Shadow Work

Shadow Work

Shadow Work

What is Shadow Work?

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

― Jacob Nordby

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

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

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

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

Shadow Self Work

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

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



Shadow Work: Making Contact With Your Subconscious Mind

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

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

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

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

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Have any questions? You can contact me through our website or find me on Instagram or Facebook. You may also reach out to us and inquire about online therapy and life coaching. Growing Self is also on Instagram and Facebook

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To finding love, happiness, and success

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Shadow Work

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

Music Credits: Angola Moon by An Eagle on Your Mind

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

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Shadow Work: Podcast Transcript

Access Episode Transcript

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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.

Let’s  Talk

How To Stop Being Codependent

Overcome Codependency and Get Your Life Back

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

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

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

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


What is Codependence, Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem With Codependent Behavior

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

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

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

Codependency Recovery Stages

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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

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How to Stop Being Codependent

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

Music Credits: Les Hayden, “Ophelia”

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How to Stop Being Codependent: Podcast Transcript

Access Episode Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Being Codependent

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

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

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

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

What is Codependence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Codependency Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stages of Codependency Recovery For Couples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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To make this as info-packed and helpful for you as possible, I’ve invited career coach Mory Fontanez of the 822 Group to share her insights with me around how to increase your empowerment on the job. 

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One of the most important things to understand are the power dynamics that occur in every workplace. But understanding these, you can act strategically to increase your personal power on the job. 

These are some of the questions we discussed, for your benefit: 

  • What are some of the reasons why people begin to feel disempowered at work?
  • How does feeling disrespected or taken for granted on the job begin to impact you?
  • Who is most vulnerable to disempowerment at work, and why?
  • What are some of strategies that anyone can use to increase their empowerment in the workplace?
  • How can leaders grow in their effectiveness by creating an empowering work environment? (Hint: Emotional Intelligence skills are just the start!)
  • What are some of the biggest challenges that leaders face in cultivating a genuinely empowered organization, where people feel respected and supported?
  • Why empowering leaders create the most effective and productive teams
  • And more!

I also asked Mory the zillion-dollar question: “Can you change a disempowering organizational culture from the bottom up?” 

Her answer surprised me, and it might surprise you too. I hope you listen to our conversation to  hear her honest advice for what to do if you find yourself in this situation. (Hint: You have more power than you think!)

It also led to another really important and related topic… the reality of irredeemably toxic workplaces. They’re out there!


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Toxic Work Environments

Any career advice involving a discussion of workplace empowerment would be incomplete without an honest talk with a leadership coach about the realities of toxic workplaces. They’re out there!

What’s a toxic workplace? It’s a company culture that grinds people down on every level. One sign you’re in a toxic workplace is that when no matter how much sacrifice and hard work you put in, there are still external forces that take away your power and make you feel used, unsupported, and even mistreated.

Toxic workplaces are not just disempowering. They can be outright abusive and even traumatic. A toxic workplace will make you doubt yourself, and over time will tank your self-esteem.

When it comes to dealing with a toxic workplace, knowledge is power. We discuss some of the key “tells” of a toxic work environment so that you can spot them and make an action plan to protect yourself if you’re in that situation. (And better yet, know how to identify a toxic workplace before getting involved with any organization you’re considering joining). 

Professional Empowerment

This was such an interesting conversation and one with so many inspiring takeaways:

No matter what your circumstances, you do have personal power. Part of embracing your power requires recognizing it. Then, you can take steps to empower yourself professionally and personally.

In this episode, we’re discussing everything about empowerment at work for both leaders and professionals. We tackle topics including the realities in some toxic work cultures to the struggles of becoming empowered at work, and why it’s even harder for some people than others.

But we’re also bringing you thought-provoking insights on how to take back your power, and strategies you can use to create change through self-awareness and informed decisions. I hope you tune in!

5 Powerful Takeaways from This Episode

“True power is actually a very stable force that comes from that internal awareness.” 

“I would argue that, especially as women, we were not empowered enough to even think that the system was flawed until recently.”

“Once you have that awareness, you don’t need that validation anymore, and you’re able to uphold your boundaries, which allows you to start to get into that seat of power.”

“If you’re accountable and you are doing your job and you’re upholding your boundaries, and people are making you feel as though you have to fear your security, then we’ve now transitioned into capital T toxic.” 

“Gone are the days of not bringing your humanity into your leadership. People aren’t going to stand for it anymore.”

Enjoy This Podcast?

As always, thank you so much for listening If you enjoyed today’s episode of the Love, Success, and Happiness Podcast, hit subscribe and share it with your friends!

Also, pay it forward: Post a review. If you enjoyed tuning into this podcast, then please don’t hesitate to leave us a review. If you have a loved one who’s struggling to feel empowered at work, please share this episode that they can discover how to empower themselves at work.

If you have follow up questions I’d love to hear them, either in the comments below or on Instagram!

Wishing you all the best on YOUR journey of growth and empowerment,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. As you’ll quickly realize when you begin to listen to this episode, cultivating empowerment at work starts with a solid sense of self-esteem and trust in yourself. If overall self esteem is a currently a “growth area” for you here are more resources for you: Signs of Low Self Esteem (Podcast), You Are Good Enough, (Podcast), and a Self Esteem Quiz. xoxo, Dr. Lisa


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Empowerment at Work

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

Music Credits: The Gun Club, “Calling Up Thunder”

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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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Empowerment in The Workplace 

Access Episode Transcript

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

[Like Calling Up Thunder by The Gun Club]

The Gun Club with Like Calling Up Thunder, a song about embracing your personal power if there ever was one. Because that is our topic today. If you’ve caught recent episodes, you will notice that this is part of a larger theme. I’ve been talking a lot lately about feeling good about yourself, feeling self-confident, restoring your self-esteem because if you don’t feel good about you, and if you’re not advocating for yourself, no one else is going to. Today’s topic is really all about how to get more empowered at work, and it requires some pre-work to get into a place where you’re feeling that level of confidence. 

If you haven’t yet a great starting point, it could be to take my online self-esteem quiz. You can access that by texting the word, ESTEEM—E-S-T-E-E-M—to the number 55444. It’ll give you an overview of where you are currently in terms of your personal levels of self-esteem, and it will give you some directions on where to build yourself up so that you feel as good about yourself as possible and ready to tackle the world, take on, perhaps a boss, who is not fully aware of the magnificence of your power and abilities, and advocate for yourself in all different areas of your life including friendships, personal relationships, and more. And thanks to, for all of you that have been sending your questions and letting me know what you’d like to hear more about. Today’s topic on feeling more empowered at work is a direct result of your advocating your needs to me through our website at, by tracking me down on Instagram @drlisamariebobby, and of course, Facebook at Dr. Lisa Bobby

So let’s do this, you guys. Let’s talk about empowerment at work. I think, on some level, we can all relate to the experience of feeling disempowered. You know, feeling like maybe we don’t have influence or that our ideas or even our needs and rights are not being respected by other people the way that they should be. I know that this can happen in romantic relationships or friendships or family relationships, certainly, but a place where it often happens for people is on the job. And we don’t talk about this experience of disempowerment, I think, as much as we do when it comes to personal experiences of being disempowered. And I think it’s also the case that when people are in careers that are perhaps dominated by individuals who have more influence and power than you do, this experience of being disempowered, and then it’s difficult to get traction and earn respect and authority, is even more challenging. 

And so, if you can relate to this, and if you have been struggling to gain a footing in a career, or if you’d like to feel more powerful and secure in your current role, today’s podcast is all about helping you navigate this very narrow path with both confidence and courage. We’re going to be talking about things you can do to increase your personal power and authority and also some inner strategies that you can use to help you feel more secure and empowered as you do. And to help us with this, my guest today is Mory Fontanez. 

Mory is an Iranian-American purpose coach and the CEO of 822 Group, a values-based business consultant company. Mory has had a long career in Corporate America and knows a lot about personal empowerment, particularly for women, people of color, or other historically marginalized groups who are trying to be powerful in systems that are not always receptive to their empowerment. And she has lots of ideas about things we can all do to help us allow our differences to make us more powerful and more respected and authoritative than we even know. So Mory, thank you for being here with me and talking about this.

Mory Fontanez: Thank you so much for having me. I am delighted to be here.

Dr. Lisa: We are going to have an interesting, interesting conversation today. I just know it. 

Mory: Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, I’m so interested to get your take on the subject of empowerment, particularly for people who are struggling to feel powerful and who are in systems that don’t easily allow for that many times. But before we jump into that, let’s just start by talking about power and what we mean by that. And so, could you speak a little bit just about what it means to have personal power and, in particular, to have empowerment on the job. Like, what do you view as being that experience?

Mory: Yeah, I love that question on personal power. And I feel that you know, over the last few years and really digging into coaching, I’ve really simplified it to this, which is, it’s to be cognizant or aware of your value and to come from that awareness. I think, oftentimes, when we are not in our power, it is that we are not coming from the awareness of how truly valuable we are to that person, that situation, that job, or that team. So it’s simply just awareness of your value and coming from that place. 

Dr. Lisa: And so do you feel that awareness of your own power and your own worth is enough? Or is there also an intersection? I mean, I’m thinking right now, you know, of people that I have certainly worked with as clients, who have been working with great diligence and sincerity in organizations that are dominated by people who have more power than they do, and I’m particularly thinking about, you know, younger female clients I have had who have had a management positions, frequently in tech-based companies that are founded by, and all the CEO level executives are not just men—they’re white men. And often, white men have a particular social class that is very privileged—they’ve gotten to good schools, they know how to talk to people, they know all the unwritten rules—and it is a very intimidating position to be in. And I guess what I’m asking is that internal, subjective confidence in your own power enough? Or is there an actual power differential in these situations that also needs to be navigated?

Mory: You know, I love that question because we can get into this definition of power and really dissect it, but I always tell people this—true power is actually a very stable force that comes from that internal awareness. What we experience as power, especially in dynamics at work, particularly with those that have had structural power for a long time, you know, when you look into those dynamics, and you look into how that power has been held on to, what you see beneath that is a lack of that personal power—you see fear. And that is what drives the kind of power that we defined today is “This person has more power over me.” No, it’s that there is a dynamic that’s been created that we bought into that allows us to forget our own value and our own worth. And so, that then creates this dynamic of being disempowered. 

Now, are there power structures? Absolutely. We cannot ignore them. But I am one that believes that with diligence and work, by tapping into that sense of value, you are at least able to change the dynamic. You are able to very organically, cellularly shift the way that you show up in those dynamics, which is the only way that those dynamics themselves will change over time. It’s that if each one of us, like dominoes, stops buying into this concept of power, that those that are in power are so afraid of losing, and so deeply want us to believe that.

Dr. Lisa: I see. So you’re saying… that there certainly are power structures that need to be reckoned with and dealt with and that they will not change unless, first, you’re able to kind of create in yourself that basic sense of your worth and your value and then begin behaving as such, and then your ability to do that will begin to kind of ripple out and change the power system around you to a degree. Is that it?

Mory: 100%. Yeah, absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Okay. Well, I definitely want to dig in a little bit more to that.

Mory: Yeah, let’s do that. 

Dr. Lisa: But first, before we jump in, in your experience, do you find that it can be more difficult for some people to even like, have that internalized sense of their own power and value, and I’m thinking particularly, you know, people that have maybe been or stepped down socially. I believe women, people of color, minority women, or even like, you know, disabled individuals trying to make their way in a world of people that’s dominated by able-bodied people. I mean, is it just like a bigger step to make for some, do you think? Or is it, in your experience, the same inner process?

Mory: It is absolutely a bigger step. I mean, there is systemic oppression that happens to those groups that you talked about. And you know, I really believe that when something has happened over and over for centuries, that passes on down to you in systems, in consequences, in your DNA—these are beliefs that have been so long held by your ancestors, that it is something that is almost intrinsic to who you are. And so, absolutely, I believe that that hill is much steeper. I am very heartened to see right now people chipping away at that hill. But I absolutely believe that for all of those groups you mentioned, it is a much more difficult step to take to just grab your own personal power. It’s not that easy; there’s so many systems that have to be dismantled. But it doesn’t mean that in parallel, the work cannot begin to start to find that internal—I call it the seat of your power—to really find that throne and identify it first and foremost is so intrinsic, as the systems are changing and to help the system change as well.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense that it can be a bigger step. And it is, you know, the struggle is real, and I’m glad that you said that and, and also that it is not just possible but really necessary. And also, I think that there is, as you said, like more of an emerging awareness about power systems and how we function in them, and some of them are very subtle too. 

Mory: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: I mean, and I know that this shows up in organizations in a different way, but I had an experience where I was like, “Huh.” It was probably a couple of weeks ago, and so I am in the process of just obtaining a different—another credential that’s possible for psychologists. 

Mory: Okay.

