I think people use the word boundaries. It's like telling people—telling other people what to do can be a boundary, or like, yeah. Like don't say this to me, it could be like a boundary. But what do you think of as being like a boundary? A reasonable boundary? Right.

Kathleen: Right. You're so right. I can't tell you how often I hear professionally, but personally, too, people have so many different, either negative associations with boundaries about you know that’s a barrier. It means that something is wrong. It means conflict, or just complete, you know, they come by it, honestly. But just misunderstandings about what boundaries are. So, to me, a boundary is, it's this healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of, and what you're not in control of. 

It’s just this healthy, clear understanding of the things that I can empower myself around versus the things I need to practice radical acceptance around or letting go of. So having that understanding between you and any person in your life, in any situation. I know that sounds very abstract, right? But that's because we can use boundaries and we can assert boundaries in so many different ways, in different situations. And they do change and flux in different relationships as needed. Right? So we can get into the details of it more. But from a starting point, that's sort of the general way that I think about boundaries. 

Boundary Issues

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah okay. So then, let's start with this other question. Why do you think so many people, particularly women, but many men too, really struggle to have that clarity that you describe? Then also communicate that effectively to others that just the whole thing feels incredibly—to people? Why? Why is that so hard?

Kathleen: I think it's because, and I'm going to say we because I think this is a human experience, you know? I think it's because we're afraid of losing people, honestly. And whenever I talk with people about what is so scary about boundaries, that's always where they go. Now ultimately, “I'm afraid people won't like me.” “I'm afraid it's going to cause an argument” or “I'll lose that relationship.” 

Because we are wired to attach and we need people as the social creatures that we are, I think the fear of putting those relationships at risk is what underlies the fear of setting boundaries and being assertive. Because there are misconceptions around what boundaries are, what assertiveness is, and what it can do for us. People think that it is a threat to those relationships rather than something that protects them, which I think is a misunderstanding—an unfortunate misunderstanding. But ultimately, that fear of losing people I think, is really what makes it scary. 

Dr. Lisa: That is so insightful. There's almost a subconscious thing. It's if I say no, or if I ask for what I need, it's going to damage my relationship with you. You're saying that is a misunderstanding. This actually brings me to another question. So one of the things that I loved so much, I love so many things about your team training that you did with us on this topic. But you had this saying in your presentation, which is that “Good, decent people set boundaries.”You have this as like a concept. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think it's so important to teach people, to teach our clients that good people set boundaries? 

Kathleen: Wow. Because one of the misunderstandings that's so prevalent around assertiveness and boundary setting is that it is aggressive, or mean, or even overly confident, or bully-ish and that you don't set boundaries, if you're nice. Or you can't be nice to people and be liked by people, and be assertive. I think what's happening there is that there's a confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness. You know, you mentioned earlier people using the idea of boundaries is telling people, “You can't do that to me”, or “You can't say that to me.” That's not that's not really assertiveness. That's a little bit of bullying, actually. And so, I think, all of the confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness leads to the idea that you can't be nice and set boundaries, which just simply isn't true. And as a matter of fact, to be nice, I think you really even need to set boundaries. Right? 

If I'm not setting boundaries, I'm going to grow and I think we're all good. I'm sure many people have experienced this personally. We grow tired, we get burnt out, we grow resentful. This can be in our personal lives, in our professional lives. We're not very nice, and we don't show up as our best selves. We don't have anything left to give the people that that we do care about. Right? So I think that the misunderstanding, or the confusion between assertiveness and aggression is the underlying cause there. But that in fact, to be nice, we actually need to set boundaries. 

Setting Boundaries in Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Oh, I love the way you say that. Like you're not doing anybody any favors by not setting boundaries. That really when you don't set boundaries, it's impossible to show up as I mean—I hate to use this phrase but this is what's coming to mind—but as like your best self in relationships because you're going to be exhausted, and resentful, and depleted, if you're not able to know what your limits are and communicate those. So that's part of having positive healthy relationships is actually being good at boundaries. Those two things go together. 

Kathleen: Yes. As a matter of fact, right? What can happen is if we are—if we tend to be people pleasers, and have anxiety in our relationships around that. Say around how our relationships are going, being liked by people, making sure there's no conflict, that there's always harmony, that we’re in a good space. If you find yourself feeling worried or anxious about that, and not saying “no,” or setting boundaries, because of that, what that actually tends to lead toward are the very, very fears and problems in those relationships that we're so scared of happening. Right? It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personal Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Oh. Yeah, I can see that. Well, and another theme that I'm hearing as we're talking is this concept of assertiveness. We could probably talk about assertiveness versus aggressiveness. But first, you've used that word a lot. What do you mean by assertive? 

Kathleen: We are assertive when we treat ourselves with respect, when we respect our basic human rights and means, while also respecting the rights and needs of others. When we do that, we're being assertive. We're also opening up the opportunity to have clear and open communication, and compromise, and negotiation with the other person on how we can achieve that win-win where we can both be treated with respect and both take care of ourselves in that situation. But in a nutshell, assertiveness is when we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Aggression, on the other hand, is when we are taking care of ourselves while not respecting the basic rights, or needs, or boundary of the other people in this situation. 

Dr. Lisa: That makes so much sense. I've never thought about it that way. That the core aggression is taking care of you without thinking about the person on the other end of it. 

Kathleen: Yes. On the other end of that spectrum, when we're being passive, when we're taking care of others and putting their needs first to the detriment or neglect of our own. Right? So we kind of end up with this sort of continuum here. With passive on one end, aggressive on the far other end. Assertiveness is that sweet spot—that balance right in the middle, where we can say, “I'm okay and you're okay”, and hold space for each other's feelings and needs, knowing that we're each responsible for ourselves. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, and I'm glad that you just use that word—that responsibility—because I'm hearing that to be assertive, it requires a high degree of like, self-awareness, respect for self, respect for others. There's like this responsibility component. Whereas, I kind of got this sense when you were talking about the passive perspective that it's people like, and well-intentioned, like really legitimately doing what they feel is best and trying to prioritize relationships. Maybe you're trying to be the “nice person”, but they're in some ways, like, by over giving or not having almost like having more respect for other people than themselves. There's like this abdication of responsibility a little bit. Have you found that? Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely.. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. Just that in itself is a new way of looking at things, I think sometimes. But absolutely. It's kind of like, if you're at work for example, and you try to do everything, you know? You try to do everything all at once, and you try to do everyone's job because you want to be really great at what you do, you end up not doing some of the basic things you really need to to get to, or a lot of things fall through the cracks. Right? Because we can't do it all. In fact, and this analogy, taking care of other people's basic needs and rights is not really your responsibility. Because it's not really in your control and it's not realistic. So trying to do it means that while you might have the best of intentions, you end up neglecting this core sort of foundational responsibility over here, which is you. That is in your control. Right? With the best of intentions. With that really important piece that sort of the foundation of the rest of your life gets neglected. 

Personal Boundaries Examples

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Well tell us more about the emotional experience of having that kind of, to use your word passive orientation—because I think that people who sort of leaned toward the aggressive end of the continuum are probably not the ones listening to this podcast. Except to that, I mean I have seen this as a therapist and as a coach, that sometimes people who have a really passive orientation can get to a certain point where they become aggressive.They kind of swing back and forth a little bit. 

For the benefit of somebody listening to this podcast, and trying to figure out where they are on that continuum. I mean, what have you heard your clients say that maybe come to you for help with boundaries? With who, or without maybe even realizing it, doing a lot of the things that keep them stuck on that passive end of the spectrum? I mean, like, what does that feel like? But also, what do you see them doing that is unintentionally creating that situation that… before they have the benefit of working with you, Kathleen, to get to get much better at this. But like, where is the starting point? 

Kathleen: Let me say that I can answer this question from a personal space. Right? Because the reason I'm so passionate about boundaries is because I don't always—I don't—I'd love to say that, “Yeah, this is what it's like.” Every, all the wonderful compliments you gave me at the beginning of our talk. But I'm always working on boundaries. I don't always set the best boundaries. And I've been a people pleaser, and can be a people pleaser. Right? So I… this is important to me. And I like to help people with it because I'd like to think I have some empathy around what it's like. Right? So whether it's from a personal place, or what clients have shared what, what family members have shared, friends, right? 

I think that being in that passive place where we're not taking care of ourselves feels really exhausting, and it feels really anxious. Anxiety comes to mind a lot because we're scrambling around trying to manage things that we don't have control over, trying to prevent the outcomes that we're so afraid of happening. So anxiety comes up a lot, and exhaustion and inadequacy. If I had to pick three big feeling words, those would be the three. Right? Because never enough, never good enough. Again, because we're trying to do the impossible, quite frankly. Right? So I think that's how people feel. 

To give you a short answer, there are a lot of emotions in that: guilt, shame, resentment, and anger as well. Because what we're doing, what it looks like, is now saying yes when you really need to say no. Stretching yourself too thin and taking on too much. I think a lot of those things that we might think of off the top of our heads when we think about people pleasing. Also, it looks like reading every little nonverbal cue, and your significant other when you think they might be in a bad mood and thinking, “Oh, no, that's not okay. I need to fix that.” Or keeping a long to-do list and beating yourself up at the end of the day because you didn’t manage to get enough things done. Aso help your neighbor, and your best friend, and run your parents’ errands for them. You’d do everything on your list to be that, be that exceptionally functioning person helps everybody right. 

Dr. Lisa: And showers.

Kathleen: And showers. Yeah, yeah. It also looks like I'm not speaking up too. Right? Not being so scared of having direct communication because you're so afraid of conflict, or making, or someone else feeling uncomfortable or unhappy, possibly with you that we don't speak up. We stay silent. We stuff our feelings and sweep things under the rug. Those are just a few examples that I think a lot of people can relate to. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No, definitely. I can certainly relate to the part abou—I think the guilt is always what gets me. That, like, I could do it? If I rearranged some of my personal priorities, I could do this for you, and therefore I should. Yeah.

Kathleen: Oh, that's a great example. 

Dr. Lisa: That's my Achilles heel, for sure. Okay, so—oh, you're about to say something? 

Kathleen: Oh, just just that's such a great example. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should. I think that even that idea that “I could,” even if it means, right, that I'm not taking care of myself, or I'm going to have these negative consequences as a result, but I could. I could do it so therefore, I should. I think, right, is one of those not necessarily accurate beliefs that a lot of us hold. Isn't it also connected to the idea that if somebody else needs us, needs help, is unhappy with us, or even just experiencing any kind of negative or uncomfortable emotion? That sort of trumps up most other things. Isn't that something that I think is sort of in the background, as a belief, or a feeling even? When we want to people please, when we feel guilty? 

