How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

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

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

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

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How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People: Episode Highlights

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

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

Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons for Passive Aggressive Behavior

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

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

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

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

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

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

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

How to Fix a Passive Aggressive Relationship

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Being Passive Aggressive

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

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

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

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

Episode Show Notes:

[1:59] The Passive Aggressive Patterns

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

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

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

[21:29] Passive Aggressive Relationships

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

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

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

[43:44] Am I Passive Aggressive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passive-Aggressive Patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: sideways. 

Lisa: Yes, like your nail polish kinds of…

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: Absolutely. That’s it.

Lisa: Anti-vulnerability. 

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

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

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

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

Lisa: You can hide forever in that place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passive-Aggressive in Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: Getting activated. 

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

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

Kathleen: I'm the same way. 

Lisa: Because that's what it feels like. 

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

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

Kathleen: Exactly. 

Lisa: Pass the salt. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: Good. That's good to know.

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

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

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

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

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

How to Handle Passive-Aggressive People?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: Absolutely. 

Lisa: In a relationship worth keeping.

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: That's a great question. 

Am I Passive-Aggressive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

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

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

HOW TO STOP BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER: “Um, sure, I guess so,” Mia says, while her stomach churns and she feels a wave of exhaustion already at the prospect of picking her sister up from the airport at midnight on a Wednesday. She wants to say, “It’s a $30 Uber, and I need to get up for work early.” But she doesn’t. She’s annoyed all the way to the airport, all the way back, and irritable and sleep-deprived at work the next day. Why couldn’t she say no?

It’s because Mia is a people pleaser. Can you relate to this? Have you ever:

1) said “yes” when you really meant “no,” 

2) accepted an invitation you would have preferred to decline,

3)  or apologized because you couldn’t do something that wasn’t your responsibility? 

If so, you may be a people pleaser. This is no cause for alarm — we all do things on occasion just to make others happy, or to avoid potential conflict. Healthy relationships require a balance of give and take. When things are in balance, our relationships feel satisfying and mutual. We don’t need to keep score, but overall, we have the sense that we’re getting as much out of relationships as we’re putting in. 

But when we lean a little bit too far in the direction of people-pleasing, things can start to feel out of balance. Your relationships might be stressful and guilt-ridden if you have a tendency to people please. You might grow resentful toward the people in your life and feel powerless to stop them from encroaching on your time and energy. 

If you’ve noticed you’re doing a little too much pleasing lately, it’s time to take your power back. The “people pleasers” who arrive in counseling or coaching here at Growing Self to work on themselves around people-pleasing tend to be highly empathetic people, who understand and care deeply about other people’s feelings, wants, and needs. They know that it’s time to work on healthy boundaries and learn how to be appropriately assertive with confidence.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about on today’s episode of the podcast. My guest is Kathleen C., a therapist and life coach here at Growing Self who has helped so many people reclaim their priorities, draw their own boundaries, and tilt the balance away from people-pleasing and toward self-care. 

I hope you’ll listen, and put these insights to work in improving the quality of all of your relationships — including your relationship with YOU. You can find this episode on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll subscribe!

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

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

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How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

People pleasing is something we all do from time to time, and it’s not always a bad thing. But for some, the balance can tip a little too far in the direction of people pleasing, making it difficult to assert yourself, ask for what you need, or draw healthy boundaries with others. 

If you’ve noticed a pattern of people pleasing in your relationships, this conversation will help you take back your power and put your focus back where it belongs: on your own needs and desires. 

What is a People Pleaser

People pleasing is a pattern of putting other people ahead of yourself, at the expense of your own wellness. This could take many different forms. You might have trouble telling other people “no,” and so end up with a schedule so jam-packed with other people’s priorities that you have no time for the things that are important to you. 

Or, you might not feel able to ask for what you need to feel emotionally safe in a relationship, like regular communication from a partner, and so you endure relationships where your true needs aren’t met.   

Signs of People Pleasing

How can you know if people pleasing is an issue for you? Here are some signs that you may be doing a little bit too much people pleasing in your relationships: 

  • Feelings of anger and resentment toward the people in your life, especially when they ask you to do things for them. 
  • Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or drained by all of your commitments. 
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt when you need to tell someone “no.” 
  • Feeling inadequate, like you can never do enough. 
  • Feeling like you don’t really have a choice when someone asks you for something.  

The Danger of People Pleasing

To stop being a people pleaser, it helps to understand why you do it in the first place — as well as truly understanding the toll it takes on you and on your relationships.  

When was the last time you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no,” or put someone else’s priorities ahead of your own? Can you remember what you were thinking and feeling at the time? Maybe you felt worried about some outcome if you asserted yourself, like losing a valued friendship or angering your boss. There may have been a story you were telling yourself, about how the other person would react if you didn’t go along with what they wanted — and what that reaction would mean about you. For example, you might think, “If I was a good partner/friend/employee/person, I would do this for them.” 

By reflecting on what feels difficult about not people pleasing, you can begin to question the beliefs that are making it hard for you to draw your own boundaries and speak up for your own needs. Doing so is not selfish; it’s taking care of yourself

It’s also essential. People who struggle with setting healthy boundaries for themselves will, over time, often start feeling very angry, resentful, and even depressed. Feeling like a doormat can damage your self-esteem, but also damage the very relationships that you’re working so hard to protect. 

Your feelings of anger and resentment will start to be *felt* by others – whether or not you’re saying how you feel out loud. If left unchecked, people pleasing can actually lead to passive aggressive behaviors, and increasing disconnection and distance in your relationships.

People Pleasing and Boundaries

The key to overcoming people pleasing is having a good sense of where your boundaries are. For all of us, this is easier said than done. Healthy boundaries are firm but flexible and can be negotiated depending on the relationship and your needs and the other person’s needs at any given time. 

But understanding where your own boundaries are will help you have clarity about what you actually want, so you can notice when your impulse to people please is creeping in. 

One key to understanding where your boundaries are is tuning into your feelings. If you’re feeling angry, resentful, pushed, or infringed upon, that’s a sign someone may be stepping on a boundary for you, even if your conscious mind is not aware that this is a boundary you need to hold.  

How Values Can Help People Pleasers

Values are crucial. They’re the lighthouse that guides you in the direction of the life you want, and being clear about them can help you overcome a tendency to people please. 

If you value your physical health, you won’t overcommit to too many responsibilities, spreading yourself thin and adding excessive stress to your life. If you value emotional honesty and authenticity, you’ll want to be open with others about how you really feel, and what you want and need. 

Stay in touch with your values and you’ll have more clarity about whether you’re doing something because it’s what you really want, or because it’s what someone else wants. 

How to Stop People Pleasing

For recovering people pleasers, there is plenty of reason to hope: You can get better at assertive communication, self-care, and staying in touch with your own boundaries and values. Many people benefit from working on themselves in therapy or life coaching, and this is especially helpful if you’re struggling to get clarity around your needs, rights, and feelings — and hope to confidently communicate those to others. 

People pleasing can be a hard habit to break, but once you do, you’ll be able to enjoy positive, mutually-fulfilling relationships, without all the stress, guilt, and resentment. You’ll feel happier, your relationships will improve, and you’ll feel the love and respect you’ve always wanted and deserved.

People Pleaser Podcast Highlights

[02:27] The Signs of Being a People Pleaser

  • When you're people pleasing, you get into a space where you want to defend yourself, and you feel angry and resentful
  • Over time, you feel really exhausted, inadequate, overwhelmed, drained, and burnt out.
  • You feel that you can never do enough
  • People pleasers also talk about feelings of guilt and irritability.

[06:32] What Is a People Pleaser?

  • A person with a pattern of putting other people before themselves to the detriment of their personal well-being.
  • It is a pattern of doing things in conflict with your own value system, abandoning or betraying yourself, your mental health and physical health, and boundaries.
  • There is a loss of power and safety that makes an individual feel the need to prioritize others over themselves.
  • There are relationships where people are bullied into this behavior. It can also happen because of past experiences.

[11:26] Acknowledging a People Pleasing Personality

  • Recall a time when you felt pushed against a wall, guilty or resentful doing something that you didn't feel comfortable doing.
  • Be honest with yourself and reflect on the motivation behind your actions.
  • It’s not about self-judgment but holding a space for you to be clear about your feelings.
  • We sometimes fall into autopilot or find justifications for our actions.

[16:17] Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?

  • People pleasing behavior can range from simply taking the path of least resistance, to being afraid of major consequences.
  • Finding balance and checking within yourself to know the pros and cons of your actions is an art.

[20:23] People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger

  • People pleasing can metastasize into insecurity and anxiety because there has been a pattern of feeling like you need to earn taking up space.
  • It can also show up as physical symptoms: headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, fatigue.
  • These are the body's way of expressing that it has been holding a lot of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, or guilt.
  • Feelings give us information about ourselves, but not necessarily facts about the situation.
  • Connecting with yourself, including feelings like anger and resentment. It’s only human to feel angry when you’ve stretched yourself too thin.

[28:37] Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing

  • Guilt comes from a well-intentioned place of empathy.
  • It comes from that place of caring, but it gets distorted when we aren't able to hold that empathy and also hold space for our own needs at the same time.
  • People pleasing can also feel like love in the moment. However, there is always time and space to be compassionate and empathetic.

[33:10] Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing

  • Reflect on your motivations. Think about what you’ll feel and the consequences in the long and short-term.
  • Use your values as anchors. These values can also change over time and depending on your needs.
  • Take time to decide and think about what you need.
  • It's helpful to have scripts and assertiveness techniques that give us something to lean on and guide us as we're starting out.
  • Assertiveness opens up the lines of communication, and it is respectful. If someone chooses to escalate things in response instead of respecting your boundaries, it gives you good information about that relationship.

Music in this episode is by Austin Archer, with the song “People Pleaser.”

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I'm so glad you've joined us today because this is a very special episode. Today, we're going to be talking about people pleasing, which I know is something that we all struggle with from time to time. I'm guessing that if you're like basically everybody else in the universe, that every once in a while, you might agree to do things that you don't really want to do just to make somebody else happy. Or if you've ever accepted blame for something that you knew wasn't really your fault, just to keep the peace and put things behind you.

Things like that — many of us engage in those behaviors once in a while, and there's not anything terribly wrong with doing that sometimes. This can be kind of a social lubricant, right? People are good at relationships, pick their battles. And sometimes it's a good idea to avoid conflict or keep things pleasant and positive. But the problem arises when the balance tips too far in the direction of your people pleasing a lot of the time, when it starts to turn into a pattern for you and the way you engage with others. 

Because when that starts to happen, it stops being harmless. If you have a hard time telling people “No”, or disagreeing with other people, or sometimes even putting yourself first, it can start to feel like all of your time or energy is being swallowed up by other people's priorities. And that's not good for you. It can start to feel angry, or resentful, or might even spend so much of your time and energy taking care of other people that you're not doing a good job of taking care of yourself.

So if this is feeling a little bit familiar for you, I'm glad you're here listening to this episode, because today I am joined by my colleague, Kathleen, who is a therapist and a life coach here on our team at Growing Self. She is such an expert in helping people build happy, healthy relationships, improve their communication, build their self esteem, and especially strengthen their boundaries.

I know that she has so much insight into this people pleasing pattern to share with you today. So Kathleen, thank you so much for being here with me. This is such an important topic and it's hard. 

Kathleen: Yes, I love this topic. Thank you for having me. I'm here, excited to be here today.

The Signs of Being a People Pleaser

Lisa: Well, okay, first of all, can we just normalize this a little bit? I know that people pleasing is not something that is like, great for any of us to do, but I totally do this. I do this and I think that sometimes isn't there a time and a place for a little bit of people pleasing? Just a little bit?

Kathleen: Right, I really loved the way that you talked about that. Yeah, it's true. I mean, first of all, you mentioned so many examples, some of which I hadn't thought about in a while, like accepting blame. But yeah, it's necessary for lasting healthy relationships, too, to put your needs aside for someone else's sometimes. And I think that's part of what makes it hard to stop people pleasing, is telling the difference between healthy give and take and compromise and unhealthy people pleasing patterns. Yeah. So it's a good point.

Lisa: Let’s just start right there. I know that you do so much amazing work with people around this. And I guess, maybe just to begin, what are some of the things that you notice or that you listen for when you're working with clients and you start thinking to yourself, “I think I'm seeing an unhealthy people pleasing pattern,” like it's going too far. What are some of the things that you see people doing or saying or the impact maybe that it's having on them?

Kathleen: I think listeners can probably relate to this, too. A lot of times people will come to me, clients will come to me in this space, already feeling angry and resentful. So there's a lot of — they’ll come in initially complaining a lot about other people in their lives. I think that's one of the first signs I get to see from my point of view when I'm meeting with someone and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and stretched to thin and really defending themselves a lot because it— I mean, I do people pleasing too, at times.

Lisa: Which is why we're such great friends with each other, Kathleen. Why our relationship works so well, we're both doing that.

Kathleen: When you're people pleasing you get into a space into a spot where you want to defend yourself, and you feel angry and resentful. You're kind of checking in with other people. “Hey, isn't this right, aren't I right? Didn't they do this wrong? Didn't I do enough?” Like those are sort of like the very early signs when I'm just getting to know someone like a client for example, right? So some of your listeners might relate to that.

But I think overtime, just feeling really exhausted, inadequate, overwhelmed, drained, burnt out, is one of it, the impact, like you can never do enough, never make everybody happy enough.

Lisa: I hear that. But it's interesting, what you were saying is that sort of the ringer, one of the key things that you listen for, as a therapist, and you're thinking “they may be people pleasing,” is actually that people are feeling angry and resentful, and like aggrieved and like, “okay, who's right, who's wrong here?” Which is sort of interesting to me, because I think I probably don't actually have that experience as much. But like that, there's an angry component to it.

Kathleen: And maybe that's because they're coming to see me and to vent. Because those are feelings and thoughts that they may not feel okay and safe to share. Guilt is the other side of that coin that they share a little bit more, I think, with other people in your life, but perhaps, when I get to meet with them, and if you're a people pleaser, you might search inside yourself and realize “I'm pissed off”, or know that you are already, but not necessarily talk about that as much. It's definitely a real piece of people pleasing. Irritability.

What Is a People Pleaser?

Lisa: We started talking about this, I realized that we probably skipped over a relatively important first step of this conversation, which is defining our terms. I mean, like, for somebody who may not be familiar with us, as deeply, professionally or personally, as you and I are, Kathleen, what is people pleasing? How would you define it?

Kathleen: Let's see, I think I would define it probably, as you know, a pattern of putting other people before yourself to the detriment of your well-being. So if there's a pattern of it conflicting with your own value system, or abandoning or betraying yourself, your own well-being, your mental health, your physical health, your boundaries, that you need to feel emotionally safe in a relationship. If we have patterns where we're violating those sort of foundational basic needs, in order to keep other people happy, or maintain relationships with other people. That was really long.  

Lisa: No, that was so good. It made perfect sense. You're saying that it's really like harming yourself to keep other people “happy” or to maintain a relationship. It's like you're hurting yourself because you feel like you have to, in some way.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. There's that element where you feel like you don't have a choice, where you don't have power, where you're not accepted or safe or loved. And this isn't just personal relationships, this could transfer to family, work, where you don't feel safe, where you feel like you don't really have a choice to be a part of what's considered in the situation. Yeah, a lot of power loss there and safety loss. That's a big part of it.