Dr. Lisa: There’s just advantages to doing that. And there’s one organization that I began going through their application process, you know, you have to submit like all this documentation for my educational experience and like licensure and my APA-accredited internship site, and all that jazz, and like checked all their boxes and went down the list. And then at the very end, got this feedback that I did not qualify for this credential because my postdoctoral supervision was not in a—like in my field, there’s often like a very structured postdoc year, where a newly graduated psychologist would go work at like a college counseling center or something and have like a very like, almost like a final year. My postdoc experience was through private practice, and so I had to pay out of pocket for supervision, and I could only do so once every other week. So I got my hours over two years with supervision every other week as opposed to weekly, which is the normal, like a standard postdoc. And I was told that because my supervision was every other week instead of every week, I didn’t qualify. 

And what though that started bringing up for me and other people that I’ve been talking to is that this organization is very subtly, and I think probably unknowingly, supporting that only psychologist candidates of a very particular socioeconomic group and like life experience are able to go through this little gap because a postdoc year is very difficult to do. Financially, you get paid nothing. And like in my case, if you have children and child care, like it’s kind of impossible.

Mory: Right, right.

Dr. Lisa: And it’s like because of this little requirement, you know, and I have a comparatively a very privileged background by class and race and all of this, and was still, like that door was shut. And just thinking about how these little rules and regulations in organizations can serve as gatekeepers and, really, like practical barriers sometimes for people to get ahead if they’re not in a very specific social class ability to do certain things. 

Mory: Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: And so, you know, it shows up in so many ways, and that wasn’t just for me.

Mory: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: Like, I mean, and it was kind of a long-winded story, but like people who have higher hurdles than that, to be not just advancing in organizations but to like, first of all, craft this core message inside of themselves of, “You know, I’m actually good enough. My training was actually just as good as anybody else’s, and maybe better in some ways, and here’s why.” 

Mory: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: It’s difficult to sustain that narrative.

Mory: It is. But you know what, without that awareness that you just mentioned around the system itself being taught. 

Dr. Lisa: The system, yeah.

Mory: There is no change to the system, right? So I would argue that, especially as women, we were not empowered enough to even think that the system was flawed until recently. Right?

Dr. Lisa: That’s such a good point. Yeah, because instead of like, slinking away and being like, “Okay,”—I  am gonna need to write them a letter.

Mory: Right. Exactly. And you know what, that is empowerment. Now, just because the system has a massive gap in it doesn’t mean that you are not empowered to do something about it. That is what I mean exactly by—you proved my point—the perception that these historical power structures have tried to give us that we don’t have power. It’s like, “That’s just the way it is.” You know what? That is not just the way it is. 

Dr. Lisa: No, it’s not. 

Mory: And that is what people are proving.

Dr. Lisa: And that’s what you’re saying too. It’s like the system does not give you power. No one else empowers you. 

Mory: Correct.

Dr. Lisa: You have to take it. 

Mory: You take it.

Dr. Lisa: You take it.

Mory: Exactly. And you know what, we’re seeing it. I mean, we’re seeing it happen in these really, again, very historically disempowering industries. Look at the fashion industry right now, what’s happening to it. Look at the beauty industry. Right? These were industries that are very exclusive. And you now see people awakening their consciousness, awakening to “Wait a minute. You can’t tell me I can’t be in that specific brand or industry because I look a certain way. That’s not okay.” And that awareness is what’s hitting these brands out of nowhere, and they don’t know what to do with it because all of a sudden, people are aware that it’s not okay. It’s not just the way it is, and that they have the power to do something about it, and it is transforming a lot of these industries out there.

Dr. Lisa: That is awesome. I love it. 

Mory: Alright.

Dr. Lisa: Okay. So with this premise in mind that power is something that starts inside of you, and it is something that you have to take for yourself, I’m curious to know if you have, in your own practice, or you know, in consulting with organizations, or people attempting to kind of manage this in their own careers, when someone is attempting to function in a, you know—not like Star Wars Deathstar like ultra-disempowering system—but it’s kind of a garden variety, like tone-deaf disempowering, what does it look like for them if they’re not able to reshape their narrative and their expectations in turn? Like, what happens to people when they aren’t feeling empowered both professionally but even personally? You know, because my sense is that it bleeds over, but I’m curious to know what your…

Mory: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I will tell you. Let’s start with the professional and just the impact on the organization as a whole. The first thing that happens is a complete loss of productivity and creativity. 

Dr. Lisa: Whoa, complete loss.

Mory: Absolutely. Because when people start to feel disempowered, they then stop believing in themselves—and that is all it takes to not be creative or innovative any longer. And if you’re not able to do that for an organization, then it impacts your ability to produce, to do your job to its maximum quality. Now, in fact, there are a lot of people out there who can function at 50%, and it looks like 100. Right? So we’ve been getting by—this is what I tell leaders and executives and CEOs all the time when we come in, it’s like, “Yeah, you’re getting by, but what would full productivity look like? That would be 50% greater than what you’re seeing right now. You’re just seeing them get by.” So productivity, creativity, and innovation suffer hugely. 

And then, I love your point about it bleeding over because it does. First of all, it affects your perception of yourself, which your value becomes challenged. And when that happened, I’ve actually seen it come out in one of two ways in other parts of that person’s life, right? One is either you don’t trust yourself, and so you allow other people in other areas of your life to take advantage or to cross your boundaries and to disempower you. Or, you go to the opposite extreme, which is that you feel like those other areas are where you must exert control. And so all of the stress and frustration that you have comes out sideways to people who had nothing to do with you feeling so disempowered to begin with, or, you know, that’s same as saying, “The oppressed become the oppressor.” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Mory: Because it has to come out in some form. And then what happens is you cultivate leaders who take on these really malignant behavior because they believe that that’s the way to succeed. And so going full circle back to the organization itself, you’ve now created a culture, a system, that the only way for success is to behave in these disempowering ways towards others. So, it becomes very cyclical.

Dr. Lisa: Oh, my god. That is just so interesting. And I have to tell you, I have not thought about this in the same way before, Mory. Okay, so that when someone feels really disempowered and voiceless, first of all, they don’t believe in themselves enough to be able to like generate ideas and be productive because that, in itself, takes a certain amount of confidence. 

Mory: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: I mean, even if you’re putting together a report or presentation, like you have to be putting yourself out there and like, “These are my ideas and this is why I think this would be helpful.” And if you are feeling, you know, stepped on, it’s hard to even do that. And from that space, though, of feeling kind of disempowered, like it’s worse for the organization, but also personally, either people just like carry the sense of being a doormat everywhere or they kind of overcompensate and try to be maybe more controlling or more belligerent in ways that are not actually helpful, either personally or/and—maybe it’s an and—when they do, over time, managed to kind of gain a foothold in their career, in the organization, they carry that kind of toxic controll-y disempowerring. It’s almost like power hoarding or something, directly because of their own disempowerment, like it’s a wound that just keeps on festering. 

Mory: Exactly. Correct.

Dr. Lisa: That is so interesting, and which, you know, one of the questions that I have for you, it goes on to like toxic workplace cultures. And you’re saying that, you know, between the lines here, to cultivate empowerment and to help people feel more valued and respected will, over time, create a healthier company culture overall because you have like healthy people that are…

Mory: Right?

Dr. Lisa: …you know, kind of percolating up through management roles. Or am I oversimplifying this?

Mory: No, that’s exactly right, and that is very difficult for leaders to do. And we can get into this later if it makes sense, but that’s because leaders have all sorts of things they have to deal with in order to have the competence to deal with an empowered culture, right? Because having a disempowered culture feeds the ego in a way that having an empowered culture challenges your ego. And so, there’s a lot of work, that’s where I come in with a CEO. It’s like, “Let’s work on this with you, so that you can get over this obstacle, so that your team can become empowered.” 

Dr. Lisa: That is awesome. 

Mory: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let’s take this then piece-by-piece. Because, you know, we have many, certainly, career coaching or executive coaching clients at Growing Self who are in those leadership positions, and I think would be very interested to hear your thoughts about how they themselves can create healthy organizations that will kind of do that inside work to be able to tolerate the indignities of having an empowered workforce.

Mory: I love that.

Dr. Lisa: Or arguing with them. Okay, so we’ll talk about that. But, first of all, let’s talk about, you know, if we think of people who are on the ground floor, so to speak, of said organization, and they have gotten the memo that they are worthy of respect and appreciation, and that they do know what they’re talking about, and they’re doing a good job, and they’ve internalized that, and they are in the system that maybe does not fully appreciate all that they can do yet. What are some strategies that you have seen to be effective for people as they begin to shift the narrative, perhaps not inside of themselves, but around them, so that they’re able to kind of create power and influence and help people recognize their own value? Like, what works? 

Mory: If you are in a toxic work environment in order to be empowered?

Dr. Lisa: Let’s say, because I think…I mean, I’ve talked to people who are in like—capital T—toxic environment that may be irredeemable, and we can certainly talk about that too. 

Mory: Correct. Yes.

Dr. Lisa: But let’s say garden variety—like not the most horrible, not the best—like a standard-issue company that you need to advocate for yourself in order to be empowered. Let’s say that.

Mory: I think that it starts with really understanding your own triggers. And the reason that that’s important is because then you can depersonalize whatever is happening in that environment. And what I mean by that is we all have things that have happened to us that created storylines, you know, that’s better than me, of course. I’m sure you help people with this. But really, those storylines create triggers for us, and if we are not aware of them, people very easily push our buttons; they press those triggers, right. So, “I’ve grown up thinking I’m not smart. I’m not valuable. I’m not wanted. I’m lazy,” right? Whatever these narratives are, if we’re not cognizant of them, if we’re not looking at them and aware of them, someone can say something to you at work, or you can be in an environment where people feed off of triggering you—because if they trigger you, then they’ve got you, right? And if you can depersonalize that by saying, “No, this is a trigger. It is not my truth today,” you, first of all, remove that power. So that is the first and most important tool.

Dr. Lisa: Okay.

Mory: Then it comes to really getting to the heart of your value and your values. The difference being, your value is just knowledge of something, anything that you know you bring to the table in that environment. What is it that you know you bring to the table that is valuable? And then your values are, what is it you stand for and believe in strongly? And I don’t think people do enough work to really examine their values. And that’s where we find ourselves making trade-offs in jobs or in relationships where we don’t even know what it is we stand for, so how can we uphold a boundary around it?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Mory: And then that’s the third piece, which is boundaries. Once you’ve gotten really clear on, “These are my triggers. This is trigger versus reality. This is my value, and this is what I stand for,” that’s when you have to get really good at, “Okay, these are my boundaries then. If the person asks me to do their work for the fifth night in a row, and I stay here later, is that me allowing them to tread on my boundaries? Yes. Do I do it because I need to feel valued? Probably.” Right? 

But once you have that awareness, you don’t need that validation anymore, and you’re able to uphold your boundaries, which allows you to start to get into that seat of power because now you know, what your values are, and you’re able to stand up for yourself and create boundaries that allow you to have a life and a working situation where you are at least feeling respected.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see how that would be really helpful to, I mean, the emotional regulation and what are my triggers and how do I counterbalance that narrative, what’s important to me, that then allows you to advocate for yourself effectively. And as we’re talking, you know, my background—so in addition to psychology—I do a lot of marriage and family therapy. And rule number one of systems theory, and I’m sure this probably comes up in your work too with organizational kinds of systems, is that if one little piece of a system all of a sudden starts behaving differently than it has been, say, maybe advocating for oneself or not taking on more work that they had in the past, the system will then work pretty hard to exert pressure on that individual to return to the way that they had been. And so, you see this a lot, like people and families where they have been, you know, perhaps not treated well by a family member, and all of a sudden they started setting healthy boundaries and the family’s like, “Why are you being so mean to Uncle Joe?” 

Mory: Right. 

Dr. Lisa: You know, like, “What’s gotten into you?” And there ‘s like pressure to return. So, do you see that happening organizationally? Or are people like, “Oh, okay. You’re not gonna do my work for me anymore? So I’m just going to go ahead and do it myself without complaining that you stopped enabling me.”

Mory: Yeah, that would be so…

Dr. Lisa: Not that I would say that out loud, but you know.

Mory: I see that pressure every day, and I think that pressure becomes really dangerous because it really starts to threaten your sense of security. When people are in perceived, you know, positions of power over you, you then start to fear that you’re going to lose that opportunity, that job, their respect. And so, that’s where playing on your fear for upholding your boundaries becomes something that we go from lowercase t to capital T toxic, right. And I think to your point, that’s when your little red flag needs to go off because if you’re upholding a healthy boundary, right—you’re not being disrespectful, number one. The other thing I wanted to mention is you’re being accountable. Just because you have boundaries does not mean that you no longer have accountability. 

Dr. Lisa: Sure.

Mory: You understand what it is your role is. You understand that if you make a mistake, you own it; if you succeed, you own it as accountability. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Mory: If you’re accountable, and you are doing your job, and you’re upholding your boundaries, and people are making you feel as though you have to fear your security, then we’ve now transitioned into capital T toxic, and is that then the right space for you?

Dr. Lisa: Okay. Yeah.

Mory: And that’s really important because the more people think that way, the more you start to transform the system, right? Because if people start to realize, “Well, if you’re not going to allow me to have boundaries, and this then is not healthy for me,” And that happens more and more, and people have that awakening more and more, there’s less people to pressure. 