Boundary Violations in A Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I'm hearing in what you just said. It occurred to me a couple of minutes ago, when you're talking about the anxiety component of that passive orientation. There's some kind of relationship here with codependence and having trouble setting boundaries. I think I'm hearing this. Is that true? 

Kathleen: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, codependency is another one of those terms that is misunderstood. Sometimes. That makes sense because it is a broad term that can refer to a lot of different things. Totally non-scientific, by the way. Codependence is nowhere in the DSM. It's a self help term, I guess. But I find it helpful to simplify it and think of codependency as a lack of healthy, clear boundaries in your relationships. So definitely, right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: I think, for me, I literally define codependency as a boundary issue. 

Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Well, it really is. It's that, you know, “Where do I stop and you start?” That “What is my responsibility and what is your responsibility?” “Can I function independently, even if…” like going back to your point just a minute ago, “even if you're upset, and not feeling good?” or, “Is that maybe not actually my problem to solve?” Yeah.

Kathleen: Right, absolutely. There are all these beliefs that we sort of take for granted that are at the root of codependency, of not having clear boundaries. That your feelings are mine to solve, that having uncomfortable feelings is just catastrophic. We've got to do something about it. That if I can do something, I should do something. None of those are actually necessarily always true. This is the part I'm just thinking out loud here. This is the part in our conversation where I have this feeling that people are wondering, “Yeah. But that sounds pretty cold”, or, “How do you be there and support somebody that you care about? Aren't their feelings your responsibility if you care about them? Or shouldn't you care about their feelings?” Those kinds of questions. 

I think it's just a good time to say that you can care about someone—what they're feeling, what they're going through. If they're struggling, you can even show up for them and support them without taking ownership, or responsibility for their feelings or situation, while having clear healthy boundaries. That those things are not exclusive. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What an important message. That you can care very much about how somebody is feeling, and even help them in healthy ways, but without taking on their problems as your own. That's huge.

Kathleen: Yeah. Look, I understand it's easier to talk about that than it is to do, as so many things are. 

Dr. Lisa: Right. 

Kathleen: Having healthy boundaries and being assertive while still caring for people and supporting them requires a lot of self-awareness, and mindfulness, and a lot of emotional regulation. To be able to feel your feelings and feel empathy, or concern, or worry, or for this person that's in your life from whomever they might be. Hold those feelings, carry them with you without them taking over, and sort of becoming the driver in the driver's seat. Feeling those feelings, but still showing up in your behavior in your words with assertiveness and healthy boundaries. 

How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, as you brought up, Kathleen, very much easier to talk about this than it is to actually put it into practice. I mean, I know that the path of growth in this area is far beyond the scope of what can be learned through a podcast. Right? I mean, I know that you have worked as a therapist and as a coach, for, I mean, years sometimes with people who are really working to develop these skills. So I just want to say that to people listening, because sometimes I feel like I am all for self-help and kind of advice and sharing ideas. 

I think sometimes people feel like if they heard it, or like, “Oh, this is what Kathleen said. So I should be able to do this.” Like it was easy. I don't want anybody to feel badly if they can't just magically do these things that Kathleen is sharing. Okay, this is a growth process.

Kathleen, if you were to start with a client as either like a life coach, or a therapist who is really working specifically on boundaries, what would you imagine the arc of the work would look like with that person? Like what kinds of things would you guys be working on or talking about first? Then how would that evolve over time? Not that you have to talk through every moment of the growth process, everybody's different. But like, what are some of the starting places that you've experienced with clients? 

Kathleen: Gosh. I think that one of the starting places is probably because if we struggle with assertiveness, we tend to beat ourselves up, quite a bit. Right? Compassion—self-compassion is in short supply. So one of the starting points is really understanding, “Why do I feel this way?”, “Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?”, “Why am I feeling resentful, jealous, bitter, angry, burnt out, guilty?”, “Why am I feeling that, and where did I learn these kinds of… just this way of showing up in my relationships?” Because it's important, self-compassion is stepping back and looking at the whole context, considering the full picture. To see yourself as with compassion. Like, “I learned this stuff, this was passed on to me. I learned to think about relationships this way I learned, this is how I need to be for people to treat me well or to get my needs met. These are the sort of unspoken rules that were taught to me about being a nice person, or finding love.” Right? And so that's usually where we start. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, there's this whole exploration process of unpacking. Like, “how do I feel?” “Why do I feel this way?” “Where did these beliefs come from?” So there's just, like a whole, like self-discovery is the word that's coming to mind, in a very compassionate way. That “how do I make sense?”

Kathleen: Yeah, and self-validation too. Like these feelings make sense. It's okay—not only is it okay and valid—and I'm still a good person and a nice person. But it makes sense too. That I'm angry or resentful. Those are the big feelings that come up a lot when we aren't setting boundaries that we then have feelings about. Even so, it becomes this negative snowball. So a lot of validation. 

Also, a lot of—this is one of the other sort of starting areas because they kind of do overlap. Surprising—surprises, I guess I'll just call it surprises. People are often surprised to learn new perspectives on this. Like the idea that we can be nice and assertive, or that we need to be assertive in order to be nice. Just even that process of shifting your paradigm, your perspective, and looking at boundaries, and assertiveness, and relationships in new and different ways. It can become sort of this eye opening experience. And I think—I don't think—I have seen what a relief it can be. 

Emotional Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, these new ideas can be so liberating. I'm thinking of a moment in my own life, where I felt like I'd been struck by lightning. It was this idea. I think, probably from my work and becoming a therapist, potentially. But I think also supported by like, the whole Montessori, and we Montessori families are very much around this idea. But the idea of like, that somebody else's emotional experience, like a painful emotional experience, can actually be an incredibly positive thing. Because if they feel badly, then they become motivated to do their growth work, or healing, or learn, or change something. That if I am trying to like rescue, and fix, and make it better, and overstep, and whatever, that I'm actually depriving them of the opportunity to have that motivation and to have that kind of self-directed growth. Like if I take away their natural consequences. 

That idea totally changed my life. And I think, made it a lot easier for me to set boundaries, personally. Just going back to what you're saying. And I hadn't thought about that, until you just mentioned those surprises. And I'm sure that they're very different for different people. But that was a huge one. For me this idea that pain is positive. Yeah. That changed a lot of things for me. So you're saying in your work with clients, you help them kind of work through those old beliefs and find new ones that are liberating in similar ways? Maybe? 

Kathleen: Absolutely. And that is such a good one. Right?

Dr. Lisa: For me, yes. Yeah. 

Kathleen: Yeah, I think I've definitely had that in my own way. I had that moment too, where I came to that emotional understanding. Not just intellectual understanding of… those really difficult feelings are good. They can be good. They're definitely necessary. That when we try to rescue people from them, we’re taking away, we're violating some of their rights. Their right to feel bad. Go through that growth process. A good—what is this—a metaphor that I found at some point and love and use sometimes is that of the butterfly in the cocoon. I don't know if you've heard this one but… 

Dr. Lisa: I don't think so. Tell me.

Kathleen: Your cats have heard the story. They would like to tell us their thoughts on this, that is setting boundaries with them. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, how do you set boundaries with cats?

Kathleen: To be continued, right. But do you know, when a butterfly—when a caterpillar has changed into a butterfly and is ready to break free of its cocoon, it will struggle to sort of shed that cocoon, and break free, and fly away. If we were to stumble across that and say, “Oh, wow. That butterfly is struggling, it needs help. I'm going to rescue it. I'm going to help it because it feels good for me, and I'm going to do that.” We steal away from the butterfly, the opportunity to strengthen its wings through that natural process, that flow process, that challenging process. It won't be ready to fly and it will possibly not make it. Right? It's at risk, it’s vulnerable because it hasn't gone through those literal growing pains. Right?

Dr. Lisa: You're saying that that's like actually how the butterflies muscles develop is through that exercise of liberating itself from the chrysalis. I did not know that. But what a perfect metaphor. That if you're like, “Oh, I'll save you.” Then the butterfly then like, “Thanks!” And crashes to the ground. Right? 

Kathleen: Like yeah, right. It feels good to help. It feels good for us to help people. It feels bad to see someone's if you're a good kind person and you have empathy. But acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do for others or possibly for yourself too. Yeah, so that’s a good example. 

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: This is such an important idea. I also—just knowing my listeners that are very practical folks—we are, and if we don't talk about this, Kathleen, we're going to get questions asking us. Can you please give us some examples of healthy boundaries in action? What does this look like? We should talk about this now to just go ahead and get out of the way. 

Kathleen: All right. Well, let's start with this example that earlier that we're talking about just now, which is maybe seeing someone that we care about struggle. How do we care and support with healthy boundaries? That looks like—I'm just full of metaphors today but let's imagine that they're swimming, and I'm gonna get practical and real here in just a second. So let's imagine that they're swimming in choppy waters and struggling. If we jump in there with them, right? We might both go down. 

In that case, how would you support them? You might throw them a lifesaver, or perhaps they're, I don't know, swimming in a triathlon. You might stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, see if they need anything that you can give them. With that, having healthy boundaries might sound like, “I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I can see this is really difficult for you. I hate to see you in pain.” You know, empathy. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, “What can I do for you?” At that point, you may or may not be able to give that thing to them that they're asking for. That depends, and we—the assertiveness continues on from there—we can talk about that. How to say no assertively, and so forth. But supporting someone looks like, supporting them from the sidelines. 

Respecting Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yes, and offering to help in the way that you can. But I'm also hearing like the next thing here. So that would be like one example of setting a boundary. But I think like what I hear a lot from my clients, and I'm sure you do too, ss this question around, “Well, I've set a boundary with someone and now they're doing the thing anyway.” So like, going back to your example, you say, “Yeah, let me know how I can help you, friend.” 

The friend doesn't maybe say this, but they do start calling you at 11 o'clock at night, sobbing hysterically, and wanting to tell you all about everything, and texting you like nine times a day, and being annoyed with you when you don't respond right back. Or asking you to do things that are actually starting to interfere with your life and ability. You're like, so I'm imagining Kathleen would say being appropriately assertive would be like, “You know? 11 is pretty late for me. I'm usually in bed at that time. I'm happy to talk with you when I'm free. Can I call you on the way home from work? Sometimes in the afternoon, I'm in the car anyway.” You have this nice conversation. And the next day, your phone rings at 11:30 at night. I thought, “What would Kathleen do?” Because that's the thing that I hear a lot about my clients is like, “Well, I told my mother-in-law to not talk to me that way anymore”, or “I told so-and-so to not do this.” I think people sometimes feel that setting that boundary is like requesting something of someone else. Then when that somebody doesn't do that something else then they're like, “what do I do?” 