Lisa: Yeah. Well, and you know what, your definition of this, too, is so helpful because I think it's really painting a very clear contrast. What we kind of talked about in the beginning of the show, which is those little social niceties, like, “Oh, no, no, it was completely my fault.” Or, “Oh, no, it's fine.” Like that you're not like under duress when you do those kinds of things. What you're talking about is this pattern where it's like you really feel like you don't have a choice, something bad will happen if you don't take the blame or make things better for somebody else. That's really different, isn't it?

Kathleen: Yeah. I think it's interesting, because you're making me think about, sometimes we are under duress. And other times, we think we're doing it to ourselves because of what we believe we need to do. So there are relationships where we really are bullied into people pleasing. And then there are others, especially if we've experienced that in the past, There are other situations where we feel we don't have a choice, we feel under duress. 

But we could safely assert ourselves and that's why being aware of how you're feeling and why you're choosing what you're choosing and owning that choice is such an important part of moving past people pleasing, which I'm sure we'll get to today, but that choice piece is important, is a big part of it. 

Lisa: Oh my gosh, this is so interesting. So you're saying like, sometimes this happens, because you're actually in a situation where maybe there are even like power control things happening, or it's really like a toxic relationship. Maybe you feel like you have to be overly pleasing or accommodating to your own detriment, not because of the current relationship you're in or the person that you're interacting with, but because of real, old historical core beliefs, or maybe previous relationships that have tricked you into believing you feel like you have to even if you don't really,

Kathleen: Absolutely, yeah. I hope that's good news that sometimes we might think “If I say no, I'm going to lose this relationship, they're gonna blow up at me, they're gonna hate my guts.” And that isn't necessarily the case. We could really feel like it might be. Sometimes it is and then we need to work on working those relationships out of your life, if possible. Hopefully, that's a whole other topic. But hopefully, that's good news that it doesn't — it isn't. Our feelings aren't always facts, as they say. 

Acknowledging Your People Pleasing Personality

Lisa: So we're gonna go with this. So you have somebody that you're working with, and they're describing feeling angry because they have been interacting with people from feeling like they have to, where do you even start? Like, if somebody is listening to this conversation right now thinking, “Yeah, that's me.” What would you encourage them to begin thinking about,

Kathleen: I would say right now, even if you're listening, and you have something in mind that you've experienced, maybe recently, or where you can think of an example, because it does feel familiar to you, maybe you can think of an example of a time recently, when you felt really pushed against a wall, and either guilty or resentful, ultimately doing something that you really didn't feel comfortable doing. 

What I would do with a client and what you could do, even now, as you listen is think back to that moment, and reflect on what you were feeling in your body, how you were experiencing those emotions and what you were telling yourself about it. “I have to do this because…” why? 

What did it mean for you? What were you afraid was going to happen if you stood your ground? If you could be honest with yourself for a moment and just search within and notice what your motivation was for doing that. 

And this isn't about self-judgment. This is about actually the opposite of that, taking a little time with yourself, holding space for you, and listening to yourself in a way that we don't get to when we're people pleasing. And really listening with some curiosity. “Okay, what was I afraid of? What was my main motivation for saying yes, when I really wanted to say no?” That's where I usually start in the process. 

Because then we can start exploring what's so hard about not people pleasing, other ways to get those fears addressed. And some of the thoughts and beliefs that keep that cycle going, and where they come from. That's where we start. Over time, we work through that part of the process. 

Lisa: What's coming up for me as I'm listening to this is just how hard it can be even to figure out what your own boundaries are, or should be like what you're not comfortable with or don't want to do. Like, I know that when I kind of get into people pleasing mode, I honestly just start like doing a bunch of things for people. I don't even think about it being a problem for me. And I think sometimes with like, naturally, not saying that I'm particularly competent and what I have observed and others is that people who are really competent, organized, it's easy for them to do things. 

They do it because it is easy, they can do it more quickly. They can just take something else off of somebody else's plate. As they're doing it, and I think I do this sometimes, it's not even realizing that I'm doing things that I shouldn't be like for other people. Like there needs to be clarity around what you want to do and what you don't want to do. And that sounds so weird, but it's like it's easy to just do all kinds of stuff without really being clear about “Should I be doing this? Do I want to be doing this?” It's easy just to go on autopilot and do all kinds of things. 

Kathleen: Especially when we get caught in getting all those tasks checked off the to-do-list, being in productivity mode, we just slip sort of unconsciously into “Yeah, I'll take that on. Yeah, I'll get that done. What's the next thing I'm going to get done.” That can happen. But as I was thinking about our meeting today, I was thinking about gosh, for me, when I've noticed my brain is sneaky and tricky. 

Sometimes, I will just immediately find a justification for why I can do this, or this is a good—I want to actually know what I do want to do this, that will convince myself because that can be when you've been in people pleasing habits that can be easier, it can be easier to convince yourself that you want to do something you really don't want to do, than to say no. And when you have really deeply-rooted beliefs around the risks that might be there if you don't people please. 

It's easier to just avoid those risks, suffer through it, push through, I'll just get this done, and by next week, by tomorrow, by next month, I'll have a little time for myself, or whatever it is, “I can get through this. You convince yourself and it can happen.” Sometimes, if you're not practicing that self awareness, automatically. You don't even realize you're doing it.

Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?

Lisa: Where it comes up for me, and I think I wonder how true this is? Well, I've actually heard clients talking about this as parents, and really like, I think, to the detriment of our children, but  fold the laundry, there's laundry in the hamper, that needs to be put away, whatever, it would take me 30 seconds, just gonna put the crap away in the door, or like, pick the sock up off the bathroom floor and put it in the hamper because my kid didn't do it, that kind of thing. 

Because otherwise, it turns into this little mini, like, not conflict with a capital C, but a thing really “Come back in here, put your clothes in the hamper”, where it would just take me like, literally five seconds to do the thing. And it's almost like I don't even want to go through the trouble of it. But it's not— it can happen on autopilot. And I know it's to the detriment of my kid if I'm putting his stuff in the hamper. But it's like just doing those tiny little things for people as opposed to having it be a thing. And there are little ways, like what I was describing, but also what you were saying, which is that fear of big consequences. If you're like, “Actually, I'm not going to do this.” And that fear that it's going to turn into a fight. Is that right?

Kathleen: You're right, it can range anywhere from “this is just a little bit easier and more convenient for me right now even though it may not be best for me or the other person.” This is just the path of least resistance—

Lisa: The path of least resistance. Yeah, that was… I'm sorry, you were about to say it could go all the way to—

Kathleen: All the way to being afraid of major consequences if you're assertive instead of people pleasing. I think it's an art. I wish I had a handbook of rules where you had an index, and you could just search alphabetically file for…

Lisa: Page 43—

Kathleen: And follow the handbook. But I do think it's an art and that it does take energy to kind of be sensing and checking in with yourself and weighing, doing a sort of check and balance and weighing the pros and cons intuitively what you need, right? Then one day, you may have the energy to say, “You know what, it's best for my kiddo to learn to pick up the socks”. And on another day, you might need to spend that energy somewhere else and just pick up a sock.

There isn't a right answer when it comes to knowing your boundaries, even though we want them to be clear, they also need to be flexible. And it's very personal to you. That's another thing that's tough. Tough, but also gives us some wiggle room. 

Lisa: Well, that's good to know, though, that it doesn't have to be like super black and white. And these are the boundaries with a capital B and it turns into a list of rules that you ultimately get to decide and be flexible. But I think I'm hearing that that's one of really the biggest first pieces for somebody working on this is to get real clear around their own understanding of what they should be doing and what they should not be doing. Or would you say that in a different way where that kind of clarity comes from and I'm sure it's probably different for everybody?

Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, maybe I would say it's so helpful to have a good connected relationship to yourself so that you can be in touch with yourself throughout the day. And then you know what you need most, moment to moment. So you kind of manage that on a microcosmic level, day-to-day moment-to-moment.

And then big picture-wise, you kind of look at the overall pattern, which you mentioned pattern earlier. And I think that's a really important word with this kind of stuff with boundaries, with people pleasing. If you step back overall, am I taking care of my top priorities? Overall, pattern-wise, am I honoring my top values? We're not going to be perfect at all of it, ever. So it's kind of, what am I needing most right now? And then overall, how are things balancing out? 

People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger

Lisa: Like being connected to your feelings of that, like canary in the coal mine, like what we were talking about at the very beginning is that when people aren't staying connected to their values, and kind of being really intentional, they start to feel it emotionally, over time. First, it's anger and then it's just like this— what I think I heard you say is it sort of metastasizes into self-esteem, self-worth stuff? Is that true kind of progression if people keep ignoring their values and not setting limits with others as they should? Or would you say it differently?

Kathleen: No, I think that's exactly how I would say it. And yes, over time it can metastasize into “I just feel so insecure,” and just, “I feel so much anxiety when I go into work that day” because there has been a pattern of feeling like you need to earn or prove taking up space. So yeah, that's a great way of putting it. Then for those of us who don't necessarily—it's harder to be in touch with our feelings, or put words to them, it can sometimes show up in physical tension and exhaustion and digestive issues and things like that. Not to get too far off into the mind-body connection today.

Lisa: No, it's really important. So what were you thinking of just then?

Kathleen: Let's say that canary, for example, if your canary doesn't always speak the language of emotion for you, if your feelings are hard to identify, for you, it might show up, especially for people pleasers, we might stuff those things, sweep those feelings under the rug, and have got really used to ignoring them. So for you, sometimes it might show up as physical issues, digestive issues, fatigue, muscle tension, headaches.

All of those can be the body's way of expressing at it, that it has been holding a lot of stress, anxiety, or fear, anger, guilt. If we've sort of separated ourselves from feeling those emotions for so long, that we don't really become aware of them, or we don't know how to express what they are, put our finger on what they are, sometimes noticing how you feel in your body is just another way of practicing mindfulness and self-awareness. It's a different canary.

Lisa: That emotions can show up as— I think the technical term for it is somatic that like, the physical manifestations of feelings, that are not listened to, as in the form of emotions. Like maybe you won't listen to that feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach, and then your body's like, I'm going to give you a headache, and then maybe you'll listen to me.

Kathleen: Yeah, those emotions, they exist in your body. So they're there. Even if you're not acknowledging them. 

Lisa: So really getting tuned, if you want to make some changes around those people pleasing patterns is that getting tuned into your feelings is a huge piece of this.

Kathleen: Yeah, listening more to yourself. And look, we can start there, we don't even have to go straight into being assertive and saying no, and setting boundaries. If we can just start with hearing yourself more then already, we're making more conscious, aware choices about things. Even if where you need to start is “I'm going to choose to people please right now.” It feels safer and a little bit easier or less uncomfortable than this other option. That's okay. 

It takes time to break habits and to change our beliefs or heal old wounds that may be contributing to the people pleasing. So we start with just holding the space for yourself that you haven't felt like you've had permission to hold. That can be an internal process and experience before we start expressing that stuff externally. We can begin with steps that don't feel quite as scary. Just like anything else that new that you might be learning, you begin with the intro point.

Lisa: At the shallow end of the pool, right? What I'm just thinking about as you're saying this is, again, it sounds easy when we say be in contact with your emotions. And in my experience, many times, and not always I have known plenty of men who will fall into people pleasing kinds of patterns. But a lot of times it is more women who tend to fall into these patterns. And I think that one of the core emotions that you're saying we need to be connected to is an emotion of like anger, or resentment, or like, “Actually, I don't want to do that.”

And I think that those are dark emotions that are really powerful and important, but a lot of times I think women have been socialized out of. I think, for a lot of times, many women are uncomfortable making contact with their own anger, like it feels like something that we shouldn't feel. Do you work with clients around that like sort of legitimizing their own anger? Or do you see it manifest differently in your work with clients?

Kathleen: Oh, no, that's a really good— the answer's yes. I do work with clients around that and that's a really good point. Men, too, also yes, will feel a lot of guilt and not allow themselves to feel anger, not as commonly. You're right, but I definitely see that. Just for anybody out there who isn't aware that men feel guilty too right.

Lisa: Do yeah, especially nice men.

Kathleen: But yeah, looking at it differently than maybe you have before where it's like, “If I stretched myself farther than I can reasonably realistically sustain, it is a natural response to feel anger”. And I show up as resentment, irritability, all the various levels and forms of basically anger. Because anger is, like all the feelings, important. We have it for a reason. It's there just to start to get this information. And so really validating that if we've been through some experiences, and we've taken on some beliefs that now lead to certain habits that are hard to break, it is going to be sort of an inevitable conclusion that you're going to feel angry. So it kind of neutralizes that it takes away the stigma. It's human.

Lisa: Yeah, because I think for a lot of women, it's, “If I feel angry that I must be a bad person.” And there for you to be saying, no there's a reason why you feel angry, and it's most legitimate, it's healthy, for you to feel angry.

Kathleen: And sometimes dig under that, and we're really angry with ourselves, too. But it's there to give us information about what we need and what's going on that's not okay, and to move us to take better care of ourselves. So yeah, feeling angry doesn't mean you're a bad person or an aggressive person, or that you have anger issues. We all feel angry, it's one of the basic human emotions, but guilt too doesn't necessarily mean that you're a bad person or that you've done something wrong. Feelings give us information about ourselves, but not necessarily facts about the situation.

Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing

Lisa: Say more about guilt, because I'm hearing that normal reaction is that when you're really legitimately doing more for other people than you should be at the expense of yourself — yes, gonna feel angry. But also, I think that guilt is such a big component. Can you say more about your observations and the role that guilty feeling plays when it comes to people pleasing?

Kathleen: Oh, gosh, it's so powerful. I think we usually probably even start there before we feel angry. We're motivated to people please, first by guilt. I mean, that's what people have shared with me and it's what I've experienced. So I'm making a universal assessment there.

Lisa: I feel guilty too when I— yeah, that's part of what motivates me to go into that space.

Kathleen: Yeah, and it's so strong, it's so powerful. And it comes from such a good well intentioned place of empathy. I feel badly that you're struggling or that I could make this easier for you, or I could help you out or I could make you happy if I just sacrifice in this or that way. So it comes from that place of caring, but I think it gets distorted when we aren't able to hold that empathy and also hold space for our own needs at the same time. 

When we personalize, if I don't do this for this person, if I don't take care of them, make them happy, help them feel good, manage their emotions, take care of their responsibilities, whatever that might be, then I am not a good person or I don't really care about them. I'm not being a good employee, friend, spouse, partner. That's really wrong of me. That's really bad of me. That’s so selfish of me.

Lisa: Yeah, it's really such a little thing for me to do. Why not? It's so easy. 

Kathleen: Right. I mean, I believe that good people do those little things that sometimes I think we can. Sometimes we need to, again, it's an art, it depends on where you're at, in that moment, the pros and cons, your sense of choice and control your motivation. But it's quite a big jump and a black and white jump to go to if I was a good person, or if I were a good partner, friend, daughter, brother, husband, whatever, then I would say, yes, I think that's where the guilt comes from, is that assumption. Is that what you experienced?

Lisa: Let me think about that for a second. When I find myself doing things that I probably shouldn't be doing, what I think happens in my mind, I think it is that empathetic place. I think I connect with my either perceptions, or maybe even my own personal narrative about their suffering, they're having a hard time, this would make it easier for them, it would help them feel better. And so I think that it's that sort of motivation a lot of times is to ease, not pain, but to try to see the other person's perspective. But I think where I run into trouble is when the other person's perspective becomes more important, or more real than my own perspective and my own news.