Dr. Lisa: Yep, and that’s why we have unions. I’m thinking about that.

Mory: Yeah. Exactly. 

Dr. Lisa: I mean, really, like collectivism is groups of workers being like, “Wait just a second. You’re not actually going to work 18 hours a day until you kill us.” Yeah. No, but that’s like strength of numbers, and I like it that you shared that if you are not able to set appropriate boundaries and have that be respected, that is a clear warning sign that this could be a capital T toxic environment and that you might need to be on a different plan.

Mory: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so what I want to talk more about toxic environments, but before we move into that, have you identified any strategies that make it a little bit easier for people to have influence and existing roles or set boundaries? And so I’m thinking, you know, things like managing up or like how you frame things to leaders that you’re telling, “No, I’m actually not going to do that.” But are there ways to do it in a way that might have that go down a little bit easier? Or in your experience, is it just like, “Alright, people, here’s what we’re gonna do”?

Mory: Yeah. I have a little four-part equation, which starts with value and boundary. 

Dr. Lisa: A four-part equation? Okay.

Mory: Yeah, which we’ve talked about. So the value plus boundaries, so you know your value, which means you’re coming from a place of power, you have boundaries, so people are not going to cross them. And then you add in vulnerability, and that’s where you’re able to be, you know, really transparent and honest about where you’re at, what your needs are, what needs aren’t being met. You know, what it is like for you, your experience there, in a way that is just factual, right. You can just share, “This is my experience right now”—you’re able to be vulnerable. 

And then the fourth part is curiosity. And when I say curiosity, I find this to be one of the most effective tactics for managing up or dealing with a difficult colleague that’s out there, which is why, you know, really getting curious about, “Why is it that you ask me to do this every day at 5pm? You know, what is it that you need? Why do you feel that speaking to the team that way is effective?” Really starting to interrogate, in a respectful way, that person’s methodology. Really truly with curiosity—not judgment. That is the fine line. Because judgment can get into places that you don’t want to go, right, but to just have that—it’s almost like a flashlight, you’re turning on inside the other person, like, “Help me understand your motivations.”

And I say it’s a four-part equation because I truly don’t believe you can do one without the other three. If you don’t have the strength in your value, then your curiosity is going to get kind of wonky, right? 

Dr. Lisa: Sure.

Mory: If you don’t have boundaries—it’s not great to be vulnerable without being able to uphold boundaries. So it is a very delicate dance, but I think that when you put those four things together, then that equation becomes really effective in managing difficult people or difficult situations.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow. And I have to say more in probably, I mean, how much courage does it take to do that, and then imagine, you know, I sit down and someone with, you know, relative less power in the system using your four-part model, which makes perfect sense—in the values and boundaries and vulnerability and also the curiosity. And I could also see how for very powerful people in an organization, why it would be so important to have a Mory, who is also right there that they have hired to kind of like push them around a little bit for you to be saying, “Why are you thinking that that is an effective way to communicate with people?”  Because I could see like coming from you, they’d be like, “Oh, okay.” 

Mory: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Whereas, if it was, you know, Joe, the mail clerk down the hall, it would probably be very easy for powerful people to get defensive and confronted. 

Mory: Well, and let me tell you this…

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Mory: Yeah, which is that it all comes back to their purpose. That’s why I call what I do “purpose coaching”, right? Very powerful people still need to feel aligned with something. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Mory: And so this curiosity from me, which does hold them accountable, is less about really judging them but about, “What is it that fulfills you? What is your purpose? And where are you off track? Why are you off track right now? How do we get you back in alignment with—what I call your own internal GPS? Because that’s how you’re going to be more effective, more successful, more innovative.” And that’s what we find with these powerful executives sometimes, where things are going awry, it’s a misalignment with their purpose, like they’ve forgotten their “why.” And so this is really about tuning the GPS back on rather than making it a judgment framework for them, that they have to operate in.

Dr. Lisa: I know, completely. It’s so important. Well, and, you know, kudos to the people in leadership positions who are inviting that kind of growth experience through their work with you. But do you think that it is possible for someone on the lower echelons of an organization like the ones we’ve been describing, to create change in that system from the bottom up? Or do you think that leadership needs to be actively participating in the creation of that change in order for it to occur?

Mory: You know, I think that it can go both ways. I think ultimate transformation comes from both sides. I think that if truly the organization is toxic, and it’s going to change, it has to come from the bottom up and the top down in order to transform. Now, it is a domino effect. So to answer your question, “Can it just be from the bottom up?” Yes. Because that’s what puts pressure on the organization to change, and, you know, I really believe that that has to do with unity and collaboration at those levels, right? Where we are all aware at our level that we are in a toxic environment, so, therefore, we are going to treat each other with respect, and we are going to resist the temptation to get the reward for the bad behavior. Because that’s how the toxic work cultures happen, right? You have toxicity from the top, and then toxic behavior is rewarded, and those of us that want that pat on the back and the validation are going to do what we can for that carrot. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Mory: And I think that change comes from awareness again, that this is not an environment that can really help people to flourish. And in agreement, at a certain level, organically at that bottom-up level of, “Okay, then we’re in this together. Unity is our strength. So not one person is going to then go and get that carrot, we’re going to all uphold boundaries. We’re going to see each other, and each other, the value, and we’re going to interact with one another with respect, even if we’re being rewarded for being disrespectful to each other.”

Dr. Lisa: Geez. That’s such a good message, Mory, and I think one that needs to be said out loud. Because I think you see that in toxic organizations where it’s more important than ever for the rank and file to be like, you know, working as a team to affect change,  you start to see people turning on each other, don’t you? 

Mory: Yes. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s like survival. Island…

Mory: That survival, that’s what it is. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Ugh. 

Mory: Yeah, and it reminds me of that, I don’t know, that Aesop’s fable, if you’ve heard of them. The bundle of sticks where there’s a father who had sons who were constantly quarreling, quarreling, and he didn’t know what to do with them, and he gave them a bundle of sticks and said, “Try to break this.” And they couldn’t break it. And then he untied them and gave them one stick at a time, and “Try to break it.” And they broke it. And then he said to them, “Can you see that if you help each other, it’s impossible for your enemies to injure you. But if you’re divided, then you’re just as strong as that one stick.” So it really is an ancient truth.

Dr. Lisa: That’s an awesome story. I just got chills. Gosh, I’m thinking like organizationally but, goodness, like as a society?

Mory: Yeah, the society.

Dr. Lisa: Like, ugh.

Mory: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Somebody needs to send that one to the powers that be in Congress right now.

Mory: Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: But anyway, let’s go back. That’s probably not my place.

Mory: That’s a whole other podcast.

Dr. Lisa: Really? So, okay. So that is an absolutely necessary survival—not just survival tactic—but you know, change agent for a toxic work environment. Like, if it’s going to get better, it’s going to require that teamwork. And have you been witness to organizational cultures that are so toxic as to be irredeemable, like there’s no changing it, you just gotta recognize it for what it is? Like a really toxic relationship, like this is not going to get better, we need to recognize it for what it is, what it always will be, and like just get out of there as fast as you can. Have you seen that? Or do you think that change is always possible? I don’t know, you might be less cynical than I.

Mory: I have seen it, unfortunately, more times than I would like—I’ve been in it myself. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Mory: And I will tell you, it comes from the very top. And if the very top is toxic and has no desire to change, then really, change is very difficult, right? That’s when you start to see, okay, maybe it lasts a decade, two decades, three decades, but things start to fall apart at some level because people start to become fed up. So I think you lose your license to operate when the toxicity comes from the top, and that leader is not willing to change. I think if you’re in that—listening to this right now—you’re like, “Oh my god, there’s no hope.” If you see any iota, any kind of clue, that the leader is trying to change, right, you see them with a coach, you see them bringing in third parties, you see them doing surveys. Right? Like any kind of sense that there’s a desire to create a change, that’s when the kind of light can glimmer in. But if there’s no desire to change, then that is when the toxicity overpower, unfortunately.

Dr. Lisa: There has to be that willingness to change. And then actually, while we’re on this subject, and I hope this isn’t putting you on the spot, but would you have any insight to share for people who are maybe, you know, seeking a different position and desiring to avoid getting into a toxic situation in the first place? 

Mory: I mean, we talked about relationship warning signs, like what would you say are some of the things to pay attention to if you’re interviewing or vetting a new organization to work for that might reveal toxic culture before you actually start working there, which would be way better? 

Mory: Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: Six months in, right?

Mory: I know. Well, there’s two parts of the answer. I’ll give the easy part, and then I’ll go to the hard part. I’ll do it the other way around this time. The easy answer is to really make sure you’re talking to as many people who work there as possible and asking them things like, “How do you like being here? What do you feel like the mission of this organization is, and how are you a part of that mission? What does your work-life balance look like? How do you feel fulfilled when you walk in this door? How do you work with your colleagues, and what is that relationship like?” Really try to talk to people that are going to be at your level before you go in.

I think that one warning sign is if you see disengagement in an interview, and I think that if you know how to look for it, you’ll find it pretty easily—which is that you just don’t see that passion and come through when they’re trying to sell you on the job because that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. And if you feel that disconnect, then there’s something missing. They don’t feel engaged, and they feel disconnected. If you feel it from one person, but the other five are passionate, okay, that person could be in a different situation. But if you talk to several people, and you still feel that, like, “Where’s the excitement or the enthusiasm or the passion?” then there’s a disengagement. So that’s the, I think, that kind of easier things you can tick off. The harder answer is, like in a relationship, you have to know yourself first before you know what you’re looking for, right? 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Mory: And so, I always…

Dr. Lisa: Because toxic is different for different people. Yeah.

Mory: Right. Well, not only that, but you know, I’ve been asked a lot lately because people are changing jobs. And anytime I get interviewed about job changes, I say, “You have to start by identifying your purpose and your values. What is your “why”? What fulfills you? What are you good at naturally, right? That’s your purpose. And what are your values?” And when you have clarity on that, it is on you. You are accountable to go find an opportunity and an environment that matches your frequency. You can’t go out there looking for something with blinders on; you have to know yourself first.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. That’s great advice. Like, what am I looking for? What would feel fulfilling? Is this a match? 

Mory: Right.

Dr. Lisa: But also then talking to people on the inside or like paying attention if they seem kind of checked out, or you’re like, “Why would that make sense?” So, okay, good advice. Okay, so now—and I know that we’re coming up on our time here—but before I let you go, I would love to talk with you a little bit more about, you know, your work with leaders, specifically, and how leaders—leadership—so people who call the shots, so a founder and an owner, the, you know, C suite people. What are some things that they need to be very consciously aware of doing, in order to create an empowering environment for the other people on the team?

Mory: There’s really three big ones that I’ve worked on and focused on a lot. The first starts with managing your own fears. What is it that you’re afraid is going to happen if you empower others, or if you let go of the steering wheel slightly? What you find a lot of in highly successful executives or entrepreneurs is perfectionism—and perfectionism at some level is driven by a fear of failure. And so, really getting clear on what you’re afraid of, and whether that’s a reality or a fear, is a very important exercise if you want to build empowered cultures because it’s asking you to manage your own stuff and not asking your employees to do that for you, which is what not self-aware leaders are asking. When you’re not self-aware, you’re not willing to do that work, you’re asking your employees to manage your fears for you, and that’s not okay. 

The second one, then, once you’ve been able to do that is to delegate decision-making. That’s the second thing I see as problematic is that there’s such a desire for control and perfectionism, that others are not given the opportunity to make decisions. This is actually where you see, going back to this idea of diversity in historically oppressed groups, where you’re seeing a lack of true innovation is because there’s no diverse voices in that group that’s making the decisions. Then the problem comes in when the brand is selling to customers that are diverse, but the decision-makers don’t reflect that same look. And that’s where you start to see, as someone who comes from crisis management, crises happen for organizations because they’re speaking to a group of people without having empathy for them. 

Dr. Lisa: I see.

Mory: And so, that’s where you need to have diverse decision-makers, and that’s where the delegating of decision-making authority comes in. And then the last one is really accepting failure as a path towards growth and innovation. And not being so afraid that failure is going to, you know, snowball into something bigger than it is in that moment. That really, people are only going to learn and grow and become empowered leaders if you encourage them to fail. And then also, that you embrace accountability, that if that failure is, in a way, that truly misrepresents the brand or your values, that you can hold people accountable.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Those are all great, great strategies to be able to, I think what you’re saying is really like identify and confront whatever fear is driving over control in leaders.

Mory: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: And being able to cope with that to the degree to let other voices in, let other people take charge of some things and kind of trust that that is going to be okay, and also, have confidence that if it isn’t okay, that can also be part of a healthy process. It’s, you know, making mistakes and learning from it. That’s great.

