What’s Your Problem?

What’s Your Problem?

Are You Doing More For Others Than You Should Be?

What is your problem? And what is someone else's responsibility? Learn how to set healthy boundaries with clarity and confidence.

What's Your Problem?

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

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

What’s Your Problem?

As a therapist and life coach, I often work with clients who are doing personal growth work because they’re struggling with feeling blamed (and even guilty!) for other people’s problems and issues because they are trying to figure out how to set healthy boundaries. Particularly hardworking, competent and conscientious people can have a hard time figuring out the line between taking appropriate personal responsibility (which is a good thing) verse being made to feel responsible for things that are actually someone else’s personal responsibility. Can you relate?

Unrealistic Expectations… of Yourself

People having unrealistic expectations of you can happen in toxic workplace environments, relationships with selfish people, when you’re enabling someone else’s problematic behaviors, in relationships where there’s gaslighting, or if you’re married to a narcissist. Those situations where people have obviously inappropriate expectations of you are more obvious to spot.

But accepting responsibility for things that are really someone else’s problem can happen much more subtly, and even subconsciously. Many people have unrealistic expectations of themselves in relationships, and feel that they should be taking on more responsibility than is actually healthy for them. 

In particular, it’s much more challenging to see that you’re taking an inappropriate level of responsibility when you have a “helping” personality. Helping others is something that you just naturally start doing and is a role that probably feels very familiar to you. This could be due to your role in your family of origin, or also just by virtue of the fact that you’re probably kind, compassionate, and competent. You see someone who needs help, you can do something to help them, so you step in.

But should you?

Here’s The Problem With Everything Being Your Problem

While being generous and helpful is not an objectively bad thing, here’s the problem with it: if you’ve been subconsciously taking responsibility or working harder than you should to solve problems for other people, or managing other people’s feelings, or doing things for others that they should really be doing for themselves, over time, it starts to create problems for you too. 

You’ll start experiencing burnout and exhaustion, feeling resentful, or start having trouble letting go of anger. You feel like you’re not getting your needs met in relationships. It’s hard to say no. You might even find yourself sliding into codependent relationship dynamics over and over again. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to change the dynamic if you’ve trained other people to expect that you’ll sacrifice yourself on their behalf.

For example, if you start setting appropriate boundaries with people you’ve been “over-serving,” they might get mad at you and tell you that you’re being mean. Or, if you allow other people to experience natural consequences for their own behavior, you might feel anxious and guilty. Emotionally, it can start to feel easier to just keep doing more than you should!

Personal Responsibility

To complicate matters further, you do have to keep your side of the street clean. Healthy adults do have responsibilities, and there are things that you do actually need to do in order to be a healthy, happy person and have positive relationships with others. It is appropriate for other people to have some expectations of you, too!

For example, it is your responsibility to be emotionally healthy, to be emotionally safe, to be self aware, to communicate productively, to work on your own emotional intelligence, and to invest in your own personal growth. It is your responsibility to learn and grow, and to be happy and healthy. It is your responsibility to follow through, to be trustworthy, to be honest with yourself, and to be honest with others.

Someone Else’s Personal Responsibility

But where do you draw the line between your responsibilities and someone else's? How do you figure out if you’re in a situation where you need to be doubling down on your emotional intelligence skills… or whether it's okay to simply say no and let someone else have their tantrum? How can you tell if you actually do need to show your partner love in a different way, or whether they have unrealistic expectations in your relationship or even trust issues? (Which would then be their problem to work on — not yours.)

It can be very, very challenging to get clarity about the line between where your sphere of responsibility stops, and where someone else’s starts. That’s the topic we’re tackling on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m calling, “What is Your Problem?” 

In it, we’ll be discussing how to:

  • Differentiate what is your problem from other people’s problems. 
  • Be aware of when you need to reevaluate a responsibility issue in your life.
  • Learn how to set boundaries and have healthy relationships with others.
  • Find out what your personal responsibilities are.
  • Discover the importance of allowing others to have space to grow on their own. 

You can listen to “What is Your Problem” on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts, as well as on the player of this page. (Don’t forget to subscribe!) If this podcast is helpful to you, I hope you consider sharing it with someone else you care about so they can benefit from these ideas too. 

I have show notes for you below, as well as a full transcript of this podcast at the bottom of this post. If you have any follow up questions I hope you leave them for me in the comments. I’ll answer them!

With love and respect, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

What's Your Problem?

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

Music Credits: “O.P.P.” by Wimps

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What is Your Problem: Episode Highlights

Personal Responsibility vs Inappropriate Expectations

Being blamed for something outside your scope of responsibility is commonplace. You may have experienced the following with a colleague or family member: 

  • Being mad when you don’t do their job
  • Get angry when you react negatively to something they did
  • Try to make you feel bad for the consequences of their actions

When you buy into the idea that you are unworthy because you can't take care of other people's problems, you can start feeling inappropriately guilty, and may even start showing signs of low self-esteem

Setting Boundaries

Without healthy boundaries in a relationship, other people will have the space to pass their responsibilities onto you. 

“While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible.”

Thus, turn your attention to the unhealthy dynamics that allow those situations. You may need to learn how to set boundaries with your parents, friends, or co-workers.

Boundary Setting Exercise:

To help you get clarity about your boundaries, try this simple exercise:

  1. Grab a pen and piece of paper
  2. Draw two circles, one inside of the other.
  3. In the inner circle, write what you need to do to feel confident that you are doing your very best in various situations in your life. What are your responsibilities? Write them down.
  4. In the outer circle, jot down what is in the realm of others’ responsibilities that they are trying to hand to you.

You can practice this exercise in your various relationships, whether involving your work or personal life.

Unrealistic Expectations

We often tend to take over people's responsibilities because others feel that we can do them. This dilemma is especially prevalent amongst strong, intelligent, competent, compassionate, and naturally caring individuals. 

As you bear more of the burden, you’ll eventually become more resentful of others. If you feel this way, remember that your anger and resentment are valid: “When people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them.” 

Moreover, you’d start to feel defeated, since you are unable to do all the work. When in reality, you actually can’t meet all these inappropriate expectations. You trick yourself into thinking that you're not good enough.

Take these emotions as a sign that there is a responsibility issue at the core of your life. You can also see it as a growth opportunity.

Your Personal Responsibility

It might be hard to hear, but you also have to think about how you may have contributed to this unhealthy dynamic. 

In addition, it’s much more exhausting to fight with other people about the things they need to change. After all, “When we blame other people, for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away.”

Here are some of the things you need to be taking responsibility for:

1. Having Emotional Awareness

Our feelings tell us about our needs and values. We have to be self-aware of our emotions so that we can make informed decisions. 

People who have disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries. We need emotional intelligence if we want to improve our relationships.

2. Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication

You need to communicate how you feel about what you need and prefer in an emotionally safe and effective way. It is your responsibility to talk about what you're thinking and feeling in a kind and respectful manner. 

You also have to manage your reactions; avoid screaming or slamming doors! It helps to learn how to be vulnerable safely.

3. Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness

Our personal health is our responsibility. Getting enough sleep, nourishment, and movement are basic needs.

If we don’t actively pay attention to our health and wellness, we cannot be our best selves or even be functional. 

4. Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries

First, you have to know what your boundaries and limitations are before communicating them to other people. 

Once you make these clear, you can then learn to turn down requests that don't serve your best interests. 

Remember: “Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.” It is our responsibility to protect ourselves from people who harm us and disregard our needs. 

Similarly, it falls on us to figure out what makes us happy and pursue opportunities for happiness. You have to find what fills your cup so that you can serve the people around you. “You can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's your job.”

5. Defining Your Obligations 

Another thing that falls under the realm of our personal responsibility is knowing what we need to do to hold up our end of the bargain. These can include your roles in your family or even at work. 

It is particularly helpful to sit down and write these responsibilities down. Then, communicate these with your partner or colleagues so that they can respond appropriately.

6. Having Empathy and Compassion

We are interdependent to those around us, from the way we respond to each other's actions. So being empathetic and compassionate with others should also be our responsibility.

What is Your Problem

Ultimately, finding out what is your problem boils down to control how you show up in the world. We need to live our lives with integrity to ourselves and to others. 

We don't need to do this perfectly. However, we do have to make a sincere effort to be considerate of others. This process takes time and effort. 

Other People’s Problems

Once you become clear about what is your problem, you can determine what other people’s problems are. 

Even if you set your values and priorities straight, other people can still be upset with you. And that should not be your problem

Others may think badly of you for setting healthy boundaries, but that's okay. You don't need to think about their opinions of you anymore because you know that you are a good person.

If another person becomes abusive in response, don’t think for a second that you need to change their reactions. At this point, resolving what is your problem requires keeping yourself safe and leaving. In cases of domestic violence, reach out to thehotline.org immediately.

Giving Space for Others to Grow

The foundation of a mutually healthy relationship is healthy boundaries on both sides.

Keep in mind that other people's personal growth is not part of your problem. It's best to allow them to experience the pain and discomfort of the consequences of their actions. 

Clearing the path for them can even hamper their progress. That’s because, in the absence of dissatisfaction and frustration, people won’t grow.

To help other people, you can share resources (like this podcast!) and even help them get a life coach to help them in their journey. 

[Intro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. That’s The Wimps. The song is O.P.P. In this case, O.P.P. stands for Other People's Pizza. But I still wanted to use the song, first of all, because I love this band. Second of all, today, we're talking about: “What is your problem?” What is your problem, specifically, compared to what is somebody else's problem? I have a whole category of things in my mind that are other people's problems: OPPs. Hence, the relevance of this song. And a nice intro into what we're going to be talking about on today's show which is figuring out what is actually your problem, and what is someone else's problem, and getting clarity and confidence to set boundaries between those things so that you don't get pushed around by other people. So that you are actually taking personal responsibility around the things that you do actually need to do in your relationships, and yourself, in your life. 