Kathleen: That they’re still stuck and feeling helpless. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So like, what's your take on that aspect of it? So like, “Please don't call me at 11.” 

Kathleen: Well. First of all, that was a great example—the way that you verbalize that was beautiful. Right? But they keep calling anyway. You got to, when that happens… the beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody. It is letting them know what to expect from you. This is what I'm going to do and this is what I'm not going to do. 

Dr. Lisa: There it is. 

Kathleen: Right? So if they're not respecting the initial boundary, and they continue to call you at 11:30. “I asked you not to call me that late because I'm usually in bed by then. I know that you're going through a really difficult time, I'm not able to talk at that time. Here are the—here's when I can support you, or I will call you during this time. If you keep calling me at 11:30, I’m gonna have to…” and then you can fill in the blank with a boundary that you feel you can follow through. 

I think that's really important with setting boundaries is that whatever you choose, it's something that you know, you can stick to. Whatever that is, wherever you are with that is okay. So maybe it's, “I'm gonna have to turn my phone off at night.” Or it may be something a little bit, let's say, more drastic. “I'm not going to be able to talk with you if you don't respect this boundary.” It depends on the person and the situation. If you have somebody who's really actually getting angry with you, and criticizing you because you didn't text back right away, or you're still not picking up the phone at 11:30, even when you asked them to call at that time. That's a pretty difficult situation. 

I just want to validate that if you're experiencing something like that, that's a pretty toxic relationship. Those are harder to be assertive in. It's giving you information. When someone doesn't respect your boundaries, it's giving you information about if that relationship is healthy for you. So I just want to context that.

Keeping Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No. That's good to say that. That's actually a sign of an unhealthy relationship is like when you say, “Please don't do this” or, “Please respect me in this area.” Somebody continues not just to do it, but gets upset with you for setting boundaries. Like, you should actually be paying attention to that is what I'm hearing, you say.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That's a red flag. To answer your question directly, we set boundaries. When they're not respected, we need to up the ante and set a boundary that's, if you want to call it a little further out, if you will. Let them know, not to be patronizing, but just as you would be disciplining a child, “If you don't do this, here's the next consequence.” So, “If you don't stop calling me in the middle of the night, I'm gonna have to shut off my phone.” “If you don't stop talking to me that way, I'm gonna have to take a break from our relationship for a while.” Let them know what it is going to be. If you're having trouble upping the ante, so to speak, or finding a boundary that you feel you can follow through with, or struggling with a difficult person like this, that's something to work with a coach or counselor. Because it's pretty difficult at that level.

Dr. Lisa: It really is. I think also—many people experience these kinds of dynamics with their families. So it's sort of people that you're… it's hard to like, and it can be done. I mean, some people limit relationships with certain family members, and it's a positive thing. But it can be a sticky situation for many. So,but that's good advice. 

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

Oh my gosh. We could talk about so many different aspects of this, Kathleen, but I want to reiterate what I'm hearing you say, which is setting boundaries is not about controlling anybody else. It is about deciding what you're going to do, and what you're okay with, and how you're going to communicate that. You being responsible for your actions. That we can't actually control others. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Right. Healthy boundaries, non-codependent boundaries are assertive boundaries, rather than passive or aggressive ones. Or about taking care of yourself and making sure everybody knows what that's gonna look like. It's not about bargaining with people, or getting certain reactions out of them, or even asking things of them. Even when we compromise, again, that is, “Well, here's where I can meet you. Where can you meet me? Is there a place that overlaps?”

Setting Boundaries in Romantic Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So much good stuff. Well, and I want to be respectful of your time. Do you have time to tackle a little listener question with me  for a couple of minutes?

Kathleen: Sure Okay. 

Dr. Lisa: So with all of these things in mind, we had someone get in touch. I'm not sure if it was through Instagram, it may have been. It may have been through the blog at growingself.com.

But this person writes, “My hope is to be able to have a healthy relationship where I'm not sabotaging things or letting my anxiety ruin it. But a big piece of this is me getting better, and my ability to maintain healthy boundaries, and also be comfortable asking people to meet my needs, while at the same time being able to meet theirs. 

What are a couple of things that I could do to get better around the boundary aspect of this?” Just as I read this question out loud to you, my immediate reaction is that this is not an answerable kind of question. This is, like, enter into this growth process that will probably take a while. Is that your reaction to this question? Or am I—maybe there is an easy answer. I don’t know.

Kathleen: Based on what this person is saying. I'm hearing that sabotaging relationships and anxiety. So I think I'm hearing—they're saying that their anxiety around asking for what they need, setting boundaries, etcetera, there might be other stuff there, creates the sabotage. So this is a complicated, multi-layered.

That being said, though, maybe this is because I've been reading Brené Brown. Maybe it's because it’s a quote that I saw earlier today. I wish I could pull it up real quick. But what's coming to my mind is that when we set boundaries assertively, which is so nice, and kind, and compassionate, and all of that good stuff. We are being authentic. Right? That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person. That can be scary, and it can feel risky. Sometimes, when we avoid that, we end up sabotaging those relationships anyway. But sometimes we need to sort of dip our toe in that vulnerability pool and see how the person reacts. I'm not talking about “Let's move my boundaries based on how they react”, but rather, “Let's see, is this person safe?” 

If they do respond with love, and compassion, respect, empathy, validation, and respect my boundaries, then maybe next time, I can lean into my anxiety a little bit more and express a little bit of me that makes me little bit more scared, and see what happens. Like learning to feel less anxious. If your partner's a healthy partner for you and a safe partner, we can ease into the practice of setting boundaries and expressing our needs in relationships. 

Dr. Lisa: That is amazing. Yeah. You're saying to do reality testing. “What happens when I do ask for something?” Then there's almost like this exposure therapy component. Like, every time I ask—and it's positive—I'm kind of on, like, a healing those old ideas about who I need to be, and what boundaries mean, because it is actually okay. It's like that healing in the context of the healthy relationship. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Reality testing. Exactly. Especially if you've been with this person for a while already. You know them well, what… are they someone who can hold space for your needs and respect your boundaries? Still—what's the word I'm looking for—still have a strong sense of self and a hearty self-esteem in order to just stand by your side. That, if the evidence is there for that, then it's appropriate to slowly lean into that anxiety. Well, but yeah, that's the process. 

Dr. Lisa: Definitely. And if they can't, or they fall apart, or they get mad at you, or try to punish you, I will refer you back to the recent episode of the podcast in which I discussed narcissism. And there's also one about when to call it quits in a relationship. Just saying it. It might not be the case.

Kathleen: But that's a really good point. Right? All of those things are not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. 

Kathleen: Right? We can—we feel like we don't say that enough, right? Hearing things, like well, defensiveness. Even just defensiveness, right? We all feel defensive sometimes. I think that's a natural human emotion. But again, can your partner feel defensive and still be self-aware enough, and regulate to show up with love and respect?  “Oh, wow. I'm feeling defensive and I want to be here for you. So let me take a moment and come back.” Or “I notice I’m feeling defensive, and your feelings are valid, and really important to me.” Or something like that, right? But acting defensive with minimization, invalidation, blame shifting, that's not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. Yeah. 

Kathleen: You don't have to live with it.

Dr. Lisa: What a powerful message and what a nice note for us to land on. It’s beautifully, just affirming, and empowering conversation about boundaries, and what they are, and the path to growth around them. But that also that's a big takeaway for me. That if you encounter these kinds of reactions in someone when you're trying to set healthy and appropriate boundaries, it's not you. It's that. Then to not get tricked into believing otherwise. That's an important message for a lot of people to hear, I think, especially for women.

Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great point. It’s not a reflection of you or the appropriateness of your boundary.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, we could talk for a much longer. So this is such an interesting conversation. And maybe we can revisit this topic and have a part two at some point. But I've really enjoyed your time today. It has been wonderful. 

Kathleen: Well, thank you. I really appreciate being able to be here and talk about this. And it has been, I think, fun. This is my idea of a good time anyway.

Dr. Lisa: We're letting our nerd flags fly, Kathleen. I love it. I had a good time too. Thank you.

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

It's Hard to Relax When You're a Superstar

[social_warfare]

Here at Growing Self our therapy and life coaching clients are generally successful, high-achieving people on a path of personal growth. Because of this, I have a soft spot for the superstars, and I know that being a go-getting, productive, conscientious, high-achieving, intelligent, successful person has many, many benefits. You get things done, you're on top of it, and you are probably extremely successful in many areas of life.

And… it's probably hard for you to relax.

How to Relax When You're an Over-Achiever

Because you are so conscientious and successful you probably do everything you're supposed to. You take vacations, you exercise, you have a healthy diet, and you practice self-care. But it still might feel hard to let yourself truly relax. Even when you're having fun you are thinking about the next thing, and doing “nothing” (as in the Dutch practice of Niksen) feels like a waste of time compared to all the important or goal-directed things you could (probably feel like you should) be doing.

Believe it or not, learning how to relax is a very important life-skill. Just like learning how to manage your emotions, making it a priority to exercise and sleep, managing your finances, having satisfying relationships, practicing good self care, and eating healthy foods, learning how to relax — how to truly relax — is a skill set that is acquired through education and practice.

Real relaxation, the kind that restores you and allows you to be more productive, more creative, more resilient, and happier, is much more than about taking a bath once in a while. Real relaxation requires a high degree of self awareness and commitment, as well as the development of specific internal skills. (Ha! You can always recognize a fellow Type-A over-achiever when they describe relaxation skills as a project — hello my friend.)

Yes, I know from both professional experience in working with extremely successful, high-achieving people as well as from my own personal experience, that being a Type-A superstar has a very real dark side including exhaustion, agitation, anxiety and overwork. Burnout is an experience that many hard working and conscientious people can succumb to if not careful. Without vital relaxation skills, you can start to experience a lack of motivation, tiredness, emotional numbness, and loss of joy and creativity in your day to day life. FYI, “Burnout” is real: It's finally gotten recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the ICD!