And I guess I just, lastly, you know, I think what I also see sometimes—people have a lot of power. I think one of the biggest blind spots is that they don’t realize how much power they have, like they don’t realize how maybe intimidated other people are of them, or the fact that other people perceive them as needing to be handled like delicately. So maybe they’re not getting all the information because people are afraid to be as open with them as they like to be. Or that maybe they’re kind of subconsciously doing things that gives the impression that they don’t desire to have other voices heard. Do you have any thoughts for leaders who might be wanting to gain that self-awareness of things they’re unintentionally doing that could be fear-driven or could be creating obstacles to that kind of empowered workplace, that they might desire, but are contributing to the opposite without knowing?

Mory: Yeah, I think there’s two things. Yeah, absolutely. There’s two things you can do. One is getting curious. You know, really being able to ask questions and then be quiet and listen to the answers, which goes to point number two, which is managing your reactivity. When you’re hearing something as a leader that you don’t like, you really need to take a beat, like take a deep breath, let that happen, let that person walk away, and then just like process it before you say anything about it. That’s how you create a safe space where people can trust you enough to talk to you. 

And then if you really processed it, and you’ve separated out your own stuff, your own triggers, your own fears from the reality, you can go back to them and address just the facts of what they’ve said, right? And if they’re misinformed, if they are making assumptions that are not fair—if you know, there’s a lot of ways that you’re going to get feedback that are just inaccurate because someone doesn’t have that piece of the puzzle. And you certainly should engage in dialogue. This is not to say that misinformation shouldn’t be corrected, but you have to really do the work to separate that out from your own, you know, anxieties or fears that are getting triggered by what you’re hearing. And I think what you see when people don’t trust their leadership is just reactivity and not being able to manage that.

Dr. Lisa: You shared so many wonderful insights and tips, but I think one of my biggest takeaways from our entire conversation kind of comes back to the idea that personal growth is absolutely essential for leaders to be engaged in on an ongoing basis. That is like what I keep thinking of, like we think of personal growth opportunities as being personal or like in your relationships.

Mory: Uh-huh.

Dr. Lisa: You have to, really, to be an effective leader, and to have an organization that is a healthy, strong place, it requires a lot of deep diving into your own psyche and emotions and core beliefs and expectations and emotional regulation. 

Mory: Gone are the days of not bringing your humanity into your leadership. People aren’t going to stand for it anymore, right? They have too much power in being able to share their experiences, thanks to social media, that you don’t have the option of not bringing your humanity in anymore. And I think leaders were taught that they had to leave that at the door, and now we have to reteach them how to lead successfully while being personal, you know, human people that are growing and focusing on their own evolution.

Dr. Lisa: Wow, and I love what you said a second ago because the workforce is becoming so much more empowered and, hopefully, even that much more empowered, as a result of listening to all of your great advice today. So thank you for sharing it so generously. I appreciate this. And you guys, if any of you would like to learn more about Mory Fontanez or her work, she can be found at 822—do you say at 8-22 Group Mory, or 8-2-2 Group?

Mory: 8-22. Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: The number is the website, and she’s also on Instagram at @moryfontanez. Mory, thank you so much.

Mory: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed talking with you.


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Self-Esteem & Feeling Good Enough

YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH: When someone gives you a sincere compliment do you automatically think of six reasons why you’re really not good enough? Do you compare yourself to others, and imagine that they know more, have a better time, or are more successful than you? Is it hard for you to feel “good enough” no matter what you do, or how much you achieve? How about on the job? If you’re in a position where others look to you for leadership or guidance, do you doubt yourself and struggle with “imposter syndrome?”

If you can relate to the “I’ll never be good enough” experience: Welcome. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but I’m glad you’re here so that I have the chance to help you. As a Denver therapist and life coach, I so often work with clients who struggle to feel “good enough” even when everyone else (including me, their therapist) thinks they’re amazing. I know how painful this life space can be: Feeling like nothing is ever good enough is an exhausting and demoralizing way to live. It takes a toll on your self-esteem, and makes it hard to enjoy your life.

I also know from my work as a Denver self-esteem therapist and life coach focused on empowerment and strength that hope and healing are possible, with the right help. On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m going to be sharing some of the evidence-based therapy and life coaching strategies that I share with my private clients who are struggling to feel like they are good enough.

We’re doing to be doing a deep dive into the causes of feeling like you’re not good enough (including “imposter syndrome!”), and then discuss in-detail some actionable strategies you can use to genuinely, from the bottom of your heart, say, “Yes. I am good enough.” Because you are good enough! This episode will help you FEEL it, too.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll learn in today’s episode:

What Do Your Circumstances Have to Do with Feeling Good Enough?

Did you know that most people who don’t feel good enough tie it to their circumstances? Your circumstances have almost no actual bearing on how you feel about yourself. Really! Even the most successful people sometimes don’t feel good enough. Remember: all these “proofs” that you’re successful can be taken away. The only thing that matters is your relationship with yourself, and learning how to feel good about yourself and your life even when you’re facing challenges. I’ll explain how!

How to Believe You’re Good Enough

What research into evidence-based practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy shows is that getting a handle on your inner narrative and inner dialogue is the most powerful way to change your relationship with yourself. I’m sharing some strategies to help you keep from getting swept away by your automatic (even subconscious) thoughts so that you gain control over your inner experience. We’ll talk about how your thoughts impact your feelings, and how to heal your heart by getting clear in your mind.

How Therapy & Coaching Help You Feel Good Enough

Therapy helps you gain self-awareness about what’s going on inside of you. This self-awareness allows you to step back, and make intentional changes to the way you think and the way you feel. Effective life coaching challenges you to take positive, intentional action that helps move you towards your ideal goals. When you’re in a good place and emotionally healthy, positive actions are much easier to follow through with. Then you can begin an upward spiral of wellness that supports the highest and best of your whole self. You cannot take an empowered stance when you’re at war with your thoughts.Your therapist or coach is your ally in creating a sense of self that is different from your inner narrative: That’s where it all begins!

"I have tried counseling for about a decade with various counselors and have never been able to connect or grow with them. [My Growing Self Coach] has connected with me genuinely and helped me grow more in two meetings then several counselors have done in a decade.”

— Coaching Client


The Impostor Syndrome

Another really common aspect of feeling like you’re not good enough is when you’re struggling with imposter syndrome on the job. “The impostor syndrome” refers to the experience of not feeling good enough in a professional context. Even when intellectually, you know what to do, you feel like you’re faking it. The imposter syndrome leads to feelings of shame and anxiety that people will realize you don’t know what you’re doing. (Even though you do!) This can lead to paralysis, disempowerment, and even burnout. Let’s not!

Impostor Syndrome vs. Growth Mindset

To help you overcome imposter syndrome on the job, I’m also speaking with career coach Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin about where imposter syndrome comes from and what you can do to regain your trust in yourself. We talk about the difference between “growth opportunities” and imposter syndrome, and how to tell the two apart.

Why Accomplished People Still Don’t Feel Good Enough

Here are some of the imposter syndrome-busting strategies that Dr. Orbe-Austin is sharing with you:

  • How to identify the origins of your impostor syndrome as being rooted in childhood experiences.
  • People who were considered smart kids doubt their intelligence when things don’t come easy to them.
  • People who were not considered gifted growing up are the opposite. Because they had to work hard for things, they doubt they have natural talents and skills.
  • Lastly, those who had to survive without adult figures fear their success could be taken from them at any time.
  • Having codependent or narcissistic family members is also correlated to impostor syndrome.

The Impostor Cycle

  • People with impostor syndrome often get performance anxiety, and they cope by either overworking or self-sabotaging.
  • When feedback comes in, they internalize the negative and minimize the positive.
  • They get so caught up in their mistakes that the next time they perform, it’s as if they’ve never done it before. Then the cycle repeats.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome, just like repairing your self esteem, is not easy work but it is essential. Here are some tips to guid you on your journey towards healthy confidence in yourself:

  • Remember that letting go of your impostor patterns is a lifelong process. Understanding your triggers is incredibly important. What are your triggers for not feeling good enough? Listen, and find out!
  • Becoming empowered means getting in control of your inner narrative: Learn how to use the skills of rational thinking and self affirmation to support yourself when imposter syndrome flares.
  • Did you know that perfectionism, imposter syndrome and low self esteem are all connected? Learn why!
  • Learn why it’s so critical that you reprioritize and take care of yourself first — even when you feel like you haven’t “earned it.” 
  • Having a community of support is incredibly healing when you’re struggling to feel like you’re good enough. It’s the antidote to shame. Learn how to create a chorus of confidence in your circle that lifts you up!

Resources To Help You Feel “Good Enough!”

5 Powerful Quotes from This Episode

“Your circumstances have almost no actual bearing on how you feel about yourself.”

“You can’t flip a switch and change the way that you feel. But you can change the way you think. And when you change your thoughts—you change the script, you change the story—you will feel differently about exactly the same thing.”

“If you are still learning and growing doesn’t mean that you’re not competent.”

“The person that we take care of last is us . . . And so it’s such an important thing to kind of reprioritize that and think about how we’d like to live and the way that we care for ourselves.” 

“It is sort of getting a community around that so that you can deal with sort of what’s happening structurally to you that is real, that is attempting to make you feel invalidated.”

Enjoy The “You Are Good Enough” Episode?

Share it! Think of a person or three in your circle who could also benefit from learning about what you just did. Pay it forward by passing it on! And don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast so that you get access to new episodes ever week — all designed to support you on your journey of growth. 

Wishing you all the very best on your journey of growth my friend!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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You Are Good Enough

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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You Are Good Enough

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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.

[Superman plays]

That is, of course the, I think, classic song, Superman, a poignant exploration of someone who is not feeling good about themselves, who is focusing on their flaws but who is also harboring this idealized fantasy of what they could be. They want to be Superman. They’re not going to be Superman, but they can feel good anyway. That’s what we’re talking about today on the show. If this is your first time listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m so glad you’re here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, and this podcast is all about helping you create love, happiness, and success. And thank you if you’re a regular listener and have gotten in touch with me through on Instagram at @drlisamariebobby, or of course, on Facebook.

And today, we’re talking about how to feel good enough, genuinely good enough. And we’re talking about this today because you have told me that this is a pain point for you. I’ve gotten so many messages through social media and through comments on the blog, and also even in conversations with my therapy and coaching clients here at Growing Self, and also, you know, listening to what my colleagues are doing in their work lately, and this is such a painful life space to be in. I wanted to bring you some things today that could help with this. You may remember a while back, we talked about self-esteem in depth, you might want to take a look a few podcasts ago if you’d like an overview of that. And if you’re interested, you can certainly help yourself to the self-esteem quiz that I created. If you even want to pause this, take the quiz again to see where you are. You can get that by texting the word esteem, E-S-T-E-E-M to the number 55444 just to kind of get a read on where you are in terms of your overall self-esteem. 

And feeling good enough, I think, is connected to self-esteem, but it almost has like a different life of its own and can be a little bit different to shift it as opposed to like a global self-esteem kind of situation. And I want you to know that if you struggle sometimes to like, feel good enough, it can be sometimes related to what you’re doing in life where self-esteem is kind of just this marinating and a sense of not feeling that great about yourself more globally. I think feeling good enough often manifests in like comparing yourself and being linked to achievements andlike what you’re doing and what other people are doingthese perceptions of success and whether or not you’re living up to whatever that definition is. And I have to tell you something, so as a therapist and a life coach, I work with you know, people from all walks of life, and I often speak with people who are objectively, very successful. You know, they’re successful in their careers or their business owners, and like, subjectively when you look at them from the outside—or objectively—I should say, they look like they have it all going on. And it doesn’t really matter that much, I mean, like even though things are working out for them, things are going as well as possible, that truth does not touch them on the inside.

And I say this because if you’re like most people who are struggling to feel “good enough”, whatever that means, it can be very, very easy to tie that to whatever your circumstances are. And for, you know, normal average people like us to be looking around at our circumstances and viewing that as evidence of why we’re not quite good enough, you know. So you can look around and be like, “My house is a wreck, I’m a mess,” or “I don’t have as many friends as other people do,” or “I’m kind of struggling financially,” or even some people, you know, think, “I really am not…” you know, “I have a job; I don’t have a career that I’m passionate about. I should,” and all of those external circumstances conspire into these like reasons why you’re not quite good enough, right? 

But I am going to tell you a secret. This is a big, top secret like life-changing information that I’m going to share with you right now. Here it is. Your circumstances have almost no actual bearing on how you feel about yourself, and I know this for a fact. Here’s a secret, it’s gonna tell you why. I know this for a fact because I have served as the therapist or life coach to extremely successful people, like, way more successful than I am. I mean, I have literally had clients drive to my office in a Ferrari and flop down on my couch and tell me all the reasons why they’re not quite good enough. I have been in life coaching sessions where I have said things like, the words that have come out of my mouth have been, “You’re the most successful real estate developer in your region of the United States. You have built hundreds of homes. You are worth millions of dollars. Really, you’re not that good enough?” And the answer back is, “Well you know, I mean. Yeah, there’s that. But let me tell you about all these other areas that I’m failing in.” I mean, physicians, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, like who are multimillionaires, they vacation in Switzerland, they live in mansions, they havelike live in help, and they still feel this way. They still feel like they’re not quite good enough. 