Good stuff in store for us today. And I'm glad you're here. If this is your first time listening to the show, I would to formally welcome you. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self counseling and coaching. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, so I specialize in relationships, but I'm also a licensed psychologist. I do have some insight into the quirks of humanity and the way people are. I am also though a board-certified coach, which I am quite proud of. 

I feel that coaching is a profession that has gotten kind of a bad rap in recent years. Honestly, in some ways, rightfully so, there are a lot of dubious characters out there running around offering all kinds of coaching with no training or real experience, for that matter, which is always kind of scary. But there's also a lot of very responsible, ethical, and highly-trained coaches who I think take the best of the principles of therapy and counseling. But turn it into transformational change, which is very worthwhile, and that is part of my orientation. 

I think every one of these episodes that I make for you on the podcast are with that spirit: not just talking about ideas but talking about ideas and then turning them into, hopefully, something that you can do something with. I do a lot of different kinds of experiential growth activities on the show. I have one for you today, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I hope you have fun listening. 

Very lastly, thank you so much if you're one of my regular listeners for the kinds of reviews. Oh, my goodness. I had the opportunity to look at The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast on iTunes lately and I was just floored by all of the reviews and the nice things that you guys had to say. Thank you so much for the reviews, and also for your questions. I know you guys get in touch from time to time with questions, and I read those. I consider all of them, and then I think about how do I answer that question in an upcoming topic, an upcoming episode of the podcast. 

While I certainly can't be like, “Okay, Stephanie. Here's what you should do.” Because I'm not your therapist and it would be inappropriate for me to give you highly specific advice for your life. I can absolutely talk about the things that are important to you and create growth activities that would be genuinely helpful to you. Because here's also the secret: I have a lot of people who asked me for specific advice like, “Okay, this is what my husband said. What do you think I should do?” I always am like, “Mmm.” 

The truth is that any good counselor or coach is not going to tell you specifically what to do. None of this is informational in nature. I have ideas, and I can make suggestions but those suggestions are around growth experiences. They're not specific, “Do this and then this will happen.” It is, “Let's hand in hand walk into this growth experience together. I will be your guide. Here are some things that would help you develop in such a way that you would know how to handle this situation. It would be congruent with you. You might even have a different perception of the whole experience in and of itself.” 

When people ask for advice, it's like this little head of a pin. It's the very tip of the arrow, but behind that is all of this opportunity for growth, like real meaningful growth, which is never an event. It is always a process. I don't want to deprive you of that process. I'm not going to cheapen this by even suggesting that there are black and white easy answers. “Do this and your life will be perfect.” If there are any other podcast hosts, self-proclaimed life coaches who are telling you that, either they don't know what they're talking about, or they're lying to you. I would never do that. 

Here today, we're going to have yet another growth experience together. This is going to be a good one. And we're talking about how to differentiate between what is your problem, and how to take effective personal responsibility for yourself in your life, and how to differentiate that from what is somebody else's problem. So that you can get really clear about setting boundaries and expectations and not allowing yourself to be inappropriately blamed or used or made responsible for things that you really shouldn't be. 

I think that's an important topic, and I know it's a pain point for you. It's a pain point for many of the clients that we see here in Growing Self. I've also gotten a number of questions about this very topic. And that's why we're talking about this today because as always, it's all for you. Let's jump in. 

Have you ever had someone say to you, “What is your problem?” In an accusatory way? How many times have you had somebody tried to blame you for something that is one, not your fault, and two, not your responsibility? It’s not in the sphere of things that should be your problem. It happens all the time. Examples of this would be somebody making you feel guilty when you don't want to do something that they want you to do. Or when somebody is being a jerk to you and then surprised when you have an appropriately negative reaction to them. 

“What's your problem?” Well, let me tell you, or what about this. This is very common. It happens all the time in couples counseling: Someone blaming you for how they feel and that you need to modify your behavior so that they can feel differently on the inside. Somebody's being mad at you for not covering for them or cleaning up their messes. That can happen. Oftentimes, in professional situations, if you're working on a team and you have a co-worker who's kind of slack, and you're doing all these things to try to make the project successful anyway. One day you can't, and then they get mad at you for not doing what should have been their job anyway. This is also super common is somebody making you or trying to make you feel responsible for the consequences of their own actions, what they're choosing to do or not do. 

Inappropriate Responsibilities

On the show, in service of healthy relationships and how to have them, we talk a lot about boundaries. When we have podcast topics about personal growth, which is also hugely important, we talk about self-esteem. But today, we're really going to be getting under the hood to talk about the unhealthy dynamics that you do have control over that actually create those situations. When boundaries aren't healthy, there's often this inappropriate responsibility thing going on. When people do have low self-esteem or struggle to feel confident, it's often because they are feeling blamed or believing these messages from other people. That, “You're not quite good enough.” Or “You're not doing this well enough to make me feel better about it.” 

When you buy into those things, that's when people start to feel bad about themselves. This is really kind of getting into the nitty-gritty of how do we assess, with confidence, what is actually my problem and my responsibility? What do I have control over? What should I have control over? Compared to what is on the other side of this line that not only am I not going to be responsible for that, but I'm also not going to feel bad about not being responsible for it? I'm not going to feel bad when I hand this one right back to you because you're its rightful owner. This is a conversation, again, that comes up all the time in many, many areas of life. 

Setting Boundaries

To sort of illustrate this, I would for you to either imagine or you could have an experiential growth moment with me right now. Pause this for a second, go get a piece of paper, notebook, whatever you got, and draw two concentric circles. One medium-ish sized circle on the inside and then around that circle, draw a larger circle. You have two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle is actually you and the things that you are in charge of. We're going to be talking about what those things really are and what they should be. 

While we can be inappropriately blamed by others, it is also true that we do need to show up in the healthiest way possible. We do need to conduct ourselves well enough in order to feel authentically good about ourselves and to feel confident. That, “You know what, I am actually being appropriate right now. I'm doing the very best job that I can do, and I know that because I've done this work.” Right? We don't just get it. We have to earn it and that's what this is. That's what goes into the inside circle. 

The outside circle is what is actually in the realm of somebody else's sphere of responsibility? That maybe they're trying to hand to you or make you be responsible for, but you're not really. With those two circles in mind, I want you to now think about how that shows up in different situations in your life. For example, it can come up in interpersonal relationships, certainly, where we're getting blamed for other people's feelings or when other people can't control us in the way that they like to. They get mad at us and like that. There's all kinds of things. 

Unrealistic Expectations

Even at work, it can happen especially if you are a strong, smart, and naturally competent, and also a naturally caring person, this is going to be relatively common for you. Because strong, smart, capable, competent, compassionate people can wind up accepting more and more stuff from others because they can do it. There's a part of them that’s like, “Well, it would be nice if I did do this for them.” And since they’re caring they’re, “Okay.” But what happens is that over time, all this stuff just gets heaped on and on and on. They feel like they're staggering under the weight of it all because it is actually too much. 

Predictably, what you can expect to happen if you are taking on more than you can or should legitimately bear is that you will start to feel resentful of others. You will start to feel angry, you will probably feel very tired, and also this defeated feeling because you can't actually do it all. When there's this voice in your head that's like, “Oh, but I should be able to do this all.” You'll start to feel bad about yourself because you actually can't, right? It's like you have inappropriate expectations for yourself at that point. 

Also, in relationships, this can lead to a lot of really negative emotions. If both you and your partner are colluding around this idea that you are actually responsible for the way they feel. And you're starting to walk on eggshells, and being super careful with everything that you say and do so that they don't go flying off the handle, it can make you feel really withdrawn, disengaged from the relationship to the point where you're not talking about how you're feeling anymore, what you're thinking. It's kind of this checked-out, burnt-out feeling. And it can happen in relationships. It can happen on the job. Really, anywhere where you have spheres of responsibility, this can happen. That's, again, why I wanted to talk about it today. 

Before we jump into the circles, why don't you just actually check-in with yourself for a second and ask yourself whether any of the things that I just mentioned resonate with you. Do you find yourself feeling guilty frequently? Or do you feel like you're running yourself ragged and just doing everything for everyone and it never ends? Here's the ringer: feeling resentful when other people, when you look around and other people aren't killing themselves the same way you are, and you're like, “Why aren't they?” Because you're so overwhelmed and exhausted and starting to feel kind of angry. 

Also, on that note, people will very predictably and rightfully feel angry when their boundaries are being violated. When you aren't getting what you need or when people are not treating you appropriately, it's totally normal and expected that you will be feeling angry towards them. That can be a sign that the locus of responsibility is kind of feeling out of balance when you're having that experience. 

Lastly, in addition to that resentment and guilt and hostility, depletion, there are also often feelings of self-doubt. It gets mixed up with that. “Oh, if I were just better or if I were more organized, I could do more.” “If I exercised every day, I would have more energy to do all these things.” Also, this feeling of low self-esteem, like you're feeling like you've failed because you can't. No matter what you do, this other person in your life is always going to have a negative reaction, or it's never quite going to be good enough. Low self-esteem is internalizing those messages and getting tricked into believing that you're not good enough, that you're not doing a good enough job, that somebody else would get better results. 

I know that this is probably a little hard to think about, but these, to me, are all the signs and symptoms that there may be a responsibility issue in the core of your life that is worth examining as a growth opportunity for you. And again, I am not going to give you trite advice about: “Do this instead.” This is actually a real invitation to take this bigger picture look at what is really going on and not just what other people are doing. But here's the hard part you guys: how you might currently be contributing to this dynamic that you don't want to participate in anymore. 