I think the guilt feeling comes when I don't act on that, then I'm like, “I should have helped. I should have done something. I should have—,” but I think when I'm actually doing the people pleasing, it sort of feels like love in the moment and maybe sometimes it is like what you were saying there's that art that maybe there is a time and space to be compassionate and empathetic and loving. But then like, how do you know when you're sort of crossing that line? 

Kathleen: Exactly. Yeah, it's like you come from such a positive place, empathy, really being able to put yourself in their shoes and that can go into this beautiful direction of love and support.

Lisa: Yeah, but then it's like, but then I'll rearrange a meeting to accommodate somebody else's schedule, because somebody else's schedule is more important than my schedule or, like, then it starts after a while. 

Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing

Kathleen: There is a lot of— that's why I think it is important to check in and, okay, “What is my motivation here?” Here's a tool that I sometimes use, right? Okay, “How am I feeling right now? What am I telling myself about this?” If I do this thing, okay, picture yourself going through the steps, perhaps it is changing, moving around your schedule or something else. Doing whatever it is you need to do. Imagine that and see how it feels in it. Now, imagine yourself after the fact, how are you going to feel? What are the consequences going to be? Maybe even short term and long term. How am I going to feel immediately after, and then after some time has passed, because you'll get different information from this for different situations. 

It's going to feel a little uncomfortable to change my schedule around, but I will feel really good about the fact that this is going to have a major positive impact for them. Or perhaps this is about something bigger or more for you or you're actually overlooking bigger consequences for yourself in the heat of that emotional moment when you're caught up in the empathy. Kind of playing the tape all the way forward. Yeah, give you some information and figuring out where the balance is for you. Yeah.

Lisa: Well, and that's such a great strategy. And I'm sure that why I hope other people listening to this right now might experiment with that because like, as you were saying that I was thinking about what a nice exercise that is in pushing you into contact with the other values that are kind of in play. Going back to the example of the kid and the laundry. The big value is this needs to be a fully functioning adult man who is capable of putting away his laundry after a certain period of time. 

Or like if I'm pushing around to work meetings, and staying at work later, to the detriment of my family, like cutting into that personal time and like thinking about those big values and what they're connected to. So those are mine, of course. What are some of the other values that you have found your clients kind of connecting with, as you use that exercise with them? Where they're like, “Huh, wait a minute.”

Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, what might come up first, it's easier to access often, is just the value of relationships and connections of harmony that often drives people pleasing. But then as we dig into it a little deeper and go through this exercise, just peace of mind. Authenticity can come up. Physical health is a value, a big important value for a lot of people. Big one. But that's a good question.

Lisa: Those are great values, and just to like to find anchors in those values that can kind of help be a lighthouse, and how should I handle this moment? So that's a great intervention. 

Kathleen: And that's something you can explore and and sometimes I'll work with clients around is different exercises to help identify different values and what yours are. And again, that's not something we can check off of a to-do list. We’ll never be— we're not supposed to be perfect at all of our values all the time. It's about patterns and balance. If I step back, what is this about for me? What choice do I need to make in this moment?

This is also something I want to make sure that I mentioned is that this is not static. Your values even can change, that's okay, we go through different phases in our life. We also go through just different periods, where you may be able to give more or less depending on what you're going through and what you needed that time. That's why listening to yourself and being more mindful and connected to yourself is so important to stay in tune with that. It's not “Okay, this is what I've decided. And now this is what I have to stick to, or else I am failing at something.” It's okay to change your mind and to be in different places at different times. You're human. 

Lisa: That's a great reminder. And I know that this is a big topic. I mean, there are so many different elements of this here. There's like historical relationships. And then there's the  mindfulness component and values. I also know that when you do work with clients on these issues, this is months of work, sometimes years. So this isn't, you flip a switch and change things. It's not that simple and as you say it kind of changes over time, too. 

I'm curious — for our listeners who maybe they've done a lot of that clarification work, and they are more in touch with themselves and are more clear about their own boundaries — I would imagine that there's another kind of growth curve for people when they do begin practicing things like saying no or holding their boundaries or having limits or being more assertive. In our final few minutes, can you share any tips or ideas that could help somebody who's practicing that part of the work? Because that's hard.

Kathleen: Yeah, definitely. I think when we're starting out with that, it's helpful to have some scripts, some assertiveness techniques, or scripts that kind of gives us that — I don't want to say a crutch — but it gives us something to lean on and to guide us as we're starting out. Because it is an art form, it gives us a map as we start to figure out our own way of expressing assertiveness. So there are techniques and strategies that we can learn, but I think what a lot of them have in common is coming from a place of “I,” focusing on your own experience and not talking about the other person in an accusatory critical blaming way, right? 

This can neutralize it a little bit because, often, we will think that if I'm assertive, that means that I'm blaming them or I am trying to take control of the situation. There are all sorts of assumptions around it. When, really, we're just expressing some facts. Just kind of stating some facts. It's important to remember that perspective. “Right now I'm feeling really tired and I'm not able to give the focus and energy I would like to to this meeting. So I'm going to need to postpone it to next week.” I'm just stating the facts from a place of my own experience, my own needs, my own feelings. I think all of the assertiveness strategies sort of have that in common. It helps people to not get as defensive too, I think. Is that what you mean, just for, as one example?

Lisa: Yeah, totally just just how to set those boundaries, because I do think that that's hard for people. And I love the way you just said, just state the facts and sort of a neutral way and just to be clear about that. And also, I think I'm hearing in there and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do and what you're not going to do, so you're sort of informing people, as opposed to asking.

Kathleen: That being said, it's okay — and this is a part of being assertive, and moving away from people pleasing — to say, “I need some time. I need to think about this. I'm not ready to answer yet. I don't know. I need to think about it.” As you know, I see that a lot.

Lisa: I love that.

Kathleen: That's okay, too, because especially when we're practicing this, and we're just becoming more self aware. We may not know. I hear clients say to me a lot, “I'm just not good at thinking on my feet. I don't want to bring it up, because then they might say something or ask a question. And I'm not good at doing this on the fly, so I just don't do it at all.” It's okay to say, “That's a really good question. Can I get back to you on that?” Or the “I don't know how I feel about that right now. I need to think about it. I'll get back to you on that.”

Lisa: That's good. Well, and that's really interesting because if you think that a lot of the anxiety of people pleasing is that kind of fear of conflict. And I think a lot of times anxiety comes from not exactly knowing and feeling like you need to know what you're going to do or what's going to happen next. That can create a lot of anxiety for people is just sort of being prepared and giving yourself permission to say, “I don't know,” “I don't need to know,” “I'm going to think about that,” as sort of a way of helping them feel more competent to handle those situations if they do come up.

And then to that piece what if somebody does get mad at you? What would your advice be to them? For a listener who's like, “I don't know. If I say no, they're gonna get mad at me.” And like, actually, they might get mad at you. What would your advice be?

Kathleen: Yeah, okay, so there's two parts. One is, first of all, assertiveness, actual assertiveness opens up the lines of communication, it does not close it off. If we're using the tools and skills, like for example, taking a break and asking for time, it can manage and prevent escalated conflict. So that's part of the purpose of it. However, if you do all of that, and someone still gets upset, and that can range from “Jeez, I'm really disappointed. This isn't what I wanted to hear,” all the way to name calling and yelling at you. Because some people experience that. That's why sometimes we've become people pleasers if we've experienced that. 

Those things could happen. I think they give us good information. On the one end of the spectrum, we have now opened the lines of communication, which is what we wanted, we are now mutually holding space for each other. You are now learning how to hold space for yourself and create space for yourself in your relationships. And so we need to still do that for other people when they do have natural emotional reactions. “I'm disappointed. This isn't going to work out for me.” Okay, we need to know that. So kind of taking away some of the fear and the stigma around that. 

Relationships are — should be — always sort of connected and negotiating and open. On the other hand, if you use all of those tools, and you're respectful, because assertiveness is respectful, and someone escalates things in response. Then we really have some good information about that relationship. That can be a transitional period where you start to have awareness of things that you didn't look at before. And that's a process to sort of process that and decide which ones we want to keep. What are our options around that? Which is sort of a whole other topic, which we maybe will get more time to talk about if we meet again. 

Lisa: I love that.

Kathleen: But if the purpose is for everyone to have space, and for everyone to know what they're in for, then getting a negative reaction — “negative reaction” — is still getting that information. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have sort of screwed up on assertiveness, if that makes sense, or that you've done anything wrong. 

Lisa: I love that advice, Kathleen, that you just got new information about this person in this relationship and that if you're not willing to twist yourself into a pretzel and do things that aren't good for you in order to maintain this, or they're going to freak out, you need to know that you're. Thanks for talking about that.

Kathleen: Sometimes we can dodge some real bullets if we knew that sooner than later

Lisa:  Yeah. Oh, man, this definitely feels like a to-be-continued conversation to me. There's so much good stuff. I know we're out of time. But thank you so much for visiting with me today, Kathleen, this is wonderful.

Kathleen: Thank you. This was wonderful for me as well. Thanks for letting me be here to chat about it. Loved it.

Lisa: Thank you, so good. Well, we'll have to do this again sometime very soon. And I'll talk to you soon. 

Kathleen: All right.

Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

Emotional Invalidation

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

Feeling Invalidated

Hi there. Are you reading this “advice from a marriage counselor” article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of attempting to communicate that you invalidate feelings or they feel emotional invalidation and that they would like this to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I'm the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before impulsively texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: we all invalidate our partners accidentally. I'll bet you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

Emotional Invalidation

How do I know that you're feeling emotionally invalidated sometimes too? First of all, I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings and conflict. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has actually been a diagnosable sociopath and/or narcissist. But I will save that tale for another day.)

Secondly, I've also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I'm a marriage counselor! I should know better! And To. This. Day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad. More than once I have had to apologize for making him feel like I don't care, despite the fact that I love him very much. 

But I'm working on it and it's better than it used to be. You can do the same. On today's episode, I'm talking all about emotional invalidation and what to do when you're feeling invalidated to make it stop. Listen below or scroll down for show notes and a full transcript of today's episode.


Emotional Invalidation

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

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Emotional Invalidation: Episode Highlights

Step One: Let's Define “Invalidate”

First of all, let's talk a little about what “invalidation” means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you (a) don't understand them or their feelings or (b) if you do understand, you don't care. The impact of this original invalidation will then generally make your partner swing one of two ways, towards either hostility or withdrawal and emotional shut down. Neither of those are good.

In order to not invalidate feelings anymore you need to be self-aware of when it's happening, and what you're doing to cause it. This is the hard part, because almost nobody is intentionally trying to make their partner feel diminished or unimportant when it happens. If you call an invalidating person on it in the moment, they usually get really defensive and start sputtering about how “that's not what I meant” and protesting that their intentions were good. 

Again, except in the case of narcissists (see link above) this is true. Emotional invalidation is generally unintentional. So, no need to beat yourself up if you've been unintentionally hurting someone you love. But you do need to take responsibility for how our actions impact others. We all do.

So let's get familiar with what invalidation actually looks like so that you can become more self aware. Emotional invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. 

Let's review.

“It wasn't that bad. You're Overreacting.”

Types of Emotional Invalidation

Now, take a deep breath and non-defensively read through the following descriptions of “emotional invalidators” and see if you can spot yourself. 

See if you can spot the invalidating behaviors your partner uses. (They are in there, I'm sure). 

But again, the hard part is recognizing your own. Bonus points if you can think of other ways you might be invalidating sometimes that I haven't put down here. The possibilities are limitless!

But here are some of the “usual suspects.”

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don't pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C'est moi! I totally do this.)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. Newfoundland! What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices.]

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Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner's perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

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Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. 

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.”

You: “You need exercise, Timmy. Be back before dinner.”

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Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer's market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. That is so boring, why would anyone want to do that? Personally, I'm busy anyway. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

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Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people's feelings, or argue that other's feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn't be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That's not what I meant. We can try again next month. The doctor said that this could happen for the first time….”

If this conversation sounds even remotely familiar… I'm glad we're here right now!

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Fixit Invalidators: Then, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions — having zero idea they are making things infinitely worse by doing so.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She's just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I'll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

Does this sound like something you might say?

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Owner of the Truth Invalidators: Lastly, there are the reflexive “that's not what happened” invalidators who pride themselves on being rational and who sincerely believe that their subjective experience is the yardstick of all others. If it didn't happen to them, it is not a thing. A kissing-cousin of codependency, this type of invalidator will often follow up their original invalidation by explaining to you how you, actually, are the one with the problem.

Example of a Truth Owner in Action:

Them: “I am feeling really invalidated by you right now.”

You: “I am not invalidating you. You were just telling me that your day was hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, and I know for a fact that you shouldn't be feeling that way because it wasn't that bad. You just need to get more organized. You're overreacting.”

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Good times, right? Yes, there are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. This is just a small sample of the many ways, shapes, and forms emotional invalidation shows up in relationships. There are many more. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.

Next, now that we've “cultivated self awareness,” as we say in the shrink-biz, we're going to talk about how to stop doing that, and start helping your partner feel validated instead.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of emotional invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it's so important.

What is “Validation” Anyway?

So, what is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. It requires empathy. Empathy happens when you really get how others see things, and that you support them in their perspective — even if you do not share their perspective. 

Because empathy is such a foundational skill in so many areas of Love, Happiness and Success, the development of empathy is often a big part of what is happening in emotional intelligence coaching, personal growth work, as well as couples counseling. Empathy requires intention, but it's incredibly powerful when you start really getting it.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts, feelings, and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a happy, healthy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what's going on, when you hear that it feels like you're accepted by the person you're with and that it's okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. 

As I'm sure you know. Incidentally, if you have been feeling like your partner is emotionally reactive and unnecessarily hostile towards you, it can actually be an important clue that you've been making them feel invalidated without realizing it. (Read, “Twelve Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship” for more on this and other common relationship mistakes.)

So if you work towards being more validating, you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks but your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. 

In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner's perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it's not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it's important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here's what my perspective of me being invalidating (and then trying to practice validation) looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I'm not really connecting with what he is saying. He's talking about his day at work, and how he's not feeling great. And now he's going on and on about this guy he works with who's super annoying, and incompetent, and how he's thinking about taking the day off tomorrow to go take photos and how he might drive out towards the mountains, and now he's talking about this new video game that he started playing with our son, and how there are these avatars that build sawmills and jump over sharks and there are dances (or something) and …

….I've now officially zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Mountains…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He's still talking but I'm now having an entirely internal experience. I know he's still there, but it's the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I am now entirely absorbed by my own thoughts rather than what he is saying, but not on purpose.

Sometimes he can tell when I'm not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I'm saying?” Only then do I realize that what he was talking about felt important to him, and I made him feel bad. He's annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn't important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn't making him a priority at that moment, but indulging my own self-absorbed thoughts instead of really deliberately tracking what he was saying to me. (If you, too, have a tendency towards adult ADHD, I'm sure you can relate.)

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it's a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. I think about how he might be feeling and ask about that. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged. In short, I am using communication skills and empathy to help him feel validated.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps. So does managing your expectations that your partner can or should be perfectly perfect at validating your feelings all of the time.

But truthfully, if you want to stop making someone else feel invalidated it requires a certain level of courage and humility. It's hard to think about, “What's it like to live with me” and really allow yourself to understand, deeply, what you do and how it makes your partner feel. I think that embracing personal responsibility without being defensive is one of the hardest things to do in a marriage, and helping other people move into this receptive, honestly reflective space is often the hardest thing for me to do as a marriage counselor. That's why I wanted to model this for you.