And so the punch line, the thing that I’m trying to communicate here is that whatever circumstances are going on, changing those circumstances will not change the way that you feel because the other side of this too. I have had the honor of serving as a therapist to people who are absolutely on the opposite end of the spectrum. So you know, someone who was living in their car and got food exclusively from food bank donations at one point, and they felt like a fundamentally worthwhile human being who was going through a hard time and who deserved more and who was going to be okay. It was not tied to their circumstances. The way you feel about yourself and whether or not you feel good enough comes exclusively from your relationship with yourself and the way you think about yourself, and that can be cultivated intentionally. So do not get tricked into believing that your happiness or your worthiness as a person is dependent on outside circumstances and that if you worked hard enough and you’re able to create these specific set of circumstances, then you would feel differently. Because I’m telling you, as somebody who has had a front row seat to this, you will not feel differently because people who have done that don’t automatically feel differently. 

The feeling good enough cannot be linked to achievements or status or any other, you know, “proof” that you’ve done it. It doesn’t matter. And another thing to think about is that all of those circumstantial things can be taken away. You could live in a mansion and go vacationing in Switzerland and live in housekeeper—and then lose that. And then what does that mean about you? Similarly, all kinds of privileges are bestowed on people who have not earned them, they are worthless in that sense. So the only thing that matters is your relationship with yourself; everything else stems from that. If you have an abusive critical relationship with yourself who is always telling you how bad you are and how you’re not quite good enough, you will feel anxious and unlovable in many different situations. You’ll feel anxious and unlovable in your relationships even if you are connected to people who love you to pieces and just tell you how fantastic you are and think you’re great. It  doesn’t matter, you will not feel that way. If you are fundamentally harsh and judgmental with yourself, you will dismiss and devalue everything you do. 

“Yeah, I’m a published author, and yes, the book won an award, but it was like four years ago. What have I done since then?” I mean, really, it is so easy to slip into that inner dialogue. And so the key here is not just intellectually believing that you’re good enough, but it is feeling the truth that you are really good enough and that comes through a growth process. And I’m going to tell you the steps. I am not even going to mess around here.

I once wandered into a Chick-fil-A, and they had a poster on the wall, it was like, “Lemonade. Here’s the recipe: water, sugar, lemons. The secret is out,” and I just thought that was so cute because it’s like so obvious. And I am going to give you the secrets to changing the way you feel about yourself as, hopefully, as directly as the lemonade recipe. And here it is. Super straightforward.

Step one of feeling good enough, is recognizing, first of all, that you are not the same thing as your thoughts. Your inner narrative, the one that is telling you who you are, what you are compared to what you should be, is not the objective truth. It is an opinion, and it is not you. It isn’t. 

Once you’ve realized that, then step number two, once you’ve recognized that you are not your thoughts, is realizing that you have control over the narrative. That voice inside of yourself can be shaped intentionally, and you have the power to change it. 

Once you have embraced that truth, then step three, is recognizing and experiencing that your thoughts and whatever is going on in your head in terms of the narrative, the story, the script—that determines your feelings. Your thoughts create your feelings, your thoughts create your perceptions of reality and your experience of reality, and you can’t flip a switch and change the way that you feel, but you can change the way you think. And when you change your thoughts, you change the script, you change the story, you will feel differently about exactly the same thing. And when you’re able to do that, there is a sense of peace and your emotional experience of yourself changes. 

And then step four is that when you shift into that emotionally-felt experience of being good enough and the sense of like peace and fundamental worthiness, you will make better choices for yourself that stem from that fundamental worthiness, and that the things that felt difficult to do intentionally will all of a sudden feel much, much easier to do because they’re coming from a place that feels true, as opposed to you trying to wrestle with yourself to do things that are incongruent with your self-concept. 

So that’s it. Those are the steps. Anyone can do them—anyone can do them. I would also like to add, while we are on the subject, that the process that I’ve just outlined for you, just so you know, is not my opinion. I did not make this up. This is the foundation of something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which through countless hundreds, possibly thousands of clinical trials that explore what actually changes the way that people feel, think, and behave. This one wins every time. This approach is certainly useful for mental health concerns. It is also the approach of evidence-based coaching. And I think that’s why I have so much—is frustration the right word?—or discomfort with approaches of therapy and personal growth that focus on other things. And not that the other things can’t be important or salient, I do think that it is sometimes necessary to figure out, “Okay, who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I the way that I am?” But to be involved in a growth process that stops there and doesn’t really explicitly help you change that narrative is going to be very limited in terms of its effectiveness, and you deserve that. 

So changing your thoughts is really core to changing all other aspects of your experience and feeling better; it is the most direct path. You can certainly learn these skills. There are self-help books galore. I, myself, have done an online, you know, my online happiness class is all about, it’s like teaching you how to recognize thoughts and change them. And it can sometimes be very, very important, even necessary, I think, to partner with someone who can help you gain that first step of self-awareness. In my experience, the first one is the hardest, just like they say in AA, “Watch that first step. It’s a witch,” right? It can be challenging, I think, if you have been marinating in the broth of your own self-concept for your entire life to begin to get the psychological distance between your thoughts and the true you. That is hard and it’s also necessary because you cannot take an empowered stance towards your thoughts unless there is a you and a difference between you and what’s knocking around in your head. 

So that first step is often where therapy or coaching comes in and can really be the most necessary as is. Because without that, it’s like you being at war with your thoughts and trying to figure out what is true, what isn’t true. And when you connect with someone who’s there beside you saying, “Is that really true?” or “Where did you learn that about yourself?” or saying things like, “I know that’s a story that you’re telling yourself, but here’s what I see about the situation.” So it’s like you have an ally who can stand with you and help you see the thoughts and the inner narrative differently and begin to create a sense of yourself that is different from your thoughts because, again, it’s not the same thing. So to get an ally in that change process can be really, really helpful, and from there, once you have that sense of empowerment, then you can begin to change the story and feel differently.

And it’s also true that when people are struggling to feel good enough, it can show up in numerous dimensions of their lives. But for a lot of people, a real pain point comes around feeling good enough in their career or at work, and again, because that good enough feeling is so often linked to achievements or advancements or, “What am I doing compared to what other people are doing?” Professionally and occupationally, there is a lot of growth that can be done in service of feeling better about yourself when you look at how you are showing up in your career. And when it comes to looking at this experience from the mindset of a career coach, an easy way to get a handle on this is to think of the impostor syndrome. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that term, but the impostor syndrome refers to the experience of being in a professional role, often one where you have responsibility or you’re in a position of leadership where people are looking towards you to make decisions or provide guidance, and if you don’t feel good enough, you feel like an impostor. You feel like you’re faking it. There’s this voice in the back of your head that’s like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” and this anxiety that comes with, “Sooner or later these people are going to realize that, and they’re going to know that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, and that I am not good enough, and I’m going to get humiliated or criticized or even rejected and run out,” right. This is a terrible experience, and the impostor syndrome is also very common and deeply linked to that deeper experience of not quite feeling good enough.

So for the second half of this episode, we’re going to be talking more specifically about the impostor syndrome experience, and for that, I have enlisted the support of an expert on this topic. We are going to be turning our attention now to a conversation with a licensed psychologist and executive coach,  Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin. She’s based in New York City, and she is the co-author of a book on this exact topic. The book is Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life. And she’s with us for the remainder of the show to share her insights on where impostor syndrome comes from, related to the work experience and what we can do to change it. Dr. Orbé-Austin, thank you so much for joining me.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I’m excited to talk with you about this. And so I have a number of questions prepared. But the first one, and I hope it’s okay to jump in with this. But so you’ve written extensively on the subject of impostor syndrome, which is that experience of like feeling, not confident, worried that you don’t really have mastery over the subject that people are kind of looking to you to guide them around, and so it’s that experience of not feeling good enough when actually you are. 

And to begin, I am wondering how one can tell the difference between not feeling good enough when they actually are? Or are they having an experience of needing to grow and develop skills and maybe get more experience or expertise in order to really legitimately feel more competent? How can you tell if it’s a confidence issue? Or if maybe you do need to develop yourself? Can we start there?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s a great question. I think a lot of people ask me this, especially when, you know, people are coming straight out of college in their first jobs struggling with this feeling of being incompetent. Is that impostor syndrome? Well, you know, if it’s about that particular domain, and you’re coming out of college and it’s your first job, it’s probably not. That specific instance, it’s probably not about impostor syndrome. It’s about when you have these accomplishments, skills, credentials, like you have verifiable concrete proof, you have 10 years of experience in the business, like you have like significant proof, you know, behind you that’s concrete, and yet you still feel like you might be exposed as a fraud or incompetent. And it’s not you know, it’s the differentiation between the idea that you have to be doing something perfectly in order to be competent or excellent or expert and the idea that we have to constantly work on our growth and be in a growth mindset and constantly adding on skills, like these are not mutually exclusive. Being an expert and skilled and being at the nth degree of our careers, like those are not sort of what we’re talking about, you know.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That’s a great reminder, and I love that it’s like, you’re just reminder that if you are still learning and growing doesn’t mean that you’re not competent. It’s a good thing to be continually learning and growing, and you’re saying that’s just an easy way to figure out, is it impostor syndrome or is it actually anot just growth opportunity, but growth necessityis to look at that just like rational peace? “Have I gotten the level of training or experience that other people of kind of maybe around me have?” or, “Am I brand new into a field or a role?” then it’s kind of like expected that you would be learning, figuring it out, and that’s okay, too, compared to like a feeling, like you don’t know enough when you actually do. I appreciate that because it’s hard for some people to know.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah. It’s hard to differentiate it. And I think, some people, what’s interesting is that when you have impostor syndrome, sometimes you even dismiss the concrete credentials. So then as I’m working with my clients, and they’ve gone to like an Ivy League undergrad in an Ivy League grad school, and meanwhile, they’re like, “Oh, that’s nothing.” That’s like they blow it off. So even a concrete credentials are sometimes hard for them to hold on to. But you know, they have to kind of work on sort of being able to recognize they are meaningful. They do mean something to—if they don’t mean something to you right now, they need something to the outside world, and they are worth something. And so that can be even hard, even with the concrete things. Oftentimes, with impostor, to dismiss them as well.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. That’s like, really be aware of the credentials and the expertise and the skill set that you are bringing into a situation and resist the temptation to like, “Ah, that doesn’t matter, but that doesn’t…” Yeah.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yes

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Right?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That’s really good. Wonderful. And then, okay, so then let’s dive a little bit more deeply into the experience, though. Say, you know, like so many people that you and I have both spoken wit—intelligent, accomplished, educated, experienced—all this stuff, yet struggle to feel like they really know what they’re doing. What is that about? For most people in your experience, what does that even come from?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: It’s about a variety of things. You know, so a lot of people say very kind of colloquially, like, “Oh, it’s just about internalizing your accomplishments. And if you just say some positive affirmations, you can make it go away”.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Like it’s easy.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Like it’s easy. But oftentimes, there’s some pretty deep rooted sort of early childhood experiences that come along with that and so one of them is sort of these ideas of these very like calcified, very narrow roles in the family, where you’re either considered the smart one, and if you were considered a smart one, it meant you didn’t have to work hard at anything, everything should come easy and natural to you. So when things did come natural easy to you, you thought it was evidence of the fact that everyone was wrong, and you truly we’re not as gifted or intelligent people thought you were. 

The second role is this idea of you were the one who was never naturally gifted in anything but knew how to work hard, and so everything must come hard, everything must require like an extreme level of effort and work in order for it to be successful. And in those cases, it’s very hard for you to even see that you might have any natural talents or skills. 

And the third one is an experience where there weren’t a lot of adults or parental figures around, and you had to survive. Your successes were about survival, they were about you know, sometimes, putting food on the table or making sure you did well in school, so you know, you could stay in the graces of somebody, or like it really sort of required you’re very vigil, you have an incredible vigilance on your achievements, so that you could actually be successful, so that you could survive this all. So even for them in the C suite and still be like, “Any day this could all be gone.” You know, so.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow. And all of those are difficult experiences, but I’m hearing you say that there’s like these internal core beliefs. And like in the case of the first two, if the experience of what it actually takes to be successful isn’t in alignment with what you think it should feel like, with what success should feel like, that will create kind of confusion and damage people’s confidence that it’s, no, it’s actually okay. And then also in that third one, certainly, it’s just like being chased by wolves experience that it’s like, any second now, it’s just gonna leave.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah, you can’t let it down. Yeah, you can’t let the guard down any time, it could all be taken from you, which is the experience that early childhood survivor experience. There’s all kinds of other additional connect correlations, like codependence is correlated to, you know, having a codependent family dynamic is correlated to impostor syndrome. So is having a narcissistic family member, usually parental adult figure. A family that was focused on achievements only and nothing else, so that only your achievements got recognized as valuable, or you got seen as valuable in those moments. So, you know, families that have trouble dealing with high assets, and so there’s a lot of sort of correlations to impostor syndrome.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. So many, many paths to that same destination. But you know, I had the most interesting experience. I think it was a couple of weeks ago, we, on Instagram of course because, you know, but we shared…it wasn’t a story from our account, somebody else had done this little drawing, and it was a drawing of like a little stick figure and four mountains, and the stick figure had successfully scaled and come down on the other side of like three mountains and was like close to the top of the fourth and was like, “I can’t do it. I’m a failure.” And you know, just like the kind of black, white, but you’ve done all of these, and I think like the fourth mountain was even smaller or something. And so we put this at our stories, and I seriously had like so many people, including a number of current clients of mine. Reach out to me—”I so identify with that drawing,” and I think what that kind of captures that in some ways, it’s like despite all of these achievements and successes and strengths and abilities and competence, and like you have all these people who maybe perceive you as being this person who’s like doing all these great things, and you haven’t done all these great things, like it doesn’t get in all the way emotionally.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: And it’s because of the impostor cycle. Because in the impostor cycle, you have like a highly visible event or performance or something, you know, that’s pretty visible or something that’s new for you, then you know, you get performance anxiety, and as a result, you either overwork or you self-sabotage, and then you get the feedback. You don’t internalize any of the feedback unless it’s negative, and if it’s negative, we blow it out.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That we let in. Blow it out of proportion, does that what you mean? 