I know that is hard to hear, and it can be challenging because I think many times, people are stuck in a situation, and I felt this way too. When I've been stuck in this situation, it feels we're sort of being lowkey victimized by people in our lives, right? “Well, they just keep asking me to do stuff.” Or, “If I don't do this, then it won't happen, and we're going to have piles of laundry around the house for three weeks.” Those things might be true, but when we blame other people for the things that we are experiencing, we're giving our power away. It's just not helpful. A: It doesn't change anything And B: If everything is really someone else's fault, how can you possibly be empowered to change it

Your Personal Responsibility

You have to have responsibility. You have to have power in order to really take action and change your circumstances because other people can't do this for you. Particularly, in your relationships, if you're spending a lot of time and energy fighting with other people about how to get them to do things differently, again, that's an opportunity to shift this mirror around and look back at yourself. Because it's so much energy, and it's so exhausting to be fighting with other people about the things that they need to change. It is much more useful and honestly effective when we can think about: “Okay, what do I need to do to make this be different? What can I do to make this be different?” Then, focus all of your energy on that, specifically, because that will move the needle. 

Again, this is why when people ask me for relationship advice and like, “Well, let's crack into this.” It's really a discussion and it's a growth opportunity because I think people hope that I'm going to say, “If you say this to your wife, then she'll be different.” My friend, the actual process is so much more complicated than that. But it's okay. It's good. It's authentic. And that is what this is about. It’s authentic growth, right? 

With that in mind, now, let's go back and let's take a closer look at those circles of responsibility that I got you to write down on your paper. When we look at what is your problem, your personal responsibility is the way that you show up in the world. I'm just going to tick through some of these big ones. Some of them might be things that you're already doing, some of them might be growth opportunities for you, some of them, you might not have any idea what I'm talking about yet. That is also completely okay. These are just things that I have learned over the years on through my own personal growth work. 

Having Emotional Awareness

This is what actually matters when it comes to the things that we truly do need to take responsibility for. One of the big ones is emotional awareness. It is your responsibility. When I say “your,” I mean “our.” It is all of our responsibilities to be able to stay connected to our own feelings well enough to take guidance from them, to be able to listen to yourself to say, “I am feeling resentful. I am feeling depleted. I am feeling hurt.” 

We have to be connected to our own feelings so that we can A: advocate for ourselves and also take informed action from our feelings. Our feelings tell us about our needs. They tell us about our values. And if you're disconnected from your feelings, you don't have access to any of that. It's like if your whole body went numb and you didn't realize that you just cut yourself with a knife. Like “Oh, that is… I hurt myself. That is damaged. I have to stop. I have to go get a band-aid.” 

When we're disconnected with our emotions, we don't have that. You can't say, “Ouch. This is a relationship dynamic that is unhealthy for me.” Or, “No, I actually can't do that work project because I'm already feeling like I'm about to die.” People who are disconnected from their feelings have a lot of trouble setting boundaries between where they stop and someone else starts. That is a primary responsibility.

Practicing Emotionally Safe Communication

From that stems clarity about who you are, what you want, what you need, what is important to you so that you can do the next thing that is your responsibility, which is communicate in a really, not just clear, but emotionally safe way about how you're feeling, about what you need, about what you like: effective communication about possible problem-solving kinds of things. It is, again, emotionally safe communication that creates an emotionally safe environment for the people that you're interacting with. It is our responsibility to talk about what we're thinking and what we're feeling in a kind and respectful way. 

Also, with that is to manage our own reactions. Not screaming at people, not slamming doors, not saying snide, snarky, mean things when we're not feeling good. It's our responsibility to be emotionally vulnerable and kind and give other people the benefit of the doubt and manage the way that we are coming across. That is, if you listen to the emotional intelligence podcast I put together a while ago for you, that is one of the pillars of emotional intelligence. Two, really. It's how do I feel and then how do I manage my relationships with others? Meaning how am I being very deliberate and intentional about how I am coming across, how I am communicating, and making sure that I'm doing that in a respectful way that other people can hear? 

As we've talked about in other previous podcasts, when we lash out, when we withdraw, when we criticize, when we stomp around or sulk, there are predictably negative reactions from others in response to us. We need to take responsibility for that. 

Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness

Another very important thing for all of us to be taking responsibility for is our health and our wellness. Are we getting enough sleep? Eating well? Drinking enough water? Getting exercise? Going to the doctor? Taking care of health issues that need to be taken care of? Noticing when maybe we're getting depleted or we're not getting enough sleep we're not getting enough exercise? 

If we're not really actively paying attention to that and meeting our own needs and providing ourselves with self-care and downtime, we are going to get depleted, and not going to be able to be our best selves in relationships, or be functional, for that matter, at work, or as parents, or in our other important life roles. It is our responsibility to be meeting our basic needs for things like nourishment and rest. 

Being Knowledgeable and Clear About Boundaries

It is also our responsibility, along those lines, to be both knowledgeable and clear about our own limitations and our own boundaries. If you can imagine building up from the bottom, that emotional awareness leads to clarity, leads to being able to communicate, leads to self-care. It's being able to say to yourself first but then, also to other people, “Actually I can't do that.” Or “I don't want to do that.” That is also completely legitimate. It's like, “What are my boundaries? What are my limitations? What is okay with me? What is not okay with me?” You have to know that in yourself first so that you can then say that to somebody else. 

It is similarly our responsibility to say no to inappropriate requests and also to say no to things that are not congruent with the best use of our time and energy and life satisfaction goals. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should. That is an idea that really trips up a lot of very competent, smart, compassionate people. Because they think, “Well, it's not that big of a deal. Yes, I'll do the thing.” When it would have actually been healthier, not just for them, but for everybody else for them to say, “Respectfully, no. There's a part of me that would like to but it's just not realistic for me right now.” It's completely okay, and it is your job to do that. 

It is also 100% your responsibility to protect yourself from other people who would either literally hurt you or disregard your healthy boundaries, disregard your needs. It is similarly your job to protect your children and other vulnerable people around you from others who may have the potential to harm them in subtle or very dramatic ways. It is also our responsibility to figure out what makes us happy and pursue those opportunities for happiness. That could be hobbies. That could be friendships that nurture us. That could be just having space to read a book. 

You're not doing anybody any favors when you are living your life in such a way that there's no space for you and the things that make you feel happy and satisfied and fulfilled. It may sometimes seem a little selfish to do that, but think about the converse. If you are literally giving everything away and then some, you are going to be irritated, grumpy, exhausted, resentful, angry, and not that functional. You are not of benefit to anybody else if you are grumpy, and resentful, and exhausted, and not that functional. 

You have to be doing things that fill up your own cup because you can't look to other people to do this for you. It is not their job. It's not their job. It's your job. Again, this sphere of personal responsibility. It goes in a couple of ways but getting clear about what we need to do is so liberating and empowering once we figure out how to define those boundaries. 

Defining Your Obligations

Other things that are super important and within our sphere of personal responsibility is spending some time to get very clear about what do we actually need to be doing in terms of holding up our end of the bargain. Those could be personal obligations or responsibilities in your personal life, but also that may extend to your roles at work or your roles as a parent. 

If you're a parent, it is actually your responsibility to make sure that the basic needs of your children are met, to be providing income, housing, transportation, basic stuff, safe environment, an emotionally safe environment for your kids. That is also your responsibility. In other roles, it can even be helpful to sit down with a piece of paper. Like, “Okay, at work, what is my job description? What am I there to do?” To write down all of those tasks: “what is my job,” quite literally. Or in your home life, your personal life: “What are the things that need to get done and that I should be doing?” That could extend to the way that you show up in your relationship. You know, spending at least some time with your spouse, are the things that are your responsibility. It's making an effort to be a kind, considerate, loving partner for your spouse.

I don't know if you had the chance yet to listen to my recent podcast episode about love languages, but trying to be thoughtful about what your partner needs from you and how you can give that to them. That is, I think, in your sphere of responsibility, in addition to being an emotionally safe person and an effective communicator. 

It is also your responsibility to provide people with necessary information to be able to say, “Here's my job and this is what I am going to be doing. This is what I'm going to be doing.” So that they can make choices about what they would like to be doing in response to that. Again, you're not telling them what to do. You're saying, “This is what I'm doing.” Providing them with accurate information and that could extend to boundaries but it could also… Doctors are actually, disclosure, therapists run into this a lot. 

I know part of my role here at Growing Self, I certainly do see my own therapy and coaching clients, but I also do a lot of supervision of other therapists and coaches at this point. One of the big themes that comes up, especially, I think, for earlier career counselors is this idea of how to tell if they're working harder than their clients are. Because that can actually be a thing in the therapy world. A client might come in and sort of vent about all of these things that are happening in their relationship that they aren't happy with, that they would to have changed. And then, a therapist could say, “Okay, these are the things that I think would be really helpful for you. I think that this is where we should put time and energy into expanding.” 

We cannot control whether or not someone engages with that, whether or not they want to do that personal growth work or challenge themselves to do things differently in their relationship with their partner, that would actually help them get different results. I think early career therapists can often feel really bad. Like, “Why isn't this ‘working?’” I think it also has to do with these ideas about how personal growth works, how therapy works. I think that some people have this idea that just coming into a therapist's office or a marriage counselor's office and saying out loud, “This is the problem” and hoping for advice. “Okay, what do you think I should do to change it?” That in itself would change something and that isn't the way it works. 

I think that that's one of the dark parts of talk therapy is that people believe that if they're coming and talking to a therapist, they are doing what needs to be done in order to change and grow and evolve. Listening to yourself tell the therapist about how you feel is great. It helps build insight. which is always helpful but it doesn't actually change the results that you're going to get in your life until you turn that insight into action and are able to put in the time and energy and effort to doing things a little bit differently, like the things that we're talking about today: managing the way that you communicate, being clear about your boundaries, saying no, protecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and providing other people with information around “Here's what I'm going to do.” 

I could tell you that, as a therapist, until I'm blue in the face but that is actually where my sphere of responsibility ends. Whether or not you do that stops being my responsibility because I have done my part of this equation, which is providing you with new ideas and growth opportunities. That's kind of how this works in my profession, but this is also how it's going to work in your life too. I think if we go back to that thing that we were talking about at the beginning of the show, about how often we can inadvertently get in these situations where we're fighting with people, particularly with our partners to try to get them to do things differently or move in the direction that we want them to move in, that is not anything that you have control over. 

