Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance:

Why Accepting Yourself Changes Everything

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Radical Self Acceptance

Are you already worn out from pushing yourself toward another goal? Do you feel that no matter how many times you try, you are still not growing or changing? If your answers are yes, you might want to take a step back and try radical acceptance.

In this episode, I help you understand how radical self acceptance works and why it is essential. It is an emotional intelligence tool used to guide us to understand and value ourselves. And consequently, lead a better life. 

Listen to the full episode to better understand radical self-acceptance!

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Understand the relevance of radical self acceptance in your life.
  • Recognize (and release) your tendency to beat yourself up for having feelings.
  • Learn how to accept your feelings without judgment or shame.
  • Become aware of how toxic shame can worsen your well-being.
  • Find out how unconditional self-acceptance can help in your relationships.
  • Discover self-love through practicing mindfulness.
  • Recognize the power of facing negative emotions. 

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to “Radical Self Acceptance” on Spotify.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa

Radical Self Acceptance: Episode Highlights

The Relevance of Radical Acceptance

The art of radical acceptance — radical self-acceptance — will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know.

There are four goals of radical acceptance, which are a prerequisite to genuine personal growth. You have to ask to understand:

  • Who are you?
  • What is important to you?
  • Why are you the way you are?
  • What works and what does not work with you?

Stop Beating Yourself Up

When people stress themselves out into something they should be but are not, they become the opposite of their goal. These people start to create an internal emotional environment, which is the antithesis of the calm they need.

As a therapist, I often recommend radical acceptance to my clients, but sometimes are apprehensive at first. It's because they equate “acceptance” with “giving up.” That is not the goal. The goal is to feel calmer and less stressed or upset about what's currently happening. From that space of strength, you will be much better able to take steps towards changing the situation. (If you want to. You don't have to).  

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is about believing our inner reality or experience and not judging ourselves for having it.

When people don't feel good on the inside, it’s because there is a gap between how they perceive the way their world is or how they are and how they think they or their world should be.

In 2018, a group of psychology researchers examined the overall mental and emotional wellness of several people. They compared two groups of people: those who were accepting of and those who did not like experiencing negative emotions. The first group had excellent mental and emotional wellness, but not because they experience less negative emotions. It is because they openly accept that they will experience negative emotions from time to time.

Accept Yourself

The true path to happiness and wellness is not eradicating any challenging emotions, difficult situations, or problematic thoughts. Rather, it is understanding non-judgmentally that it happens sometimes. Not only is it normal and expected, but it is also okay.

You do not have to change or escape from negative emotions. In other words, you do not have to do anything at all. You have to let the negative feeling stay inside you, then observe it mindfully. It may float off, but sometimes, it does not, and it becomes a persistent feeling of sadness. However, this negative experience is never an indicator that you are a flawed human being.

Once you accept negative experiences as a normal, healthy, and expected part of your life, you will feel incredibly liberated.

Toxic Shame

Here’s an analogy to better understand radical acceptance: If you're feeling sad and you go to somebody who loves you, and you say, “I am so sad right now. I don't know how we're gonna get through this.” Sometimes it's just so hard. And to have someone be with you and say, “Yeah, it really is hard,” without judgment.

To be straightforward, you do not need someone who will try to fix, change, or reject your negative feelings. Most of the time, you will only feel worse or alone. It’s because they are indirectly implying that you have feelings you should not be having.

You may also tend to shame yourself for having negative feelings. It is intolerable for you to show that you are not okay because you believe you should be okay. And as opposed to this, radical acceptance advocates that it is okay not to be okay.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

A byproduct of practicing radical acceptance is having compassion, tolerance, and love for yourself even when you are not 100%. You are also better able to connect with people when they are not okay. Since we can face our own negative emotions, it becomes more comfortable to sit with others who experience the same.

In my experience in couples counseling, when one vents out their negative feelings toward their relationship, the other's acknowledgment and acceptance are enough.

However, when the other chooses to reject and disprove their partner's feelings, the conflict starts. It is just one more moment where there wasn't understanding, empathy, and tolerance for the reality of the other person. And all of a sudden, they feel lonelier and more ashamed.

How to Practice Self-Love

You should start by choosing to release the idea that you should be feeling anything specific. You have to believe that relentlessly stressing yourself out for not being okay will only sink you.

Here’s a Buddhist story about two monks who were robbed and were pushed into a river:

One monk got too consumed and distracted by his anger that he drowned and was never seen again. The other monk also felt anger but was able to return to a place of radical acceptance. It no longer mattered to him how he got in the river. What matters is that he is in the river and what he must do to survive.

When you get wrapped up in negative emotions, it becomes nearly impossible to get out on your own. Nonetheless, you can strive to shift into a space where you acknowledge and accept what is without any judgment. From there, you will be better able to see and try to solve the problem.

The Power of Facing Negative Emotions

Even with radical acceptance, you are allowed to feel resistance to what is happening. You are allowed not to like what is happening, wish it was different, or feel sad about it. Sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness.

The people who have been working hard to avoid their negative emotions do not like grieving. So I help people like them to understand that negative emotions are not bad. It is healthy for a person to feel legitimate sadness, anger, or grief.

People are also afraid of accepting negative emotions because they might get consumed and never be okay again. This fear exists because they have been avoiding these big emotions for so long.

I also guide my clients through their negative emotions:

  • Touch your negative emotions without any judgment.
  • Examine what the emotion feels like in your body.
  • Talk about what you feel at the moment.

There is power in facing your negative emotions. When you stop resisting your truth and rejecting your feelings and begin to radically accept any and all of how you really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. It is also a point of growth because you are not afraid to admit when you are not okay. 

Resources

I’ve introduced you to the essential life skill of radical acceptance. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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Radical Self Acceptance

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

Music Credits: Denver's Mike Masse, with a cover of “Dear Prudence”

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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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Radical Self Acceptance: 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.

 

[Dear Prudence by Mike Masse]

 

It’s just one of my favorite songs of all time. “Dear Prudence,” of course, recorded originally by The Beatles, that particular version, is performed by a really talented local Denver artist by the name of Mike Massé with an “E” on the end, M-A-S-S-E. He has a website mikemasse.com, and he does all kinds of cool stuff. So you should definitely check out more of his things. And if you ever like to hear that song again, you can call Growing Self and talk to Erica, first of all, who is a gem. And then if you're lucky enough to get put on hold, like, if she's transferring your call or something, we have the privilege of using Mike's lovely song as our hold music. So, thank you, Mike, and thank you for enjoying this beautiful song with me because it's good stuff.

 

And so, that is our segway into our topic today because we are talking about how to be engaged with a world as yourself, as authentically as is your truth and with the world as it is. And, practicing I think new for some of us but very important life skill of radical acceptance. And I am very deliberately posting this particular podcast for you on the week after the turn of the year because how much of the time are—you know this time of year, it's like, “Okay, this year, I'm going to make all these changes. I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to starve myself, I'm going to make myself do XYZ,” and it's like, so exhausting. 

 

We also know from research that any kind of new year resolution thing is generally not helpful when it comes to making real and lasting change in our lives. And there are certainly things that are. We've talked in the past about habits and really like doing deep work on yourself. All of that is well and good. But for many people, the biggest, most important, powerful life-changing point of growth is not changing at all, but rather experimenting with something called radical acceptance, radical acceptance. 

 

If you want to take it up a notch, we could talk about radical self-acceptance and how we understand, and appreciate, and value ourselves for exactly who and what we are. And absolutely release the inner critic and the judgment and the self-blame and even just that uneasy feeling that you should be doing something different, something better, something more. You should have a goal, you should have a resolution, new idea. Radical acceptance is a release of all of that. 

 

And that's what I really want to talk with you about today so that I can just—hopefully helpful counterbalance in your ear if you are being besieged by other forces in your life right now. Who are doing this cheerleader “This year is the year everything is gonna be different” voice in your ear, and that may or may not feel congruent for you. 