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah. It becomes even way bigger than that, and then you also internalize it, and then you don’t internalize any of the positive feedback or in the positive experiences, and you get in that cycle all over again. So that idea of the four hills makes sense because once they see the hill again, it’s like if they’ve never seen the other three hills, you know, because they haven’t done any of the work to internalize all the positive feedback. The hill becomes, it’s like climbing it for the first time. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow. So the cycle, so big events, lots of anxiety, overworking, like killing yourself to make it good, and then what was the next phase of that cycle?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: The next phase is you get some kind of feedback after you perform. You get some feedback. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: 500 people are like, “That was amazing.”

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: But one person 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: One person was like, “I don’t know.”

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah. And that’s the one you listen to, and that’s the one that sort of gets out of the proportion. If everyone says, “It’s great,” you still minimize it. You still are like, “Well,” then you get caught up in your own assessments of all the mistakes and places where you made errors, and that’s what you’re taking in. And then you kind of get right back into the cycle again the next time. It happens, it happens as if it never happened before.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Oh, my goodness. What a painful place to be. And so, it really, it sounds like, I mean, the thing that I’m hearing the loud and clear between the lines here is that this experience is very much one of perceptions rather than reality and perceptions that maybe have been shaped by experiences in early childhood.

And so then, and I know from your work, and what you’ve written about in your book, kind of walks people through beginning to reevaluate those perceptions and shift those perceptions, and I’m sure that it is a process. I mean, if you’ve had that sort of relationship with the world since earliest childhood, and you’re not going to snap your fingers, like, “Four easy steps to…” Yeah, but so, you know, with cautioning people that it’s going to sound much easier than when we talk about it than it actually has to do, right. Now, what are some of the growth moments that people need to work through in order to release this—this pattern, this dynamic?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah, and I think it’s good, it’s great that you point out the fact that it is a long process and, you know, nobody likes to hear this, but I sort of know it is a lifelong process because I’ve talked about my own TED Talk that I’ve had impostor syndrome, and I still get triggered for, you know, on a number of occasions, I just make different choices now with the trigger. As opposed to the ones that I used to make when I was in the throes of it. And so I think, you know, one of the things we’ve talked about, which we were just talking about is really understanding the origin, how it uniquely got to be your story based on some of the origin issues that are sort of laid forth, how you understand them, where have you identified this in your own experience. The reason why the origin issues are so important to us is because it really helps us to understand the triggers in the here and now. So oftentimes, those triggers that we experienced in our day to day lives come from those earlier experiences, and it becomes easier to identify when you know you have vulnerability for them. And it doesn’t become so surprising why these things are happening, you’re like, “Oh, I get it now.” It just gives you a sort of agency and power to feel like, “This is not so mysterious anymore.” What’s a piece of it, I think another piece of it is around really learning how to restore your narrative and choose the words and the ways that you tell yourself the stories around what’s happening to you and really kind of examining and listening to the way that you’re storing the narrative and then kind of picking and choosing different ways to tell the story. 

We also talked about sort of getting triggered for automatic negative thoughts and how to kind of rationally respond to your automatic negative thoughts, be able to identify them, categorize them, and then also be able to respond to them differently than you use to respond to them. Rather than you know, I love the Amit Ray quote like, “You are not your thoughts; you are the observer of your thoughts,” and sort of teaching people to be the observer of their thoughts and being able to kind of construct a new way of responding to them. It’s also about. you know, really embedding self-care. When we have impostor syndrome, the person that we take care of last is us, which means last around our dreams, last around our self-care, last around everything. And so it’s such an important thing to kind of reprioritize that and think about how we’d like to live in the way that we care for ourselves. It’s also about for us, you know, building a team around you. So, you know, oftentimes we suffer in this alone, and it’s beginning to kind of tell people that we struggle with it, share it, like find a team around us that really know how to help us kind of move the needle forward. 

So those are some of the things that we talk about, but you know, these are like, they’re easy. Like you said, they’re easy to kind of like say, but they’re much harder to do, to institutionalize, to make them part of the new way that you live.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, no, I absolutely get that. And yet, they’re also powerful. You know, self-awareness, being able to observe what is going on between your ears being, able to have a way of responding to that, that’s healthier for you. I especially like the strategy that you brought up around building a community, and I don’t know if this was true for you, but I know for me personally, I think most therapists probably have this experience. We first start seeing clients, you have this moment where you’re like, “Is this okay?”

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: “What am I doing here?”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I know.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: “Who let me do this?”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Exactly, right. And I remember just in my cohort, my peers, you know, like to have a group of people who I perceived just being very, you know, smart and competent, probably much more so than me being like, “I feel like such a fraud right now. Like I said XYZ in my session, and they believed it, like what is going on?” and just like to have that moment of like, “Ah, it’s not just me. I think it’s actually the experience.”

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: It’s so powerful. I mean, I think, you know, when I see on my Instagram page, you know, different places where people would admit, they’ll tag each other and admit that they have impostor syndrome. And there’s such a powerful dynamic, you know. It happen, people say, “Oh, my god, I didn’t realize you had it too.” And, you know, the stat I think is that 70% of people have experienced impostor syndrome in their life, and I just saw a new study that just came out that said 82% of people, so it seems to be going up. And so I think a lot of people have experienced, and I think oftentimes, we’re hiding in this shame that if we share being that we have this that we will actually be found out as a fraud. It would be like, “You don’t have impostor syndrome. You’re actually an impostor.” And so I think there is a lot of like, quiet-shameful retreating into this. And I think the other thing I hear a lot is that people say, when I tell people I have impostor syndrome, they’re like, “Get over yourself. You’re so successful. Like, are you kidding me?” Like, you know, people dismiss it and don’t recognize the pain it is to sit in that and how difficult it is to sit in that experience. So it’s so important to have a community around you that really got it. I talked about it in our book, like having different people who fit different roles, like somebody who’s like the cheerleader and somebody who’s the grounder and somebody who’s the big picture, like a variety of people who hold different types of roles for you.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is a fantastic idea, that there’s different kinds of people in your life that can help you in different ways. But that’s very interesting, though I wasn’t familiar with that statistic, so that 82% of people have this experience, which is basically everybody. That idea that, you know, you brought up another such important thing, which is that when we likebelieve what shame is trying to tell us, that we’re like uniquely horrible somehow, it’s very, like people hide that. They hide it.. They don’t talk about it. What I’m hearing you say is that the most direct path to just blowing this out of the water is talking about how you feel and addressing it openly

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yep, taking the ownership of it, meeting it on head-on. Because the other thing that’s weird about impostor syndrome is that people like to hold on to it because they believe in some ways the impostor syndrome has got them where they are at. So they sort of believe like, “If I let go of this or I start to admit it, I let go of it, I’m going to have nothing. Everything is going to crumble around me.” So they’ve come to believe the impostor syndrome is like their best friend, and so letting go is a very difficult process. And having people around, you know you’re struggling with it makes it easier to kind of be like, “Don’t hold on to it. Let’s do this instead,” like, you know, somebody who can really understand how to re-pivot those thoughts, you know, and in vivo.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: But that’s so interesting. And, you know, I’ve heard of that idea, like as it relates to perfectionism, like people believing that their anxiety is what makes them be okay and to release it feels incredibly scary, and you’re saying the same thing with impostor syndrome. “If I believe that maybe I actually am okay, and I am actually good enough, I will stop trying as hard as I am. And as soon as that happens, I will be the failure that I fear my else to be.”

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yep, that I’m always scared that I would be. You’re not, I think the reason why you point to a really good, you know, an example of that is that perfection underlies impostor syndrome. So perfectionism is a piece of impostor syndrome, and it’s very central to it, oftentimes. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Now, and can I just briefly, and I know we’re coming up on time here, I would love to like go deeper into that 82% statistic, and I don’t know if that’s broken down, but like when I think about the people that I have knownyou know, of course, in addition to myselfwho have had this experience, like thinking about clients, for whom it’s like a major ongoing struggle. I think that while some people—many people, most people—feel this way from time to time, for others, it’s a bigger deal than it is, and it’s harder for them to release these feelings. And when I think about in my own practice of people that that has been true for are, specifically, women, and I think even more specifically than that—women who are people of color or in maybe a differentwere raised in a different socioeconomic class than the one in which they are now functioning. I have certainly, you know, seen it in men as well but to a lesser degree, and I’m wondering, in your experience as a therapist but also as a black woman, do you perceive this experience being different or sometimes more challenging or internalized in a different way?

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: So I think you’re getting to a really bunch of interesting points. What some of the research reveals for men and women is that when men and women deal with it differently. The data around it has been quite like equivocal. It’s like sometimes, it’s more women, sometimes, it’s more men. They can sort of figure out whether it’s more women or more men, but what they have been able to see is that, generally, women are more counterphobic. So women will face the fear, go headlong, go into it, and then just live in the constant like paralyzation of the impostor syndrome. They’ll like be paralyzed internally, but they’ll still go forward professionally,. Where men, tend to do a lot more saving face, and so they will underperform or be in a place where they can be top of the heap, and so that they feel less threat of their impostor syndrome. They felt less prone to it because they’re putting us in the situations where they’re less at threat. 

For people of color, women, first gen, what we see is that both the internal experience of impostor syndrome and then the external experience that, “You are actually an impostor. You don’t belong here.” So you get these internal messages that you’re trying to shut down, and then the outside world is telling you, “No you don’t belong here. No, you’re a token. No, you got in because of affirmative action. No, you got this. No, you got that.” So it’s very, it’s specifically harder to deal with because you don’t get enough external reinforcement from the outside world that you do belong. And so what a lot of the research suggests is that you need to find community along the identity dimension that you feel like a preston. 

So if it’s that you’re black, it’s finding more black people in that particular field or in that particular area, both at your level and above your level, that help you to kind of navigate the waters and help you to deal with the external pressures that are coming at you. So that becomes, like we were talking about before, community becomes so important in managing the external invalidations that you’re receiving, that are telling you you are an impostor. “No, you should believe that impostor syndrome. You don’t belong here. Work harder. Work twice as hard. Work three times.” So it is sort of getting a community around that, so that you can deal with sort of what’s happening structurally to you that is real and that is attempting to make you feel invalidated.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah. Oh, my gosh. That is so beautifully said and just like the challenge of doing this inner work and changing this inner dialogue in the face of external circumstances that almost like I want to agree with that negative injury in terms of that dialogue.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: I want to reinforce it 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah, and how much more difficult even that is. And I could see how having a community of people who’s able to kind of like be a healthy supportive chorus to kind of counterbalance all these other voices is essential, and to be isolated in the face of that is probably about the worst thing.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah, that’s what you don’t want to let happen is become isolated, which can be happening in a lot of these circumstances, where you can feel very alone.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, important message. Well, thank you so much for spending time with me today. This has been a very interesting conversation, and I wish we had more time. I’m sure my listeners wish they had more time with you too. And so if you guys would like to learn more about Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and her practice, her practice is called Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting. Her website is And on your website you have access, of course, to your book, which is called Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life. And I think I noticed an online course kind of walking people through your material as well.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Yeah, it’ll be an online course. The first one will start in September, and it will be in beta. So we’ll take a small cohort of people during that time before mid-September. So yeah, so people who are interested, that also is on my website. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Wonderful. Well, thank you again so much for joining me today. This has been a lot of fun.

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa. This was great.



Being Organized

Being Organized

Being Organized

Being Organized Begins Within

Being Organized


BEING ORGANIZED: Creating an organized life can sometimes feel like an unattainable goal, especially when it’s not your natural way of being. One of the things I’ve learned over the years as an online life coach and Denver therapist is that being organized is more than learning about “organizational tips” or “time management skills” or a new plan for where to put stuff or reorganizing your drawers. Being organized (genuinely, sustainably organized) is actually a mindset; a way of being that cultivates order and calm. And unless you figure out how to be organized from within, all the “how to be organized” how-to’s will be short term and ineffective. 