Where your sphere of responsibility ends is around: “This is what I need. This is what I'm going to do. This is what I'm going to do in response to whatever you decide to do.” Then, seeing what they do with that. So it gets injected from that inner circle at that moment and into somebody else's lane to do with as they will. Yes, we're interdependent, and the way that we show up in our relationships can impact the response that we have. But I have ceaselessly been amazed over and over and over again about how dramatically, and sometimes, even quickly relationships will change. And how differently people will feel when they start getting real clear about themselves and their own boundaries and their own needs and how they're taking care of what is their responsibility instead of looking outside of that sphere of responsibility for things to improve. Those are some of the things that are in your sphere of responsibility. 

Having Empathy and Compassion

Others that I will add, I do believe personally, and this goes back to one of my core values that is not one that is shared by everyone, but I do believe that we all have the responsibility to try to have empathy and compassion for other humans. I think that that's just one of the core principles of life worth living. Again, that's a values-based thing. I do personally believe that we all have the responsibility to try to do as much as we can, particularly when it comes to doing our own work and bettering ourselves. 

I think that investing in yourself and your own wellness is our responsibility. That can extend obviously to the health stuff that we were talking about. Well, clearly, we're here together. You're listening to this podcast so you could check this one off the list, but reading self-help books, engaging in personal growth activities, thinking about: “Who am I? Am I the best self that I could be?” Considering what your options are and being willing I think to experiment with new things and grow. 

What is Your Problem

It all really boils down to our responsibility is, ultimately, controlling how we show up in the world and making sure that we are living our own lives with integrity: integrity to ourselves, integrity to others, and that managing ourselves as well as we can. Not perfectly. That is not an appropriate expectation for anyone but a sincere well-intentioned effort to be doing our very best job of being a good person, being thoughtful and considerate and kind in our interactions with other people, being very willing to accept responsibility for the things that we do actually need to do, which is our health, our wellness, and also basic stuff of life that we do actually need to get done. That requires a lot of thought and energy into thinking about what those things are. 

If you're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all those, first of all, I'm sorry. But this is going back to that idea that when I do work with people in therapy and coaching, we dive into all of these things over many, many sessions. I'm trying to distill this for you into an exercise that we can talk about in the podcast episode of 45 minutes or whatever it is. Take notes, write these things down. My advice for you would be to give yourself time and space to think more about it. Write down: “What is my responsibility?” Fill in that circle. “What am I in charge of? What am I doing to take care of myself? How do I feel? Am I saying no? What, legitimately, are the tasks and things that are my job that are on my responsibility list?” 

Give yourself some time to do this because only then will you be able to say with confidence and clarity, “I am doing what I need to be doing. I know what that is and I feel really good about that.” Because then, that in turn, will lead us to step two which is figuring out what is on the other side of that boundary, that boundary of personal responsibility. 

Other People’s Problems

Once you have figured out what you want, what you need, what you need to do to create that, and get clear about what behaving with integrity and responsibility means to you, then you can get very clear and confident about all the things that are on the other side of that line. What is actually someone else's problem? Other people's problem: OPPs. These might include things like other people's reactions to you. If you are behaving well and in alignment with your values, and you're confident that you are being appropriate and clear and kind and responsible, then it leaves your domain of responsibility when it is launched out into the world and received by another person. 

I will tell you, if you are trying to set healthy boundaries with someone who does not have healthy boundaries, they will very likely get upset with you for doing that. They will try to make you feel bad about that. And they will have negative interpretations of whatever you do, despite your positive intentions. They'll perceive you as being not a nice, loving person, and that is okay. Because at this point, because of the work that you've done, you do not need them to think that you're a nice person because you already know that you're a nice person, that you're being really healthy and really appropriate. 

You can expect, again, unhealthy people, that that doesn't go over well with them. Particularly, if you've been caught in a dynamic with them historically where you have been doing too much and taking responsibility for things that aren't your job. As soon as you stop that, then that's not going to feel good for them anymore. They might try to punish you or make you feel bad. Again, I just want to pause for a second. There are degrees of punishment. It might be your mother that you're trying to set new boundaries with. Now, she's giving you the silent treatment because you're not doing what she wants you to do. That's completely okay and that's, again, within the realm of what a lot of people deal with. 

There is also though, a different thing if you are in a patently abusive relationship like domestic violence. If you are afraid for your life or for the welfare of your children, the things that I'm talking about right now about other people's problems and how to deal with them probably don't apply because you need to do whatever you need to do to manage that situation long enough to leave the situation. Don't think for a second that there's anything that you can do to change your partner's abusive reactions. Your responsibility is keeping yourself safe, which is doing whatever you need to do to stay safe and then leaving. That is your responsibility. Just know that the things that I'm talking about here do not extend to those situations. 

If you are in an abusive situation, if you're afraid for your safety, and that's showing up in boundary stuff, do not pass go. Go to the website called thehotline.org. thehotline.org, it is by, for, and about people who are stuck in violent and abusive relationships. They have tons of information and you can get free confidential access to a domestic violence counselor who can help assess the situation, and do a safety plan with you, and help start the process of getting you the heck out of there: thehotline.org

Giving Space for Others to Grow

Veering back into our lane, to continue the conversation about what is not your problem is managing someone else's feelings: feeling like you have to do certain things in order to make somebody else happy. No. You need to be responsible for yourself, and then they will have whatever reactions they need to have to that. It is also someone else's responsibility, not your problem, it is their problem, to set boundaries with you, and tell you what they need, and tell you how they feel and to say no to you, right? 

We can only ask for what we want or need or expect but then, the expectation is that it goes on the other side of the net. That an emotionally safe person will have done similar work to what I'm talking about right now and will be able to take on board what you're saying and consider that in light of who they are, and how they feel, and what they need, and what feels healthy for them, and then communicate back with you in an emotionally safe and authentic and respectful way so that there's a dialogue that starts. It is their responsibility to do that with you. You do not have to try to read somebody's mind, or anticipate their needs for them, or prevent their feelings from being hurt. Our job is to trust other people enough to tell us that because that is the foundation of a mutually healthy relationship: healthy boundaries on both sides. 

Again, allowing other people to have the time and space and feelings to do their own growth work. Other people's growth is on their side of the net. One of the things that I've learned over the years in relationships, personal relationships, and myself as a parent, as a therapist, is that one of the most precious things that you can do for someone that you really, really love is by allowing them to experience discomfort, to allow them to experience pain, even, and to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their own decisions and their own actions, so that they have the opportunity to get in touch with their feelings, to get clear about their values, about what they need, so that they get to practice communicating effectively, so that they have growth opportunities that come from the same place that yours do. That they're motivated by the desire to get different results. 

In the absence of dissatisfaction or frustration, people don't grow. They just kind of cruise along. If you are, I've learned this as a parent, out in front of your kid sweeping the path clear for them always, they don't get to grow. They don't get to learn. They don't get to try something, and I hate to use the word fail. Let's just not even. But have the opportunity to say, “Oh, that didn't work the way that I wanted it to. What could I do differently?” They have to kind of struggle with that and that is their problem. Again, you can provide them with information. Like, “Hey, I just read this book. It was so helpful to me. Here's the title. You might want to check it out.” You're done. Now, it's on their side of a net and they get to decide A: whether or not that is even remotely relevant to what they think they need and to follow through with that. Your work here is done. You tried. Those are all different examples of things that are on other people's side of the net. 

Lastly, to put all this together, I'll give you kind of an illustration of this. In my role, so I certainly do therapy and coaching, but at this stage of the game, I'm really the clinical director of Growing Self, at this point. A lot of what I'm doing is managing a team. I provide clinical supervision but also working with different people to keep all the wheels on the bus. As a leader, my sphere of responsibility, I need to create a really emotionally safe environment for everybody on my team that values authenticity, that values growth. This basic idea that we all need to talk openly about how we're feeling, and what we need, and potential problems because the whole theme of everything that we do here is around growth: What can we learn? How can we improve? How can we make this better? And then, it's okay that there are problems because that gives us the opportunity to reflect on our actions and grow and learn. 

This is all a good thing but it's my job to, not just make sure that everybody knows that intellectually, but to help them feel that way in their interactions with me. How I respond to people, how I invite people to share their thoughts or feelings, and my reactions to that, that's my job, one that I take very seriously. It is also my job to hold up my end of the bargain with practical matters. There are all kinds of things that need to be done. I have a task list. There are things that I need to do that actually nobody else can do. I need to do that so I'm very careful about how I manage my time, and I'm taking those commitments really seriously. I think it's also my job to do as good of a job as I possibly can. I put a lot of energy and effort and intention into the things that are my job. Making these podcasts for you, I care about that. I can do some little 20 minutes super light non-deep pod… There's a time and a place but I don't do that. 

I really want to go deep with you so that it's a meaningful growth experience. I put hours and hours and hours in each one of these, which is great. I love it. I'm happy to do, and I'm not complaining. But I feel that is actually my obligation to you, to be present in that way. That's my job. Also, my job is to know what my strengths are and also what my liabilities are. What am I good at? And what am I not that good at? So that I can either very proactively take steps to kind of either get help for the things that I'm not good at or get real conscious about like, “Okay, I know I'm not the best in the world at time management so before I start my day, I need to look at my calendar. Set my timers so I'm not late to anything.” That's my job. 

It is also my job to share ideas and to ask for what I need and also to be selective in what I commit to. I have people come to me all the time with business ideas or things that we could be doing, and I have to say no to a lot of them. Because anything that I say yes to means that there's less time and energy and effort for stuff that I've already committed to that is really important. Being responsible and thoughtful about the boundaries that I set and also be clear about what I would like to have happen with other people on my team. 

I think that all of the things that are my responsibility accumulates to being trustworthy, being emotionally safe, and creating an emotionally healthy environment for other people where they feel valued and supported with me. It's my responsibility to show appreciation, to do as much as I can to nurture and support the growth of others. All things that are my job. 