The Keys to Authentic Relaxation

Today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is just for you, my high-achieving compadre. We'll be discussing:

  • The mind-body connection that makes you feel stressed out even when you're relaxing
  • New ideas to help you prioritize your self-care and relaxation
  • The real source of stress (it's not what you think… except when it is)
  • Why “relaxing” behaviors (massages, hot baths, vacations) won't help you truly de-stress
  • How to combat the stressful thinking styles that will interfere with true relaxation
  • The skills and strategies that will actually help you reduce stress, relax, and restore your mind, body and soul.

I hope this discussion helps you achieve the rest and relaxation that you deserve, and that it helps you (paradoxically) become even more productive, creative, forward-thinking and successful as a result!

From me to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

Listen to the Podcast

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

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

Music Credits: Damian Jurado and Richard Swift, “Hello Sunshine”

Enjoy the Podcast?

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

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More Love, Life & Career Advice on the Blog

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Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

[social_warfare]

Trust Yourself

Anxiety vs. Intuition, and How to Tell the Difference

The phrase “trust yourself” is easy to toss around. It sounds inspirational, and certainly looks great on a coffee mug or instagram post. But learning how to trust yourself, like really and truly trust yourself, is actually a life-skill that requires practice and hard work to develop. I work with many of my private Denver therapy and online life coaching clients around how to trust themselves (or, more accurately, how to tell the difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy aspects of their experience). It's definitely in the realm of “advanced personal growth” but is truly life changing once you figure it out.

For example, before you can really trust yourself you need to know the difference between anxiety and intuition. When do you listen to that small voice in your head, because it's right? And when is that small (or loud) voice in your head just scared, jumping to conclusions, or trying to protect you from something that's not really a threat? Learning how to differentiate between the two will help you trust yourself.

This alone can take a lot of deliberate energy and effort, through therapy or life coaching, to figure out. It requires a lot of radical honesty and self-awareness. But true personal growth requires it.

For example, people working on themselves in therapy or coaching quickly learn that there are ALL KINDS of thoughts and feelings zooming around in their heads and hearts. Some of these thoughts are reality based and true, and some are helpful. Many of our automatic thoughts are neither objectively true, nor helpful. Figuring out how to tell the difference between the two is life-changing (as well as the heart and soul of evidence based cognitive-behavioral therapy or coaching).

Similarly, we can routinely feel all kinds of things. Some emotions, when listened to and explored, are veritable treasure troves of invaluable information about ourselves, our truth, our values. Stepping wholeheartedly into these healthy emotional currents are like being carried forward effortlessly towards growth and healing. But, like our thoughts, not all of our feelings are healthy or helpful. Some, like anxiety, shame, and depression, though they feel real, are the emotional equivalent of drinking poison. They are not to be indulged wholesale, but rather assisted in transforming themselves into something more helpful.

At the same time that we have unhelpful thoughts and feelings, we also receive messages from deep and knowing parts of ourselves that are worth listening to. We all carry intuition and wisdom inside of us. We can know things without knowing why we know them. Often those “gut feelings” or ideas that bubble up in your brain seemingly on their own can be powerful and accurate sources of self-guidance, and you can trust them. And sometimes our anxiety flares up around all kinds of things, and has little basis in reality.

Anxiety will conjure up perceived threats in many situations, irregardless of their basis in reality. Being led (or more often, blocked) by anxiety is exhausting and self-limiting. In contrast, intuition is the product of real information that's simply being processed on a non-conscious level. Even though flashes of intuition may seem, in some ways, just as baseless as anxiety, it's not. It's helpful, useful, and true. When you learn how to tap into your intuition, (and differentiate intuition vs. anxiety) you can trust yourself.

As is so often true in the realm of personal growth therapy, learning how to tell the diffference between anxiety and intuition and trust yourself is easier said than done. That is why we're devoting an entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to exploring this topic. Listen, so that you can understand how to recognize the different signs and manifestations of intuition, and learn how anxiety is different.

In This “Trust Yourself” Podcast Episode, You Will…

  • Understand the difference between anxiety and intuition.
  • Discover the importance of feeling fear (and how it's different from anxiety).
  • Learn what to do with your gut feelings.
  • Understand the importance of clarity, and how to get it through your intuition.
  • Find out the best way to combat anxiety.
  • Identify the reasons why intuitions happen, and how to increase your intuition.
  • Learn how to tell the difference between anxiety and intuition in relationships.

I often discuss the subject of how to trust yourself with my therapy and coaching clients. I have so much to share on this important topic of learning how to trust yourself, and I'm so excited to share it with you too. You can listen to “Trust Yourself” on Spotify, the Apple Podcast app, on the player at the bottom of this post, or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts. Show-notes and the transcript are below, if you're more of a reader.

I hope this discussion helps YOU learn how to tell the difference between anxiety vs intuition, so that you can trust yourself with confidence.

xo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Trust Yourself: Podcast Episode Highlights

Gut Feeling About Relationship?

“We all have ideas, interpretations, perceptions about what's happening, that are only our conscious thoughts after they have been filtered through our set of life experiences, our core beliefs.”

We take in a lot of information without realizing it, but our brain can only consciously process so much. Most of this information is insignificant, but some is extremely important even if we don't recognize it as vital data. When that happens, we can have thoughts or feelings without knowing why. Then we have to consciously decide whether to act on the feeling or not. When you're having a feeling about a person… what do you do? Trust yourself? Minimize and explain away your feelings? Act on your feelings, realize belatedly they were anxiety, and then live to regret it? Agh!

When It's Anxiety: Our feelings can be in direct contrast to reality. We should test feelings of discomfort, especially if they don't coincide with what is happening. These feelings could manifest as fear or dislike of someone, but sometimes without a rational, apparent cause. It's essential to remember that these feelings do stem from something — past experiences, for example. The other person might remind you of a painful part of your history. Anxiety often doesn't hold up to scrutiny. 

When It's Intuition: “Even if you have trust issues, it doesn't mean that you might not have a spidey sense feeling about someone that you should listen to.” Intuition, even though it's processing information on a subconscious level, is still processing reality-based information. Often, when you talk through thoughts and feelings that are worth listening to, they make sense and are based on facts. 

Recognizing Anxiety

Your past experiences will determine how you act in a relationship. Different people with different issues will react differently. If you tend to have anxiety in certain types of relationships, or know that your anxiety is triggered by certain types of things, your self-awareness will help you identify anxiety. Anxiety is familiar.

“Somebody else standing right next to you looking at the same situation would perceive a fairly neutral thing — they would not have the same kind of emotional reaction, or sort of instinctive reaction that will feel very much like intuition.”

For example, if you have trust issues, it's critical to be aware of your patterns. Should you feel uncomfortable about someone, you must recognize why. The feeling may not be related to the person at all! If you dismiss them without analyzing why you feel the way you do, you might miss the opportunity to meet a wonderful person.

  1. Pay close attention to your internal dialogues, especially in neutral situations, like a lunch with a friend. Ask yourself whether you attribute meaning to actions that have none. Are you mind reading, jumping to conclusions, or beating yourself up? Knowing your tendencies is 80% of the game.
  2. Ask if what you’re feeling is unusual for you. If you're having funny feelings outside of your usual pattern about someone, it could be a sign of intuition — your mind could be giving you information that you should pay attention to.
  3. If the thought and feeling are familiar, and ones that you commonly have in similar situations, it's probably anxiety.

Listen To Your Intuition

“We all know things that are true without knowing why we know that they are true.”

Your brain receives factual information from many different sources, but some sources don't get the benefit of conscious awareness. Just because data doesn't immediately connect with your conscious awareness doesn't mean it's not valuable. These feelings are still valid and real — and sometimes, they may be an actual, intuitive warning about someone. These messages from a different, though very real and trustworthy part of your show up as intuition.

When To Go With Your Gut

Our brains process truth by absorbing the tiny details of our surroundings, especially regarding people. We are highly evolved social animals, and our minds are wired to spot danger instinctively. However, our conscious minds do not always recognize these details.

“And so, because this is happening, we can be gathering a ton of valuable information about people, about situations, about relational dynamics, about whether or not somebody is telling the truth or is trustworthy, or, you know, all of these things that are never consciously noticed.”

You get this information through feelings. To illustrate, we may feel that a person is wrong for us without consciously knowing why, or you feel good about someone for no reason.

“What many others want to dismiss as a coincidence or a gut feeling is, in fact, a cognitive process. It is faster than we recognize and far different from the familiar step by step thinking that we rely on so willingly. We think conscious thought is somehow better, when in fact, intuition is a soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic.”

Your intuition is the rapid analysis of all those small details. It bypasses conscious thought: suddenly, you know something, but you don't know why you know it. The speed of intuition is useful for protection; when you are afraid, it may be best not to ask questions. Trust the fear, and figure out the fear when you're safe.

The Gift of Fear

If you feel afraid of someone, nothing else matters. Always listen to fear, whether around your personal relationships or personal safety. Fear is not the same thing as anxiety. 

But even fear can be confusing. For example If you have a history of toxic relationships or come from a dysfunctional family where emotional safety was not something you could count on, you might be used to ignoring fear. Not listening to or respecting healthy fear is one of the reasons why people can fall into toxic relationship patterns.

Even worse, if you have a history of toxic, unhealthy relationships you might feel apprehensive in safe, stable, healthy relationships. If you have this type of history, you may develop “trust issues” or unrealistic concerns about your partner in a healthy relationship. 

But the path to trusting yourself is to understand your patterns and what feels “normal” to you. Do you have a pattern of minimizing fear? Do you have a pattern of trust issues even in relationships with good, safe people? (Or do you tend to reject good, safe people?) Knowing yourself will give you the answers, and will help you trust yourself going forward. (And here's the link to our How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz, if you want to do some reality testing.)

To Know Yourself: Learn and Grow

Some of us may have struggled for a long time in damaging, toxic relationships. Those relationships can sometimes damage our ability to trust, to feel good about ourselves, and to have healthy self esteem. To overcome this, we should face the past, remember it, and accept it for what it is. It is not impossible to move on — often, with the help of evidence-based therapy, it’s easier to grow beyond your past. Your history isn’t the end.

“If you’ve been in a relationship that wound up being hurtful to you. . . there’s gonna be stuff, and that’s not that there’s anything horribly wrong with you. It’s part of the human experience.”

But it’s part of our responsibility to be aware of what issues we have. We have to work through it. While we can't get rid of our experiences, we can become familiar with them, so they don't destroy us.

You might feel apprehensive in relationships regardless. A therapist can help you learn to recognize your patterns and internal dialogues. Even if you feel anxiety, you can still be the way you want to be in a relationship.

Listening to Our Feelings

Once you recognize your patterns, you might think you can talk yourself out of your fear and anxiety. However, the critical thing to do is to analyze your emotions.