How to Organize Yourself

Now, before we go further I must be honest with you my dear reader. I’m going to step out from behind the Therapist / Life Coach “Dr. Lisa” facade for a moment to share a secret: I am not a naturally organized person. In my personal life, particularly when I was younger, I have struggled to manage time effectively, keep control of the clutter and chaos, and maintain an organized life. I didn’t come from an organized family and arrived into adulthood without organizational skills in place.

I squeaked by for a while, but then when my life got harder I really needed to up my game. I could not get through graduate school or run a business without doing a better job of managing my time, energy and tasks. When I became a mom, that balance became even harder, and in order to do the things that we most important to me I really needed to work on my organizational skills. So I did!

I actually spent a lot of time figuring out how to get organized in order to do the things I wanted to do, to be the person I wanted to be, and to achieve my most important personal and professional goals. On my lifelong quest for personal organization, I have tried all the systems, all the hacks, and read all the “how to get organized” self help books there have ever been.

I am pleased to report that over the years I have grown into a reasonably organized person. I’m able to get important things done, and I usually have my act together. I still lose my keys sometimes (but not my shoes!)

How to Organize Your Life

Many people who are not good at being organized from within do have to work harder to create organizational systems, and stick to them. Many “Messies” dread these systems and will fight tooth or nail to avoid the types of routine and structure that being organized requires. But — I’m here to tell you, from the other side of this chasm — It’s much, much less stressful and easier to cope with basically everything when your life is generally in order. There’s less anxiety and drama. Your relationships feel easier too.

While it can feel hard to get organized and stay that way, once you do, you’ll be amazed at the contrast: Being organized and living an organized life is actually much, much easier than being chronically disorganized and chaotic. (More on this subject in the marvelous interview I did with Dr. Marilyn Paul, on “How to Be Stress Free.”)

I have learned from my own process that being organized, really, genuinely organized, is not about the systems and the containers and the calendars. (Though all those tools can help). Being organized begins with a shift in mindset. Organized people actually think differently than Messies. By learning how organized people think, and cultivating an organized mindset, you too can achieve the Nirvana of feeling genuinely in control of your time, your energy, your stuff, and your life.

The Organized Mindset

I considered inviting an “organizational expert” to come on today’s podcast and share their strategies for being organized, but then I had a better idea: My pal, Denver therapist and Denver psychologist Dr. Danielle Kahlo. Dr. Danielle is not a professional organizer, she’s way better — a blazingly talented therapist who is also a next-level organized person. She has incredible insights into the life experience of being organized, and how to achieve it.

Let’s Get Organized!

Listen to today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast for Dr. Danielle’s down-to-earth advice for:

  • The biggest differences between an organized mindset and a disorganized one
  • Why being organized has to come from within, especially when you’re working from home or managing a household
  • How being organized has a direct (positive) impact on anxiety
  • What causes procrastination, and the new ideas to nip it in the bud
  • How to achieve meaningful work / life balance and still get all the important things done
  • Ways to cultivate present-moment awareness in order to be more organized… and happier too.

I hope that this heartfelt advice on being organized is helpful to you as you juggle all the demands of your beautiful life!

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


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Being Organized

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

Music Credits: Jules Gaia, “Two Steps Back”

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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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Being Organized

Access Episode Transcript

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

[Two Steps Back by Jules Gaia]

That’s Jules Gaia with the song Two Steps Back, which I felt kind of captured this sort of frenetic energy, maybe? That I’m hearing so many of you are feeling these days trying to manage all of the stuff that you have going on between working from home, parenting, homeschooling. Oh my goodness. And you know, for as quiet as our lives have become in some ways during this whole Coronavirus experience, I am hearing from so many people that you feel busier than you have ever been in your life. And that is really a daily challenge—to figure out how to manage at all. If you too, have been living this experience, today’s podcast is for you.

And I have some very special things planned. Today we are talking about not just organizational tips, we’re talking about cultivating an organized mindset. And my guest on the show today I am so thrilled to introduce to you. She is Danielle Kahlo, but she is Dr. Danielle Kahlo. She is a psychologist. However, Danielle is also a wonderful dear friend of mine. And I wanted to talk with Danielle about this because she is the real deal. She is not some organizational guru who wants to sell you an online course to learn XYZ; she lives it. I have been in this woman’s house; I have opened her silverware drawer. I have seen the truth. She is next level organized and today she’s here to talk with us about how to cultivate this inner and outer state of zen. Danielle, thank you for being here.

Dr. Danielle Kalos: It’s my pleasure. And it’s interesting that we’re just doing an audio recording because if this were video, people would just see me cackling.

Dr. Lisa Marie: She is actually rolling her eyes as I’m talking so I can confirm this. No, but it’s true. You are among the mostlike supernaturally organized people I have ever met. Well, you know, it’s important though because some people talk the talk. And they like talk this big game and then you likemeet them in real life and they don’t always live it. But you exude organization.

And so let’s just start with a couple of questions because myselfas a person who can only be kind of organized with great effortit seems like magic. So now, let’s see. You and my stepmother, Bobby, are the two most organized people I have ever met in my life, and you are both from the South originally. She’s from North Carolina, you are from Mississippi. Question one: is this a Southern thing? Is that what makes you organized?

Dr. Danielle: That’s a fascinating question. I’ve never thought about it in that way. I don’t think that’s what drives me.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay.

Dr. Danielle: It may be different for other people.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Also, common factors here—you and Bobby both, at least at one time, drink large quantities of Diet Coke. Does that have anything to do with why you’re sobecause I don’t drink Diet Coke. And I was thinking, is that what this is about?

Dr. Danielle: I genuinely do not see any correlation between Diet Coke consumption as my way of being in the world, but who knows, there are so many chemicals in that. Something may have gotten in and changed my…

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah. Changed your brain.

Dr. Danielle: …your own wiring.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay. Well, I’m then going to write that one down as a hypothesis to continue going into because those, those like, “What? What? What is it? How do I get it?” But okay, so it’s neither of those things probably. Well, let’s talk about other possibilities then.

Dr. Danielle: Okay.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay, so for now, so what I am really interested in digging into is… because I think like superficially, you can read books or watch a YouTube video about like, here’s how to clean out a closet, here’s where to put stuff, you know, like that kind of thing. But for people who struggle with organization, it’s always hard to maintain those systems. And I think it’s because it’s really just like a different way of thinking and like being oriented to stuff. Like there’s really an organized mindset. 

And I think it’s so important right now because people are dealing with more stuff to wrangle. And it’s been interesting because like, even people that I have talked with, like clients who are extremely successful people and who have done a lot, like I’m thinking of a client I work with who’s a physician. I mean, she is an extremely confident person. And, um, even her, like working from home, it removes the external structures that you have in place that kind of allow you to be organized. Like you don’t necessarily have to be places on time in the same way. Or you don’t have a routine that you are kind of funneled into. There’s not this external set of guide rails and or a company policy that says, “here is how to do XYZ” that we kind of follow along with.

When you’re working from home, you have to figure out how to be organized in a very self-directed way. You have to figure out your own routines and your own like procedures and processes that aren’t something that you’re being made to do. And so what I’ve experienced is even really highly competent and organized people that function very well in a workplace, when they’re working from home, there’s like this sort ofnot chaosbut it’s like they need to figure out how to organize themselves from within. And so that’s why I wanted to talk with you about the… how the thinking is differentlike that internalized organization, because you do this all the time. You do not just, you know, have your systems at work. 

And like, I don’t know if that makes, make sense or not, but what I’m hoping is like to get a sense of what the inner process is, and like, okay, let me actually ask you a coherent question. Do you feel that you were, like looking back on your life, always an organized person? Like is it just something that you’re born with? Is it a personality trait? Or do you feel like it’s something that you had to learn or cultivate or be taught or practice over the years in order to be organized? Is it? Is it nature or nurture? Is it you? Is it something that everybody else can learn? What do you think?

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, that’s a great question. I certainly, you know, can remember as a kid, having a really messy, messy room and my parents having to say, “Clean up the room, clean up the room,” so I think that I…

Dr. Lisa Marie: That makes me feel so much better.

Dr. Danielle: …came out of the chute this way. Um, I do think… so I do think it can be cultivated. I think for meand I have shared this with you beforeit’s honestly, there’s a lot of anxiety management that comes with a strategy, so I feel less anxious when my surroundings are put together and in order. And I have a sort of an internal structure that helps me sort of navigate the world and feel like there are guide rails, even if they’re not being imposed from outside. But there’s a little bit of anxious temperament that I think goes into that. 

But I think I also have sort of practiced this over the years, and most of us do in school. You’ve got the structure of school, but then you’ve got all the activitiesthe homework, the assignments, the dissertationthat has to be done outside of school. And so you have to practice this. And so I think, remaining in the academic world for me, I’ve had to work remotely for years and years and years. And so there is some bit of things get very easy the more you practice it. Maybe getting started for people is the hardest part. I don’t know.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah, no, those are, those are interesting reflections. And but I think that maybe that what you just shared is an important takeaway. And something that would be useful for all of us is this idea that when you do have an organized and kind of serene environment and systems and sort of a, you know, inner slash outer sense of control that everything is sort of in its place, it makes you feel better emotionally. And I can certainly understand. I mean, I think, even for me, like my natural tendency is to get a little frenetic and chaotic and I don’t feel good when things are like that. I don’t know where my keys are. I can’t find stuff. I feel disorganized. And when I can kind of come back and make a plan and put things in place, it just, it feels, it feels better. And so maybe that’s one takeaway is that even though it takes time and effort to create organizational systems, there is a positive impact on… yeah.

Dr. Danielle: I think that does stick from reinforcing, yeah. When you’re cooking a meal and you know where to find the utensils the same place every time or when you’re sitting in your office and you know, you know where this stack of papers or references is all the timeit does make things go smoother in the moment. And then there’s this reinforcing sense of, “okay, that went well” and efficiency and so…

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: …that is, that is a good feeling.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah, yeah. And then, okay, and so now just, just for the benefit of our listeners, I can tell you that Danielleher homes are always immaculate and you have just such a wonderful sense of design. I mean, I always joke with Danielle that yes, if the psychologist thing stops working out for you, that you should definitely look into interior design because you just create the most beautiful environments.

And I’m curious to know so if you have, you know, want to share, share something for the benefit of a working mom who has like… a family dad, too, that keeps the home together. When there are a lot of people in it all the time and buzzing around and doing things and moving stuff, are there systems or practices that you have found over the years that help you kind of um, keep it together? You know, because a lived in space will always start to get messy because people you know, you take the silverware out of the drawer, you do stuff, and you cook things. Are there any things that you have found to just like make it easier to restore order or maintain order?

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think two things work for me and that’s something that doesn’t work for everybody. But I think keepingyou mentioned earlier stuffa minimalist approach. And that’s not to say you can’t have any art on your walls, but a minimalist approach to stuff like when you get something new, you give something away. So you know, before I make a new clothes purchase, I make purge my closet and see what needs to go to Goodwill. So keeping stuff minimal so that it, there’s fewer things to sort of get, you know, kind of explode in the inner space. That’s one thing.

And then the other thing is, and I heard this from someone years ago, so this quote is not from me but I have subscribed to it for much of my life, “Don’t put it down; put it away.” And that philosophy really works for me because it’s just as easy to drop it on the couch when you walk in the door as it is to hang it on the coat rack. It doesn’t take any more time. And so if you put it away instead of just dropping it down, that just keeps the order throughout the day.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: So that’s kind of, those two principles really work for me.

Dr. Lisa Marie: That’s great. I like that. “Don’t put it down; put it away.” Because I, because then here is actually another question that I had for you. So, you know, you are a psychologist and as such, a keen observer of people, and you know, have a lot of contact with different personality types and ways of being and I can absolutely relate to what you just said. Like I think that that is part of my disorganized mindset when things do start to get, you know, too much. It goes in a stack and this sort of mental narrative is, “I will do this later.” Like I know that when I listen to, “I will do this later,” it creates disorder for me. And so I’m going to practice swapping out that “Don’t put it down; put it away.” But, you know, have you also observed like, when people are more chaotic or have more difficulty just kind of keeping themselves organized. Are there other differences that you have noticed in terms of the mindset or the things that they’re telling themselves that seemed, from your perspective, to be contributing to their difficulty? Because we all create our own reality, right? And whatever our world looks like, is a manifestation of whatever is going on inside of us. And so I wonder if you could eliminate this for us, around what is the thinking style or the inner story that contributes to messiness?

Dr. Danielle: Well, I think, you know, to your point, the um, one of the things that I see sometimes with people who struggle with this is a tendency or procrastination. You know, that’s a problem for future me. And I think, you know, that mental way of approaching life creates piles in our mind, in our psyche, in addition to the piles out in the world. And so, for me, procrastination has never been effective. Because the anxiety just builds as the list builds in my mind and as the stuff builds on the, on the desk. So tackling things now is sort of a similar approach to “Don’t put it down; put it away.”