How to Validate Someone's Feelings

Every flavor of invalidation has an antidote that's a little different. Just as there are infinite ways to invalidate feelings, there are many strategies for how to validate someone's feelings too. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly, here are some pointers:

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner's feelings and perspective as important to you as your own. Not easy to do. It requires emotional strength, the ability to be honest with yourself, and the willingness to grow in service of your relationship. But it is so worth it.

Now, please send this post and episode back to your partner so they can think about what THEY need to be working on in order to help you feel more heard, valued, and understood by them. 

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

The music in this episode is “Dive” by Beach House from their album “7”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website or on Bandcamp. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.

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[Intro music: “Dive” by Beach House, from their album “7”]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hey friends. Today, on the show, we're going to be talking about something that we need to talk about. It is a silent killer of many relationships. You may be experiencing this on your own. It's feeling invalidated. Either you might be listening to this because you are feeling routinely invalidated by your partner, which is hard, or perhaps you are listening to this because your partner is telling you that you are making them feel invalidated. 

This is a really significant issue and one that we need to address together. So that's going to be the focus of our time together today, is talking about what invalidation is, why it happens, and most importantly, what you can do to either feel heard and understood by your partner in your relationship or potentially do a better job of helping your partner feel validated and respected by you. 

If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you found us. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am your host. I am also the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. But what I love doing more than anything else is helping people improve their relationships. I am very married. I've been married for a long time. I've also just worked as a counselor and a coach for so many years. 

Just one of, I think, my main takeaways from all of this life experience is that truly, our wellness, our happiness, our health comes from the quality of our relationships largely. That's why so often on this podcast, I want to talk about things that can help you improve your relationships. Because when our relationships feel strong and successful, everything just feels so much easier in our lives. We feel better emotionally. We have more fun. We have a nicer time. We have a strong foundation from which to launch off and do amazing things. So I am a relationship person. 

That's what we're talking about today is in the love quadrant: what you can do to increase the emotional safety in your relationship. I think that that's one of the things that happens when invalidation is present in a relationship is that it really erodes the emotional safety between you and your partner. And ugly things can start happening in a relationship when people aren't feeling safe, and respected, and heard, and understood. That's what happens when invalidation is a frequent issue in a relationship. 

What Is Validation?

To just dive into our topic today, first of all, allow me to just take a couple of minutes to orient you to validation, what it means, why it's important, to set the stage. When I am talking about either validation or invalidation, to validate someone, it means that you're helping them feel understood by you, that you get whatever they're sharing, you are accepting what they are telling you about how they feel. In that space, also, helping them feel cared for by you, that they're not just saying something and dropping a stone into a well. 

There's this response. You get them. You understand how they see things. You can see the situation through their eyes. Also, there's the sense that their perspective is supported by you. I also want to say that in a truly healthy, vibrant relationship, there is always some diversity of thought. We're not partnered with clones of ourselves, right? People can have different perspectives, different opinions. But there's this sense of fundamental respect for each other's perspectives, even if it is different from yours. It's like this: “Yeah, you know when I look at it that way, I can see why that makes sense.” 

Just think about it. When somebody says that to you, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” I've had friends in my life just naturally say things like that to me in conversation, and it's the relational equivalent of somebody just walking up to you and just folding a warm, soft blanket around your shoulders. “Yes, that makes sense. You make sense. Your feelings make sense. I can see why you feel that way. I would feel that way too if I were in that situation.” It's just like this, “Ah, thank you so much for saying that.” It's just such a nice experience to have.

I think that we all crave that from our partners from time to time. Again, that's a cornerstone of emotional safety. Now, if the phrase emotional safety is a new one for you, I would encourage you to scroll back through my podcast archive. I have done a podcast episode on emotional safety, specifically, where I talked a lot about that concept and how important it is in healthy relationships, and would encourage you to check out that episode if you'd like to explore more about all the different elements of emotional safety. Keep in mind that to be able to validate someone's feelings is an incredibly important part of that. 

When we're creating emotionally safe relationships, and when we are validating people that we love, it is, again, it's like this experience that people are having with us, that we accept them, that we value them, we respect them for who they are. We think that their thoughts, and feelings, and preferences are important. They're important to us, right? In that context, over communicating that regularly, through the way we're communicating and the way that we're interacting with our loved ones, it just creates this very loving and supportive relationship. That's a foundational component. 

How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?

I have to tell you, as a marriage counselor, 95% of the time, when a new couple drops into the practice, and they’re, “We'd like to work on our relationship.” “Okay, great. What's going on?” 95% of the time, it is some variation of communication. “We're not communicating as well as we'd like to. Communication feels hard.” When you dig into that, like, “Okay, what about communication is feeling hard right now,” invariably, one, often both partners are not feeling validated. It's not that the words coming out of each other's mouths are not terribly problematic in and of themselves. 

It's that they're not getting a validating response from their partner. The problem with communication is that they are not feeling like their partner hears them or understands them. They're feeling like their partner is misinterpreting their intentions. They say something well-intentioned, well-meaning, their partner takes it the wrong way. Here's something that they are trying to say that is interpreted very negatively, that is responded to in an angry way. Or they're feeling like their partner just doesn't have empathy for their perspective, or slaps whatever they're trying to share out of their hands, or making them feel uncared for, or that their feelings or perspectives aren't important in that moment. 

That is very much about a validation issue. Because validation, really, at its core, is around having empathy for the other person. Being able to accurately understand their feelings, understand their intentions, and then reflecting back to that person: “Yeah, I can understand that. I'm not sure that I see it exactly the same way. But when I look through it, at the situation through your lens, I can understand that. Also, I understand that this is important to you. And I understand that you are actually feeling this way.” 

I think the other big meta message within that is “I love you, and this, whatever this is, is important to you. You care a lot about this. This is making you feel a certain way. Because you are important to me, I care about it too because I care about you.” Again, it's just this whole experience of being cherished when we're talking about validation and how impactful it is. So many arguments, again, start this way. If we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, almost all of the time, these arguments begin with one person feeling invalidated by the other. 

When that happens, when anyone feels invalidated, the natural response to this is to escalate your efforts to be understood, which often sounds like yelling, am I right? If you say, “Yeah, I feel this way,” and the response you get from your partner's like, “That's wrong.” Right? “That didn't happen, or no, it's not that big of a deal.” That, I think, makes all of us say, “No, you don't understand. No, this is true. This is happening.” All of a sudden, we're really fighting to be understood, aren't we? We are not fighting to win. We are not fighting to control. We are fighting to be heard and to feel like we're cared about, to feel like we're important. 

So the other thing that happens, so one person feels invalidated, and then they escalate, “No, I really need you to understand this.” Then, what also happens is that the invalidator, the person who originally came out with a less than ideal response, will double down on defending their position and will defend their invalidating behaviors. “No, that's not what I said. That's not what I meant. Why are you making such a big deal out of this? This always happens when we talk about your mom or your job,” or whatever it is, right? 

How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation

When this starts to happen, one person is like, “No, I really need you to understand how I'm feeling right now.” The other person is like, “That's dumb.” It can get extremely ugly, so fast. I think everybody within the sound of my voice right now has had this experience at one point or another in their relationship. I know that I certainly have. Truth be told, if we're all going to move towards healthy humility here, I think that our partners have probably felt this way with us from time to time. 

I think that when we are fighting to be heard, we are experiencing invalidation. We're not getting the response that we want. We are really looking for comfort, or connection, or reassurance, and when that isn't what we're getting, right? It feels bad. I think it is very, very easy to miss the moments that we are accidentally and unintentionally making other people feel that way with us. Because I have to tell you, it is so easy to do. When I sit with a couple in marriage counseling, or couples therapy, or whatever it is, and unpack all of this at the core, I do not find narcissists. I do not find sociopaths. I do not find people who are irredeemable and incapable of having healthy relationships. 

What I find are people who are simply unaware of the impact that they are having on others just because they're in a different place, or they're not fully understanding how important that particular moment is. It's just all these missed opportunities to connect. I have been so guilty of that in my own life. I think that chances are, if we are going to be humble and with healthy humility here together, you could probably reflect on some moments in your own life when you have unintentionally done the same. 

The reason why I want to talk about this part for a second is because one of the easiest ways to just melt away all that defensiveness, and restore emotional safety, and increase love and validation all around, is when we can be humble and reflect on our own process because it helps us be more emotionally safe. It helps us be more validating and responsive to our partners, and I think it also helps us handle the moments when we are feeling invalidated by someone else. 

It helps us handle those moments so much more effectively because we can shift away from that automatic response of, “You just totally invalidated me. I'm going to be mad at you.” “No, that's not what I said. I'm going to start fighting to be heard.” We can shift out of that and into a much more helpful and respectful way of getting our emotional needs met in that moment when we are able to stay soft, and empathetic, and emotionally generous with our partners, and make an effective repair attempt, which is, “You know, let me try that again. I feel like maybe you didn't fully understand what I was trying to communicate to you in this moment and how important it is for me right now just to feel heard by you, and respected by you, and understood by you. So I'm going to have a redo.”

Particularly, if you and your partner have had the opportunity to work on some of this stuff together in couples counseling, or relationship coaching, like it's not the first time they've had this conversation with you, it immediately orients them back to, “Oh, this is one of those moments when you're not looking for me to do anything. You are not attacking me. You are not presenting me with a problem that I need to solve. I don't have to be defensive right now. This is one of these moments when you're just trying to connect with me emotionally. I can do that. So thank you for giving me another go at this so that I can be a better partner for you right now. Because I love you, and you're important to me, and that is what I want to do. Okay? Okay, so let's do this again.”

Then, you can literally have a redo with your partner, where there is a different outcome. That outcome is one where you feel loved, and cared for, and respected, and supportive, and have had the opportunity to share your feelings about something that's on your mind, and not have it turned into an argument. It turns into a conversation where you just get to share and be heard. Maybe that is 100% the goal. That's fantastic. No other action is required. We do not have to change anything. We do not have to fix anything. You got to say it. It was received, and we're done. That's fantastic. 

Other times, I think another component of validation can be attached to, “I'm feeling this way, and I would like to find a solution to this problem because I'm feeling bothered by the situation. I'd like to have a productive conversation with you where we could maybe just talk about different ways of handling this because I don't like feeling the way that I'm feeling right now. So I'm just hoping that we can sort through this.” When there is validation happening on both sides, it isn't just you saying, “I have a problem, and we need to fix that because I'm not okay, right now.” 

It turns into, “Let me tell you about how I'm experiencing this situation and help me feel like you understand what I'm saying. Now tell me how you are feeling in this situation and what you see is the ideal outcome or different options here.” Because when you are being intentionally validating, and respectful, and supportive, you start asking your partner questions like that. “I'm not the only one in this relationship. You might have a totally different perspective here. Tell me more about how you see this, or how you've been feeling in these situations. How are you experiencing me when this stuff happens?”

Because in that space of emotional safety, when you are able to validate your partner and help them feel really understood and cared for by you, they will tell you how they're feeling because they trust you. You're not going to freak out when they tell you how they're actually feeling. But if there isn't that trust in your relationship, they won't tell you. The trust has been broken to the point that people do not feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling with each other. 

Overcoming Emotional Invalidation

We think of trust many times as something that is broken through betrayal. There's an affair or there's some catastrophic lying going on in a relationship, and that can certainly damage trust. But there are many more subtle kinds of betrayals of trust that I think people don't fully recognize or understand the significance of because they're subtle, and a betrayal of trust that happens all the time. 

Unintentionally, nobody's doing this on purpose. But when someone tells you how they really feel, or what they need, or what their hopes are, or what is upsetting them even, and when that is invalidated, or dismissed, or rejected, or reacted to with hostility or contempt, it is a betrayal of trust. The message that people receive is, “I don't care about how you feel. I disrespect your experience right now. I reject this.” What happens is, they're like, “Okay, cool, noted. I am never doing that again. The next time you ask me how I'm feeling, I don't think I want to enter into that ring of emotional intimacy with you because I don't trust you enough to tell you how I really feel right now.” 

This is hard. This is, I think, a place where I find with many couples, I often need to stay for a fairly significant period of time in couples counseling or in relationship coaching, because people really do not understand the impact that they are having on each other. Again, and I say this as someone who has done exactly the same thing, we all get so focused on our own perspective, our own needs, and whether or not they are being met in a relationship, and whether or not we are feeling validated, or getting the response that we want. 

We get very hyper-focused on what is happening in that regard and really miss the systemic nature of relationships, which is, “When I'm feeling that way, what do I do? How do I approach my partner? How do I engage with them?” Because especially people who perceive themselves as really fighting for their relationships, fighting to have greater emotional intimacy or greater connection, have no idea how scary or emotionally unsafe or even threatening they themselves are being in these moments when they feel like they're seeking emotional intimacy. 

I'm going to do a whole other podcast on that topic, that concept, specifically, around emotional intimacy and what to do when we're feeling lonely and disconnected in a relationship. So more on that topic to come soon. Just that one takeaway from today would be to ask yourself: Are you validating your partner? Are they feeling invalidated by you in those moments? Or has trust been broken in the past that accidentally trained them to hide from you, and to not communicate with you, and to not tell you how they're really, really feeling even though you want them to, but something has happened, where they feel like they can't? 

That's a really, really common thing that happens in relationships. It is frequently due to that primary issue of people feeling invalidated or rejected by each other in these potentially tender moments of connection. 

What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?

With that in mind, I would really like to turn this conversation to talking a little bit about understanding what invalidation looks like in action so that we ourselves can be more conscious of the times that we're doing it and then, also have a little bit more empathy or understanding for the times when our partners may be doing that to us without fully realizing it. Because empathy is so key. 

To begin, when invalidation is happening, what we are communicating, what is happening is that people feel like we don't understand them. We are misinterpreting them. We are taking what they are saying, and then running it through our own filter of meaning, and coming up with something different than what they were trying to communicate to us that they don't feel understood. Or that if we do understand what they're saying conceptually, we don't care about their feelings. Not that we don't care, but that we are rejecting it, and it can be very, very subtle, you guys.

It could be like, “I'm sure they didn't mean that when they said X, Y, Z. You're probably just overreacting.” Those kinds of things, which might be true. I don't know. But the truth of what is happening or not happening is so insignificant that the truth of what's happening is that your partner is actually trying to tell you how they are feeling, emotionally, in this present moment. You have just been offered the gift of trust and emotional intimacy. What are you going to do with that? 

Are you going to make them feel like you don't understand, or they're stupid, or their feelings are ridiculous or not important, or they're being overreactive, or they're just not thinking about this the right way? Because that doesn't feel good. We all know how that feels, right? It is not good. Or are they going to be leaving whatever interaction they just had with you feeling like, “I love them so much because they love me.” Just feeling loved. In order to improve this experience, we need to be self-aware of when it's happening and what we are potentially doing to cause it.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

There are different flavors of invalidation. We all have our unique styles, I think. When I am being invalidating to my husband, I'm usually doing it in one of a couple of ways. So let me just run through these types of invalidating behaviors. See if you can see yourself in any of these and maybe if some of these are true for your partner. 