What else is happening is that I expect that if I ask somebody on my team to do something, they will say no to me if they can't. Or say, “You know what? I have all of these other projects and when I really look at the amount of time these are all going to take, something has to give. I cannot do one of these, and do this thing that you're asking, or maybe we could schedule it at a further time.” But this super reality-based conversation about what's possible and what's not possible. 

I feel like it's also other people's responsibilities to say to me, “Hey, Lisa. This thing isn't working that well. I'm not feeling good about this process. I think that this needs to be better.” Instead of suffering in silence and trying to make do with things that maybe aren't actually good enough. But maybe they're having sort of assumptions laid out like they don't want to upset me or they don't want to cause problems. Or that old friend of “Well, if I were just doing a better job, I wouldn't be feeling so overwhelmed or defeated or whatever it is.” I disagree. I think it's their responsibility to be communicating with me about how they feel because if I know, then we can work together to solve the problem. 

I trust the people that I am in a relationship with to care enough about me and our relationship to set boundaries with me, to tell me how they feel, to be self-aware enough to know how they feel. Also, to communicate with me in an emotionally safe and respectful way that are like “Hey, we have a problem. What are we going to do here to fix it?” 

That's kind of a simple work-based example of all of this in action about what's my sphere of responsibility and what somebody else's. But as you reflect on your own job or your own roles in your family, to think about what are you creating in terms of the environment and your responses to people. What, perhaps, has been bleeding over that maybe you've been attempting to control something that is in someone else's domain or trying to manage the responses and feelings of another person? 

I have all kinds of clients. Super hardworking, super competent who will tell me that they're actually doing somebody else's job in their department. They're doing a job and a half or sometimes even two jobs because they have a really mercurial boss. They are afraid that their boss will be upset if they say no to them. That is so toxic. That is not okay. Again, to get clear about how to set boundaries in a healthy way and also to set limits and to take care of yourself. Because if your toxic boss is actually going to scream at you if you're not doing 1.75 jobs that is inappropriate for your job description, your responsibility is to be operating in reality and thinking, “Okay, can I communicate what I need and have the situation change? What do I need to do to try to make that happen?” “Do I need to start making other plans for myself if I'm in a legitimately toxic work environment that is unhealthy for me, that isn't going to change?” It's your responsibility to figure out your way out of that instead of continuing to be sad and frustrated and miserable because that's your job: to take care of you. 

Anyway, so many examples of these differences. If you are one of the people who has written to me lately asking about how to handle specific situations with your spouse or partner that you're feeling unhappy about, and what do you think I should do, or what I think you should do rather, I hope that this conversation has illuminated that the answer to this in a more meaningful way than some basic high-level advice would. There are growth opportunities here, primarily to you, that will then cascade out into your relationship and impact the results that you're getting. Or if you are one of the people that has written in on Instagram about a crappy job situation or how to deal with a really unreasonable boss, I hope that this discussion helps you clarify and design a much more comprehensive, and ultimately, effective path forward for yourself that's based on your long-term health and needs and goals. 

Personal growth is messy and the answers aren't always easy. It requires work and depth and thought and intention and also a lot of courage. Because it's also one thing to have these ideas and be reflecting on them, but it's a whole other level when you set out about to do them. Then, experience what that feels like when you do. I hope that you take this in the intention that it was created, which is me trying to do a really nice job, making a meaningful podcast for, you and I am bouncing it over to your side of the net to do with as you will. I'll be so interested to hear if you have any follow-up questions or reactions and how these ideas work for you as you implement them in your own life. 

Thank you again for spending time with me today and I'll be back in touch soon with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast.

[Outro song: O.P.P. by The Wimps]


How To Be More Confident

How To Be More Confident

How to Build Confidence In Yourself

How to be more confident? If you have (like so many others) ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt or compared yourself to others, you know that feeling confident can seem elusive. While wanting to be “better” can feel like motivation for personal growth or self-improvement, sometimes this self-criticism can actually impede your personal development.

Consider the paradox of wanting to be more confident: When we don’t feel as confident as we think we should, it then becomes just another thing to beat ourselves up about. “I'm not as confident as other people!” Or, “I should feel more confident than I do!” Oh, the irony! But learning how to build confidence becomes much easier and more attainable when we stop seeking to “feel” confident and feeling bad about ourselves when we don't and, instead, start focusing on our relationship with ourselves. 

Self Confidence … Through Self Compassion

Does your relationship with yourself feel healthy and supportive? Do you know how to love yourself, and compassionately coach yourself through challenging life experiences? Or do you beat yourself up, judge yourself, or inwardly criticize or condemn yourself as you go throughout your daily life? 

The path to learning how to be more confident means learning how to have a healthier relationship with yourself.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

For people who struggle with confidence or have low self-esteem, their harsh inner critic can feel like the part of yourself that “really knows the truth.” It can feel like it’s trying to help you be better, by pointing out your flaws or shortcomings. But what we know is that growth requires emotional safety and support. If your inner critic is always tearing you down and making you feel bad, it becomes paralyzing. If you’re constantly making mistakes and doing the wrong thing, it feels like you can’t do anything: Not even the things that would help you grow and heal. 

Then you’re stuck! 

How to Build Confidence In Yourself — Compassionately

The key to creating self-confidence is learning how to have an emotionally safe relationship with yourself. This is a personal growth process that can be a journey to cultivate, for sure. But the rewards are enormous. Not only will you feel more confident, but this type of deep personal development work can also help you feel more optimistic, better able to meet challenges competently, and — perhaps even most importantly — improve your relationships with others too.

But how? How to build confidence through developing a relationship with yourself? On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m pleased to do a deep dive into this topic with my guest, Dr. Aziz Gazapura. Dr. Aziz is a psychologist specializing in social anxiety and self confidence, and he’s sharing his insights with us today. 

I hope you join us for this episode, which is essentially a “masterclass” in how to be more confident. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or right here. If you’re more of a reader than a listener, scroll down to find shownotes and a transcript below. 

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Be More Confident

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

Music Credits: “Freedom” by The Originals

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How To Be More Confident: Podcast Show Notes

  • Why Is Confidence Important?
    • Confidence is essential to having emotional freedom to take risks, successfully manage challenges, and create authentic and meaningful relationships.
    • One of the primary reasons that people struggle with confidence and low self-esteem is that they have a harsh inner critic that’s making them feel terrible about themselves.
    • How to Be More Confident By Being Kind to Yourself
      • Confidence is an inside job.
      • The art of building confidence in yourself is akin to developing a positive, healthy relationship with yourself.
      • This allows you to feel secure from the inside out: You can take risks, try new things, and allow yourself to be authentically vulnerable. 
    • Building Confidence By Being On Your Own Side
      • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where you become more “on your own side.”
      • This endeavor does not need to be a one-man job. If it feels difficult to “talk back” to your inner critic, that can be a sign that you could benefit from the support of a therapist or coach.
    • Breaking Free from False Self-Protection
      • Often, it feels like the inner critic inside our heads is trying to protect us from harm or danger.
      • However, they’re an outdated protective strategy that feeds us information that is not necessarily true. It holds you back. 
  • Social Anxiety vs. Lack of Self Confidence
    • Signs of Social Anxiety
      • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
      • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance. However, the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront them.
    • Social Anxiety is a Verb, Not a Noun
      • Rather than having social anxiety, think of it as doing social anxiety. 
      • It is reversible as long as you put in the effort to break free of your patterns.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • Self Confidence: Be Willing to Fail Forward
      • The more you are willing to make mistakes, the quicker you’ll develop the skills that help you feel confident and competent.
    • Forge Verified Faith
      • Once you’ve practiced your social skills a number of times, you’ll be willing to take more risks. 
      • You then get faith in yourself that you can do it. 
    • Be Authentic, Not Nice
      • When you’re more focused on being nice, you approach people from a place of fear, not genuine love and connection. 
      • Doing this can build up resentment since you are unable to express your own needs and emotions.
    • Consider Therapy for Low Self-Esteem
      • Therapy is a good place to start. Your therapist can guide you through a systematic approach to build your confidence. 
  • Making Assumptions
    • We Attract What We Project
      • We're in an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. 
      • So when we have self-critical thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 
    • Negative Assumptions Are a Sign of Low Self Esteem
      • Most of us assume that people are against us because we are against ourselves. 
      • Initiate a dialogue with your inner voice so you can combat this chronic assumption. 
  • Building Confidence From The Inside Out
    • Cultivating a growth mindset that allows you to experiment and practice (with a minimum of self-judgment) is key to building 

[Intro Song]

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

[Intro Song]

Dr. Lisa: My guest today on this episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. Dr. Aziz has a background in clinical psychology but he's a real expert in confidence. He's here to talk with us today about why self-confidence is important and really kind of unpacking that term with us because we hear all the time from every direction that we should be more self-confident; we should have higher self-esteem. For people that struggle with this, that quickly turns into just one more thing that makes them feel badly about themselves, like, “Oh, god, no, I'm not confident enough.” So we really want to dive into this topic to explore what the impact of confidence is in one direction or another, on life, on relationships, on a career. Dr. Aziz, as a real expert on this subject, I'm so pleased you can join us today to share his wisdom with you. Thank you, Dr. Aziz.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Bobby. I do think that's ironic, right? Someone's feeling maybe a little bit low about themselves or anxious, and then they have this idea, “I should be more confident… urghh I'm not”, and then made worse. So that's, I mean, I'm so glad we're having this conversation. I did start by clearing that one up. So people are free.

Dr. Lisa: Let's just start there. Because it's true. I mean, I think people that struggle with self-confidence, which is, okay, hi, everyone, right? But doubts themselves from time to time. Like, there's always this giant list of things that we all need to be we all need to do. And now we have 75, self-anointed life coaches, and our Instagram feed every day jumping up and down, telling us that we should like ourselves more, be more confident. And it's just like, “Oh, okay, great. Why, why is that even important?”