 

Radical acceptance that's what we're doing today on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. And I'm so glad you're here to join me. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We're based in Denver, Colorado, but we see clients all over the world. We specialize in couples counseling, marriage counseling, and a lot of coaching. I think more of what we do than therapy these days is really in the coaching camp. But because me and everybody on the team, we have a background in mental health. Like myself, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I am also a Board Certified coach. So I like to think that we take it to a deeper level. 

 

And that's also what I try to do for you in this podcast is, give you hopefully helpful new information, new ideas and, and different ways of supporting you on your journey of growth. So we're always talking about your love, happiness, and success. And the topics that I select for my podcast are all about you. I am listening to you, thank you, if you're one of the many who's gotten in touch recently on Instagram @drlisamariebobby or gotten in touch with Growing Self @growing_self on Instagram, or through our website. We have a very active blog community at growingself.com. There's always a lively discussion in the comment section. You can also connect with us on Facebook if you like, or you could just send an old fashioned email to hello@growingself.com if you would like to share what's on your mind lately. 

 

And our topic today is born of what I'm hearing from you, which is that, boy, there are a lot of you—and hey I can relate, who can't? Who is just, like, coming out of the end of this year feeling like you've been through a meat grinder on so many different levels. And it's hard to even know what to do next, or what to try, or what to grow, or if it's even possible to have goals right now. And you know what, there's again, a time and a place for growth and goals. And I'm right there as a life coach, but I tell you what, as a psychologist, the art of radical acceptance, radical self-acceptance will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know. 

 

I see there's this weird paradox when it comes to personal growth, that before people can really change and grow and develop and do anything different. They must first understand themselves, understand who they are, understand what's important to them, why they are the way they are is often very helpful. And also, get a lot of clarity around what is working, what isn't working, to begin to create a plan that will move you forward into a different reality.

 

And here's the paradoxical part in my experience, both as a life coach and as a therapist, when people, as we so often do—no judgment. But when we expend a lot of time and energy into feeling upset—usually with ourselves, sometimes with other situations—when we badger ourselves and criticize ourselves and shame ourselves into being something that we should be that we're not, it creates an emotional environment inside of us, that is absolutely the antithesis of the kind of calm, compassionate, non-judgmental way of being that true growth and mental and emotional health really requires. And there is an enormous amount of value in figuring out how to accept yourself and the world around you.

 

Many times when I first introduced the idea of radical acceptance or radical self-acceptance to my clients, they have a very common reaction, which is some variation of “So, do you mean I'm just supposed to give up? That I'm just supposed to tolerate these things that feel intolerable to me? That I'm supposed to stop trying, that I'm supposed to stop doing the things I think are important for me to be better or some aspirational thing.” And, so it's like, there's a lot of anxiety when people think about moving into a space of self-acceptance, or even general acceptance because it feels like this is hard to put into words, but I'll try. When people don't feel good on the inside, it is because there is this gap between how they perceive the way their world is, or how they are, and how they think they should be, or their world should be. So the larger the gap between what you want to be or what you want your life to be about, what you want to have, and your present reality, the more unhappy you will feel. And this is always true and can be useful when we apply it to generating motivation—topic for another day. 

 

But what is incredibly insidious, and what happens so often more often than you would think, although if you can relate to this, they'll probably be like, “Yes, I could see other people doing this too,” is that when people believe that they should be happy, they should be free of negative emotions, or dark emotions, they shouldn't be angry, they shouldn't be sad, they shouldn't feel upset or disappointed, or guilty or even shame, when people have inner experiences that are different than what we think they should be, this, in itself, can create enormous feelings of unhappiness and shame. Because we feel something that we believe we shouldn't feel. This is a little bit mind-blowing, okay, but I want you to like, let it sink in for a second. 

 

The fact that we aren't okay, the fact that we are not having a good time, or not feeling good about something is itself a cause to feel badly about and beat ourselves up. Say you are feeling a little low, or depressed, or not motivated, or don't want to get up and go jogging at five o'clock in the morning when it's 10 degrees out, okay? Just say that you don't actually feel like doing that. If you haven't cultivated this radical acceptance idea, that inner reality in itself, can then generate all of these negative feelings. This, “What is wrong with me? Oh, my God, I am such a loss. Why am I depressed? There's something wrong with me for feeling the way that I do. Oh, my God, I wish I felt better, why don't I feel better, I really want to feel better. Ah!” And it turns into this, like, avalanche snowball-ly thing of beating yourself up for like, being a human with human feelings, and desires, and longings, and sadness, and loneliness, and all of these other things that are actually the human experience. 

 

And so when we talk about radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance, what we are really talking about is how we can have an inner reality, an inner experience without judging it, criticizing it, believing that there is something wrong with us for having it in the first place.

And this isn't just my idea, I'd like you to know that. There have actually been a number of very interesting research studies. I think one of the more recent ones was in 2018. 

 

A group of psychology researchers compared the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who were really pretty good at accepting the fact that they had challenging emotions sometimes, compared to the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who really didn't like the fact that they sometimes had negative thoughts or feelings. And what they found is very interesting, and I think an important takeaway, which is that the people who identify themselves as most generally happy is having a lot of mental and emotional strength and wellness, and really like being the most psychologically resilient and hardy, we're not the ones who were experiencing the least amount of negative or dark emotions. The people who were most resilient were the ones who were most accepting of the fact that they did have difficult feelings sometimes. Isn't that interesting? 

 

That the true path to happiness and wellness is not eradicating any challenging emotions or difficult situation, or problematic thoughts, it is rather understanding nonjudgmentally that that happens sometimes. And that not only is it normal and expected, it is okay. And that you don't actually have to do anything, to change it, to escape it, to make it be different. You don't have to do anything at all. Because the fact is that when we, really patiently, compassionately, and mindfully sit with exactly who and what we are, and how we feel, and think about why we feel the way that we do, and how it's absolutely legitimate when we see it through our own mind. And if you just kind of like, let that feeling be inside of you. It just is there for a little while.

And then that sort of floats off, then you don't have to do anything to change it. 

 

And sometimes it doesn't float off. It's sort of a persistent feeling of sadness, or loneliness, or disappointment that you carry around with you for a while. And that is also okay. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. It doesn't mean that you're some sort of uniquely deficient human that you're having that experience. That is the human experience. And when we can accept this as being a normal, healthy, expected part of our life, sometimes it is incredibly liberating. 

 

Very analogous to if you're feeling sad, and you go to a friend or family member or your partner, somebody who loves you, and you say, “I am so sad right now, I have just had the hardest day. I am just so sad about some of the things that are happening in the world. I don't know how we're gonna get through this. I just sometimes it's just, it's just so hard.” And to have someone with you, and be with you and say, “Yes, it really is hard,” without judgment, without being like, “Look on the bright side.” Without saying, “Look, this funny cat meme I found. Watch this cat meme. It'll cheer you right up because you shouldn't feel sad. I'm going to make you not feel sad. Let's fix it. Let's do something. Let's change it.” Right? 

 

I mean, how do you really feel in those moments when you're like, “No, I'm actually sad right now.” And somebody's like, “No, no, that's not okay.” It feels worse. It feels like you shouldn't have the feeling in the first place. It feels lonely. That feels like the person that you're trying to share with how you're feeling doesn't understand you. And it feels like you don't have the right to your feelings. Feels like kind of shaming, like, “Oh, I guess nobody else feels this way.” Makes you feel more alone. And think about how often we do that to ourselves without really even realizing it. You know that it's so intolerable for any of us to just not be okay sometimes. So, we have to take an antidepressant or to do something to be better because I'm not supposed to feel this way. 

 

And radical self-acceptance is just predicated on this one idea that it's actually okay to not be okay. And how do we have compassion, and tolerance, and love for ourselves when we're not 100%. And fascinatingly, like we don't want to attach specific outcomes to our radical acceptance practice because that is entirely not the point. 

 

But I will also say that often, a happy byproduct of a good radical self-acceptance practice is that when you become able to tolerate and have compassion for and just sit with nonjudgmentally, any and all thoughts and feelings that happened to be true for you in the moment, you become much better able to stay compassionately connected to other people, in their moments of not okayness. 