Not putting things off, for me, is a really effective way to stay organized. Because I don’t think that you know, and I recognize procrastination as an anxiety management strategy of its own, but that avoidance of dealing with thing right here, right now, and putting it in a mental pile for laterI think it builds up and builds up, and then life interrupts. And this is what I see happening with clients all the time. Or students even. You know, putting things off, putting things off. And then all of a sudden, there’s some sort of crisis, or things happen or whatever else. And people didn’t bank that into their mental timetable for when they could get this project done or this activity or whatever else. And then suddenly something has to fall off and can’t get accomplished. And so for me, sort of approaching things with “just go ahead and do it now,” because I know that something out there is going to come in unpredictably and I need to have some cushion. I don’t know. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah, no, it really does. That to do it now; don’t put it off; and also expect that whatever you think is going to happen in terms of the plan is not actually what is going to happen. And so to account for thatand because I think too, like when I think about my, my messy mindset, so to speak, there is this overly optimistic narrative about what I will be able to accomplish that has no basis in reality. You know what I mean? Like I can really realistically do probably 25% of whatever is on my giant list or whatever. I think I can get accomplished on a Saturday morning. So you’re saying, I don’t do that and that’s why I’m organized. I love it.

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, well, I mean, how many of us have you know, started a work day and then a supervisor, a co-worker, a client, an administrative issue pops up that we didn’t build into our work day and it’s like, “when am I going to find time to do this thing that you need me to do that’s suddenly so urgent?” And so I think expecting that, that is the reality does keep me very focused on staying on top of what I can see that I need to do in an efficient way. So that if there’s cushions, I can enjoy the cushions when it comes instead of being taken by surprise.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay, so then let’s, let’s go there for a second. So when it comes to like, routines and work days, in order to stay on top of things and do what needs to be done, and not get either blindsided or lost down a rabbit hole of whatever you know… and you have a lot of experience from working. And I should tell listeners: so in addition to being a psychologist and carrying a caseload, that DanielleI don’t want to call you Dianethat Danielle is also a professor of psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. She’s on the faculty.

And so you have a lot of plates spinning in the air. When it comes to personal routines and just like, I mean, do you, do you do like a task list? Do you like prioritize things to figure out what you’re going to work on first, or what you’re going to work on second, and when you’re going to work on that? And do youdo any like formalized kind of planning things to stay on track? Or is it so deeply ingrained that you just kind of know what to do and when to do it?

Dr. Danielle: I do think some of it is muscle memory that builds over time with practice. But yeah, I certainly have, um… especially on days when the external structure is not imposed. So, you know, when we’re seeing clients back to back, then that’s just the schedule. That is what it is. But on days where there’s less external structure imposed and it has to be more internal, I absolutely have a mental list. And so for me, the list begins with certain things that have to happen at a particular time.

So you and I had this, this meeting scheduled this morning at eight and I’ve got some appointments with students scheduled this afternoon. And so I’m looking at my day and those have to happen at a particular time. And then everything else gets slotted in around that. And, and then for me, there is a prioritization. You know, which of these things can wait and which of these things is urgent? And I don’t know that, I think that’s a values-based decision. I think it’s a sense of, you know, what the world is demanding from us in different areas of our life and what takes priority. So for me, there is a, you know, “These are my values so these are the most important things. So I’m definitely going to accomplish these. And the other things can wait until tomorrow evening, if, if they need to.” So, I don’t know that that’s very structured.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Well no, but, but I think what you’re talking again about the most important piece of this, which is the mindsetwhich is that you’re thinking about, “What is the most important, you know, what’s, what’s the stuff I have to do. But then what’s the most important or valuable stuff for me?” And then I think, I think you were insinuating this without saying it out loud, that you would do that important stuff before you would do the other thing. And so, so then, I mean, that seems like so natural to you. It’s probably not even a thought, but like, I talk to people all the time who like, know that I have these important things to do. And instead, they will mess around with like, low-level tasks because they’re easy. They’ll clean out their email box. They’ll mess around on Reddit for 45 minutes before they start doing stuff. Do you have… you don’t do that?

Dr. Danielle: I know.

Dr. Lisa Marie: What? Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: That’s a great, great observation. And I certainly have clients who do the same thing. I think, two things. I think some of that is avoidance, you know, when we can sort of cross easy things off the list because we know other things are bigger or require more energy. Then some of that could be, is sort of an avoidance or escapist strategylike, “I don’t want to deal with that; I’m gonna bury my head in the sand of the Reddit or the inbox.” But I think some of that is also, at least for some of the clients that I work with, that they haven’t really explored what their values are. They haven’t really explored and outlined, “This is what’s really important to me, and this is what I want to commit my time and energy to,” and made a conscious decision to focus on those things. So they’re much more easily be derailed because they haven’t outlined and committed to those things…

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: …um, for themselves. Yeah, and so some values exploration is a lot of work that I do with people. “Really what matters to you? Are you aligning your life with that?”

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay, like a true life coach, like we’re gonna bring you over. But, but really though, and you know, as you’re talking, I’m reflecting on what I have seen clients do. But also personally when I have, again, I need to be much more intentional in order to be as organized and productive as you are. And when I am moving into that space, I do have to be very deliberate about what is the most important thing today, and you know, like as it attaches to bigger goals. And I think what I also probably tell myself is “Do the hardest thing first and resist the temptation to do the easiest thing first.”

Dr. Danielle: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Like I have to do the hard thing at the beginning of the day, and then the easy  pesky things in the last hour of the day because that takes less mental bandwidth. And I think I’m hearing a similar process there that the easy stuff happens when it happens.

Dr. Danielle: I think that’s right because you know, we sort of lose steam throughout the day. So when we wake up, and we’re fresh, and we tackle the hardest thingsit’s the whole “eat your vegetables” first kind of a deal. I think there’s a reason, structurally, that we teach and train kids, you know, dessert comes after you eat all the other healthy things so that you don’t fill up on dessert first, right?

And so I think there is that, that of, you know, let me get these things out that will require more energy while I’m fresh. And then at the end of the day, if something comes up, if life intervenes, if I get derailed by another urgent issue, then at least I’ve done those most important things.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: And the other things can fall off and wait until tomorrow. And you know, I never subscribed to that whole… I don’t know if you remember back when we were a little bit younger. We’ve known each other for 15 years, can you believe that? That’s the whole daytimer process. And you know, there was a big… But there is something there about having a list, having it on paper instead of just in my head, and then being able to prioritize. “This is an A item. This is a B. This is a C.”

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah, I have to do that. I have do that.

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, but it’s helpful.

Dr. Lisa Marie: So okay, so prioritizing. When it comes also to time management, have you observed in yourself any strategies that you use that maybe are a little bit different than what you see less organized people doing that help you, you know, I’m thinking get places on time. You are also supernaturally punctual. I should, I should… but like, be able to, like schedule things.

Okay. So here’s a, here’s a more specific question. One of the things that I have observed in myself and also people who are—have of a less organized orientation is that there is a different sense of maybe how long things are going to take. Whereas, and, but this is a hypothesis; I don’t know this for sure. I mean, I’m wondering if part of being punctual and good time management is having a more, maybe realistic sense of how long things take? Or do you feel like it’s attached to something elselike your ability to get places on time and to know, “I’m going to spend this much time working on this report?” What do you think?

Dr. Danielle: Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I think that this goes back to what we were talking about a little bit earlier, which is the idea of building in a buffer that things are going to go wrong. How do I create a cushion for that? Right? So there will be an accident on Colorado Boulevard as I’m trying to get somewhere. Or you know, something, something else will, will interrupt my ability to, you know, get to this particular appointment on time.

And so building in that cushion, I think when, when I haven’t done that so well, you’re right, I have assumed that I could get somewhere or do something in a particular amount of time. And that has, I underestimated how long things would take or what would get in the way or whatever. And so, I may work on fiddly tasks up until the last minute and say, “Oh, I need to go.” And I should have stopped those fiddly tasks, you know, 10 minutes earlier and be more efficient with my time management. So I think there is a little bit of predicting that things may go wrong. And so my strategy islet’s say I’m trying to get to an appointment and the Google Maps says it’s going to take 20 minutes to get there. If I leave 35 minutes early, then I’m not panicked if there’s an accident. And if I arrive early, then I’ve got that cushion to then do whatever that was answer those emails or whatever because we can do that from anywhere now…

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: …while at, while I’m waiting at that appointment. And so it’s not that I’m getting less done. It’s just that I, you know, plan the cushion, and then use that cushion when I arrive and I’m waiting for the appointment.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Got it.

Dr. Danielle: I don’t know if that makes sense.

Dr. Lisa Marie: No, that’s a fantastic strategy. And that has like, never actually occurred to me before, but I think I’m gonna start doing it, Danielle. No, but so, so like, I mean, so just out of curiosity. So Google Maps says 20 minutes, do you add 50% to that? 75% to that? Like, is there a little mental calculus that you found to be… “If I add 50% more or whatever it is, then it’s usually okay.” I’m just curious.

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, I don’t know that I’ve done the mental math and like actually calculated, “Okay, 20 minutes divided by two and then blah, blah, blah.”

Dr. Lisa Marie: 14.75 seconds. Right.

Dr. Danielle: Right. Right. Right. Right. But, but I think some of it depends on, you know, actually how far I’m going. And so there is a little bit of a ratio there, although it’s more of a gut instinct than anything else. But I think it’s a question of just building in some buffer, instead of working up to the last minute on the project that’s right before. And, and, and then slotting in some of those easier tasks that we were talking about that can sort of occur throughout the day, can then occur in those buffer windows. When I arrived to that appointment 15 minutes early, okay, let me answer those emails now instead of trying to do it before I got in the car. And so there’s a little bit of just sort of restructuring and sliding the smaller tasks in when I find that there’s a window of opportunity. So yeah, so there’s some reorganization of bigger items and then slotting in the smaller items in between.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Okay. Well, that’s great. So this is wonderful. And so okay, then lastly so let’s say you have your, your typical typical familywith you know, mom and dad trying to work and manage a home, but also now managing kids, and keeping them on track, and homeschooling and schedules. And just trying to make sure that everything, everything that needs to happen, happens to a degree, with the understanding that right now for many people, there’s some stuff that isn’t going to happen because it can’t. So you know, while we might like to have our socks matched and in the drawer, it may be realistic to get the clean clothes out of a laundry basket that never actually gets put away because nobody has the bandwidth to do that with everything else that needs to be done. I mean, there are, there are finite limits. But do you have any last words of advice for, you know, a family in the situation with going in a zillion different directions in this contextwith not external structure, you know, child care, having to do all the stuff–that might help them begin to create a workable plan to make sure the important things at least get done?

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a, that’s a great question. And I think it involves, I think, a lot of communication and a lot of sharing together——at least the adult partners in the, in the family system–saying, “Okay, what is most important to us as a family?” And putting those things first, and then coming up with a strategy for managing that together as a team.

I think one of the things that can happen is when we get stressed out and we go into our own, our own little bubblesthat can be isolating in a family system.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: And when we can sort of just sort of spin off into our own little solar systems instead of really consciously coming together and saying, “Okay, what’s most important to us? And what do we value here?” Again, going back to those values. And then, and then sort of choosing, “Okay, let’s tag team this. I’m going to do this with the kids today. You’re going to do that with the house. You get that done.” That’s a good day.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: And really just making a conscious effort to communicate about that and be, be working together as a team instead of spinning off into our own little zone.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah. That’s fantastic advice. Okay, so to recap, I mean, if I, if I kind of just run down the big takeaways. I think the first thing, the first thing you said was just get deeply committed to, “Don’t put it down; put it away.” And you also talk about minimizing like, you maybe make it, do some curation to make it so that you do have a place for the most important things and that it’s not overwhelming sprawl. And I think that’s fantastic advice.

You also talked a lot about figuring out what your priorities are, and what is most important, and making sure that you do whatever that is first, and the lower value or less important things after that. Yup. And, and I think woven throughout this is sort of this core belief of that, you can probably do less than you think you can. And it’s probably going to take longer if it’s driving or doing a task. So maybe, I mean, is it fair to say like, lower your expectations about what is possible, and really focus on what is important? Does that kind of summarize it?

Dr. Danielle: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s right. Having a, having a sense of buffer for anticipating that, you know, things will, you know, go wrong or take longer and, and really focusing on what matters most.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah.

Dr. Danielle: And then, and then making that explicit for yourself. And so whether that is you know, as a calendar or a list or whatever else. Getting it out of your headwhere things tend to swim around and get lostand really outlining it for yourself in a very clear way, so that you can feel like, “Okay, yeah. I’m, I’m actually, my behavior is consistent with what I’m saying matters most to me.”

Dr. Lisa Marie: Yeah. Yeah. And then doing it now. Don’t put it away.

Dr. Danielle: And then doing it now. That’s right. That’s right. Easier said than done.

Dr. Lisa Marie: Wow, so many, so many wonderful tips. Danielle, thank you so much for spending this time with me today.

Dr. Danielle: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.