“With judgment comes the ability to disregard your intuition, unless you can explain it logically. The eagerness to judge and convict your feelings rather than honor them. And that is the other side of this coin that we all have access to this sort of subterranean part of our brain that is providing us with highly reliable intuitive intuition and information, and the work isn't.”

In my experience as a Denver marriage counselor, I encountered three clients having problems with their relationships. They had a sense that their partners weren't faithful, and were trying to figure out how to rebuild trust after infidelity. As hard as they tried, they could not feel safe with their partners despite working hard at it. As it turns out, all three of them were indeed not with trustworthy partners. Their intuition was trustworthy. Your feelings of fear and mistrust might be anxiety — or they might be an accurate, intuitive analysis.

In another instance, I've worked with people were cheating on their partner. Despite leaving no trace of infidelity, their partner still felt anxious, emotionally clingy, and suspicious. “Your partner doesn't have all of the factual information, but they can feel the truth of the situation. They know what is happening even though they don't know, they still feel the truth. You can't hide that.” 

Patterns in Relationships

It might feel discomfiting to think that all your feelings have a basis in truth. But again, you must analyze them  —knowing the patterns in your relationships is a big part of the battle. For instance, your attachment styles can also play a part in how you form your relationship patterns.

However, it could be intuition if you've already done the work on yourself by asking questions like:

  • Why did I choose a partner I was suspicious of?
  • Is there something in my pattern around the partners I choose?
  • Am I seeking a specific personality type?

Understand why a particular person attracts you. Knowing this can help lessen your anxiety and help you understand your patterns in relationships.

“It requires a lot of self-awareness to know that so that you can make informed choices based on what you know about yourself as opposed to what someone else is telling you.”

Therapy is a great way to help guide you on your personal growth work. With self-awareness and therapy, you can gain more clarity about yourself. Is something bad happening to you, or is it all your old stuff?

Trusting Yourself and Gaining Clarity

Another way of attaining clarity is by talking your problems out with a neutral third party, someone with no stake in what's happening. Not someone close to you, like your mom or your best friend — someone genuinely neutral. They might have a completely different perspective.

The point of asking a third party is to borrow someone else's brain to get a better read on a person or situation. For example, at Growing Self, we interview new therapists, counselors, or coaches as a team — multiple people compare notes and see if anyone has a gut feeling about the interviewee.

Building self-awareness involves work. Two exercises you can try in addition to talking to a third party are as follows:

  • When you have an intuitive feeling about someone, flesh it out. If you listen to the emotion and examine it, you might find that it has a basis in factual information! 
  • Look back to moments when you knew something wasn't right, didn't listen to it, and the feeling turned out to be correct. What did it feel like at the time? Reexamining your history goes back to understanding your patterns and seeing what fits.

These feelings might not be conscious thoughts. They can manifest as dread or even physical, visceral sensations. Intuition can take many forms, so it’s vital to know what language your intuition speaks.

Signs of Intuition

Anxiety usually feels familiar, but intuition often seems to come from nowhere, unattached to anything. It typically means that there is a fully formed thought in your mind. Even dreams can be part of your intuition. While most dreams have no basis in reality, some might feel different and worth investigating.

“If it is an intuition and something trustworthy, when you do give it a voice, your intuition will make perfect sense.”

As always, analyze the feeling. See what feels different — intuition feels different from your usual anxiety. Have tools in place to help you sort out what you’re feeling: the strategies here can help you, but it would be best to find professional assistance. If you'd like to get involved in evidence based therapy or life coaching with one of the therapists at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, get started by requesting a first, free consultation session.

I hope that this discussion around understanding the difference between anxiety and intuition helps you trust yourself. What part of this podcast did you connect and relate to the most? Or do you have any follow up questions for me? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Lastly: If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the podcast and pay it forward by sharing this with some you love who could benefit from hearing it!

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Trust Yourself

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

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

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Trust Yourself: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

 

[I Know I Know I Know by James Parm plays]

 

That’s James Parm, and the song is called I know, I know, I know. That's what we're talking about today, you guys, is how you can know and trust your intuition. Or here's the hard part—know when to not trust your feelings because they are, in fact, anxiety, and not intuition. This is a very, very difficult thing to tease apart. But this is something I think we all struggle with. And we have had a number of people—thank you so much if this was you—get in touch through Instagram @drlisamariebobby or @growing_self on Instagram, and through our website growingself.com to ask exactly this question: how do I tell the difference between anxiety and intuition? 

 

We've actually had this question come up in different variants. People asking, “How do I tell if I'm having a healthy thought that's based on something that I should listen to, and trust, and take guidance from? versus Is this my own kind of tendency to worry about these situations? Am I overthinking unnecessarily? Or is there actually something for me to be worried about?” These are really tough things to wrestle through. But I am going to attempt to help you with this on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. 

 

So if you are one of the people who has gotten in touch recently, with this question or another, thank you so much. I try to really make these podcasts in alignment with what would be most helpful to you. If you are listening to this for the first time, or are a new listener, and would ever like to get in touch, you're welcome to do this. You can track us down at growingself.com, send an old-fashioned email, Instagram, Facebook, all of the usual outlets. We're all ears. 

Anxiety or Intuition

All right, so let's just dive into this topic. Okay, this is a tough one. Have you ever been in a situation where you are getting vibed by someone, or like it's a new person? Maybe you're dating a new person, or getting to know a new person, and you're sort of having a weird reaction to them but you don't quite know why. When you look at what is actually happening on the surface, it sort of doesn't add up. They're not doing anything wrong. They're not saying anything wrong. Nothing has happened that you're aware of. But nonetheless, you are having this kind of gut feeling about someone, and you're not sure if you should pay attention to this. Or if it's just you thinking weird thoughts, and having anxiety that you shouldn't listen to. 

 

I have to tell you, I think that when I talk to clients in—I mean—individual therapy, life coaching clients, but even like couples counseling, and relationship coaching clients, this question comes up more more often than you would think. And because I think that many people really struggle with this. And the difference between intuition and anxiety can be quite tricky to sort through. Let's just kind of look at this from two different angles here. 

 

First of all, what is true? Undeniably true is that we all have ideas, interpretations, perceptions, about what's happening that are only our conscious thoughts after they have been filtered through our set of life experiences, our core beliefs. This is true for everything. I mean, things that make us feel upset or apprehensive, but even totally random stuff too. I mean, you know what I'm going to have for lunch today? My opinion about some of the color shirt that someone is wearing.  I mean extremely benign things that are of absolutely no consequence at all. 

 

There's a lot that we sort of take in without even realizing that we're taking things in, and that we do have opinions or life experiences or judgments on some level. But that we're not even consciously aware of because that's something interesting to know about the way our brain works. We have discussed this on other topics, but that there's so much information around us every day, all the time, constantly. From physical sensations, to noises in our background, to things that we see, things that we hear, things that we could be doing. It is literally impossible for the human brain to consciously hold all of the information we're receiving all of the time. We sort of have to be selective about what we choose to pay attention to and what we don't. Otherwise it would just be overwhelming. We're constantly getting barraged with information. Most of the time, again, we don't have any reaction to any of this information at all because it's just not important. 

 

But there are times when things trigger us. We are in situations where all of a sudden, we start to feel threatened, or uncomfortable, or worried, or suspicious. At that time, we then have to make a conscious decision about what do I want to do with this feeling. Is this something I should take action on? Is this something that I should do, like a manual override and keep going? I talk to people a lot about this especially in the context of dating or other relationships. But even like in career coaching situations, and I'll tell you why in a second, but that's really what we're what we're talking about today. 

 

When it comes to relationships, there is information that's coming at us on all these different levels. There's oftentimes a difference between what our emotional minds are sensing or noticing, what we term intuition versus, like, our conscious thoughts about “this is why I'm doing that,” “this is why I have decided,” “this is a person that I'd like to get to know better or not.” Our conscious mind is seeking factual information. But there are other parts of our brain that do not operate on factual information the same way, but are still quite reliable sources of information. It can be really challenging, I think, to figure out when do you trust that? When do you not? 

 

I am just a full transparency. I mean, I'm like everybody else. I have had this situation happen to me these days, when I am confronted with that. I have a nagging feeling or thought about a person, but it doesn't quite add up. I have to figure out, “Okay, what do we want to do with this?”  

 

Recently…Well, I should say over the last couple of years, in my role here at Growing Self—so you know, I'm the founder and clinical director. But I also participate in decisions about who we want to add to our team, like as a new therapist, or coach, or couples counselor because we're super, super selective about who we work with. When we're interviewing people, they have to have like criteria in terms of their education, and the schools that they come from, the types of therapy that they practice, or their coaching education.So to kind of get in the door, they have to have all the stuff, the pedigree. 

 

But when—even that, our bar is pretty high for that, and most people honestly don't make it further. But then there's this other thing where we're talking to prospective therapists or coaches, and they seem nice, they seem personable, they seem competent, they seem like they probably do a good job. But then, there's just this weird feeling. Sometimes not even a feeling when I'm with them in the meeting. Although I've had that too in the first meeting. We had numerous interviews with people. But the first or second time that I'm getting to know them. Even after that first meeting, it's like, there's this weird aftertaste like I'm sort of left with this feeling. It's almost like an energetic feeling, although I hesitate to use that word because what I'm talking about here is not like some woowoo, Hocus Pocus, psychic thing. This is just different sources of information that all of our brains have access to. But it's like not intellectual conscious information doesn't mean that it isn't valid. 

 

The way I often experienced this, it's like, there's this weird, just sort of troubled—like, “I don’t know” feeling. And that feeling is often in direct contrast, because when I kind of scroll back through the situation and the things they said, and their answers to questions like it was absolutely appropriate, from an intellectual rational point of view. It all added up. They had great qualities, objective, they lead, they would be a nice addition to the team. And it's like, “I can't figure out why I have this feeling,” and it drives me crazy. Because then I'm sure you can relate to this—you're put in a situation where you're like, “Okay, do I give this person a chance? Do I kind of go into this more deeply with them? Do I try this and see how it goes?” 

 

I'm also sort of wrestling with myself around the troubling feeling that I have, like an artifact of my own life experience? Do they remind me of someone that I had a bad experience with? Am I sort of projecting some of my weird anxieties onto them? it isn't true that I am thinking or feeling things that are not actually in alignment with reality. So what do I do if I listen to this feeling that I feel troubled and then it isn't linked to any sort of reality? Then, I have missed an opportunity to potentially work with a very cool new person who would do a great job and be fabulous. Or do I trust this feeling and listen to myself and say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I'm sure you'd be a valued member of some other team, but this isn't going to be the right place for you.” you'd be surprised at how often this happens. And I know that as you're listening to me share this, you can relate. I know you can because it happens to all of us. 