 

When we are putting a lot of energy into criticizing ourselves, judging ourselves, feeling ashamed about the way we feel, and you know, like, “I feel so bad and ashamed because of the fact that I feel shame sometimes,” right? When we have that going on, in our own mind, it's like this almost frantic energy to escape what is happening inside of you, if it's not happy and light and all good, which it's not sometimes you're not a damn robot, like, it's part of the human experience. 

 

But when we can't do that inside of ourselves, for ourselves, it is virtually impossible to sit with somebody else who is actually in that place. And you see that a lot, especially my role as a couple's counselor, like some couples where they're both just dying to be seen, and cared about, and understood, and loved for who and what they are. And it can take a lot of work sometimes in couples counseling to just sit with a couple and have one person say, “I just feel so sad sometimes and I feel like you're disappointed in me. I feel like I can't be the person that you want me to be. And it just, sometimes it makes me feel like just withdrawing or it's too hard to try that I'll never be who and what you want me to be and that makes me feel really bad about myself.” For somebody to be able to say that, and have it be heard, and received, and loved by someone who cares, without having to change it, that moment in itself is enormously healing. 

 

Compared to the exact same sentiment that's expressed to a partner that says, “You shouldn't feel that way. That's not true. That no, let me tell you five reasons why that's not true.” And honestly, but like the paradox here is that they're oftentimes trying to make their partner feel better. They're saying, “No, no, no, don't feel that way. Don't feel that way. Because here's—because I'm going to tell you why you're wrong. And that wasn't always true. And that is not what I did, by the way.” And so it like, turns into this defensiveness and this push back, and that is a rift in the relationship. It is just one more moment, where there wasn't understanding, there wasn't empathy, there wasn't tolerance for the reality of the other person. And that person all of a sudden feels lonelier and more ashamed. And more like how they feel so badly about themselves as actually true.

 

So, it happens in relationships, and it happens inside of ourselves, and it's time for it to stop.

So how do we do that? How do we push back against self-judgment and move into a space of radical self-acceptance? I think it begins with a choice. You have to decide that it is actually okay for you to not be okay all the time. And to release this idea that you should be feeling anything specific, because you will feel sad, lonely, disappointed, guilty, angry, shame, I think we all do, from time to time, annoyed with yourself, annoyed with other people. 

 

And there's an enormous power that comes with making a decision that it is okay. You are allowed to have all of those feelings. It is normal and expected for you to have all of those feelings. And there's nothing wrong with you for feeling the way that you do sometimes. And that it is really the thing that will hurt you is to relentlessly beat yourself up and judge yourself and criticize yourself and demean yourself and shame yourself for not being okay, and not being happy, and not being perfect. That is what will really sink us. 

 

I think the idea of radical acceptance, in addition to being applied to radical self-acceptance, is also enormously helpful when it comes to accepting circumstances that are not what we really want. And there's a story. I think I've probably shared this before in a previous episode. But there's a Buddhist story that illustrates the point of radical acceptance. And that I think, again, we can all relate to.

 

And the story goes that there were two monks walking by a river minding their own business, and this person maliciously came out of nowhere, and just jumped them and robbed them and took their stuff and threw them into the river. And this was a cold, fast deep river, a dangerous river that we're rapids. Now these two monks are in this river, and there's rocks and whitewater it's bad, I mean, it's like really a bad situation. And the first monk is like, “What just happened? That was not okay.” And he's like, the guys walking off in the distance like carrying their money like, “How dare you? I can't believe you did this. I am so mad. That was angry.” And like just absolutely beside himself wrapped up in the anger, and the injustice, and the horror about what had happened. And was just in the state of “I cannot—this is not okay.” And because so wrapped up in this emotion about what had happened, he drowned. The river got him; he breathed in water and hit his head on a rock and was never seen again. 

 

The other monk was equally distressed and upset and that same emotion, and like “I'm so—how dare that? But this is not okay.” And then very quickly, came back to a place of radical acceptance of “I am in a river. I am in a fast cold dangerous river, does not matter how I got here. What matters is the fact I am here now. And what do I need to do right now to survive this.” And “Oh, look, there's a branch sticking out over the water, I'm gonna see if I can paddle out over that way,” and grab hold of that branch, and hauled himself out of the river and lived to fight another day. 

 

Did that second monk have the right to be just as angry and upset at the injustice of what they had just experienced? Yes. And what he was able to do is mindfully accept that even though a bad thing had happened, he was able to kind of release the almost judgment, like, release the ideas about what should be happening compared to what was actually happening. And instead come into the, here and now, where he was in the river. He was accepting the fact that he was in the river and figuring out what he could do in this present moment to make his situation just incrementally better without being upset about it. 

 

And also not getting attached to any outcome. There might not have been a branch there. There may not have been a way to make that incrementally better. And so we would have floated along for a while, just in the river. I am in a river right now, sort of looking around what's happening next. But it's this, like, mental state of being present, mindful, without judgment or angst in the face of difficult circumstances. Because when we get all wrapped up in our anger or injustice of it all worked up, shaming ourselves around, “Oh, my god, this is so terrible that I feel the way that they do or that this thing is happening.” It becomes impossible to get out of it on our own that the inner experience that we are having in response to something external, an external circumstance that is happening, “to us,” or that we don't want that be happening right now. Or that same level of angst and judgment around an inner experience that we think should be different is what will ultimately sink us. 

 

And the big, the big lesson, a big shift is coming into a space of being able to say, without judgment or criticism, “This is happening, this is happening.” And can I solve the problem? You know, if there is a solvable problem, let's go ahead and do that. But you will be much better able to find solutions and actually solve problems. If you're in a space of acceptance, right? Then like laying on the floor, bawling your eyes out. “So what is happening, what do I have to do, but one foot in front of the other.” 

 

And then also, when it comes to that radical self-acceptance, to be able to say, “I don't like this. I don't feel good about this situation. I wish it were different. I feel sad that this is happening. And that is okay. I'm allowed to feel sad that this is happening.” And as we've been discussing in other podcasts recently, not only is it okay for you to feel sad or angry about something, what is the hidden gift, even of the sadness or anger? 

 

If it is motivation, to say, “You know what, I don't want to do this again, what do I actually need to do to not have this particular life experience again, because I don't like it.” Or “If I really listen to this sadness right now, what is it telling me that maybe I need to listen to, like, why am I sad? I am sad, because I miss my friend, or I miss my life, or I miss feeling stable in my world, or I miss maybe a relationship that has ended. I feel sad about that.” And you know what, sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but that we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness. 

 

But you know what, sometimes sadness says, “You have the right to grieve. You can be sad, and experience a loss and feel the sadness of that loss.” It is grief, and it is okay. Because the path through grief, like so many other things, is not rejecting grief, talking yourself out of grief, making grief go away. It is embracing it. Allowing yourself to be sad and angry and all of the things for as long as you want to or need to. And then that's it. That is actually the work of grief. It's giving yourself the time and space to feel those feelings and trust that even in dark emotions, especially in dark emotions, sometimes the act of feeling them and being present with them is in itself, the paths through them. 

 

I know that sounds weird, particularly if you have been a negative emotion avoider. When I present this idea to some people who have worked really hard for a long time to not feel bad things, or you know that they label as bad in their own mind, right? That's oftentimes part of our work is having to say “that's actually not bad, it's healthy.” It's a challenging emotion. And it's incredibly healthy to feel legitimate sadness, and anger, and grief, it's a good thing. So we have to reconceptualize that, first of all. 

But the other part and I don't know if this is true for you, but I've had people say, “I am afraid that if I accept this feeling if I allow this feeling to come in, and be inside of me, and if I really let myself feel sad or mad, or any of these things, that I will be consumed by this emotion. I will be lost forever. I will always feel this way. And I will never, ever be okay again.” I know that like when I say it out loud, it doesn't sound like a rational thing. But it is so true when people have become afraid of fear, afraid of sadness, afraid of big emotions, it is because they have been avoiding it for so long. And that's part of the like, cognitive framework that makes them push it away as “No, I can't let this in because if I do, I will be steamrolled and lost forever. This sadness will be a bottomless pit. I will never, ever be okay again.” 