Inattentive Invalidators

One, and I think this is probably the most common, and this is the one that I am so guilty of, is an inattentive invalidator. These types of invalidators, they're just not paying attention when their partner is talking about something important. Oh my gosh, I can so easily do this, because I don't know what you're like. Me, I'm just kind of usually zooming along at 900 miles an hour. I am a habitual multitasker. I know it's not good to do that. But I am doing the dishes while I'm on the phone with somebody, and I'm thinking about five things that are happening.

Sometimes in these moments, this is when my husband wants to tell me about something. What happens is, they will say, “Oh, I had such a day. I'm not feeling good. I think I might be getting sick.” Then, you might say — by you I mean me — you’d be like, “You know what, I was just thinking that we should go on a trip to Canada.” Or, “Oh did I tell you that Julie called. She was thinking that we might go camping this… Would you want to do that?” So, I am now picking up my phone and researching campsites or travel reservations. 

My husband just said something totally unrelated to that. He was trying to tell me something about how he felt. It triggered an idea in my mind, or I wasn't really paying attention to the impact of what he was trying to say. Because there can be emotional connotations to certain things that people say. They're very easy to miss unless we're really paying attention. So he, in that moment, felt like I was totally disconnected from what he was trying to communicate, which I was. It's just because I wasn't fully present. 

I was kind of thinking about something, and he said something, and I had a random thought in my head and just sort of impulsively acted on it. I'm nowhere near where he is in terms of what he's trying to communicate or what he is needing for me in that moment. It’s not intentional. It’s not like I'm trying to harm him in those moments. I'm not mad at him. It's just really a simple lack of attention. I, in order to be a better partner, need to slow down sometimes. Also, one of the things that I have found over the years, and I see this routinely with the couples that I work with too, is to be able to set some boundaries or guidelines around these conversations. 

When I can tell that he is trying to communicate about something that might be more important, and I am not in a headspace where I can do that. I have a crisis situation at work that I'm thinking about or needing to deal with and that maybe he doesn't know about that, right? So he's trying to talk to me all of a sudden, and I have learned to say, “I want to hear all about this. Can you give me 15 minutes? I need to take care of this. I need to X, Y, Z or whatever.” Then, 15 minutes later, I am like, “Tell me more,” blink, blink, and I’m looking in his eyes asking appropriate questions. I'm all there. 

But I need to communicate to him when I can't be present. Because if he doesn't know that, he's going to try to communicate with me and not have a good experience. I think we've learned a lot about each other over the years. He's like, “I would like to talk to you about something important. Is now a good time? Or when can we talk about this?” That conversation right there has been a game-changer, I think, in our relationship. But for so many couples that I work with, particularly, in relationship coaching, people come in, and they have been feeling so badly with each other, and it's just felt so hard. 

When we unpack it and when we dial down into it, sometimes, you guys, the answer is as easy as that. “Tell me what is going on in the moments that you're trying to communicate, and it's not going well, or it's feeling frustrating. Literally, where are you?” It could be, sometimes, people are telling me, “It was during dinner, and our three-year-old was having a meltdown, and X, Y, Z.” They start talking about all of these different circumstances. When we're able to identify the practices that people are using, the boundaries that they're setting around their communication, and how they are communicating their needs in those moments to each other, it's so much easier. 

It was actually not this big, horrible, catastrophic thing. We don't have to spend nine months in therapy talking about, “Yes, your mother was an alcoholic, and all of these big things about why you can't communicate.” No, it's actually learning how to say, “Is this a good time to talk?” to your partner. Not always. Sometimes, there are old things, and it goes deeper. But, you'd be amazed at the impact of making these small procedural changes can make on the way that everything unfolds. So I just wanted to share that. If inattentive invalidation is a thing at your house, just try it. Let me know what happens. 

Belligerent Invalidators

Now, there are other kinds of invalidating behaviors that we should talk about. Another common one is a belligerent invalidator. The MO of a belligerent invalidator is to rebut rather than listen and put their energy into making their own case, instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective. 

Example, somebody, either you or your partner, is talking about, “I didn't feel good about that situation. That person was being rude, or that felt uncomfortable.” A belligerent invalidator will basically tell you why you're wrong for feeling that way. Or say, “Yeah, well, this is what was actually going on.” 

What's happening in those moments, and again, it's not on purpose. It's not intentional. But it's like they are replacing your perspective or whatever you just shared with their own perspective. They are not trying to be hostile or belligerent. But it really feels that way. Because it was like you just put something out there, and then, they just steamrolled over it with their concept of reality. 

This, again, is super common. I think it is very easy to identify people or situations when we have felt that way. Less easy to identify when we ourselves are accidentally doing that. Somebody shares something, and it's very easy to say, “Oh, no, that's not what happened. Let me tell you what really happened.” Sometimes, when you do that to people, they'll fight back and it'll turn into an argument, which in some ways is great. It's healthier in some ways, and it’s like, “ No, I need you to listen to me right now.” 

Other times, you will do that to someone. You'll say, “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me tell you what actually happened.” People will just take it, and you will have made them feel really bad, and uncared for, and disrespected. They just kind of go inwards. You just steamrolled right over them and broke their trust in you. You're not emotionally safe. But they're like, “Okay.” We'll exit that. You might not ever know what just happened. You'll feel fine because you were just telling them what you thought. What's the harm? You're just calling it like you see it right? You’ll never know that that was actually a real wound. 

That's another thing about relationships. We've all heard that saying, “Death by a thousand cuts.” These micro-moments? Those are cuts, and if you're with someone who isn't real assertive in telling you how you're making them feel, you can just keep cutting, and cutting, and cutting, and they'll just eventually be done with you, and you will not have known why. That is a terrible thing to consider, and it is a reality of relationships. So, belligerent invalidation. Please keep that one on your radar. 

The next time somebody tells you something, particularly, if it has anything to do with how they felt, or perceived something, or reacted to something, is just to keep in mind, they are telling you how they feel right now. Their truth is how they feel. Your job as a partner, or a friend, is to help them feel understood by you, not corrected by you. Nobody's asking you for that. So, again, I'm being direct. I am being your friend right now. Because the alternative when you're doing that to people and not fully aware of it can be really bad for relationships, and it's very easy to do. 

Controlling Invalidators

Another very common kind of invalidating behavior are the controlling invalidators. These types of invalidators are often extremely confident, which is a good thing in many situations. But they are very confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct it. 

Now, I have also been guilty of this in my relationship. Again, I think it's more due to impulsivity than ill will, right? When someone is invalidating in a controlling way, they often feel like they're helping. They are stepping in. They're going to manage something. They're going to prevent a possible problem that they foresee in the future and that maybe their partner doesn't. But this happens in so many situations, including parenting, housekeeping, social situations around finances. 

One example would be, one partner saying, “No little Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.” The other partner is, “Oh, yeah, Jim's mom called and wants you to play. Just be back before dinner.” So it's this really subtle and common kind of invalidation that happens when one person's preferences or things that they are trying to create or do are, again, just undone by someone else. 

This can happen in very small ways, too, around someone's preferences for how you do things. I think, for many couples, teamwork can feel hard. One aspect of every successful relationship is just being able to work together as a team, right? Like the most banal things. Who does laundry? Who folds the laundry? Does laundry get put away in the drawer? Or does it stay in the laundry basket even if it's clean? Who gets the mail? Who opens the mail? How often does this happen? Who pays the bills? 

These little procedural things, even around cleaning, cleaning the house, or making the bed, or cooking a meal that people who have a tendency towards this controlling kind of invalidation, they wind up taking over for a lot of different things because they have stronger opinions about the way that things should be done. The message that is sent to their partner is, “You're not doing it right. Your way of doing things is wrong, and I am taking this away from you.” 

The experience on the other side, again, can be very subtle. People may or may not be talking about this, but it leads to a lot of withdrawal in relationships. It's like this: “Okay, I tried. It wasn't good enough. Fine. You do it.” It is this sense of being, sometimes micromanaged, but just disrespected. “My preferences, my ways of doing things, my feelings in the situation are not important to you.” It's like, “This is your show. This isn't my show.” 

It comes through these small interactions and through these very subtle and seemingly insignificant, controlling kinds of invalidating behaviors that many of us are not aware of. Because, again, our intentions are not bad. We're not trying to make our partners feel micromanaged or disrespected. It's that we maybe have done this before, maybe we have our preferences; we already have a system. “No, the bread goes here,” that kind of thing. But again, what it leads to, particularly, if it's a pattern in the relationship is the other person withdrawing and just feeling like there's not space for them. 

I do not want to genderify this because these patterns can exist for both men and women and in same-sex relationships, certainly. But usually, controlling invalidators, in my experience, tend to be women. Not always, but many, many times. So just check in with yourself. “Am I doing this?” See if you can notice it in yourself. Again, notice, too, that when this is happening, you're not trying to be disrespectful. You're not trying to be damaging. You are not trying to communicate contempt. But that's how it can still be received. 

Again, I'm not saying these things to make you feel bad. When we shine the light on ourselves and understand how easy it is to accidentally make other people feel this way, we can become much more gentle and compassionate when we are experiencing invalidation from others. We can see the other person not as this invalidating enemy who is trying to hurt me emotionally. It's, “Oh, they don't understand what's happening right now.” Because I, sometimes, don't understand the small things that I do make other people feel a certain way. 

When we can move into that space of compassion and collaborative understanding. It's so much easier to talk about that authentically and have grace for the other person to say, “Let's have a redo. This is one of the things that we've been working on. We've been talking to Lisa about this or whatever.” It softens it. It makes it much more likely to have your needs met when you can have empathy for the noble intentions of your partner, noble intentions much of the time. 

Judgmental Invalidators

One other thing, a couple other kinds of invalidating behaviors, there is also such a thing as a judgmental invalidator. These kinds of validators, again, in my experience, they are truly trying to be helpful. But what they do in action is that they are minimizing the importance of things that they don't personally feel are interesting, or important, or significant that their other person sees. They do so in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships. 

An example of judgmental invalidation would be somebody saying, “What should we do this weekend? There are so many fun things. Do you want to go to the farmers market? Do you want to go to the RV show, rodeo, anything? It could literally be brunch with my friends.” The judgmental invalidator would say, “No, that's boring. I want to spend this time playing video games with my friend. Or I am not even remotely interested in brunch or your friends. Why would I want to do that?” 

Again, they probably feel like they're being authentic, right? They're telling you how they really feel. Also, a judgmental invalidator can also communicate this way about emotionally laden things. “That's, again, the wrong way of looking at it.” Or “Why would you think that?” What they're doing is, they're so entrenched in their little perspective of the world, their own little fiefdom of reality, that it is very difficult for them to look over the wall and understand that other people have other interests. 

They have other cognitive filters. They have other expectations of relationshipse. They are interpreting the world differently. They have different motivations. They have different tastes. They're just, again, so stuck in their own one worldview. It's like they're just looking down at their feet. This is the way things are. To have that acknowledgment of the diversity of all humans, they struggle with that. But again, they're not doing it out of maliciousness. They are simply being authentic. 

They’re like, “Why would I do that? I've never gone to a rodeo. I don't really get it. No, I don't want to do that.” Again, what happens is that it sends this message of what you are interested in doing, what you like, what you might want to try, “First of all, I don't understand that, and I will not participate in that with you. That isn't important to me, so I won't do it.” 

Again, it can be very subtle. But I tell you what, I have seen so many relationships break apart on those rocks, I can't even tell you. Because what happens is that the person on the other side feels like if they want to maintain a connection with this individual, they have to enter their world. They have to be into what they are into. They need to hang out with their friends. They need to participate in their interests because their partner is not coming over the line onto their side of things. 

Now, just to state this very plainly, and clearly, it is also true that in vibrant, healthy relationships, partners have different interests. It is 100%, okay, to have hobbies, or sports, or activities that you are into that your partner is not into. You don't have to be doing all the same things together all of the time. I think, in some ways, to have that kind of diversity in a relationship is quite healthy because you have this sort of interdependence. You can have your separate lives and separate friend groups. 

I think that makes for a more interesting relationship, right? You can go do something fun with your friends, and your partner can go through a different thing. Then, you can come back together and have an interesting conversation because you have stories to tell and things to share. It's great, right? So that's how people grow and evolve. All of those things are healthy. 

But I think when there is this, almost absolute refusal to enter into someone's worldview ever, what is experienced is a lot of judgment. Because, again, I think people are not intended to come across this way. But the meta-message is that “Well, that's dumb. Why would you want to do that? Ew, no, that's boring.” For whatever it is. That feels really bad. It feels really bad to be partnered with someone who is judgmental of who you are and what you're into. 

I think that the lesson we can take here is that even if you are not into the things that your partner is into, it is okay to help support their interests by talking to them about it or doing things with them sometimes. You don't have to spend every weekend of your life doing the thing. But, what we want to communicate is that “Your interests are important to you. Therefore, they are important to me.” 

Listen, you guys, I have a 13-year-old who is super into video games right now. Candy Crush stresses me out. That's all I can take, right? Not only am I not interested in playing video games, I do not really care that much. But my 13-year-old is super interested in this. So, I will be a video-game spectator. I will watch him play. He's telling me about all these different missiles, and guns, and squads, and things, and whatever. He is so excited. 

To connect with him, I am not being judgmental and rejecting of the things that are important to him because it would be so easy for me to do that. Because inside my head sometimes I'm like, “Why would you want to, anyway?” But in those moments, my role is to like, “Tell me more. What do you like about this game? Or tell me about what happened when X, Y, Z. Or who's your favorite character? Or what do you like about? Tell me about the plotline.” 

Asking questions being engaged, because the alternative is to subtly communicate judgment, and rejection, and invalidation in a way that can create a lot of disconnection in a relationship and sends a message, “You're not important to me. What you're into is dumb. I think you're dumb. I don't care about this.” It feels like “I don't care about you.” We don't want to do that for the people that we love. Again, easy to do. Easy to do. 

Emotional Invalidators

Now, there are a couple of other kinds of invalidators that I'm going to talk about really briefly. One of the most important, and this, oftentimes, I think, is a very obvious one is the emotional invalidator. How many times have we encountered these people in our lives? This is the stereotypical garden-variety emotional invalidator who disagrees with other people's feelings, or argues that other people's feelings are not reasonable, or tries to talk them out of their feelings.

For example, if you have ever been crying for some random reason, and your partner wanders in and says, “You shouldn't be sad about that.” Or “It wasn't that big of a deal.” Or doesn't even acknowledge the fact that you are in the grips of a big emotion, or tries to cheer you up. Again, these responses to emotion often come from — this is hard to even say out loud, but it's so true — they are honestly well-intentioned. 

Somebody thinks that they're trying to make you feel better. “Look on the bright side. Or at least, X, Y, Z.” Or, “You know? Forget about that. Let's go do something fun. Let me distract you from your feelings.” Oftentimes, people are trying to help you because they perceive emotions as being problematic, dark emotions as being something negative that need to be avoided. They themselves are often not that great in noticing how they feel or being able to stay engaged with their own negative emotions, which is a core component of emotional intelligence. It's hard to do. 

Again, not to genderify, but many men, as we've talked about on this podcast previously, are not socialized to have a really deep relationship with their own feelings. So many little boys to this day get yelled at for crying or punished for having “negative,” I prefer to call them, dark emotions. There's a lot of negative connotations around those. Emotional invalidators often will see someone in the grips of a negative emotion and be like, “Oh, no, I have to get them out of there because that's not good,” not recognizing that it is so positive and so important for all of us to really be in those fully present spaces sometimes. 