 

If you are in a relationship with a significant other, particularly if you are dating and out there, like meeting new people and trying to get a sense of who people are. Or even with friends, family members—we're all sort of like what is happening here. Again, trying to sort through: what's me? What's my stuff? What are my trust issues? We talked a couple weeks ago about trust issues, and relationships, and that is such a real thing. 

 

If you have trust issues in relationships, you will frequently routinely feel kind of doubting, and mistrustful of people who are not doing anything wrong because it's what you're sort of carrying around with you from one relationship to another. But then there's also the converse is that—this is what makes it so confusing. Even if you have trust issues, it doesn't mean that you might not have a spidey sense feeling about someone that you shouldn't listen to. I think it was Kurt Cobain, the late great, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're aren’t after you.” That's where it gets so confusing, I think for everyone, is like to figure out, what do I listen to and what do I can't? 

 

Again, like just going a little bit deeper into this idea because this is actually one of the things that can help you, slash, all of us sort through whether or not we're having feelings that we should trust, or override. Whether it's anxiety, whether it's intuition, is that if you have an anxious attachment style, or an avoidant attachment style, for that matter, you will, just by virtue of the way you typically feel around people, be kind of vigilant for signs that other people might be up for something. You might have worries about people's commitment to you. Whether or not you can trust them, whether or not they are going to be reliable, worthy partners for you.

 

It will be sort of your tendency in relationships to get activated over things that too—Like somebody else standing right next to you looking at the same situation would be perceived as being a fairly neutral thing. They would not have the same kind of emotional reaction, or sort of instinctive reaction that will feel very much like intuition. They won't have that same thing that you would because you tend to not trust people as easily. You tend to feel a little anxious in relationships, or have trust issues. It's very, very important if you want to have a better sense, I guess, because it's never possible at the end of the day to know for sure what's anxiety, and what's intuition. But to become very aware of your own patterns. 

 

That kind of self-awareness knowing “I routinely feel this way in my interactions with many different people. I've felt this way before and it's turned out to be nothing,” is really important information for you to have so that you can be thinking about that, “I'm having this feeling about this person, is this part of my usual MO?” Is this what I do? Because if the answer to that is yes, there's a good chance that this is related more to your anxiety than it is an actual specific thing related to this person, that you should do something about. Again, there is no way of knowing. You can frequently feel anxious about other people, and feel that way with a new person, and they are actually untrustworthy. So again, I'm going to give you more like tips and strategies to help kind of parse through this. But like, there's that. 

Intuition vs Anxiety 

But step one, if you want to tell the difference between anxiety and intuition, notice your own internal dialogue, particularly in situations that are fairly neutral. You are out to lunch with someone—again this is like in a hypothetical world when any of us are able to go out to lunch with friends. Your person goes and goes to refill their soda out of the machine, and doesn't ask you if you want to refill. Does that trigger you? Do you attribute a lot of meaning to that? Do you label this person as being selfish or not caring about you? Or do you feel anxious, and get activated, and want to talk about that? Is that part of what you do? Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it's like, knowing, “Oh, yes, this is a thing for me.” 

 

If you tend to have an avoidant attachment style, you will tend to kind of pick other people apart. You know whether or not you do it out loud, but you'll sort of have this running commentary in your mind that kind of criticizes other people. And notice if, slash, when that shows up—if it sort of shows up a lot of the time, and makes you feel certain ways about people, just your knowing that that's a tendency, is 80% of the game. When you can be able to…if you're having funny feelings about people that you will know, “Is this unusual for me?” Because that can be one indication, this is actually an intuition thing, or your mind is giving you information that you should pay attention to. What we're talking about here is…let me let me just back up for a second, because in case I didn't really talk about this clearly. 

Feeling or Thinking 

We all know things that are true without knowing why we know that they are true, which sounds very confusing. But again, going back to this idea that there are different sources of factual information that are received by your brain without the benefit of conscious awareness or thought. But just because we're not thinking about them, or they're not—we're not perceiving them as intellectually accurate data points, doesn't mean that they're not true, and reliable, and valid and that they need to be paid attention to. 

 

Because, again your brain is doing all kinds of processing that is outside of your conscious awareness. If we were consciously aware of everything that our brain was doing, your head would drop off, it's just too much. So, even when you're not having conscious thoughts about, “Hmmm. That looks like a nice person because she just sort of nodded her head, and tilted it a little bit, and smiled at me. She's making sort of affirming noises, that means that she's like, connected with me. She's interested in what I'm saying.” That is not actually an internal dialogue that you're having most of the time. What is happening is that your brain is absorbing all of these tiny, tiny little details, particularly when it comes to people because we are highly evolved social animals.

 

Your brain has so many hardwired systems baked into it that are there for the purpose of assessing social connection. Are other people dangerous or not? How do I stand with this person? And there's all this sort of neurological machinery that is only there to read faces, notice gestures, I mean, the tone of somebody's voice. These are all things that get absorbed, and sort of computed without being a conscious thought in your head. Your brain is just doing this all the time. So because this is happening, we can be gathering a ton of valuable information about people, about situations, about relational dynamics, about whether or not somebody is telling the truth, or is trustworthy, all of these things that are never consciously noticed and registered by that conscious part of your mind. 

 

How they do come into informing you is through a feeling. You feel good about someone without consciously knowing why. Or you feel badly about someone without consciously knowing why, because it has not been a conscious part of your brain that has been gathering this information. Now, there are people who have written extensively on this topic, about different layers of your brain, and how to take influence, and guidance from all of them. 

 

One of my very, very favorites on the subject, and I would encourage you to read it if you're interested to learn more about all of this, and it's an amazing book. Anyway, the book is called The Gift of Fear. The author is Gavin de Becker. He talks about using this kind of subconscious, highly-aware part of our brain to protect ourselves from dangerous situations. The Gift of Fear is like a scary book, in some ways. I mean, he's talking about how to understand if you're in the presence of a predator, or somebody who wants to hurt you, so that you can stay safe by trusting your intuition, which is this primal part of your brain that understands things that your conscious brain doesn't. 

 

He also talks a lot about how we have a tendency to take messages from our intuition, aka more primal evolved parts of our brain and that our conscious brain can discount them, discredit them. I think that's something that we all need to be aware of. 

 

What we're talking about in this podcast today is certainly not at the level that Gavin de Becker is talking about, like basic safety issues. We're really talking about how to trust your intuition and sort of a garden variety relational situations. But here's one quote from the book that I think would be really helpful to our discussion today. The quote is, “What many others want to dismiss as a coincidence or a gut feeling is, in fact, a cognitive process. It is faster than we recognize and far different from the familiar step-by-step thinking that we rely on so willingly. We think conscious thought is somehow better. When in fact, intuition is a soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic.” 

 

What he's referring here to is this more elemental part of your brain that is so highly-attuned particularly to other people, knows things in what feels like a flash. It bypasses conscious thought it's like you don't even know why you know something, but all of a sudden, you know something and it is just the truth. When it comes to things like fear,if you feel afraid, you do not have to ask anybody questions. You do not have to figure out why you feel afraid. I would implore you and if you read this Gift of Fear book, you'll arrive at the same conclusion: to act on that feeling every time if you feel afraid. Trust it, and figure out the rest later. Don't don't wait. Don't linger. Don't try to justify your feelings of fear if you feel afraid, it's okay. 

 

That is actually—when we're assessing couples, and it is not a specialty here at Growing Self—but domestic violence is a thing in relationships. Again, we don't provide that kind of counseling. If you're in a relationship where you are being hurt, or your kids are being hurt, you need very specific kinds of help. We don't do that here. I would encourage you to get into the hotline.org. It’s a website with more resources that can help you. 

 

One of our screening questions when we suspect that there might be something like that is going on, is that we try to get two people apart and simply ask, “Do you feel afraid of your partner?” And when people say yes, nothing else matters. We don't need to parse apart. Okay? Well, exactly what happened and what was said? And it doesn’t meet the level of criteria to be considered that we're done. If you feel afraid of another person, you act on that. Irregardless of your history, irregardless of your reason why, your feelings of fear should always be trusted, until proven otherwise. Right? 

 

Now, again, the thing that makes this really confusing is that while you should always trust—it is also true. That if you have been in relationships in the past where you weren't safe with other people, particularly if you grew up in a volatile family where safety was not something that you could count on. You are going to be highly attuned to whether or not you're safe with other people. Small signal, you're going to be incredibly perceptive. You may have a tendency to override what you know, and form attachments to people who are unwell because it feels familiar and because it feels like, what you know. So expect that you will have a highly attuned spidey sense, and you will have a tendency to override that. 

Self Development

When you are in relationships with healthy people who are there to have a secure, safe, trustworthy attachment with you, it will feel uncomfortable.You may feel not, like, afraid for your life. But you will probably feel triggered by things that healthy people with healthy boundaries are doing in relationships because you're not used to it. Again, this goes back into what I was saying previously, that part of being able to parse apart, what is my intuition versus what is anxiety is having done a lot of work on yourself. So that you know, “These are my patterns. I have had bad experiences with people in the past, and so because of that, this is how I habitually feel.” 

 

It takes, I think, a long time in therapy to understand that and kind of make peace with that past because when you feel uneasy with people, or worried if you can trust them, it doesn't always mean that something bad is happening. Particularly if you'd have a difficult history because of that filter. If you generally struggle to feel okay in relationships, and trust people, and often find yourself needing to work on managing anxiety. When you recognize that for what it is, you become much better able to regulate those thoughts and feelings so that you can stay connected to people in a healthy way. That will be the work, is getting to know what you usually do and figuring out how to manage that so that it's not disruptive to your relationships. So there's that. 

Individual Therapy

There may be some of you resonating to this right now. If you want to do more work in this area, honestly, like therapy, or sometimes coaching. But honestly more often therapy is a good way of kind of getting into, “Have there been experiences in relationships that made me feel a little afraid of other people, or made me not trust people that maybe are trustworthy? What is my history?” 