 

And so then, of course, what we do in therapy, or sometimes coaching is to actually have a little experiment or somebody practices sitting with me, and touching that anger or that sadness that they've been resisting for so long into practice. Just accepting it nonjudgmentally without trying to change it, or make it go away. And we talk about what it feels like in their body. We talk about how it makes their face feel flushed, or their stomach hurt, or that makes the tears come. We talk about the thoughts that come up alongside of it. We talk about the feelings, and then after a while, there's not really anything more to talk about, we're just sitting there breathing, looking at each other. 

 

And then I say, “Now what are you aware of?” “I feel better. Actually, it sort of, like, didn't last as long as I thought it would. I'm actually alright.” And that, that is really the moment of healing and truth because when people stop resisting their truth and rejecting their own feelings and begin to accept, radically accept any and all of how they really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. And is a point of huge growth. 

 

Because when people are okay to be not okay, when they can say, without judgment, or self-criticism or shame, like “I feel ashamed of myself right now. Or, you know what, I am kind of judging myself right now.” And that's okay. I do that sometimes, like without it turning into this big horrible thing. They can then be like, “I'm judging myself. I do that sometimes.” I don't want to judge myself and be able to sort of walk themselves through that the way you would compassionately take a child by the hand who's wandered into something that maybe is not really to their highest and best like, “let's go over here.” It's like this friendly way of being with yourself. Like, “You know what? You don't have to judge yourself for this. You don't have to beat yourself up. Let's go back and listen to that podcast. Dr. Lisa recorded a couple weeks ago, where she made us list out all of the awesome things that we have done and all of the strengths that we have, why don't we revisit that again, because that is true.” Yes. 

 

And to also be able to sit with that inner child sometimes and say, “You know what? You have every right in the world to be sad. And to wish things were different and I love you. And I'm just going to sit right here with you while you have these normal, healthy, legitimate feelings that do not need to be changed. They just need to be felt and embraced. And we're just going to sit here and do that together without any attachment to any particular outcome, and certainly not with any expectation that they're going to go away because they don't need to. It's all okay.” 

 

Radical self-acceptance. So much compassion, so much love in this perspective. And before we close today, I would also like to share that if you've been inspired by these ideas and like, “Yes, I want to get better at radical self-acceptance,” you will invariably find that it's hard to do that. And I would like to just invite you to consider that—it is hard to practice radical self-acceptance, and it is also okay to struggle with radical self-acceptance. Yes, and not have it turn into another thing that makes you feel bad about yourself. If you are not always perfectly self-accepting, because it's hard. And it's okay. 

 

So, radical self-acceptance, and also radical acceptance of reality is a—I think, incredibly healing and affirming, and empowering way of being, that is also irrefutably true, and is also something that you have 100% control over, no matter what else the world throws at you. And it can be difficult and disempowering to set goals and be pushing yourself onward and upward and constantly and all these things. And again, time and place for that, but that foundation of radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance is a strong floor to stand on. If you decide to build on it down the road, great. But it's really hard to do, to do more until you accept what is. 

 

And so that's the idea that I would like us all to be sitting with this particular New Year season. I hope it helps you value and accept and appreciate all of your experiences that are valuable and worthy, without judgment. And just like “Dear Prudence,” you too get to be in the world and loved and appreciated for exactly who and what you already are. You don't have to change anything. And you have the right to feel exactly the way you do. And so do others. As you practice self-acceptance and self-compassion, you may notice yourself having more compassion and empathy for people around you. And happy byproduct as you feel more accepting and comfortable in yourself. You will also, as a happy byproduct, strengthen your most important relationships while you are, at the same time, strengthening your relationship with yourself. So all good things. 

 

I hope that you enjoy it. And I hope that you also respect and appreciation for the parts that aren't fun because there are light and dark and all things, and it is all valuable and rosy, just like you. All right, talk to you next time.

 

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Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow:

The most important life lessons uncover your strengths.

[social_warfare]

“May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.”

Catherine Jane Lotter

LEARN AND GROW: We all want to learn how to work on ourselves, grow and learn, and become the very best version of who we are. Sometimes, the true path of personal growth is not forcing yourself to change into some new iteration of yourself, but rather to discover and embrace the strengths and virtues you already have.

For the last several years, on the Love happiness and Success Podcast I've done experiential growth actives with my listeners in order to help them reflect on past years and set goals for their future aspirations. There's a time and place for that type of forward focus and personal challenge. If you are here seeking a goal setting experience, I invite you to check out last year's Ten Year Plan podcast and activity.

You're Already Amazing

But it's also true that there are also times when it's more helpful to rest and reflect, and embrace our strengths, life lessons, and accomplishments rather than charging forward into new goals and aspirations.

I believe that this is a time for reflection and acceptance, and this episode of the podcast is going to be a personal development podcast that walks you through an activity designed to help you do exactly that. By the end of our time together today I hope you have:

  • Greater appreciation for your strengths,
  • A sense of empowerment for all that you've already achieved,
  • Deeper clarity about your values
  • A different perspective about your obstacles
  • Receive wisdom from your dark emotions.

I have created a set of journaling prompts / exercises to help you not just follow along with the personal growth activities I describe in this episode, but to dig in!

Download the workbook that goes with this podcast (below) then scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen and follow along. Or you can listen to Learn and Grow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen to things.

Learn and Grow

It can be easy to over-focus on constant-and-never-ending improvement, new goals, the next step, and all the things you have yet to achieve.

But the truth is that you have already grown so much, learned so much, and done so much. Sometimes it can be more empowering to slow down and respect the enormous amount of work you already have done rather than pushing yourself.

So often, personal growth can feel like chasing some idealized version of yourself. It can feel discouraging rather than inspiring, especially if you feel like you're never quite good enough. In contrast, radical, compassionate self-acceptance is the highest form of growth because from this place of self-awareness and self-love we can truly be the very best of who we are.

The love, happiness and success we seek through our efforts to “change” can sometimes be elusive. But so often, they miraculously show up on their own when you stop working so hard to change yourself, and instead focus on how strong, amazing, and accomplished you already are. (You are).

This type of self discovery process is often achieved not by charging ahead into the next level of your personal evolution, but rather by digging in to who you already are.

Important Life Lessons

It can be easy to over-focus on the things we haven't done, or the mistakes we've made, or the times that we have struggled with disappointment. But a door to powerful personal growth and self-development opens when we shift into what the hardest times revealed about our character, our values, what we're capable of, and what's truly most important.

When we have the courage to face the hard parts of life from a place of compassion and radical acceptance rather than anger, we have the opportunity to receive the hidden gifts they have to offer.

Uncover Your Strengths

It's often said that “character is revealed through adversity.” But in my experience, character is often formed through adversity. You don't know who you really are until you've experienced disappointment or hardship. Only then can you fully be aware of how strong you truly are, and what you're capable of.

Those are often moments that lead us to greater self-love, self-acceptance, and self-esteem too. It's often the personal qualities that we don't love the most about ourselves that are the most useful to us when times are hard. Recognizing and embracing these aspects of your “shadow self” can help you appreciate yourself in a whole new way. (For more on this topic I invite you to check out the “Shadow Work” episode of the podcast).

Sometimes personal growth happens when you challenge yourself to think, feel, or do things differently. But sometimes the most important growth occurs when you realize that you don't have to change or do anything in order to be good enough, strong, accomplished, and worthy of love and respect. You're already there. Your life lessons and strengths are yours to keep.

The “personal growth work” is not one of creation and effort. It's of discovery and acceptance.

Thanks for joining me today. I sincerely hope that these ideas and activities support you on your journey of growth.

With gratitude for the gift of YOU…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Learn and Grow

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

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Please Rate, Review & Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth:

Why You Are The Greatest Gift

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

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

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

Why Is Personal Growth Important?