Like, “I am having an authentic experience right now. I am feeling really, really sad about this situation.” Or “My feelings were hurt.” Or “I just feel really bad about this situation that happened at work. I don't know what to do.” Or “I'm feeling so overwhelmed” Or… Whatever it is, in order for us to grow and to be genuinely healthy, we need to go into those spaces, and stay there, and process our feelings, and take wisdom from those feelings. 

The best thing that any of us can do when our partner is in that space is to say, “Tell me more about what's going on.” Open-ended questions. “When did you start feeling this way? What were the triggers? What happens to you in these moments?” Or to say nothing at all, just to sit there with somebody and allow them the luxury of having their feelings validated in your presence. Because just to simply be present with someone when they're not okay is such a gift. It's so emotionally intimate. We don't show everyone in the world that side of us. 

But in our most intimate relationships, we are extending this treasure of, “This is how I really feel. This is who I really am. This is what is true for me.” To simply have that be acknowledged, and accepted, and not argued with, and not to have someone try to change it or do something about it, is the greatest gift that we can ever give. That really is how to connect with someone. Anything else leads them to feel like, “They don't care about how I'm feeling. My feelings are not important to them. My feelings are making them uncomfortable. So I need to fix myself back up again because they can't handle it.” 

Do you want somebody to feel that way with you? I don't. So just to be aware of that in those moments. Even just a hug, or “I hear you,” or “Yeah, that is a really hard situation. That is legitimately so hard. I'm so sorry that that is happening. I know that there is nothing that I can do, and I'm just so grateful that you're sharing these feelings with me right now. Because I appreciate that we have that kind of relationship where you let me into this.” Just even saying simple things like that can be just the most amazing thing you could possibly do.

Mr./Ms. Fix-It 

A close cousin of this emotional invalidation, somebody who's very uncomfortable with dark emotions, is the other well-intentioned person that is a Mr. Fix It or Ms. Fix It in those moments of, somebody is struggling with something hard and what they're trying to do, honestly and legitimately, is saying, “I love you so much. I'm going to solve this problem. Let's fix it because I don't want you to feel bad about this. Let's fix it.” So it is, “I'll pick the kids up tomorrow.” Or “Let me. It's okay. Here's what we should do instead,” and jumping right into solutions.”

Hey, I am all about solutions. Yes, all couples need to solve actual problems together. There are so many moments of opportunity for productive, collaborative problem solving that do actually make changes in the way you do things, where you talk to each other, the way you handle things, related to parenting, or finances, or boundaries. So much stuff. There is a time and place to actually focus on making specific changes. 

What often happens to the detriment of relationships is when people jump into that problem-solving space at the expense of the emotional-connection space. Again, it is so well-intentioned, but I can't even tell you how many couples I've worked with in couples therapy or relationship coaching, where we had to stay awhile on helping people understand how those efforts are actually received on an emotional level by their partner. 

Because when someone says, “I'm just feeling so overwhelmed by the situation, right now. I'm feeling so frustrated.” And somebody is like, “Okay, well, let's just do this. And then, it'll never happen again,” they don't experience that as being helpful. The message it sends is, “I don't want to hear about it. We need to just fix this immediately, stop talking about this. I don't want to know how you're feeling about it. I am going to shut the door of emotion. We'll fix this, so we can never talk about it again.” It's kind of how it's experienced.

Again, noble intentions, problem-solving is good. But without the space of being able to connect and really talk about the feelings and help your partner feel genuinely validated in that moment, it does the opposite of what is often intended, which is to fix something. What it actually does is create emotional disconnection in the relationship. It turns into, “Well, she doesn't want to hear about it, or she's just going to tell me to do this thing differently. So, whatever.” It creates withdrawal. It makes people feel uncared for and they're not truly known by their partner, which over time leads to serious disconnection in a relationship. 

Again, we'll talk more about that emotional intimacy in upcoming podcast episodes. But be aware if this is something that you tend to do in relationships is that rushing in to fix or trying to talk people out of their feelings. I will bet you a cookie that subjectively, you feel in those moments like you're trying to be helpful. You're trying to make them feel better. You're trying to look for solutions, all positive things. But there is a whole other dimension of relationships. 

We must make space for the authentic emotional experience of our partners, and help them feel understood, and respected, and affirmed, and validated by us. Because even if we're fixing things, and trying to keep things positive, our relationships, over time, become really hollowed out when that emotional connection, emotional safety, emotional trust, emotional intimacy is eroded. That is what happens when people are invalidating each other. 

The Arc of Change is Experiential

Lastly, just want to share that these patterns are often entrenched in relationships. They can be difficult for all of us to see when we are doing them because our intentions are often good in those moments. I would just like to float the idea that your partner probably experiences those moments similarly. They struggle to understand how their responses may be impacting you. So, certainly, would invite you to get them to listen to this podcast if that would be helpful, just to raise some awareness. 

Also, these things are hard. I spend, easily, several sessions with couples, helping them gain self-awareness about these interactions, in these small moments that invalidation is happening in order to help them recognize them and do something different instead. So I always feel bad in some ways. I love making these podcasts for you. I hope that you find the information in them to be helpful. But I also just want to say out loud that the process of creating change in these areas is not just about getting information, listening to a podcast, and being like, “Okay, cool, I'm gonna do this instead.” 

The actual arc of change is experiential. It occurs over time. So I just want to say that because I always worry that people will hear one of these podcasts and then assume that they should be able to do all of this stuff now that they've heard this, or even worse, that their partner listens to this podcast and should be able to do this stuff differently because of having benefited from this information. Personal growth does not work that way. Personal growth is never an event. It is a process that starts with maybe information. But then, it has to turn into self-awareness and recognition. That is very experiential in nature. 

I just wanted to offer that so that you are gentle with yourself if this is a growth opportunity for you. Also, so that you are gentle with your partner. I hope that if you take nothing else away from our discussion today, please do take away this idea that if you are feeling invalidated in your relationship, as is so common, to take away that the fact that when people are engaging in behaviors that are experienced as invalidating, they are not intending to hurt you. There is a huge lack of awareness around the impact of these behaviors. 

To be gentle and compassionate with your partner, and shift into a more effective stance of “Let's work on this. Let me help you understand what's happening in these moments. Let's try this again. Here's what I'm looking for you. I'm looking for emotional intimacy right now. I'd love to feel more of this with you. When these things happen, I don't feel emotionally connected to you. I'd like that to change.” 

Having those kinds of conversations are just so much more helpful in the long run than having it just turn into a fight or being really critical with your partner because they maybe don't have the self-awareness or the skills yet to help you feel validated in those moments. Because we all engage in invalidating behaviors, sometimes, it's so easy to do, and I hope that we can all have grace with each other and help each other grow and evolve. That is my intention for us today. 

I hope that you took something away from this podcast. Hey, if you did, as a favor to me and your fellow travelers on this journey of growth, if you could, trot over to wherever you're listening to this podcast, and leave a review. That helps this podcast reach more people. As you probably know, we don't do any advertising. This is not a mercenary thing. 

This is me trying to help people who are probably never going to be my clients but to take hopefully valuable little bits of information away that will help them have more happy, and loving, and stable, honestly, relationships, and marriages, and families, and homes that can improve their lives, also the lives of their children, for kids to grow up in a home where there is an emotionally safe relationship happening with them, and their parents. To witness that in their partners, that is what lasts for generations. 

So help other people find this show. Review it. Share it on social media, this episode and others. I would really appreciate it not just for myself, but for everybody that can benefit from hearing this message, too. So thank you again for being here today. I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

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.

Are you trying to have a relationship with a partner who avoids, defends or worse… refuses to talk at all?

Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It's hard NOT to get upset and angry when you're feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don't understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.

But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.

“Communication Issues” is the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it's happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.

In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.

In episode 2, “Dealing With an Angry Partner” we addressed the oh-so-common “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples can fall in to. This idea is at the core of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — one of the most well researched and scientifically supported approaches to couples counseling. (And what we practice here at Growing Self!)

Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile). In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.

In the third and final episode of our “Communication Problems” series, “Dealing With a Withdrawn Partner” we'll be looking at this from the perspective of the partner who pursues — the one who is attempting to engage with a partner who seems emotionally distant, avoidant, and unresponsive.

If you've been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I'm talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.

We're discussing:

I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

www.growingself.com

 

P.S. One fantastic, low-key strategy to start a dialogue with your partner is by taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz together. You can send your results to each other, which opens the door to talk about how you're both feeling — with out an anxiety-provoking conversation for your conflict-avoidant partner. Just be ready to learn some things you didn't know! Here's the link to get the relationship quiz. xoxo, LMB

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Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

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

Music Credits: Nick Drake, “The Time of No Reply”

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Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

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How to Say No to Others, and Yes to Yourself

How to Say No to Others, and Yes to Yourself

How to Say No to Others, and Yes to Yourself

How to Say No to Others… and Yes to Yourself

 

[social_warfare]

HOW TO SAY NO – Healthy boundaries are hard to maintain. Too often, particularly for hard working, high achieving types who have an enormous capacity to do many things (and well!) the default answer to personal and professional requests is, “sure.”

But just because you can do so much, doesn't mean that you should. We're used to putting others ahead of ourselves, whether it's going for a night out with friends when you're tired or when you're taking on that big project that you might not be able to handle. But at what cost?

Healthy Boundaries

To paraphrase writer Michael Hyatt, “Every ‘yes' to one thing, is a ‘no' to something else,” like, yourself. Think about it: Every commitment you make to someone else whittles away the time, energy, and mental / emotional capacity you have available. If you overload yourself for too long, you can become depleted.

But it's hard to say no without feeling guilty. Particularly if you're a people-person, it feels good to say yes. It's only over time, as you get stretched thinner and thinner, that you feel the consequences. Lack of self-care, lack of down time, spending too much energy on things that are not important to you, and too much time on other people's priorities. At worst, this can lead to burn-out, relationships with selfish people, or even depression.

Not good!

How to Say No

In this episode of the podcast, I'm speaking with author and coach Becky Morrison about how to reprioritize your time and energy so that it's in alignment with your authentic goals. Becky shared her own story about how, in the thick of a grueling career as a high-powered attorney (and working mom!) she had an “epiphany moment” that resulted in her starting to set healthy boundaries based on her happiness.

She dropped a few strategies that can help you fearlessly look long and hard look at whether your decisions are aligned with your long-term priorities and values, so that you can have the time and space for the things that are genuinely important to you. When you get clear on what matters most and make decisions from that place, it becomes easier to say no to others and yes to yourself.

Tune in to the full episode to learn how to discern when saying no can lead to more love, happiness, and success.

In This Episode You Will…

  • Take inventory of your life by clarifying your values and priorities.
  • Find out how to tune out worldly noise and get reacquainted with your inner voice.
  • Learn how to slow down and overcome perfectionism.
  • Recognize your inherent worth as a person deserving of happiness and success.
  • Get to know the different ways to say no gracefully.
  • Understand how to handle resistance from others who do not respect your boundaries.
  • Learn how to manage the outdated guilt that comes with change.

SO much good stuff for you on today's episode. Tune in to “How to Say No To Others, and Yes To Yourself” on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or scroll right down to the bottom of this post to listen via the podcast player on this page. (Or wherever else you like to listen).

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

How to Say No To Others, and Yes To Yourself: Episode Highlights

How Becky Broke the Wheel

A high-performing lawyer and working mom, Becky built her life on the outside looking in. For 17 years, she said yes to all people but herself. She was only able to break the pattern after going through two pivotal experiences:  

  1. Becky found herself writing notes on a toilet seat in preparation for an upcoming deposition while looking after her two-year-old in the bath. Only then did it hit her that her life was not sustainable. Something has to give.
  2. She also went through a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. When her life flashed before her eyes, she could only recall conference calls and meeting rooms.

After recovering, Becky began to take a hard look at the life she built. She realized that change doesn't have to be dramatic but can start with small adjustments that could balance family and career. In the end, she stayed in big law and moved to litigation.  

“I knew I needed to change. But I looked just outside the bounds of my current world, right? I didn't take down the walls and do a wide-ranging exploration of possibility. I just took the next thing that was a little bit outside…But the thing that I've learned over the course of all of these changes is that the gift we give ourselves [is] when we can look beyond the edges of what seems natural and next.

How to Rediscover Your Inner Voice

If you find it hard to say no to others, Becky outlines two steps to help you tune out external and internal pressures:

  1. Take inventory of your current life and group your experiences into what's working and what's not. If you feel uncomfortable saying no in your job, what value are you getting from it? What aren't you enjoying?
  2. Once you identify what works, ask yourself how you can get more of that into your life. Becky emphasizes that you don't have to go all out. Start by exploring possibilities. What did you love to do when you were young, and what gives you joy now?

Take the time to sit down and get reacquainted with yourself, “allowing your authentic self, a voice, a seat at the table, even if it in the past, [it] has been told to sit down and be quiet.”

More on “Being Honest With Yourself,” right here.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

High-achievers usually find it harder to define their boundaries. Too often, they think that doing more is the way to go. Even high-powered executives are not exempt from this feeling.

For Becky, setting healthy boundaries means seeing through the enduring falsehood that we are only worthy when we hit a goal or reach a peak. “How do we let go of this idea that there is some measure that if we hit it, we finally are worthy, we finally deserve to be loved, deserve to be accepted, deserve to be valued, and instead operate from a place of inherent worthiness?”

Pro-tip: If you struggle with low-self esteem, here's a jump start. Instead of asking whether you're worthy of love, start reaffirming that you are already good enough. Will it feel true at first? No. But, we are always a product of our own ideas. When you can shift your inner dialogue back towards self-empowerment, your feelings will follow.

The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance

Radical self-acceptance is often the first step towards changing your reality. There are two steps to help you let go of the burden of other people's expectations and love yourself unconditionally.

  1. Start by owning up to the fact that part of the reason you're working so hard is that you bought into the belief that you're not inherently worthy. Determining the cause can set more precise boundaries between your sense of self and how others perceive you.
  2. Learn to say no to opportunities branded as once-in-a-lifetime if it fails to serve your greater purpose.

Becky emphasizes that introspection is required to reach this level of clarity, which can be hard to achieve in our fast-paced society. When people are used to processing information at the speed of light, it's counterintuitive to slow down. Professional coaching and therapy may help individuals understand the tradeoff of their decisions. 

Instead of planning your day based on what you have to do, ask yourself what you should be doing instead. Figure out what's truly important and meaningful over the long run, and the rest can fit around that or maybe not happen at all.

Becky explains that there's a way to communicate your boundaries and preserve the opportunity. The answer isn't always black and white. You have to get people to understand where you're coming from and into “a more collaborative space of saying no as opposed to this idea that we have to be on this island of ‘No.’”  

Handling Resistance

When you learn to say no, you might encounter pushback from people who are used to stepping over your boundaries. 

Becky explains that this is a normal reaction and a necessary part of growth. “When you break a pattern, when you challenge a family system, it is going to be uncomfortable and potentially unpleasant. Just because you're uncomfortable doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It probably just means you're growing.” 

When you are met with resistance, hold your ground, and don't give up your space. “You have to get to a place as you grow and as you build that muscle, where you begin to believe so much in your inner authority that that noise from the system doesn't even register. Because I know this is the right healthy choice for me.”

Types of Guilt 

In addition to resistance from other people, you might feel guilty for setting this new pattern. Becky identifies two types of guilt that may arise from saying no and defining your boundaries.