How to be Kind to Yourself

Dr. Aziz: Sure. Well, I mean, from subjectively our own experience, I like to think of it as a relationship. If you imagine having a relationship with a friend or family member or a spouse, and what is the quality of that relationship? Is it are you connected? Are you distant? Are you loving and kind and patient? Are you impatient and frustrated and critical? And there's really no difference with the relationship with ourselves. 

We are either distant and disconnected and kind of zoned out and not really present with ourselves or we can be harsh, critical, impatient, judging, angry. When we live that way, whether it's a relationship with someone in your life or relationship with yourself, when you're living that way, it's painful. It can be limiting. It feeling bad aside, it also can be very restricting and limiting to your life because when you're feeling low about yourself, you're feeling like you are unworthy or unlovable, you're not going to take risks. You're not going to put yourself out there. You're not going to really live up to what you want to do and what you want to create in life. So I think it has a kind of a one-two punch effect on us when our confidence and self-esteem is low.

Dr. Lisa: I am so glad we're talking about this, this way and in this language because I think you said something just so insightful, which is really like that self-confidence, right? To be self-confident to be in this almost mood state of self-confidence. It's like people think that that means that they need to feel a certain way; they need to project themselves differently to others. It's almost like how they should be out in the world is air quote, self-confident. 

But I love the way that you're talking about this in terms that I think is much easier to understand, like more relatable, which is that let's just toss that self-confidence term out the window. Almost what we're really talking about, is the quality of the relationship that you have with yourself. Is it supportive? Is it patient? Is it kind? Or are you being mean to yourself harsh with yourself, beating yourself up, tearing yourself down? How does your relationship with yourself contribute to how you feel in relationships with others?

Dr. Aziz: It is the most important thing in a lot of ways because everyone can just use this as a little thought experiment. Imagine yourself spending a day with someone that you love, maybe it's a lover or a close friend or your spouse of 15 years. You guys got a little date time away from the kids and you're out in a beautiful park or near a waterfall or going to the movies or whatever you love to do with someone that you love. And I say, “Well, great, how are you feeling? What's that day like?”, and you say, “Well, inside my head, I'm judging myself, I don't think I look very good. I don't. My clothes don't fit well, and I'm boring. You know, I'm worried about what's going to happen next, because I'm not good enough.” 

It doesn't matter what you're doing. It doesn't matter who you're with. It's pain, it's suffering. So if we don't get a handle on that, if we don't learn how to work with that, those voices in our head, critical side of us, our insecure parts, if they run the show, if it dominates us, then we're going to suffer and of course, our relationships are going to suffer too, right? Because we're not coming out as our best or most free self, we're going to be a lot more restricted, a lot more guarded, a lot more inhibited. So it makes all the difference. 

I do think that thinking of it that way, as a relationship with yourself, I often say confidence is an inside job. Because if people confuse that persona, that bravado, that appearance of confidence, the people that like really puff that up, actually, and you probably know this from your work and everything. It's like the inverse inside, they're the most insecure; it's a compensation. So we want to step away from needing to look confident or be anxious inside and actually say, “Okay, how do we fundamentally approach ourselves and life so that we can truly feel more relaxed, more accepted, more acceptable, and then more courageous, to move forward and really connect with others in a deeper way?” 

Dr. Lisa: I love that. Just to hear you talk like you speak about this. So insightfully and so compassionately, and I hope that this is okay to ask about, just in looking through your materials, you mentioned that at an earlier point in your own life, it sounds like you struggled to have a good relationship with yourself and I can only imagine the amount of empathy and just genuine understanding that must have come from that experience. Is it okay to ask you about that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that is the source of not only my empathy for this and understanding but also my endless hunger to serve in this way. Because I experienced firsthand for many years, what it was like to live with pretty severe social anxiety and all of its cousins that people might not notice. But excessive niceness, people-pleasing, excessive guilt, worrying constantly of what other people think of me. So even after I got past some pretty strong inhibition and avoidance, and kind of broke through to the next level of at least appearing a little bit more confident, I was really tormented and suffered a lot with this relationship with myself. With that led to was this endless, obsessive hunger to say, “Well, how do I liberate myself from this? How do I? I was in therapy, and I go to workshops, I go to trainings, and I would always be listening specifically for that, “How do I like myself? How do I stop this critical beast in my head that seems like I don't, I'm not in control of it?”

Over time, fortunately, with enough growth and exploration, I was able to really discover how to shift that. We could talk more about that in this interview. But the beautiful thing is, I say, confidence is an inside job and we need other people. It's this beautiful synergy, right? I didn't really fully free myself. I mean, look, of course, we all have self-criticism, we all have some self-doubts. I'm not saying that that's gone forever. But I mean, it's night and day different the way I live my relationship with myself now, and it's not where it is today because I just did it all myself. It's truly other people. It's listening to shows like this. It's reading books. It's doing the work. 

As we do that, and as we take the risk to be more real and more vulnerable, as we change the way we talk to ourselves, we treat ourselves, you can experience a fundamental shift in the way that, I encapsulate this with people that I work with now, as I call it being on my own side. And in fact, the people I work with, the groups that I run, it kind of had, they came up with its own acronym, OMOS, on my own side, OMOS. That's a common phrase people will talk about is how you know how to be more on my own side because when we're on our sides that's kind of another way of saying what we're talking about here. So yes, I made a shift in my life from being many years very not on my own side, very against myself, to fundamentally residing where my center of gravity now is on my own side.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.  I'm glad that you bring up the part about how hard it is to do on their own, because it's almost like you're lost in this forest almost with this person who's mean to you and like telling you all these terrible things about yourself. I think that when you are alone in that, it's very easy to get tricked into believing that that mean voice is true. I think it requires a connection with somebody else, at least in the beginning stages of this journey to say, “No, don't listen to them. That is not true. Let me show you how to think differently or what to do to talk back to that inner voice.” It's very difficult to do that without someone almost like coming in to get you, and I want to say that out loud. Because again, I think a lot of times people believe that they should be able to do these things on their own, or like read a blog article or listen to a podcast and be like, “Okay, I know what I should do, now.” I just want to say that it's very hard to do this. It's one thing to hear what you should do, or what helps, but the doing of it is a collective endeavor, I think.

Dr. Aziz: Yes. The whole purpose of this inner critic, that's something I became very fascinated by, like, what's going on? This seems so maladaptive. This seems so not healthy, like what's going on. What I've discovered over time is… I love this idea of being in the woods being in the forest, and you got this character next to you that's criticizing you. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: But it actually as sort of purposeless as it might seem, just mean or it actually has a very specific function. The way I guide clients to see this, I said, “Well, what if that voice were true? You know, and it's, you're ugly, and you're not smart enough, and you're not gonna succeed?”, and all these things, like, if we were just to say, “Okay, let’s take it at face value, it's all true. Where is it steering you towards in your life?” When people reflect on this, what they often find is it is guiding them to downsize their life. To avoid risk, avoid stepping into the unknown, avoid trying new things, avoid connecting, avoid being vulnerable, and really kind of keep life as contained, armored, and small as possible, and so dense. 

Dr. Lisa: Protective

Dr. Aziz: It's a protective voice. Absolutely. It's an outdated, protective strategy to survive through basically armoring up and avoiding life. What's very helpful to see that, because once you start to notice it's actually the first step because all of a sudden, imagine you've had this character with you for years in the woods, and you think, maybe you think, “Oh, it's a jerk”, but you also think it's looking out for you. It's giving you real information. It's, maybe, it's even a friend or…

Dr. Lisa:  It's truth.

Dr. Aziz: It's a truth. All of a sudden, people start to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute”, and often tell like that's, I call it the safety police. It's trying to keep you safe by corralling you. I'll say that your safety police is not the voice of truth. It's a propaganda campaign to keep you in the woods to keep you out of your life. This brings us to other people because the safety police will love to say, “First of all, you know, you're screwed. Sorry, you're over. It's your genes. It's your family. It's your history. It's your age, it's your appearances, whatever, don't even try. And by the way, don't tell anybody about this, because you're so messed up. If people knew how messed up you are, they certainly wouldn't love you. So you got to work this out on your own. Just go read a blog article, listen to a thing, don't tell anybody.” Honestly, that's doomed to fail. We can get a little bit of insight, we can get a little bit of growth. 

I'm a big believer in education. That's why you have this podcast. I do my own. To really transform this in a fundamental way, we got to involve other people and it doesn't have to be so it could be paid help or counseling or groups. It could also just be like, “Okay, I'm going to read this book, but I'm going to talk about it with my friend, I'm going to talk about it to my spouse.” There so many people I come across who come into my world who want to do coaching or the things and they're like, “I can't tell my spouse” I'm like, “Okay”, I meet them where they're at. I make a note on like, “That's a problem.” because if you have so much shame, about the anxiety that you can't even tell the person extensively that you're closest with, that's a red flag that we want to make sure that we address so over time. You can because you're afraid right now, but that's going to be the biggest source of healing and liberation, to bring other people into your world and your safety police who's in the woods with you is going to yell ‘til it's blue in the face, saying, “Don't let anyone in. Don't let anyone. It's too dangerous.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to have a corrective emotional experience where you are emotionally intimate and vulnerable with someone who does love you and who is able to receive that in a healing kind of way is so transformational. I just also want to say out loud for the benefit of people listening to this who might not be in that situation is that it does also require an emotionally safe relationship. But I see that not everyone and not every relationship is ready for that kind of authenticity as powerful as it is. 

So as a couples counselor, one of the things we have to do sometimes, as people sort of grow together, like pacing themselves on each side because it can be very unhelpful, even damaging if people are like, “Okay, I'm ready to share and be vulnerable with you now” with a partner who is angry with them or not ready to receive them in that way. There can be I think, some couples work that needs to happen in order for it to be a good experience, and not another bad experience that supports that she is your safety police is then like, “I'm never doing that again.” I think that's what can be really confusing for people sometimes. 