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

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

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

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone

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

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

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

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

Self Care is Not Selfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Personal Growth

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

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

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

With much love to you and yours,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

The Gift of Growth

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

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

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

Please Rate, Review & Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

iTunes

Stitcher

Spotify

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

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

The hardest conversations to have are the most critical conversations for a relationship…

“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”

― Douglas Stone

[social_warfare]

HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: “I don't want to talk about it right now.” “It's not going to change anything.” “It will just start a fight.” “I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and my head down.” “I don't want to hurt their feelings.”  We have all, myself included, used these kinds of mental excuses to avoid having difficult conversations. We all have “trigger topic” conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex, to having different opinions on politics, having an issue with someone's parenting styles, or gently pointing out subconscious bias in gender roles or racist stereotypes. These tough conversations are hard to have.

While there is something to be said for knowing when to mind your own business and respect the healthy boundaries of others, it's also true that if you're avoiding having conversations about things that are really, really important to you it will eventually damage your relationship — whether or not you address it directly.

Having unresolved, unspoken differences that feel vast, and “un-discussable” will lead to disconnection. But the sad irony is that it's often people's hope to protect their relationship that leads them to avoid difficult but necessary conversations in the first place. 

Crucial Conversations Training

Crucial conversations are essential. But once you embrace that new idea, “Yes, we do actually really need to talk about this,” then what? Unless you've already gone through communication skills training, relationship coaching, or emotional intelligence coaching, you might not know how to have a difficult conversation productively. That lack of skills and know-how is one of the biggest reasons why most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations, OR — on the flip side — engage too aggressively around triggering topics, both of which can damage a relationship.  

Now, more than ever, I believe that we all need to learn and intentionally practice compassionate communication skills that can help us understand each other and build bridges to the center of shared meaning. In this episode of the podcast, I'm shining a light on what it really takes to courageously engage in difficult (and necessary, and respectful, and healing) conversations with the people you care the most about.

Having Difficult Conversations

I hope that this episode leaves you with some actionable ideas for how to increase your confidence in high-stakes conversations, and provides you with strategies for increasing your emotional intelligence and communication skills in the process. You can use these strategies with your partner, kids, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and more. I hope you do! 

In this episode:

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Listen right now to “How to Have Difficult Conversations” on Spotify, or on the Podcast App, or by scrolling down to podcast player on the bottom of the page. If you're more of a reader, you can skim through the show notes and / or find a full transcript at the bottom. 

Thanks for taking the time to listen to this episode and triple-thanks if you're one of the courageously kind, heart-centered people in the world committed to having respectful, difficult conversations that heal. The world needs you!

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” Episode Highlights:

How People Usually Respond to Tough Conversations:

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Difficult Conversation “Pre-Game Checklist” 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy in Difficult Conversations

After you’ve gone through your “difficult conversation pre-game checklist,” the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

Remember: If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

More Resources

I sincerely hope that this discussion about how to have difficult conversations has provided you with not just an understanding of why tough conversations are so critical to have, but also some concrete pointers about how to have those hard conversations go well.

To continue learning and growing in this area, here are a few more resources for you:

  • We have so many articles and podcasts featuring expert advice both from myself and my amazing colleagues on the subjects of communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence and more. Use the search bar below to enter the term you'd like to learn more about to view and access them. Here are a few of my favorites: 

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. 

Wishing you and yours all the very best in these perilous times…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Speaking of difficult conversations, I'd love to hear from YOU. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? (Least helpful?) If you try any of these ideas I'd love to hear how they went. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Have Difficult Conversations

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

How to Handle Difficult Conversations

We all have conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex to having different opinions on politics or parenting styles. The reality is, most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations or engage too aggressively, both of which can damage a relationship.  

In this episode, I identify what it takes to engage in difficult conversations and explain how to look inward and recognize the other person. I also emphasize that the goal of difficult conversations is not to come to the same conclusion but to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect despite your opposing views. 

Tune in to the full interview to learn how you can engage in difficult conversations effectively and compassionately.

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Episode Highlights

How People Usually Respond

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, and compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Pregame Checklist 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy 

After you’ve gone through your pregame checklist, the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

Resources

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

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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 Have Difficult Conversations: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

 

How to Have Difficult Conversations

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

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

Dr. Lisa: The band is Keshco with a song that Plastic and Glass—I thought a nice mood setter for our topic today. Today, we are talking about how to tackle difficult conversations in such a way that they go as well as possible.

It is important for us to talk about this topic because there are a lot of difficult conversations to be had lately. Particularly as we are heading into the holiday season in the midst of a contentious political season and with so many stressors and strains and angst and very real issues that people are facing. There is tough stuff to talk about with friends, with family, with partners, with siblings, with ourselves. And how you handle a tough conversation has a lot to do with the results you get.

So today we are going to be talking about why conversations feel so hard sometimes and strategies that you can use to face those moments not just courageously, but also with confidence and a sense of competence. And understanding some basic do's and don'ts that will allow you to talk about important things we don't want to hide, but do so in a way that helps you create the ideal outcome, which I think for many of us is to strengthen your relationships, increase connection and understanding and have it be a positive thing for all involved, as opposed to an unproductive conflict, because I think we've had enough of that in our lives. Right? So that's what we're doing today.

And if today is your first time listening to the show, I'm so glad that you are here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background is as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Also, I’m a licensed psychologist, and I am a board-certified life coach. And I am here with you every week to talk about different facets of the life experience and offer you ideas and strategies and support that help you create the love, happiness, and success that you deserve in all the parts of your life.

And so today's topic, we are going to be talking about a number, a number of things. We're going to be, certainly, a lot of relational issues when it comes to difficult conversations, but also I think a lot of intrapersonal issues. You know. I mean, we have to get ourselves in the right kind of headspace, an emotional space, in order to handle these moments effectively. And also, I’m going to put on my life coach hat and offer up some specific strategies as well. So hopefully you leave our time together today with a plan.

Difficult Conversations: Why They're So Important

So, jumping right in. Why do some conversations feel so hard? Think about the conversations in your life that you would maybe rather not have. Right? Think about what those are. Having conversations with your partner about some aspect of your sex life that you would like to have be different. Considering a necessary conversation with an employer or an employee around, “I don't like what is happening here and we need to figure out a way to handle this differently together in order for this relationship to continue.” Right?

Many times, there’s, you know, married couples or partner couples, particularly with children. There are so many crucial conversations to have around parenting—“You can't talk to me or the children that way, this is not going to work.” Or, I mean, my goodness, people who have very well-developed and sometimes even aggressive opinions about politics, social justice, issues around racism, and how to handle those moments in a constructive way.

It is very easy, when we're faced with these kinds of moments, to fall into a way of communicating that can be very almost ultimatum-y. “This is what I want. This is what has to happen. And you're going to hear what I have to say right now, whether you like it or not.” And that often doesn't end well. That is a quick path to a fight, in all honesty. And there's a way to handle this constructively that creates not just communication, not just collaboration, but, really, authentic connection. And that's what we're doing on this show today.

I am going to be loading you up with all kinds of resources today. So, either grab a pencil and notebook or open up a note app. Or you can also, if you haven't already, bookmark the blog at growingself.com, because a lot of the resources that I'm going to be giving you is kind of follow ups. So here's where you go to learn more, are already on the blog there. In addition to these podcasts that I make for you, I have so many people, therapists and coaches on my team with me at Growing Self who are always cranking out articles and advice and tips on our blog at growingself.com. And there's so much around how to be a better listener, tips to communicate more effectively, how to manage your emotions when you're starting to feel angry or stressed out. So, so much there. I just wanted to mention that as the go-to resource so that I don't have to say it 150 times over the course of this podcast. 

But now that we've gotten that out of the way, when we think generally about what are the things that feel particularly difficult to talk about constructively, the things that we might even want to avoid or fear talking about, those are often the things that feel the most important. Those are the things that really need to be attended to, or resolved, or at least addressed. Because without that honest and courageous reckoning, our relationships will be fractured, and distance will grow. And unfortunately, that will happen whether or not we talk about it.

Avoidance Leads To Disconnection in Relationships

Many people avoid having difficult conversations because they are afraid of conflict. They don't want to get into a fight. They don't want to have an ugly interaction with someone that turns into a throwdown and wisely so—that is not ever helpful. And they don't know how to handle the situation so that it won't turn into a yucky feeling fight. So, they try to protect their relationships by not talking about hard things.