  1. Appropriate or healthy guilt is the guilt you feel in response to having done something that runs contrary to your values. For example, appropriate guilt may develop after you stole or cheated. This form of guilt is constructive since it tells us that we could have done better.
  2. Outdated guilt is based on a story that is no longer relevant to your present truth. Learn to let go of this disempowering guilt. For instance, Becky initially felt guilty that she wasn't spending as much time with her kids due to work. Later on, she recognized that she doesn't have to be like other moms. As long as she was happy being a career mother and living out her values, she can let the rest go.  

She concludes, “Every feeling that comes to us has some wisdom. So what is that guilt trying to tell you? What is the wisdom you can take from it? And what adjustments can you make in your behavior in your life based on that wisdom?

Resources

  • The Happiness Recipe – Sign up for the waitlist of Becky's upcoming book that will come out this spring!  
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Check out all the free articles and advice we have for you on the blog and podcast at GrowingSelf.com, where you can access resources to help you set healthy boundaries. You can also follow Growing Self on Instagram. 
  • If you could benefit from working one-on-one with a life coach to help you get connected with your authentic truth (and figure out a plan to actualize it) the first step in getting started is to request a free consultation with one of our experts.

I hoped this episode taught you how to say no gracefully so you can have more time for the things that truly matter. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to keep actionable, inspiring advice in your feed every week. Thanks for listening!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Say No To Others... and Yes To Yourself

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

Music Credits: Rodello's Machine, “The Beauty of Your Life”

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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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How To Say No To Others, and Yes To Yourself: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

That's such a beautiful song. That song is called “Arrow Flies” and the band is Paper Planes. And I thought it was like the perfect song for us today because it's really tying back to that theme of getting clear straight shot, you know where you're going. And I think that's just so in alignment with our theme lately on this podcast about really getting in tune with yourself, and accepting yourself and not just even accepting yourself, but like making your own feelings, and needs, and rights, and growth a priority because it's really easy to get knocked off that path. 

And I wanted to speak about this today because what's been coming up a lot lately in therapy sessions, life coaching sessions, in my practice here at Growing Self with my own clients. Also, in some of the supervision groups that I've been a part of, it's like, people are really struggling between what they feel is their own truth and their own path, and all of these pressures that are trying to knock them off that path. Some of those pressures are coming from the outside. It can be tough to say no to others, or set healthy boundaries and relationships. 

But also, there's pressure that comes from the inside of us, isn't there? That pressure that tells us that we should be more or do more or have more or be something else that we're not. And that can be the hardest thing of all to set boundaries around. And it's crucial because until you can gain mastery over that voice in your own mind that's trying to derail you from what's true for you. It's really hard to do that in other areas of your life. So that's our topic today on the podcast. 

And before we jump into our topic, I just wanted to say thank you for being here with me. If this is your first time listening to the show, I'm so glad you found this. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. And I am a licensed psychologist, I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I'm a board certified life coach. 

And in addition to my work seeing clients and managing Growing Self, I am here every week for you to be offering you hopefully helpful advice and new ideas that help you create the love, happiness, and success that you deserve. So many of my topics, including the one for today, come from listening to you and your questions. I've been hearing from you on Instagram @drlisamariebobby, and also on the blog at growingself.com

If you have been one of the many people that has jumped into the conversation in the comments section on the blog lately, please know I am working through them I'm I really want to answer every single one of those, not just myself but like thoughtfully and so I am working my way through them. It takes me a while but I get there. And as I'm doing so I'm listening to what's going on in your life and what is important to you. And so if you've chimed in to ask a question and let me know, thank you, I really appreciate it. 

And that is again one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about this topic today which is around how to set healthy boundaries so that you can say “no” to things that are not important, to say no to people who are trying to take up precious time and energy that you don't have to spare, and not for the purpose of saying no and being obstructionist. But so that you can say yes to the things in your life that are most important and invest your valuable time and energy. 

 

And let's face it, limited resources in what really matters most to you, be at the relationships that matter most, the friendships that matter most, the personal growth experiences that matter most to you. And it requires a lot of clarity and commitment to figure out what those things are so that you can begin building healthy boundaries around them. Not for the purpose so much of keeping things and stuffing people out, but to like, protect you and protect what is actually meaningful and valuable in your life. 

 

That's what we're doing today on the show. And I'm so pleased to have us be joined today by an expert on this topic, we're gonna be speaking with Becky Morrison. Becky is a former attorney who did this growth process in her own life, she had some moments like I think we can all relate to where she realized that she wasn't really saying “no” to things that didn't feel good for her so that she was able to say yes to the stuff that did. And she has sense really turned this fine art of boundary setting into a career. And she's going to be sharing her wisdom for how to figure out what your boundaries are, and how to set them effectively with us today. So, Becky, thank you so much for joining us.

 

Becky Morrison: Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited for our chat. And we're talking about one of my clearly one of my favorite topics, so yeah. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. Well, we'll just sort of set the stage. Why don't you tell us a little bit about you, and how this became such a passion for you? 

 

Becky: Sure, well, I mean, it really starts, I'll tell you a little bit about my story in my life. So I had about a 20 year career that led me through corporate into law school into practicing as an attorney then into working on the admin side of law firms. And then from there, sort of expanded my world. But during that early part of my career, which lasted about 17 years, it was really a lot about what I thought I should do. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: Right? What was the next logical step for me? What made sense to everybody looking in from the outside? And in that journey, I began, and I can talk about sort of some of the moments that caused me to do this. But I really began to unwind my own happiness and figure out instead of what it was that I thought I should do, what was it that I really felt was right for me? And often that meant saying no to a lot of things that other people might think would traditionally be clear yeses, right? I took a number of pay cuts along my path, I took a number of what might be considered reputational hits, right? 

 

Going from practicing attorney to admin there, but there were people who were like, but you're on a partnership path, why would you not continue? And so really getting comfortable with looking hard at how to have in my life more of what mattered to me? Not just more, not just the undisciplined pursuit of what can I have? What can I get? What can I add to my resume, to my list, to my bank account? But rather, what do I really need? And that required more than anything. What taking a hard look at saying “No,” and taking a hard look at boundaries? And taking a hard look at what I didn't want more than what I did want? So. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that is really, I mean, hats off to you because that's difficult. 

 

Becky: It is.

 

Dr. Lisa: What—no, really, the easy thing is to just sort of do the next thing and be even subconsciously kind of pressured or influenced by societal ideas about who we should be? what we should want, right? And I guess I'm curious to know. Was there an event or sort of a catalyst where in your own life you said, “Wait just a minute.” This is actually because for a lot of people, there's like that; there needs to be a pattern break. Something has to like shake you up a little bit for you to look around and be like, “No, actually, I don't have to do that.” But I'm just curious. This might be overly personal, but I'm curious.

 

Becky: I'm happy to share. So there's two that I'll talk about. And the first I'll tell you, I mean, I talk—I tell people, I had a bathtub moment. Let me explain what I mean.

 

Dr. Lisa: I have shower moments. I know what you mean. Yeah.

 

Becky: Well, just wait. So this was early in my career when I was a practicing attorney. I was in the middle of preparing for a big case. It was my job to prepare our experts for deposition. And at the time, my husband was working in counterterrorism, so had a super intense career, something in the world had blown up and he needed to stay at work. So we have a two year old, I went to pick her up at daycare. And then I found myself at eight o'clock at night sitting on the bathroom floor with my notepad on the toilet seat. That was toilet seat and the cordless phone clip to the back of my pants and the expert on the phone and my two year old in the bath. 

 

And I looked around and I was like, “I'm a rockstar, likem look at me, I'm doing all of it. Who says you can't have it all? Who says you can't be a working mom, lawyer, highpower, all this.” And then just as quickly as that thought came, came the thought, this is not sustainable. I can't, I don't want to do all of this. I don't want to live like this. I don't want to always be pulled in multiple directions, I want to be able to focus and I want to be able to engage with my daughter fully and with my work fully. 

 

And I'd love to say that that was it, that that was the catalyst for big change. But it was the catalyst that got me started thinking. And then probably about 18 months later, maybe slightly less. I had a life threatening ectopic pregnancy. And I tell people that story and what I remember about it is, you know how people talk about when they're, when they think they might die having it having their life flashed before their eyes. And what flashed before my eyes was conference calls, and meetings, and conference rooms. And I, after recovering from that, really took a hard look at, is that what I want to have my life look like? 

 

And then not that there's anything wrong with meetings, and conferences, and conference calls when you're working on something that's meaningful to you, but I was helping large companies merge and get bigger. Again, nothing wrong with that work. It's important work. It's important to our economy, but it was not feeding my soul. 

 

And so, that was really—those two sort of—that beginning of the journey at that bathtub moment. And then that real sort of pivotal, like; is this what I want my life to look like moment, were what drove me to take a good hard look at how to change it, how to get more balance.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that story. 

 

Becky: Of course, I was just gonna say I love—and again, I loved to, love to say that I; then I quit everything and became a coach. But that's not how it went either. Right? And you said that it's always easier to do what's logical. And so I knew I needed to change, but I looked just outside the bounds of my current world, right? I didn't take down the walls and do a wide ranging exploration of possibility. I just took the next thing that was a little bit outside and ended up still in big law, still working with litigation folks just in a different role, which was an awesome fit for that time in my life. But the thing that I've learned over the course of all of these changes, is that the gift we give ourselves when we can look beyond the edges of what seems natural and next.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, and it's, again, it's hard work to do and like so when I've worked with people around this, there can be so many, not even just external pressures to that kind of like, make us feel like we need to do certain things that aren't always congruent. 

 

In my experience, those external factors are actually much easier to deal with, than the voice on the inside that's kind of badgering you into doing things that maybe aren't truly congruent for you. And so, I guess I'm wondering, first of all, for someone listening who's like maybe I'm not living in a way that feels really good for me. But when I think about doing anything else, I start to feel really uncomfortable or anxious, uneasy. Where would you suggest someone even beginning to unwind that; what do you think is the key first step?

 

Becky: So, with my clients, there's two pieces that I would say that we start with. The first is to really take a true inventory of what's in your life right now. And I don't just mean, I have a job, I have this much in my bank account. Deeper than that, what are you—what's the value you're getting from your job? What's working about it for you? What are you enjoying? What aren't you enjoying? What's feeding your soul? What isn't feeding your soul? And really, it's almost coming up with two columns of what's working, and what's not. That's step one, just to understand where you're starting from. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Right.

 

Becky: Often when I do that people find that they have pieces in their life that they haven't fully explored or appreciated that don't require them going against any internal programming to get just a little bit more fun, joy, happiness, satisfaction. But the next step is really then to say, “Okay, looking at this, looking at the things that I'm—that are that are working for me, how do I get more of that? And let me give myself permission, even if it feels scary, even if I have a pit in my stomach, even if it's against my patterning and programming, to really spend a little bit of time exploring what's possible.” 

 

Or maybe possible is even the wrong word, frankly, because a lot of people will put their own false limits on possibilities. But just what's out there? What else could I do? What would I—what am I love to do when I was a kid? What do I love to do on the weekend? what do I love to do that I don't get paid for? And trying to find some of the sort of, first of all, getting all of it out of your head and into some tangible, visible, organizable medium. So that then you can try to find some of the commonalities that you can connect the dots and say “When I was a kid, I loved coloring with crayons. And now in my free time, I really enjoy working with color in my house.” Well, there's a—that's a silly small example. 

 

But there's a contrast there that you really are a visual person and you like color. Well, how can we incorporate that into your life? That and it doesn't always have to be a drop everything, change everything kind of thing. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Sure. 

 

Becky: I think it's about getting acquainted with what really drives our happiness and satisfaction. And because we are so attuned to both these external voices, and it's you said “The internal voices in internal patterning, many of us haven't even sat down to have that conversation with ourselves.”

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, so it's getting reacquainted with yourself. Your authentic self is really the—a big first step.

 

Becky: And allowing your, I mean, I think you—allowing your authentic self, a voice, a seat at the table, even if it in the past, has been told to sit down and be quiet. Right? That's hard. And that's where we start to play with your nervous system being either a partner or a detriment to your progress because of that past programming. So.

 

Dr. Lisa: The way I hear that, well, that's great advice. And so now let's, let's apply this to another situation. So I'm sure that many of your clients fit this bill, too, but there are a lot of people in the world who are high-achieving, they're smart, they're competent, and they are capable of doing so many things. And they also have a tendency towards, I hate to say perfectionism, but like, let's just call it extremely high expectations for themselves. Right? 

 

And one of the things that, that I have encountered so many times with my clients, is this like, difficulty in, almost like, saying “no” to themselves, in some ways. So it's not like saying yes to a certain career, or even other people sometimes, but it's like, there's this core belief that, “Yes, I can do all of the things, I can be making gourmet dinners, and being a mom, and being an attorney,” and you know what? They can. They actually can because they're competent, and they're smart, and they're organized, and they can do all this stuff, but should they?

 

And it can be a lot of personal growth work I think for some people to, like, begin getting acquainted with their own limits, and being able to have this sort of internal dialogue around, “I could do XYZ today and I could. Should I? Do I want to? Like, that piece of saying no to themselves, almost.

 

Becky: Yes. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: Yeah. No, I wanna, I want to get a T-shirt made that even for myself that says, just because I can doesn't mean I should, right? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: Like, that is the story of the high achiever, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: Highly capable. And because and maybe even some history of, if you have the capability, you should, kind of being programmed in there. Especially, when it comes to helping others, right? Like when you combine high achiever with somebody who likes to nurture and care, it's like, a recipe for a whole lot of can with not a lot of boundary. And I do think it's about getting clear on what matters to you. “Yes, you can. You're right, you can do all those things. Why?” What is it about doing those things that ties into the life you're trying to live that ties into your top priorities right now. 

 

For example, if your top priority right now is something professional. Does that mean that you can maybe set aside cooking gourmet dinners for your family and find them another healthy, wholesome way to get fed and tying it back into that anchor of what matters and your priorities can be helpful in starting to draw those boundaries. I think, again, what happens is, we fall into this pattern of believing that to have more, we need to do more. 

 

And so we keep adding and adding and adding without ever stopping to think what did those additions are actually meaningful to our, to our success, and I use happiness and success interchangeably because for me, the way I define success is I am successful when I am happy. But that's how I think about that. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, got it. Okay, well, I love that takeaway that just because you can doesn't mean that you should, and to do some very thoughtful exploration on what really matters. And another thing that I think we should be talking about, too, is this piece of—when I have kind of, like, drilled down into this with clients, particularly that certain breed of like Superwoman, superstar, successful women. What I have often found, like, at the core of this are very old beliefs around like worthiness and sort of, like, I am worthy of love when I am achieving, when I am doing specifically when I'm doing things for others. 

 

And to—like, to the point where they'll run themselves ragged, like, around these old scripts because there's like this deep, subconscious association between, like, their worth as a person, and all the stuff that they do. have you encountered that with your clients? 

 

Becky: Only all the time. Yeah, yeah, no, I mean, worthiness is a theme that comes up. It comes up in that way, it comes up in so many ways. And when I saw I got my executive coaching certification at UC Berkeley, when I was there, we did an exercise, and there were 33 people in my cohort. And the exercise sort of required us to look at our fears and dig down to the deepest level. And every single one of those 33 people was afraid they weren't good enough. Every single one. 