Signs of Social Anxiety

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let's talk about this. One of the reasons that I wanted to speak with you is that in addition to your workaround like confidence in coaching. You have a background in clinical psychology and you've done a lot of researching and writing on the subject of social anxiety, which is, it's in the DSM, and it is sort of in that more disordered realm. I'm curious to know, how you would characterize serious for real social anxiety as being different from a confidence problem. How did you articulate that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's really a matter of degree when it comes to social anxiety. I think everyone experiences social anxiety. All that means is we feel fear of other humans. That's really what it means. And typically, it's a fear of being judged, disliked, rejected, and that underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy, unlovable. So that rejection means something damning about us because if someone is like, “Oh, yeah, someone might not like me, but I know that I'm okay.” or “I know that I'm worthwhile.” or “I know that I'm, even if I'm not good at this thing, I'm still a worthy human”, then the person's probably not gonna experience my social anxiety.

They might feel a bit of nervousness or something but it's a different ballgame. So there, we need those. Those are the sort of the fundamental agreements, and not agreements, ingredients for social anxiety. Again, we all know that experience, maybe it's at a party, maybe it's with someone you find attractive, maybe it's with a boss or a supervisor in authority, maybe it's in front of a group of people. I mean, people don't call public speaking social anxiety, when they're afraid to speak in front of a group. But that's what it is that some are afraid of this group of people. The more people, the more there's the potential judgment. Now, I'm more scared. So I think it's pretty prevalent. It's very common. Everyone's got it. It's just a matter of where and how often and how much does it come up for you. 

Now, most people, it comes up in certain areas, and then they feel more relaxed when they're not in that environment. When it starts to get into the more chronic or severe social anxiety, it follows you everywhere you go. You're nervous in a group of people. You're nervous on a date, or if it's severe enough, you might not even engage in these activities, you might not date, which is what I did, I didn't date for many years. I didn't speak up in groups. I wouldn't raise my hand. I wouldn't do all these things. Because the primary way that we deal with it when we're a lot of social anxiety is avoidance. Scary, it feels bad, so I want to avoid it. The problem with that is, the way avoidance works is the more we avoid something, the harder it becomes to confront it. Because we don't have experiences, we don't have evidence that we can handle it, all we see is it's dangerous. I avoided it. Glad I got out of that danger, better avoid it again next time.

To make things worse, the story is if I did speak up, if I did share, if I did ask that person that whatever it is, I would go terribly wrong. By never testing it, we solidify these stories of lack or not enough or unlovability. When people someone's got a long pattern of social anxiety, which the average person with social anxiety, more severe case of it will not seek any help for 10 years. That's unfortunate. That was my case, too. But what I love about social anxiety is though it is such a… people think of it as like a solid thing or “this is who I am, this is my genes” and it is so different than that is so much a pattern. It is a specific pattern that we run. I like to think of it more as a verb than a noun. So it's, I am doing social anxiety and as long as I do these certain patterns, I will have social anxiety and someone who just has more severe diagnosable social anxieties, “Oh, you've just done the patterns for longer and more environments and it's completely changeable. It's completely resolvable” And that doesn't matter. 

I've worked with people that had social anxiety for 40 years, and I've worked with people where it just kind of started to get out of control, maybe in the last year or two. Regardless, it can be changed, as long as someone is willing to make a change in their patterns, and be willing to step by step in a supportive, I love that you brought that up, in a supported way. Confront some of the things that are afraid of be open to things possibly being different, and to bring it back to earlier, to start with transforming their relationship with themselves. Because I know there's a one-to-one correlation, if someone has a high level of social anxiety, they have a high level of inner criticism, very toxic level of inner criticism that I've never seen. Anything other than that. So that's one of the first places we start.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It's so important too and I'm glad that you brought up the thing that can happen with social anxiety, or any kind of anxiety really, is that anxiety always leads us to avoid. Well, usually, anxiety can lead to other things, but many times it leads to avoidance. I mean, at a fundamental level, the antidote to anxiety is to move into it and do reality testing and try to do things differently. If you're not giving yourself the opportunity to have different experiences, both inside of yourself or with other people, what happens is that it enshrines anxiety. That anxiety almost gets more and more powerful and more and more true, because it's never, and I say true with my little air quotes here, because it is never questioned, it's never tested. 

It really requires a lot of courage and support, to begin to examine it. To think maybe the story in my head is not the whole truth. Maybe if I do start having a different kind of relationship with myself – treating myself differently – I can feel differently and have different experiences with other people. But it can be scary to start that process because as you brought up so astutely, it feels like an existential threat to do so that something terrible will happen. But I'm glad you're talking about it in this way.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. People think of it as like it's a brick wall, or it's a solid thing, or maybe a cliff is a better metaphor, right? It's real. I like to say instead of it being a brick wall, it's actually more like a curtain or a cloud of vapor, you can walk right through it, and yet, you don't tell someone… Yeah. Right. I love that. Yeah, you could tell someone that they're like, “I don't know, it looks like a wall to me.” That's why I love, love, love the power of groups. For years, I've been doing group work primarily, because it's so inspiring for people to see other people just like them, “Wait a minute, that person took a step in the, you know, towards their fear. Maybe I can, too.” One of my favorite things is, we would do them in person. 

I'm in Portland, Oregon. For this last year, I've been doing them all virtually. But we gather a big group of people, I have a workshop coming up, it's probably maybe 150 of us there. We will, I teach things and help people experience a shift in the room or the virtual room as it were. But then there's always an action step. So we will go out for a 30-minute break, and we're going to go do something. We're going to go test that edge right now. So even if people are alone in their city or whatever, during a virtual event, they come back together, and then we talk about it and we explore it. So what people have is they have an immediate experience. It's no longer theoretical, like, “Oh, I heard that in a book. Maybe I'll try it.” It's like I just did it and here's what happened. 

The way I see it is it's all positive. Either a lot of times people say, “Wow, I did this thing. And I mean, it was so much easier than I thought when I actually did it.” And sometimes people like “I did it, and it was really uncomfortable.” And then I'm still giving them a thumbs up. I'm like, “Great.” And then sometimes people will say, “I went out there and I try and I just, I was so in my head and I was judging myself, and it felt awful. And I failed.” And I still give that a thumbs up because I say, “You know, if you've been avoiding something for years, and you walk around, or you know, I'm gonna pick up the phone, or I'm not and you really wrestle with that edge of action. That already is a win.” Well, I think of it. Yeah, we think of it as like the action it's only a win. If I've leaped over, it's like no, even just getting ready is a huge win. 

We want to reinforce that. If it is really painful and you're beating yourself up, great, let's like let's study that. Let's get really curious. Because that's that's a piece of the social anxiety that you've been running. That's a piece of the pattern piece of the recipe that's been going for 10,20, 30, 50 years. If you discover it right now and you see it, you can start to change it, and that's liberating.

Dr. Lisa: It's so liberating, and I'm glad you are talking about that. So like, verbally with your group, because I think, to what can be very normal and expected, I think, from my perspective and your perspective, but maybe not sometimes for the perspective of our clients, is that if you have been struggling with social anxiety or low self-esteem and avoiding people because of that, that they're called social skills for a reason like there are actually skills involved with talking to people and making conversation and making eye contact. If somebody does this, I say that, and I think that people that have really been holding themselves apart from others, that they get rusty in some of those skills. Then when they do attempt to interact with other humans they may be awash in judgment when they're doing it, but also because they're sort of rusty, and they're like, “Oh, what do I do with my hands right now”, like that whole thing. 

How to Build Confidence in Yourself

Dr. Lisa: But sometimes they do come across as being rusty, and they have experiences with other people that make them think, “Oh, they hated me, I was terrible. That was horrible.”, really kind of needing to reframe that is, “No, this is why we practice is to test it out. And how did it go? And what were you telling yourself in that moment? And how did you feel? And how do they react?”, and really kind of like, using it all as learning opportunities to kind of like really learn how to be with people. I'm glad that you're offering people the opportunity to do that because that can be very hard.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That's what comes back to the we need other people, right? Because I'll highlight this in anything I'm teaching where imagine someone picked up the guitar, and they never played the guitar before – they played it maybe a handful times, five, six times in their whole life – then they pick it up. They're like, “I'm gonna play this song.” They can't play the song very well. Do you say… Well, I guess we're the kind of person… Right, it's like, “Well, I guess you're the kind of person who will never, never be good at the guitar. I mean, it's just not that hard for you.” Everyone kind of laughs because they see how absurd that is. But I'll point out that's exactly what we do when we have a couple of conversations. 

What we need to do, and I use the guitar metaphor is if someone wants to get better at the guitar, or my son, he's seven years old right now, he wants to learn how to play chess better, and yet, he doesn't. He hates losing. He hates losing so much even hates losing a piece. Like he was playing this morning with his brother and he lost his queen. He was in tears. He's like, “This is terrible. I'm no good, I lost.” What I'm trying to help him see is like, “Okay, you like to win?” He’s like, “Yeah, I like to win.” I was like, “Okay, you know, how do you think you win?” He's like, “Well, I guess had to play a lot.” “Yeah, that's right, you need to practice a lot.” And so if you practice, like what does that mean to practice a lot, though? I'm unpacking that with him. 

We can see it means making moves when you're not sure if they're good or not, getting feedback, and I lose my piece, and being willing to be messy, being willing to make mistakes, being willing to lose the pieces, being willing to lose games. I'm trying to help him see is that if he if he's willing to fail forward fast, like, the more he's willing to lose the faster and the better he'll become.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: That's not just for chess. That's not just for the guitar. That's for social skills. That's for public speaking. That's for being engaging and funny with a group. That's for dating. I mean, that's for every way that we can interact with people.

Dr. Lisa: That's so incredibly powerful. Such an important reminder that that kind of growth mindset, and how do you stay in the ring when it is hard? How do you identify with this idea of practicing is failing, is being uncomfortable, but that incrementally over time, we get stronger, and our skills build, and we feel better? 