But the other side of this is that when you don't talk about hard things that are bothering you, it will increase feelings of resentment, emotional distance. There becomes this feeling of separation and disconnection in your relationships—the relationships that you're trying to protect by not talking about things. So, either way, there is a risk to your relationship, either through unproductive conflict or through avoidance.

It happens all the time. I can't tell you how many clients I speak with, especially lately, who have perhaps a family member with a very vocal social media presence that is kind of diametrically opposed to their own political views. And say this family member is putting out lots of information that is incredibly triggering to say my client. And they feel like they can't talk about it because it will create this conflict. It will turn into a bad conflictual moment. So, they don't, and instead, they avoid their family member. They make up reasons to not go down for a visit. They mute them on social media so they don't have to see what they're saying, which actually, just between me and you, may be a helpful strategy in this day and age. But they feel like they can't talk about who they are and what's important to them and kind of know and be known.

And so there's this distance and avoidance and it will atrophy relationships in a very real way, especially for couples, too. If there's issues going on in your relationship that you're not talking about because you want to avoid the conflict. Those will breed resentment and this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and, “Well, it'll never be different.” And all of these kind of narratives around, “Well, that's just the way they are.” That is incredibly destructive to a relationship.

So, I just mentioned all of these because when it comes to difficult conversations, the number one thing that we need, first of all, is courage. We have to be courageous and brave and be the ones that bring difficult things out into the light with the people that we love so that we can have healthier, more connected relationships—relationships that are based on authenticity and respect and vulnerability and compassion and connection. And it's hard to do. It's hard to do.

One of the reasons I have found that people often avoid confrontation. Well, first of all, what I mentioned is having, like, assumptions that it will turn into a conflict. They doubt their own competence to handle the conflict. They, and sometimes rightly so, believe that it'll just disintegrate into an argument because they don't know what to do to make it not be an argument.

So, let me talk about that for a second. There are ways of communicating with other people that will very predictably lead to an argument. For example, when you communicate with another person in such a way that is perceived as attacking or critical. The other person, just like the sun rises in the east, they will become defensive with you and they will start coming up with all the reasons why you're wrong. It is very, very, very difficult for anyone to stay in the ring and have a constructive conversation when they feel attacked. And so, one of the things that's really important to think about in these moments is how you are bringing up topics and how you might be perceived by others.

And so as so often the case in so many of our conversations here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, one of the most important skills that you can cultivate to have constructive conversations is the skill of self-awareness, particularly as it relates to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means understanding, first of all, how you are feeling and what is going on inside of you that is leading you to feel that particular way.

So, for example, if you are high in emotional intelligence, you have more constructive conversations because you will be self-aware of the fact that, “Ooh. I’m feeling kind of angry right now.” And “I'm feeling a little bit upset. I am feeling morally justified in telling this person exactly what I think about them for all of these different reasons.” And you will be able to have that kind of meta awareness around, “Oh, my heart is starting to pound. I can feel even a little shaky. I am having all of these thoughts about why I'm right and why they're wrong. And I know that I need to get myself into a better place before I attempt to have a productive conversation. Because if I go into it the way I'm feeling right now, the way that I'm thinking right now, it is not going to end well.”

And so, the core skills of emotional intelligence are being able to recognize: how am I feeling? What are the thoughts that are creating those feelings inside of me? And what do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive, compassionate sort of mindset? And what do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak, not just speak respectfully, but also really genuinely maintain my ability to have compassion and empathy for the human that I am attempting to connect with right now, who is important to me? And coming back to, “What are my intentions for this conversation? How would I like it to end? And who do I need to be right now in order to make that happen?”

All of those are very deliberate things that people who are good at difficult conversations do very deliberately to keep themselves calm and kind of soft and centered and emotionally safe, even, to have constructive, connecting conflict—constructive conflict, believe it or not, is the thing. 

And I would also like to add that this is hard. It takes a lot of work on yourself in order to be able to get into this place and learn how to do these things. And you don't have to do this with everyone. You might decide that there are some relationships in your life that are actually easier for you or even healthier for you to set boundaries around and go ahead and let that distance grow. As opposed to wading into this kind of emotional space with someone who is not going to reciprocate with you.

I wanted to bring that up because we're talking about having difficult conversations with people and in relational contexts that are important enough and that you care enough about to do this kind of hard work, and those are the relationships that you want to invest in. That's your family, your spouse, your child, a colleague or an employee or a boss who you really want to have a future with. These kinds of conversations, this kind of emotional work is an investment in your future—an investment in the future, in the well-being of others.

Healthy Relationships Are Mutually Respectful

And I just would like to say that it is important to use discernment in your life and in your relationships to kind of assess where do you need to invest and work harder to understand, to be compassionate and connect. And where is it actually, not just appropriate, but important to set very real and firm boundaries with people and protect yourself.

So, for example, if you are with someone who is being overtly racist to you or others or who is using abusive language or treating you badly, you can go ahead and leave. You do not have to tell them why. You can just be done saying no. “No,” is a complete sentence. You don't have to explain yourself, and you don't have to do anything to make that person feel better about it. It's your responsibility as a healthy person to protect yourself from toxic people, abusive situations, and to do what you can to protect other people who need protection from toxic, damaging, and abusive situations.

And so, I just want to say that out loud, because sometimes I will write things in the blog about how to be a better listener or how to have more empathic communication or situations like this, how to have difficult and important conversations. And we'll get a comment on the blog about “Well, what about a narcissist who does these horrible things to me.” And it’s like no, that is a person who you need to set very firm, clear limits with. That is not a situation that is likely to be mended no matter what you do. And to be able to develop kind of the judgment to know the difference.

If you would like resources on boundaries, how to set boundaries, how to have healthy boundaries and still have friends, how to set boundaries with family members, how to avoid unhealthy guilt when you've set appropriate boundaries, again, I would refer you back to the blog at growingself.com for podcasts and articles on all of those topics.

But this, this is how do we create connection through difficult conversations. So, we want to be courageous, but not indiscriminately courageous and putting ourselves into bad, bad situations. One of the things that I have found when it comes to these moments, when a relationship is worth investing in, it's important to me and I know that I have to be brave and talk about something hard, I have found a thought that helps me, and it might help you, too. So, I'll mention it. The idea that this is how we grow. We grow through difficult moments. We grow when we are challenged to grow. We grow when the other alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth. We grow, we change, we do hard things when we're motivated to do so. And so I just want to offer that as an idea to you, that embracing the discomfort of these moments and breathing through it and reminding yourself that this is what growth and connection feels like is being authentic, being vulnerable, feeling hard feelings and doing the right thing anyway. This is the path of growth.

And also, I think sometimes reminding myself, if I want to have a high-quality relationship with this person, this is what I need to do. We have to talk because I know that if I don't talk, I will withdraw. That's something that I need to remind myself of personally. And I see a lot of my clients struggling with that. The tendency to avoid and withdraw can be pretty significant and to just be very explicitly reminding yourself, “No, this is important, I have to do this. If we don't talk, we will become distant.” Those are ideas that can help you find the courage to do it.

Another idea I'd like to share that is really helpful for many of my clients, both individual clients and also a lot of the couples counseling clients that we work with, is that the goal of any of these conversations is not necessarily agreement. We do not have to agree with each other about the solution or the perspective or what is the truth with a capital T. What we do need is a sense of mutual understanding, to be able to say, “When I look at the situation through your lens, through your belief system, through your set of life experiences, through your values, through your expectations, I can understand why you would feel the way that you do. That makes sense to me.” And for you to feel the same. That even if someone doesn't come to the same conclusions that you do about the same situation, that you feel that your perspective is understood and respected as being valid because it is. That ultimately is the goal. 

If we want to take that a step further and get bonus points, we could even move in to a space of appreciation that it's not just “Yes, I can see why you would feel that way.” It is “You know what? I appreciate the values and the perspectives that lead you to feel that way. Thank you for sharing those with me.” Appreciation is even more, I think, affirming and conducive to emotional safety and constructive conversations.