 

And I sat in that room, and that my takeaway from that was, these people are bomb, like, there are some cool individuals who've done some amazing things, not only that they're good human beings. And they're walking through life feeling not good enough. We all must be wrong, like, we all have to be wrong. And so how do we let go of this idea that there is some measure that if we hit it, we finally are worthy, we finally deserve to be loved, deserve to be accepted, deserve to be valued, and instead operate from a place of inherent worthiness. 

 

And then how does that change your decisions? If you believe—if you can shift your belief or beginning even just to shift your speaking and thinking, even if it's not a deeply held belief yet to “I'm already worthy. Now, what do I want to do?”

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that's so important that if I, well, and first of all, I just love what you said that that is like a primal fear. I think at the core of—if not actually, everybody, pretty much everybody. 

 

Becky: It's like, 99.85, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: Right. Am I good enough? Am I worthy of love? Am I okay? And this all the energy that gets expended into trying to prove that to ourselves and to others, right? And you're saying that if you can shift that and just begin to; that's the theme of the season for me, and this show is radical self acceptance. You are actually just fine exactly the way you are. And it is okay to have cheese and crackers for dinner, sometimes. It is okay to say, “You know what, I'm tired. And I think I'm just going to sit down and rest as opposed to doing all the 85 other things that I could do for this day.” If you were actually just fine in doing that. What would it change for you? 

 

Becky: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: That's powerful.

 

Becky: It's a big thing. And as I sit here, thinking about it too, there's an element of this that—and you said it, and you alluded to it because you say you get to that place with your clients. But I think we often don't recognize that that's what's underlying our behavior and our choices. 

 

And so, first step, right? is being able to name it. Being able to own the fact that I'm trying to do X, Y, or Z because, in part, at least I have this fear about being loved, about being worthy, or I won't be worthy if I don't or whatever, however you phrase it, identifying it's critical because if you don't identify it, you can't shift it. And then there's something else in there about—I know want to what, but I'm sorry, I lost my train. 

 

I know what I wanted to say; what you were saying about being willing to have cheese and crackers and being willing to to sit down and rest. And it goes beyond that it's being willing to say no to the opportunity, for example, that everyone else says once in a lifetime, if it's not the right one for you. Like being willing to say no to the raise, to the promotion, to the—and I'm not that I'm encouraging that is the only answer. But we just get in this, drive up the ladder, up the ladder, up the ladder, up the ladder in so many ways, and I'm just not convinced that up is the only direction.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no, definitely, definitely. And I think there's also this, like, humility that comes after you've done a few of those is just this understanding of like, the enormous amount of time and energy it takes to say yes to certain things, specifically career oriented things sometimes. 

 

And that there's always this, like an algebra, the equation is balanced on both sides. And if you say yes, to the investment of this time and energy and doing all the things, you are saying no to something else. And like I think with some people, they don't really fully understand what they're saying no to, when they say yes to some of those opportunities, like with your story saying “No, in some ways to being fully present with a child, or saying no to their own self care, or mental or emotional well being” and it's like, being —get starting to get clear as to what the the price of admission really is for the yes, choices that we can make. 

 

Becky: That I think that's it and then when you add—when you layer on the fact that we live in a society that moves at the speed of light, literally, right? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Becky: We're operating in 160 characters for the majority of what we do. We are not in a place where we're slowing down to actually evaluate what we're saying no to. So not only meet women, may we not be able to appreciate the full scope of it, we're not even having that reflection. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: We're not even able to take that inventory. And so to me, that's a place where and maybe you feel the same way where things like support, like coaching, like therapy can create this opportunity to begin to explore this stuff that we just aren't even listening to, right now, given the pace that we're moving, and it can help clarify those no’s, I mean, if sometimes I'll sit with a client and I'll and we'll have exactly this conversation, “Well, okay, you want to say yes to this? Well, what are you saying no to?” 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: And when you force somebody to articulate it, I mean, oftentimes, we'll get three things in and they're like, “Yeah, no, can't do it. I'm not gonna say yes.” Like, I'm not willing, this is not something I'm willing to give up. And I'm like, “Well, what, what was it that was stopping you from seeing it?” And it's like, again, all that noise, all that messages, and then the speed at which we're operating? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that's wonderful. I mean, and I think that you bring up a such a good point is that time and sort of space and spaciousness for that personal reflection, isn't itself such a luxury to be able to see things so, so clearly, for what those choices really are. Because when we're going so fast, I've done that in my life, and just sort of like doing whatever is in front of you, and this and this, and this and this and not really like thinking that much about it. 

 

And over the years, that's something that I've had to work really hard at, is almost like becoming more fully aware of what those trade offs are like. So for example, if I don't say no, to being constantly present with things like email, social media stuff, phones, like, it's hard for me to do, like really deeper, more creative work. So I have a couple days of the week where I say no to answering email. You know what I mean? 

 

Becky: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: Like, no, and I'm not gonna respond to texts,… 

 

Becky: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: and I'm not gonna do any meetings and it's like because I need to have boundaries around that, that deep time. And, yeah, I'm sure that everybody has their own sorts of things like that. But…

 

Becky: That’s right.

 

Dr. Lisa: you know as I said… 

 

Becky: And I think, I'm sorry I interrupted you, 

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, no, no. Go ahead.

 

Becky: All I have to say is, I think about—so I'm kind of a productivity system junkie, right? Like going back way to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 

 

Dr. Lisa: I was there. 

 

Becky: And, like, then getting things done. And then, you know I mean, there's all these different systems… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Right.

 

Becky: …and my challenge with them has been, and continues to be that they are focused on processing what is in front of you as it comes… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Right.

 

Becky: …without any consideration of whether that is the thing that you should be processing.

 

Dr. Lisa: Right.

 

Becky: Seven Habits tries to tie it back to your values and all that stuff. But I mean, most of them are about moving through the process of processing information, kind of, like you said, with the email and all this stuff that's coming at us. And even as I think about one of the techniques I adopted early in my career was on Sunday nights, I'd sit down and plan my week. 

 

Only recently, have I made the shift to making that focus on planning, not just what do I have to do? How am I going to get it done? But what should I be doing? What is the thing that needs to get done? What is going to feed my priorities, feed my progress, feed my happiness? Let's schedule that. And then let's figure out what we're gonna do about whatever, whatever's left because there's always stuff left, right? There's so much to do. And so am I going to delegate it? Am I going to postpone it? Am I going to take it off altogether? But it's that shift in what that activity is even about that's meaningful? 

 

Dr. Lisa: Right.

 

Becky: And that might sound subtle, but it's big.

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, no, no, that you figuring out what is actually important? How am I going to prioritize that? And then everything else can either fit around it or not happen at all? 

 

Becky: Yes.

 

Dr. Lisa: And maybe that's okay. Yeah.

 

Becky: Yeah. And giving yourself I mean, look, I work with a lot of clients who work in organizations where they initially come to me and say, “Why don't we have the freedom to say no.” That is true, to some extent, but it is always true to a lesser extent than people realize.

 

Dr. Lisa: that you have more agency than you think you do.

 

Becky: Absolutely. 

 

Dr. Lisa: So I think what you're saying is, and I think I've heard this with my clients, too, is that there's a bit of a catastrophic narrative. And if I say no, then some terrible thing will happen. What if you found when you start spelunking around in there, what are some of the catastrophic ideas that people need to realistically assess? 

 

Becky: First I've—I offer you this thought. So I recently did like an informal poll on “Why don't you say no?” And the number one reason that people didn't say no, is they were afraid of missing out on a professional opportunity, like fundamental FOMO, but in the workplace, right? Just if I say, “No, they won't come back to me.” I think there's a couple things I found, as I've dug in, right? Some of it does come down to worrying about “Am I good enough? Will I get recognized? Will I succeed?” And then we have to dive into all kinds of work—productive work around what does success actually mean to you versus what you think it should mean? Blah, blah, blah. 

 

But also, there's a little bit of digging into people get confused, like, they think somehow, when you're asking them to say no, and and they haven't been saying no, that what you're saying is, you know that your boss has given you this project, and you just walk back into their office and handed them and say no, right? That is not how we say no, right? There's much more that goes into communicating the “no”, in a way that can preserve opportunity, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: Say a little more about that. Because I think that that's important. 

 

Becky: It is important. I mean, when you think about if the primary motivator of not saying no in the workplace is I'm afraid that I will miss out on an opportunity. You can go to your mentors. You can go to your supervisor. You can go to the people on your team and say, “This is how I see the world. This is how I see the prioritization, this is why I think I'm going to say no to this. 

 

Do you see as it—are you seeing something I don't see? Do I need to think about the answer further? Or maybe they just look at that and say, “You're absolutely right.” The best thing for you, for your career, for our team, for the situation, for the project is to say no to this. And so to get people in a more collaborative space of saying no, as opposed to this idea that we have to be on this island of “no”.

 

Dr. Lisa: Right. Right. And sort of shifting the conversation into what is actually the most valuable use of my time. Like, these are the things that I could be doing in this finite amount of time and energy that I have, which of these is actually most important? And if it is this thing fine, but just know that not all of these things can all be happening simultaneously. So we have to make some choices. That's a good, good, yeah. 

 

Becky: And again, it comes to slowing down. I'm sorry, it mean…

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

 

Becky: …it comes to slowing down. It comes to giving yourself the time to not be stuck and aren't getting the answer right now. And I have to say yes or no. And so I just need to pick one and I'm going to pick yes because no it's too scary, right?

 

Dr. Lisa: So this is an important conversation around I mean, we've been talking about how to kind of like, almost manage your energy, right? Both at work, and also in terms of how you're managing yourself, and like how you spend your time and energy in your life. 

 

But let's talk just a little bit about the reality of having to set boundaries or saying no, in personal relationships because I think that this is not just difficult for sort of internal reasons. But this is why it can get actually hard for external reasons because what I've seen with clients, particularly adult children having to set boundaries in their families, particularly their families of origin, there is a system that expects us to sort of be a certain way, right? And every time we as individuals start doing things a little bit differently, setting boundaries, saying no, there is actual pushback from that system. 

 

I mean, I had a meeting with a client earlier this week, and won't go into detail. But this person very appropriately set a boundary with a parent and this parent started berating them, calling them names, “You're a bad kid, how dare you, this is hurting my feelings.” And it was an extremely reasonable and appropriate boundary in the context of what this person was going through. But, what we talked in that session a lot about was, here's an example of you being healthy and appropriate and setting a boundary and having actual systemic pressure now trying to make you give that up and be more gratifying and accommodating for others because you other wanted you to say yes, in that moment. And you said, “No,” this is real. 

Becky: Yes.

 

Dr. Lisa: This is real. What would you and your clients talk about when it comes to this situation? Because it's common.

 

Becky: It's so common. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Becky: And I think the first thing that I like to get people to really accept and almost like, I'm trying to think of the word but like, put into their cells, is this idea that when you change and grow, which means like, when you break a pattern, when you challenge a family system, it is going to be uncomfortable, and potentially unpleasant. Just because you're uncomfortable, doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It probably just means you're growing. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Becky: So just the mere fact of expecting some discomfort when you say no, tends to make it less uncomfortable.

 

Dr. Lisa: That's a good point. That's a good—and so yeah, that when you almost, like, grow and become healthier in the context of maybe a less healthy system, that system is going to have a negative reaction sort of in response to your health. And that's normal and expected. 

 

Becky: Yup.

 

Dr. Lisa: Continue on.

 

Becky: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: And it's about reconnecting with your inner authority, right? I mean, you give the example of this conversation you had with your client, which is just beautiful, right? Here's somebody who is really listening to what they need, and putting a boundary in place. That is something to be celebrated, even if the system doesn't like it. Right? And so you have to get to a place as you grow. And as you build that muscle, where you begin to believe so much in your inner authority, that that noise from the system doesn't even register. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Becky: Because I know, this is the right healthy choice for me for my happiness for my success for my family, for myself, for my health, whatever it is. I hear what you're saying, but this is still the right boundary for me and I get it so change. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Good. Well, so, so much more we could talk about, like relationships and all of this, but, I think that this is important. And so then one one last thing, another sort of inner obstacle that can certainly be supported by relationships when people do say no, is that they can feel guilty. I think sometimes, and certainly some of these relationships can contribute to that feeling of guilt if we're being displeasing to people who would like us to be saying, yes. Do you have any last thoughts on how we can manage those feelings of guilt that might pop up? 

 

Becky: Yeah. Of course, I do. So the way I think about guilt is this. There's two forms of guilt, probably more but I like to put them initially in two buckets, there's guilt that's appropriate guilt where we have done something that is contrary to values that matter to us. I'm guilty because I've lied, I'm guilty because I've—I lashed out at somebody. I'm guilty because I stole something. That's all stuff that those are values that I hold that I went against, and I feel guilty. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Healthy, appropriate, constructive guilt. 

 

Becky: Yes.

 

Dr. Lisa: It's informing us that maybe we could have done better.  Yeah.

 

Becky: Absolutely. The other bucket I call outdated guilt. Guilt, that is about a story that is no longer relevant to our current facts. And the way that I talk, like the example that I like to use for my own life is mom guilt, right? I, as a mom, who has chosen to have a full time job outside of the home, my whole momming career, there are times where I look around, and I feel guilty, right? I'm not measuring up to other moms, I'm not around as much as they are, I'm not able to do the fun things that they do, but then I stop. 

 

And I recognize that for me, it is a fact that I am a better, happier person, when I am working outside the home. And that's my fact. So why am I feeling guilty about something that is a fact for me, but not a fact for somebody else? Right? And so it's not those, like there's some community values there that I no longer share. And the only communities values that I care about are my families when it comes to that issue, and we have an agreement that this is what works for us. And that's enough to let that guilt go. So I think it comes down to first bucketing your guilt into old guilt versus guilt  that's still true and then you figure out what to do with that guilt… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Becky: …based on where it lands.

 

Dr. Lisa: That's a great point. So first of all, like, am I actually doing something wrong? If

yes act accordingly. 

 

Becky: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Lisa: But the other piece is like, Who's whose ideas about right and wrong am I listening to right now? Are those true for me? Are they true for my family? And to be able to, to push it back and saying, “you know what, we're all right. And I'm not doing anything wrong right now.”

 

Becky: And at the end of the day, if you do that inquiry and find that “No, actually, these are values, and I am feeling truly guilty.”  That's okay, too. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Becky: Every feeling that comes to us has some wisdom. So what does that guilt trying to tell you? What is the wisdom you can take from it? And what adjustments can you make in your behavior in your life based on that wisdom?

 

Dr. Lisa: What a beautiful takeaway, and that sounds like really, the theme of our conversation today is, is listening to yourself, trusting yourself taking guidance from it and acting accordingly. And when you do that, it becomes much easier to figure out what to say “no” to that you can say “yes” to the things that are truly important.

 

Becky: Yeah, absolutely. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Great. Beautiful message. Well, Becky, it's been such a pleasure to speak with you today. This has been a fun conversation. Thank you so much. And if my listeners wanted to learn a little bit more about you or your work, where would they go?

 

Becky: So the best place to go is to my website, which is grantleycoaching.com. And then if you go to backslash podcasts, or just the podcast tab, you can find out a whole bunch of information about the coaching work that I do, as well as I have a book coming out in the spring, called The Happiness Recipe: A Powerful Guide to Living What Matters and it's really a action based guide to exactly this issue, figuring out what's important to you, and then how to have more of it in your life right now.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, congratulations. I'll have to keep an eye out for that. Thank you so much. 

 

Becky: Thank you so much.

 

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