 

So it's really like, “Is my history consistent with me having stuff to work on in that area?” My goodness, who isn't? If you've been in a relationship that wound up being hurtful to you, if you were bullied as a kid if your parents were not ideal, there's gonna be stuff, and that's not that there's anything horribly wrong with you. It's part of the human experience, and it's part of our responsibility to be aware of what our crap is so that we can take responsibility for it, manage it, work through it, or… 

 

When I say work through it, what I mean is, you know that it's not always possible to make those old artifacts go away. We cannot banish them from our experience, but what we can do is become extremely familiar with them. So that way they don't get to break crap in our lives as adults. Right? So it isn't that you're never going to feel apprehensive in relationships, it's that you're going to be able to say, “I know that I often feel apprehensive in relationships, and here's what I know.” And that you have strategies for being able to manage that so that even if you have anxious feelings, you can still be the person that you want to be in your relationships, and have healthy relationships. You don't wind up pushing away, or hurting other people because of your own anxiety because that's a risk, as we've talked about on past podcasts. 

 

Trust Yourself

But here's the other thing that may may make you feel better, or may make you feel worse, is that while we can carry habitual anxiety or mistrust into different situations with us, there is also a thing that is true, which is that it's very, very easy to discount feelings of apprehension, or misgiving, or “No. I don’t know about that person. Kind of a bad feeling, or a hunch,” very easy to talk yourself out of those feelings when you should, in fact, be listening to them. 

 

Going back to the Gift of Fear book, just another quick quote here, “With judgment comes the ability to disregard your own intuition, unless you can explain it logically. The eagerness to judge and convict your own feelings, rather than honor them.”. That is the other side of this coin is that we all have access to this sort of subterranean part of our brain that is providing us with highly reliable intuition and information and the work isn't, “Okay, this is just me in my anxiety.” The work is figuring out, “How do I give myself permission to listen to this without brushing it off, without doubting myself, or talking myself out of it?” This is really important because it happens. It's happened to me personally. 

 

Going back to my story about when we're hiring people, or seeking to connect with new counselors on the team here at Growing Self. There have been a number of times over the years, I'm less likely to do it now because of the work that I've done. But a number of times over the years where I have had a not good feeling about someone, and the only way to describe it is like—the sort of dread, or apprehension, or not wanting to schedule another meeting with them. Not wanting to interact with them is the only way that I can describe it. But intellectually, I had that same experience of like, “No, she has amazing training. I mean, I don't think we've had a candidate who's had this kind of training, and all the experience that she's had. We've been looking to connect with somebody good, who's licensed in this state for a long time. Her references had good things to say about her. So I'm just, This is just my crap. And I'm going to override it.” Not always has it come to fruition. 

 

There are a couple of times when I had a not so great feeling about someone it turned out to be fine. But I tell you what, nine times out of 10 when I have overwritten that feeling, I have come to regret it. It wasn't immediately the other shoe didn't drop until sometimes a year or two out. But when it did, I was like, “Oh, I knew it. I knew it.” If you think back to situations in your own life, where you wound up getting hurt, or disappointed, or trusted somebody that maybe you shouldn't have from that—the place of hindsight. If you're really honest with yourself, I would bet you a cookie that you would have that same conversation that you would be like, “I knew it. When I first met her, I knew something was off. I had that little sense, talked myself out of it, and then X,Y, Z happened.” We've all been there. How do you get familiar with that experience, and pay attention to it, and learn how to trust it? This is true in little ways, and in big ways. 

 

As a marriage counselor, I have been in on three occasions, there have been three because they were so distinctive. But on three occasions, I have worked with couples where one person has been persistently anxious, fearful, that their partner is doing something that they shouldn't be doing. In all three of these situations, it was people in the either in the aftermath of an affair, it was two of them. In one of them, it was in the aftermath of a partner who previously had a substance use disorder that they've since gone into treatment for. So in all three of these situations, I had one person who was like, “This doesn't feel right. I'm not safe. I don't trust them.” In the context of their partner, saying the right things, doing the right things that we had talked about, and objectively not giving any evidence that they were continuing with an affair, or using substances, or anything like that. To the point where the people who were so worried about their partners, or was actually like, “I need you to take a polygraph test because I feel like I'm losing my mind. I need to take a lie detector test because I am having these thoughts and feelings but you're telling me that this isn't true, and I don't know what to believe.” 

 

I will tell you that on every single one of those occasions—all three—if somebody was like, “No.” And you say a lie detector test because this is how crazy I feel. Every single one of those times, it emerged that the people were actually doing exactly what their partners were afraid that they were doing. I will tell you that two of the people refused to take a polygraph test, they never did. The one who did take the polygraph test passed it. Sociopaths are people who have convinced themselves that they're not doing anything wrong, or don't really feel remorse, or guilt in the way the rest of us do. They will pass a polygraph test. So that's that's only one of the reasons why white polygraph tests are not admissible in court; it's because they are not always accurate barometers of the truth. But nonetheless, the true story did emerge over time. Every single one of those people who was like, “I do not trust you. I don't know why I don't trust you but I don't”, were right. 

 

I have also been in situations where I'm working with an individual client, either in therapy or coaching, and part of what they're trying to work out with me is the fact that they're in a relationship, and they are having an affair. They are cheating on their partner and I—no judgment right there. They're here with me in therapy or coaching because they're trying to get clarity around what they want to do, and that is valid. This is a safe, non-judgmental space, no matter what is going on. Right? 

 

But irregardless, working with individual clients who are cheating on their partners, or doing other kinds of things that their partners would be very unhappy with if they knew about. They're telling me that they're working very hard to conceal this from their partner. They're being absolutely aboveboard. They're covering their tracks. Their partner has no information. But their partners are still having these weird emotional reactions. They're getting upset. They're accusing them of things. They're being suspicious. They're being emotionally, kind of clingy with them. My clients are like, “What's wrong with them?”  What I tell them is what I will tell you, which is that, “Yes, your partner doesn't have all of the factual information but they can feel the truth of the situation. They know what is happening even though they don't know. They still feel the truth and you can't hide that,” which is disturbing for my clients. So we’re trying very hard to conceal things sometimes to know is that they can't actually hide. 

 

That their partners are having anxiety, and apprehension, and suspicions about the relationship based on other sources of information besides what they rationally, factually, know. Yes, you will be pleased to know that one of my goals is always to help my clients achieve congruence, to bring it out in the open, and allow their partners to make fully informed decisions about whether or not they would like to continue that relationship under these circumstances,that does have to be a goal. But that's not where we start. But I think it's important to have these in mind. 

 

Again, this is so hard because if you tend to have trust issues in relationships anyway, what I just shared with you probably scared the heck out of you. That there are situations where people in relationships feel very suspicious, they are actually being lied. There is gaslighting happening, and they have to figure out do I trust my partner? Or do I trust the way that I feel? 

 

So how to tease this apart? Again, if you are very, very, very well aware of your own patterns in relationships, that's a big part of the battle. If, in every single relationship you have ever had since the time that your partner had an affair, and you didn't know, and it was totally traumatic. If ever since then you worry a lot, that is a good indicator that it could be anxiety. Unless you haven't done the personal growth work around, “What led me to choose a person that I had that kind of suspicion about to begin with?” Or “Is there something in my pattern around the kind of partners I choose that I'm habitually, either not noticing warning signs in relationships, or if I'm making choices, sort of seeking a personality type?” We're going to be talking about narcissists. Soon, my friends. But like, “Am I attracted to narcissists, who would be more likely to do these things to me? I mean, it requires a lot of self-awareness to know that so that you can make informed choices based on what you know about yourself as opposed to what someone else is telling you.

Anxiety Support 

The way that we figure this out, is often through a lot of personal growth work. Again, therapy is a great vehicle to come in, and say, “I'm feeling anxious in my relationship, and I can't figure out if it's because there's something bad actually happening to me, or if this is my old stuff.” Even coaching I think can be helpful around getting clarity around what you know about yourself and whether or not this situation is in alignment with what you usually do and what you usually think and how you usually feel, or whether or not this is an aberration. 

 

Also, another strategy to kind of get that clarity is not just through like, rationally, “Okay, is something bad happening? Did something bad happen?” Because that is not always in alignment with the truth. What you know is not always the same thing as what that intuitive part, that automatic part of your brain knows. But to be able to kind of talk through it with a neutral third party who does not have any skin in the game. So it’s not your mom, it’s not your best friend who kind of hates your boyfriend a little bit anyway. But somebody else. You could say, “Okay, this is what's happening. This is my history. What do you think?” Have somebody look at that and be like, “No, that doesn't actually sound weird to me.” Or, I can't tell you how many situations I've been in where I have had an individual client come to me with exactly that question. “I think I need to work on my trust issues. Let me tell you what's happening in my relationship”. And I'm like, “Oh, my God.” I will—I'm annoyingly honest. So I will say “Based on what you're telling me, It sounds like you maybe do have some things to be worried about. How could you find out for sure, whether or not those things are happening, and the relationship that isn't just asking your partner about it.” 

 

If you're worried that they're not being honest with you because to my ear, this sounds consistent with somebody who's up to something. So it's like, looking at it with somebody else who is neutral. That is actually another one of the strategies that can be really helpful if you're trying to figure out, “Okay. Is this my intuition talking to me?” Is like, I don't know, there was a movie that came out years ago. I think it was called A Brilliant Mind. It had Russell Crowe, and he was a math professor who struggled with schizophrenia. Part of the way his illness presented itself was that he would see things that weren't there. There was this cute little moment at the end of the movie after he had done a lot of work, where he saw one of the characters that he often saw when he was in the grips of his illness, and she sort of pulled aside a student in one of his classes and he's like, “Do you see somebody standing there?” The student was like, “Nope.” He was like, “Okay, just checking.” But it's sort of like that. It's like, can you borrow somebody else's brain to say, “What do you think about this? Am I making something out of nothing here?” 

 

I have to tell you, what I have learned to do for myself, at Growing Self, when it comes to how we find really high-quality therapists, or marriage counselors, or coaches to work with is that we do interviews as a team now. So it's not just one person having to make sense of all of this. Before anybody starts with us, we have a series of interviews, but also at least one where there are multiple people on the team with that person. Then after that, we can compare notes like, “Did you have a little bit of a weird feeling about that person?” Or even prior to that have made it okay, for anybody who interviews somebody to begin with to say, “I have a weird feeling about this person.” And the response is, “Tell me more.” 

 

It's very interesting because what I have often found—and I found this with dating coaching clients—I found those with therapy clients. Somebody has a weird little gut feeling that I learned they aren't sure if they should listen to or not. It doesn't make sense. But then like, when we sit down, I'm like, “Okay, tell me why. If you had to give that little feeling in the pit of your stomach, a voice, what would it say?” And we just let it talk without any judgment. We're not criticizing it. We're not trying to evaluate, whether or not it is true. It's just like, free associate for the next five minutes. 