And then, in addition to these ideas that can sort of help you grapple with conceptually what needs to happen in these moments of difficult conversations, a lot of my clients, either life coaching clients, relationship coaching clients, therapy clients, often find that it is much easier for them to have difficult conversations and be appropriately assertive when they've gotten really good at managing their emotions and going back to the emotional intelligence skills that we talked about in the beginning.

And so being able to have strategies in place to help you manage your emotions, understand what kinds of thinking or behaviors lead you to feel anxious or angry, and having a little toolbox of skills and strategies in place to help you feel calm is half the battle. If you can stay calm in a difficult conversation, chances are very good that it will be a productive one. Resources for you in that, I mean aside— you’re always welcome to do individual counseling or coaching. But if you have found that those are, let's say, growth opportunities for you, I would refer you to the Happiness Class on growingself.com, which is essentially an online cognitive behavioral skills training course that teaches you what are the kinds of thoughts that will make you feel angry, sad, or anxious. How do you shift those into more productive ways of thinking? What do you do with big feelings so that you don't always have to be reactive or withdraw in these moments? 

So, to kind of boost up your skill set for being able to do that, because it's really, really important when anyone gets flooded—you, me, everyone we know—gets emotionally flooded and begins experiencing intense feelings of anger, pain, fear, anxiety, what happens is that their brains, our brains, change in the way that they function, like literally. When you are flooded emotionally, you go into a fight or flight space that is very much prioritizing your personal protection. And what it looks like is that people will withdraw and not be able to talk anymore, or they go into attack mode.

Interestingly, the way that your brain changes in these moments is that the most highly evolved and most human parts of our brains—the newest parts of our brain structure, the neocortex—the part where we're able to have empathy for others, the part where our language skills are housed, the part that allows us to take a big picture perspective or do any kind of if-this-then map kind of advanced planning, our executive functioning skills. All of that in very literal ways, shuts down and becomes inaccessible to you. And so, it's incredibly important to be able to regulate your emotions during difficult conversations so that your brain doesn't turn off and you turn into some sort of like crazed defensive or hostile, like lizard brain activated person. Because that sounds crazy, but that is actually what happens.

Beware of Emotional Flooding

You see it all the time in couples counseling. A partner will say something that is clearly very triggering for their spouse, and that spouse will not— it's like they just freeze. They can't even continue in the conversation. In addition to managing your own feelings in these moments so that you don't become flooded, it is incredibly important to develop the social and emotional awareness skills to notice when the person that you're talking to is becoming flooded because they won't be able to have a constructive conversation with you if they kind of go past a point of no return.

Some people, it's pretty obvious when they become flooded. Their little faces get red. They might even start like shaking. But interestingly, men often become flooded and you would never know to look at them. They just kind of shut down. If you put a pulse monitor on their finger in that moment, it would be going at like 110 beats a minute. But to just look at them sitting in a chair, nothing has changed. You can't tell the internal experience that they're having. And that that is certainly true for many women as well. But being aware of when people are getting flooded and noticing that and having a plan in place to attend to it and help bring everybody back down is another incredibly important concrete skill to have in your toolbox when you are wading into difficult conversations. And being able to say, “You know what, I think we're both getting tense. Let's take a break. I'm glad that we started talking about this. I hope to continue the conversation with you. But I think, yeah, let's go get a lemonade. Come on. Let's go get ice cream.” Or something like that. Just kind of like shift away and let everybody calm back down again.

For more on that subject, the growingself.com blog has a fabulous article written by one of my colleagues, another family therapist named Lisa Jordan, who has written an article on emotional flooding and has even more strategies for what to do in those moments when you become flooded or when your conversation partner becomes flooded.

So, there is a lot of pre-work to do to prepare yourself to have a difficult conversation. The pre-work involves the emotional intelligence skills we've been talking about and being able to regulate yourself, keep your thoughts in a good place, have the most noble intentions in the forefront of your mind, and also have a lot of empathy for the person that you're talking with and an awareness for them. But also, I think when a conversation is really important, it's always a good idea to do a little bit of almost pregame pre-work around, “Okay. How do I feel about the situation? Why do I feel the way that I do about the situation? Why is this important for me? How is the situation impacting me?” and get really clear around what's going on inside of you and what it is that you would like to communicate to the person that you would like to communicate to.

It sounds so silly, but thinking through this stuff in advance will help you be able to not just communicate your truth effectively, but take some of the emotional energy out of it so that when you say, “I'm feeling really hurt and disappointed that we haven't had sex in three months, and I miss you, and I would like to be with you.” If you've kind of written through what's going on with you, why it's important, what you want, when you say that out loud, it will be often like just a more gentle kind of way that is more understandable to the person that you're speaking with. If you wade into a difficult conversation without getting clarity around that in advance, it is very likely that the energy and intensity that goes along with saying those kinds of things for the first time will be perceived by the other person as critical, blaming, or even hostile or attacking.

That is one of the reasons why talking about what you want to talk about in advance with a coach or a therapist can be so helpful. And that is not the only way. You can also certainly do journaling and get this clarity on your own. But if you've said it a time or two to someone, then you can go into the real conversation just from a space of calmness. And since the intensity is already less, it sets you up to be in a position to be a much more receptive listener, I think, because that's hugely important.

So, doing some pre-work around, what do I feel? Why is that? What do I want? And getting really clear, too, around what is my desired outcome when we are done talking about this, what would I like to have be different? Would I like something to change? Would I like to feel understood? Would I like to have more understanding of this other person? Would I like just to feel more connected and like we're not tiptoeing around each other or not talking about the elephant in the room? Is that my goal? It's all okay. But to get clear about that ahead of time.

Now, you think that's hard? Let's talk about what's really hard because the other critical piece of having an effective, constructive, difficult conversation means moving past what's going on with you and how you're feeling and what you would like to talk about, and what is your desired outcome, and setting that aside. And before you even get to that conversation, doing some very serious work around, what do they feel? This person that I want to talk to about these things that are bothering me, what's probably bothering them? Why do they feel the way that they feel? What are their core values? Where is this coming from? What kind of relationship do they want to have with me? What did they need to be hearing from me in order to feel respected and understood and validated and valued and that they're important to me? And what do I need to be doing, and not just saying, in order to show them that I care about them and that I love them and appreciate them, even if we have some differences.

And that, my friends, is hard work, it really is. It requires a lot of not just compassion and good intentions but also really accurate empathy to be thinking about how someone else probably feels and their thought process and in a way that allows you to make sense of it. This, I think, is particularly important in this day and age when there's so much polarization around political kinds of things. It's also very, very easy for couples to get incredibly polarized around who's right, who's wrong, what should we be doing. And it's difficult to get on to the other person's side of the table, and that is also a crucial skill and well worth your time doing some soul searching around in advance.

In my therapy and coaching sessions lately with clients, there's been a lot of discussion around either both with couples who have different perspectives and belief systems or individuals around how do I maintain a relationship with someone who has a very, very, very different belief system than I do and one that I might even find morally offensive and just absolutely wrong? That feels like an affront to what I believe people should be. How do I stay connected to this person? And I would invite you to go into a compassionate, empathetic stance that allows you to understand the noble intentions and the highest and best of the belief systems that create the outcomes that you see, even if those outcomes are in practice, sometimes really damaging, damaging to others.

So, for example, and I do not want this to turn into a political conversation at all, but I just wanted to provide you with a model just for ideas to think about. A stereotypical Republican say, kind of belief system at the highest and best says something like, “I am a hardworking, responsible person who I have tried really hard to make good choices and I have a pretty good life because of it. I believe there's a right way to live. And if people take the hard and narrow path, they usually have good outcomes. And that I believe in my belief system and I think other people should too. And I think that when I look around and see other people having bad outcomes, it's often because of their own doing. And I shouldn't have to pay for it or have government swipe half my paycheck in order to support the bad behavior and poor choices of others. I think they can do better. And I think I have the right to defend myself against people who want to take advantage of me. And if I work hard and make good choices, I should be rewarded. And I have all these other belief systems that place value around life and family.” All these other things that when you go into it, noble intentions, noble intentions. And to be thinking about how does this make sense from this person's perspective?

And on the other side, the same person on the other side of the couch, who maybe has a more progressive orientation would say, “I believe that human beings have inherent worth and that there are many different perspectives and ways of being that are all worthy of respect and appreciation. I don't think any of us have a monopoly on the way, you know, ‘the way things should be’ or who is valuable in our society and who isn't, because there is a bias and a hierarchy of value that is often based on race or socioeconomic status. There's an unequal playing field. And the people with enormous privilege have a much easier time and often take credit for things that are handed to them. They think it's about their character and their hard work, when they're actually standing on a platform already.” Progressive people would say, “I think it's the responsibility of an ethical community to provide support and assistance to those less fortunate in order to help build a large and fairer body of productive and valued members of our community. And that when we invest in people and things like education and health care, mental health and social services and firemen and police and roads and schools, everyone is lifted up. And that I'm willing to participate in that and help create that.”

So that's one little example. And me just kind of like shifting from one side of that argument to the other. But in doing so, the hope is simply to share what the internal working narrative of people is often who are on different sides of this divide. And how when you look at the same situation from each point of view, it does make sense, even if you don't agree with a belief system or the outcomes or the values. When you really listen to another person with compassion and respect and empathy, they do make sense, they always make sense. And I personally believe that we all could benefit from having intentional conversations with the goal of understanding those perspectives and seeing the good and the humanity in everyone, as opposed to reinforcing our ideas about why I'm right and you're wrong.

Same thing for relationships. And as a couple’s counselor, I can assure you that when I am working with a couple and each person on opposite sides of the couch is feeling victimized and mistreated and hurt and uncared for by their partner, when you walk into their perspective, you can understand why. You can absolutely understand why and that none of us has a monopoly on the truth. And that it's very, very easy for us as individuals to get caught up into our perspective and our way of seeing things. And there's a very well-documented bias in social psychology where when we see other people doing “bad things” or making “bad choices,” or experiencing difficulty, we view it as because of character flaws, bad choices. It's very easy to judge others.

When we make mistakes and have consequences or negative outcomes, the tendency is to say, “Well, but I was tired.” “Well, yes, but here's the situation that led me to react that way.” We have all kinds of reasons why we do the things that we do because of the context of what was going on, the circumstances that made us feel that way, all of the reasons why we did what we did. And I think it would be to everyone's benefit in this day and age to bestow the same grace to others that other people who are saying things or doing things that you disagree with have reasons and have a context and have feelings that make those actions or ideas make a lot of sense to them. And our role in difficult conversations is to learn what those are. Not have the focus on necessarily being understood, but putting the emphasis on understanding.

I know this sounds paradoxical because often the thing that motivates us to have difficult conversations in the first place is the hope that we could be understood, that we could change somebody's perspective, that we could have a different outcome for the benefit of ourselves. And while that is certainly valid and generally the motivation that leads us to have courage and wade into these conversations, I would like to offer you a perspective that is much more likely to help the situation end well and lead to all of those desired outcomes. And that is putting your attention and effort on understanding the perspective and feelings of another person. Asking open ended questions where you invite them to talk more about their perspective, without being ready to be like, “Okay, well, thank you, because that's why this is wrong.” And arguing with them or blaming someone else for the way that you feel or this one conversational strategy I often see, which is taking the sort of pedantic tone, which is that “If they knew what I knew, then they would change the way that they believe and, you know, all this stuff would stop. They would finally see the light.”

But again, like coming into that with a sort of judgmental and self-righteous idea, which is “My way of seeing things is better than yours and so, you should be more like me.” And this is true for everyone. It is true for progressives who really want to talk about diversity and inclusion, unless you're an evangelical Christian, because that is not okay, right? And on the other side of this, for people to be absolutely resistant to any ideas about social justice issues or race or culture and the very real impact on people because of that and how they, by virtue of their own privilege, are participating in those things, whether or not they know it consciously, shutting all that down. It's when we get very, very polarized and like, “No, I will not tolerate this point of view. I will not let in what you're saying.” That is when conversations just go down the tubes.

And so, to be very, again, self-aware of how when you were having a difficult conversation and feel yourself going into that sort of space of judgment or blame or criticism or “let me rebuttal your idea,” would encourage you to move into a space of listening and understanding, open ended questions that are really focused on helping the other person feel heard and respected and cared for by you so that they feel emotionally safe with you and are able to talk about who they are, what they believe, the things that are important to them, and finally be moving into a place of what kind of relationship they would like to have with you.

Practice Emotional Safety Skills

And also in that space of compassion and emotional safety that you create, it creates an environment where if you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into this openness and willingness to exchange ideas. That if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding that in a healthy relationship, that will be reciprocated. To be able to say, “Thank you so much for telling me how you feel when I see it from your point of view, I understand why that makes sense. Is it okay if I share with you how I have been viewing this and what my values are and why this sometimes feels distressing for me when these things are happening, particularly in the context of our relationship, which I care very much about, by the way.” It's hard to have someone be like, and rare, I will say, to have someone say like, “No, uh-huh. Nope. I have just told you how I feel and what's important to me, but I will not actually be reciprocating that.” That is very, very rare.

And if it actually is happening in your relationship, I would invite you to consider how mutually respectful and healthy that relationship actually is because relationships should not be one way. And if you are going into interactions with people with very not just sincere intentions, but strategies and skills like the ones we've been talking about today, you have the right to be respected and to also be heard, not necessarily agreed with, but understood. There needs to be reciprocity there.

So, there are so many other little micro-skills that I'd love to give you. And it's beyond the scope of this podcast. But go back to the blog at growingself.com and look— communication strategies and you'll find all kinds of podcasts, articles, little things that you might not even notice there. Like, are you making little faces when other people are talking? Are you rolling your eyes without even realizing it?

You would be amazed at how many times in a couple’s counseling sessions, I have to say to one partner, “What are you doing with the faces? Come on, let's stop that.” And really, they're not even aware that they're doing it, but making little faces or the eye rolls their partners being like, “Never mind, I'm done. They're not listening to me. Why even bother?”

So, it's these little micro-moments. And again, it requires so much self-awareness to stay in a good place, stay open, stay receptive, not make the faces. You know what I'm talking about. Certainly, things like interrupting, jumping to conclusions, rushing to defense. I mean, there's so much. There's so much. If you are in a relationship that is very important to you and you are trying really hard to have constructive, productive conversations, and it is just not going well over and over again, that would be an indication. It's probably time to get some professional help so you can be sitting with a relationship coach who's saying to either of you, like, “Stop with the faces, what's going on?” And help with some of the core beliefs or jumping to conclusions or helping around, like listening skills, developing empathy for each other. If that's feeling super-duper hard to do on your own, always okay to reach out for help.

And also be generous with other people who may not have had the benefit of listening to this podcast or doing the kind of personal growth work that you are so clearly invested in. Just the fact that you're listening to this right now and thinking about how to have difficult conversations with courage and competence just says so much about you and realizing that I think when you grow in this area, it becomes really obvious when you see other people struggling in these moments. You can see them becoming flooded. You can see them becoming defensive or shutting down or feeling blamed, not knowing how to calm themselves down or switch back into more noble or empathetic thoughts. So these skills are hard one, but yay to you for doing them. I know there's so much more that we could talk about on this topic and maybe I will record another podcast along these lines again in the future.

But if you have been someone who has recently emailed me or gotten in touch through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a question about how do I handle talking to my elderly white aunt about her sort of internalized racism? How do I have a very difficult conversation with my boss or my best friend about something that is really bothering me and feels like it could tank our relationship? Or how do I broach a very important subject with my partner who I love very much, but about a situation that feels kind of unsustainable for me in our relationship?

I just want you to know that I have heard your questions and considered them very carefully. And I hope that the information that I shared with you today has provided a roadmap for how you can have the kind of conversation that you want and have it go well and lead to increased connection and understanding in some of your most important relationships.

And to thank you so much for listening today, if you have questions for me or anything that I can help you with, you are welcome to get in touch with me on the blog at growingself.com. You can also track me down on Facebook, facebook.com/drlisabobby, Instagram, @drlisamariebobby.

I would love to hear from you so that I can make a podcast for you. That's all for today. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

 

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Shadow Work

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

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Shadow Work: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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