 

What I hear people say, is really like factual information that this deeper part of their brain had been picking up, making associations, lining up all these little dots. And when they verbalize it, it's like, “Oh, yes. Then you know what, she was a little bit late to that first meeting. Then she had this weird pause when I asked her about the case that she found hardest,” or whatever it was. “But as we talked through it, it's like, oh, no, there was actually stuff there. But I didn't really know at the time, what I was picking up on until I'm telling you about it right now.” 

 

That is very often the case with counseling and coaching clients too. It's that they have a feeling they're like, “Yes. I've been kind of texting with this guy. But I don't think I want to go out with him. But I don't really know why because he checks all the boxes. He seems really nice, but I just have this feeling.” And I'm like, “Okay. Well, let's just—how does that feeling make sense for a minute?” And when people give it a voice, it's like, “Oh, yes. Let's actually not pursue this.” 

 

That's the other side of this coin that I think, the same sort of process of self awareness can offer, is that when you have had intuitive feelings about people—first of all, flush it all the way out. Why does it make sense to kind of get in the habit of learning how to not talk yourself out of it, or criticize yourself for it? Or if you have—I have a tendency for the intellectual part of my brain to—if I have a gut feeling because I'm a thinker. I'm an idea person. So I'm like, “Okay. Well, let me tell you 57 reasons why that's not true, why I shouldn't listen to it.” I've done a lot of work on myself, just knowing that I have that tendency that I try really hard now to not do that and sort of elevate my intuitive ideas that don't really make sense. Like, how do I practice trusting those more? 

 

Also, another great exercise that can help you with this is to scroll back in your life and be like, “Okay, what were the times that I knew on some level something wasn't quite right, and I didn't listen to that?” Or maybe you did listen to it but that it wasn’t justified. Like in time, all the information came out, and that you're apprehensive, or uneasy feelings about someone were spot on. Asking yourself questions like, “How did that feeling show up for me when I know I should have trusted it, but I overrode it?” Because it's not a conscious thought. It's for many people, like almost a physical feeling. 

 

What I have learned for me, again, that it's like a feeling of dread, or like kind of wanting to avoid someone. The sort of like, if somebody starts to make you eat something that's like, a little bit gross. You're like, “No.” It's this visceral sort of feeling. But I had to get acquainted with what that feels like for me. Iit may feel very, very different for you.  I've had clients where it feels just sort of like this cold feeling, or they're around somebody, and they sort of feel like crying and they don't know why. I mean it can show up in many different forms. But it's figuring out what the language of your intuition is. 

 

I will also tell you that one of the differences between intuition and anxiety, where anxiety is often very familiar, it's your MO. It's like all and it feels like worry. Right? When you know things about people or situations that are coming from that intuitive part of your mind, it often feels like, or is experienced, like a fully formed thought out of nowhere that is not attached to anything else. You're just sitting at the breakfast table, eating your cereal, not thinking about anything staring at a wall, and all of a sudden, it's like, “Oh, my God. This is happening.” There's that you're getting a transmission sort of quality to it. That's a sign of intuition. 

 

Similarly, dreams—I have dreams about all kinds of things. Most of them have absolutely no basis in reality, thank God. I've never been actually chased around by a giant rabbit yet. But you know, we'll see. But I have had dreams and I've noticed that there's like a special quality to these dreams, though. I have—over the years—learned how to recognize message dreams from other just random brain processing kinds of dreams. In my world, they are often related to business. 

 

I actually have had the experience on multiple occasions of having had issues happening in my business, Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, that were operational or related to people that I was working with. It were never a conscious thought in my head until I had a dream about it. Then I went and investigated it. It was like, “Oh, this thing is happening.” I had no idea. It was like—and I do not believe that I am psychic. I believe that that deeper part of my brain was just sort of like paying attention to little random things that I consciously was not, and it added them all up, and it offered. “Here's the sum total of all the things that I've added up for you, Lisa, in the form of a dream.” Or is this, sometimes just sort of these thoughts out of nowhere. 

 

So feelings that are different from anxiety, feelings out of nowhere, thoughts, dreams. Then also, when you do have the opportunity to talk through why it does make sense. What comes out, if you don't judge yourself? Because, again, if it is an intuition and something trustworthy, when you do give it a voice, your intuition will make perfect sense. As you lay it all out, it'll be like, “Oh, yes. I do actually need to listen to this.” 

 

So I hope that these ideas have helped you just kind of get a sense of what’s anxiety, what's intuition. If we were to recap, self-awareness with anxiety—when you are feeling anxious, what tends to trigger you? Why does that make sense? How does it show up? Is this a pattern for you? Also intuition,when you happen right in the past, how did you know? What do you do when you try to talk yourself out of stuff that maybe you should stop? Also what feels different? The intuition is going to be different from usual anxiety most of the time. Having tools in place that will help you sort it through, does this make sense for me to listen to? Is this anxiety that I should probably override? Giving yourself ways to open the door for intuition. 

 

I have shared with you some of the strategies that I used to tell the difference between anxiety and intuition and some of the things that I do with my clients. But you know what? I also think that we should crowdsource this one. If you have things that you have learned over the years have helped really, you tell the difference between anxiety and intuition, like what those ringers are? I would love it if you would share because I don't want this to be just about me and my ideas, because this is so unique. I think that particularly with this question of how to trust yourself, I think that we develop more confidence and ability to trust ourselves when it's actually confirmed, when we can kind of compare it to what other people do. 

 

So be part of this conversation, come over to growingself.com/trust-yourself. growingself.com and trust yourself with a hyphen there, and share your story, times that you have trusted your intuition, and it worked out. Maybe times that it was actually anxiety and how you were able to figure out the difference. I think that being able to compare and contrast our different experiences will be a lot of fun.

 

So join me, growingself.com/trust-yourself. I will be eager to see what you share, and I'll be back in touch with you next time for another episode of the podcast.

 

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Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth:

Why You Are The Greatest Gift

PERSONAL GROWTH — Why YOU Are The Greatest Gift: You are already amazing. You, and your life, is a gift to the world. You are on a courageous path of personal growth and development. As you work on yourself, cultivate areas of personal growth, develop yourself, and liberate yourself from the things that are holding you back… you are actually helping others. Not only are you inspiring them, you are benefiting them and their wellness just as much as you are your own.

Does that idea surprise you? That you are actually the greatest gift of all? That by working on yourself and your own personal growth, you're helping others too?

If so, it's worth re-evaluating your understanding of personal growth.

Why Is Personal Growth Important?

If your personal growth feels like an afterthought, you may not fully appreciate just how incredibly important and impactful you already are. Without having a full awareness of how much you really matter it can be easy to dismiss the importance of your personal growth, and make it (subconsciously) less of a priority than it should be.

When you don't recognize the true power of your presence in the lives of others, it can be easy to think that people value things about us, or want things from us that they might not. This misperception makes us think that the way we “give” or show love to others is through giving presents or doing special things for them. While those typical gift actives are certainly nice, they are no replacement for what people really want.

The truth is that what your loved ones want (and need) more than anything else is the very best, happiest, and healthiest version of you. 

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone

This concept of giving to others by our own personal growth is sometimes more easily understood when we think about it from the other side. Think about it this way: Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was exhausted, or constantly stressed, or had super-low self esteem, or who was struggling with untreated mental health issues? (We all nod our heads).

Think about how you felt with them: Like, perhaps, they were in such a not-great place that it felt like they didn't have the capacity to be your soft place to fall. Or that they were in so much pain that they legitimately couldn't be there for you. Or that, due to their own issues, they reacted to you in a way that didn't make you feel emotionally safe, or understood, or secure, or that you could trust them.

I bet that the thing that would have mattered more to you than anything (much more than anything they could give you, or buy you as a present) would have been their fundamental mental, emotional and physical health. If they were healthy and well, they would have been able to be what you needed them to be for you. 

Their wellness would have been a gift — both for them, but also for you too.

Self Care is Not Selfish

From that perspective, it can be easier to understand how you and your personal growth is truly the ultimate gift.

We think of loving others as being outward in nature. Our idea of “love in action” may include the way we do things for others or gift them with things. Particularly in our consumerist culture, it can be very easy to get tricked into believing that gifts or presents or experiences or things is the ultimate expression of our love and care.

It can be easy and understandable to lose sight of the fact that what people want the most, more than anything in the world, are the big things. Unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, to feel emotionally safe, and to feel cherished for exactly who you are is truly what we're all craving.

However, when we neglect our own personal growth and fundamental wellness, it is nearly impossible to have the level of mental and emotional wellness that those things require. Think about it:

  • When you're personally depleted and exhausted, it's impossible to feel fully present and patient with others.
  • When you struggle to have compassion and empathy for yourself, you'll struggle to feel it for others too.
  • When you aren't taking care of your physical health and wellness, you won't have the energy to spend time and energy with others or engaging in fun activities.
  • When you're pushing yourself, criticizing yourself, and judging yourself, you inadvertently become emotionally unsafe for others.
  • When you'e depending on others to make you feel secure or worthy, you'll become emotionally reactive and others won't feel safe and secure with you.

I could go on. The point is that our ability to give others what they genuinely need and want from us is dependent on willingness to invest in our own personal growth, our own mental and emotional wellness, and our own devotion to becoming the highest and best versions of ourself.

Being who others really need and want us to be is not selfish, it's selfless. Your being okay is the ultimate act of love towards others.

The Gift of Personal Growth

On the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm taking a deeper look at the topic of personal growth counseling and discussing some specific ways that, through your own growth, you can become an even greater gift in the lives of others. We'll be talking about some new ideas that can foster your personal growth and wellness, in domains including:

  • Your self esteem
  • Your empathy for yourself
  • Your appreciation for yourself
  • Your physical health
  • Your unique strengths and talents
  • Your mental health and emotional wellness
  • Your emotional intelligence
  • Your financial wellness
  • Your being emotionally safe and compassionate for yourself
  • Why cultivating all those aspects of your own wellness directly benefits others, as well as yourself

This episode is intended as a gift to YOU. I hope that this discussion helps you appreciate and embrace just how incredibly important you are. I hope that this new perspective helps you to prioritize your own personal growth, release any notion that your personal growth and self development is “selfish,” and instead, embrace the truth: The ultimate gift you could ever give anyone is actually you. (YOU!)

With much love to you and yours,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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The Gift of Growth

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

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

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