I don't know if this is true for you, but in my experience, the core of self-confidence. Yes, part of it is inner dialogue and your core self-belief. But it's like, I think people who have had the experience of observing themselves, doing hard things and like developing competence and not giving up, that turns into this confidence that just is this like, very deeply felt. “Yes, I can.” It's because they have that it's rooted in this experience. To my ear, that is what you're describing.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if we think about confidence, the word actually comes from Latin — confidere means with faith. How do we get, how do we have faith? It makes me think. There's a book by Sharon Salzberg about faith. She talks about bright faith versus verified faith, and how we need both in our lives. Bright faith is that it's never been done before. We've never done it before. We just, we feel it’s possible. We're called to it. We hope, we wish. It's a dream and we have to have that because we gotta step into the total unknown sometimes in our lives. We got to do things we've never done before, or at least, hopefully we are for growing and exploring. 

Ideally, bright faith gets turned into verified faith, which is exactly what I hear you talking about is like, “I think it's possible for me to connect, you know, more freely with others and be comfortable in my own skin and laugh and be more focused in the moment and the conversation than on myself. I mean, I think it's possible.” That's the bright faith. But then once we've done it a number of times, once we've done we have to be willing to take those risks. All of a sudden, yeah, you've done it 5, 10, 20, 30 times, and someone's like, “Hey, you want to come to me to this dinner party? You want to come to this thing, this mixer?” Like, “Yeah, okay.” Because I know that you put me in a room full of people and I can interact, I can do that. That's that verified faith that only comes. We earn it, we forge it, we build it.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. important takeaway. Thank you so much for describing all of that, that's wonderful. I love the chess metaphor, too, with what your son is going through. It's so funny like we try, I'm a mom, to like trying to teach our children this idea of grit. It's really so instrumental in so many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to personal growth. I'm really glad that you're talking about it in that way. Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, too.

We've been talking about the importance of confidence, and we've been talking about the social anxiety piece. But you also wrote another book called “Not Nice”, which is about the overlap, the intersection of struggling with self-confidence or being worried about other people and a tendency to like, people-please, over-give, feel guilty. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about how those things are related.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I believe in a lot of ways that nice, and I called it Not Nice, it's a bit of a controversial title, people might hear that and think I'm suggesting people be jerks or cruel. What I very quickly address literally, unlike, aside from the copyright page and stuff, the first page of the book is a chart that says nice versus not nice, and it's got two columns, and it just really shows the distinction between what I mean by nice and niceness, for the most part, when people are behaving nice. 

They're not actually focused on kindness and generosity. They're focused on being polite. They're focused on not upsetting others, they're focusing on following the rules. They're focusing on getting approval. It's really often coming from a place of fear, rather than love and connection. That's how I'm using the word nice. I say the opposite of nice is not to be a jerk. The opposite of nice is authenticity. It's to be real. It’s to be boldly yourself. You say what's true rather than what's quote, “nice”. Yes, there's so much nuance to it. That's why that book is like 550 pages. There's still more nuance that I couldn't get to about, but I've tried to give a lot of examples of how do we really communicate in a way that's quite, “not nice”, that isn't just kicking down the door and telling everyone they're stupid. There's a way to persevere too, with kindness or with tenacity, keep bringing up a subject, or have the conversation you've been avoiding. 

Like anything else, there's a skill to that, and if we don't do it, we're not going to be good at it right away, we're going to be messy, but we got to lean in. Because what I discovered along the way is that this niceness that I'm talking about is just another form of social anxiety. It's like a more adaptive form. Instead of someone being really avoidant and I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm just going to live in my apartment and never go out, the nice manifestation of social anxiety is more functional. You have friends, you have family, you have relationships, you have work, you're much more engaged in life, but you're living a persona of the nice person. 

The person or the nice person, it's just a different cage. But you got to say, yes, most of the time, because if you say no, that's mean, that hurts people's feelings, that's selfish, you got to be giving almost all the time. Because, same thing you want to be mean or selfish, you don't want to hurt people's feelings by saying anything too direct or too real. So even if you feel away, or even if you have a perspective, you don't want to share that because that could upset them. What ends up happening is people are engaging with others, but they're not taking these risks. They're not talking about what they really want. They're not saying what they really want. They're not being who they really are. It starts to dead in their experience of life and relationships. It starts to build up frustration, starts to build up chronic health problems It starts to build up resentment inside because we're not able to take care of our needs really effectively.

The other person is walking all over me or taking advantage of me because we're lacking the boundaries and the assertiveness to be for people to really feel where we're at. We were actually being deceptive. We're hiding where we really are. I say I mean that because, like the social anxiety side, then I live with this excessive niceness for many years. It was really detrimental to my relationships, particularly intimate relationships. You can't be excessively nice and truly intimate at the same time. They're not the same thing. Yeah, that became such a common occurrence for myself. Then all the clients I saw this invite, I realized I had to write another book about that.

That book is guiding people on that journey from discovering niceness. Discovering maybe its toxic effect in their life, and then a willingness to step courageously into being more boldly authentic in their lives.

Dr. Lisa: That word that you just used, that courageous word is something that I often think about and talk about with clients. I hear what you're saying that the book is really about reconceptualizing, being nice as really being almost afraid, in some ways of relationships, and again, just sort of another manifestation of not wanting to rock the boat. But in doing so, it really hollows out that emotional intimacy at the core of a relationship. I think it's so, not just easy, but predictable for people who don't talk about how they're feeling and prioritize what they imagined to be the needs of others. Through that niceness, that they can become so resentful, or feel like they're getting walked all over. 

But I tell you what, as a couples counselor, the person on the other side of that often has no idea that they are being experienced, as you know, pushing boundaries or being insensitive or not loving, because their partner isn't talking about it. It's very interesting, like the meaning that people on both sides of that equation can make because somebody is becoming increasingly hostile and withdrawn and resentful, and their partner's like, “What is going on?” Because it isn't getting discussed.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to have those real, authentic conversations, and it feels scary, but boy without it, I think again, people feel like they're protecting their relationships by being nice, but it is exactly the opposite. They are like that mental image that's coming up is like the air being released from a balloon, right? That over time, there's just nothing there. So I'm really glad that you're talking about that.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great metaphor about the balloon, just the shell. That's all that's left is all you're left with is the structure of the relationship. No life, no vitality, no energy or passion to it. You're actually…

Dr. Lisa: Writing a real estate. Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, exactly. We're bound by our sales by our stability. That's in a way, that's really what the nice approach is, it's prioritizing too much stability, too much certainty, and not willing to step into the unknown and the uncertainty. That's what people do often in relationships. There's a lot of uncertainty.

In the beginning, “Is this person gonna like me? Are they gonna call me back? “I'm so excited.” Then what we want to do is we want to capture that and make it certain and make it predictable and make it controlled. That leads to structures that try to control it. But that also leads to a lot of our own behavioral patterns. I'm going to say this, but not that I'm, and that's what I see often, especially if you do a lot of couples work, I'm sure you see this, that people have been afraid to be real with each other for the last five years because now they feel like there's quote, “too much at stake.”, and yet, it's kind of like a slow bleed, where maybe you don't have any blowups, but you're losing in the long game. People not knowing that I really have seen that. 

In fact, I have a little metaphor I use in the book about boundaries to see to, and it's a little thought experiment to have the reader reflect on how expressive are you with your boundaries. So I say, imagine you're in your backyard, and your backyard is next to your neighbor's backyard. There's no fence in between just to cut the lawn goes across both. You're sitting in your back porch, and you see your neighbor gets out of his house, and he starts to walk over towards you. He walks into your yard and says, “Hey, how's it going?” As he walks, he walks towards you. He steps on some of the flowers you have in your garden. Then he goes over and there's you have your peach tree in the backyard and he walks over and he looks at your peaches like, “Oh my gosh, your peaches looks so great.” He grabs a peach juicy ripe one and bites into it and keeps walking towards you and says, “How you doing today?” I just say, “What do you do? What do you do in the situation? What's happening? Are you angry about the flowers? Are you upset about the peach? Do you say anything about the flowers? Do you say anything about the peach? Do you feel like, ‘oh, I don't know what to say so I can't say anything.’ Do you mention it?”

It's just a kind of silly thought experiment but it highlights exactly what you're talking about with couples with that person might be like, “What? I'm just being friendly. I'm coming over to say, ‘Hi.’”, and they have no idea they stepped on the flowers. They have no idea you have an issue about the peaches because you never say anything. If we really want to start to live with more freedom, we got to be able to say, “Hey, great to see you. And, you know, I've been saving those peaches, if you want to have some I can give you some but please don't pick on without talking about first though.: It's as simple as that, those little things. 

Sometimes, if someone's been nice for too long, they don't even think it can be that simple. They think it's got to be this huge nuclear combustion of like what you've always been doing the last 10 years is “I hate this about you.” It's like, actually, it's better for it to be more of like a combustion engine than a nuclear bomb going on just little things that you say here and there throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month. That might not even seem super confrontational. They're just simple statements, simple questions, that can really get you back on track.

Dr. Lisa: Totally. But again, I mean, going back to your original points about confidence, I can really see how that's so closely related. Because if you doubt yourself, if you feel like you shouldn't say that, if you shouldn't upset. People are working very hard to kind of like maintain relationships because you're pretty sure that people don't like you, or whatever it is. 

It's so hard to talk about how you really feel. There's that understandable, like tendency to withdraw. But that things build up to the point that when you finally do say something, it is World War Three, and you're like screaming at the neighbor for eating a peach, and he's like, “Okay”, back away slowly. It actually does mess up the relationship. So by stepping into that air quote, “conflict”, but that authenticity and talking about how you feel as you go, it's one of the most important things that any of us can do to maintain high-quality relationships. That's fantastic.

Therapy for Low Self-esteem

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. That's why just to bring it back to what I was mentioned, the workshops earlier, it's the same thing, and I run a group program that's all about helping people become more, that's called Total Social Freedom. It's about how do we really break out of that lifelong pattern of my avoidance and niceness and social anxiety and just be more free around others. 

What we do is we systematically build a 12-week program. Each week, there's another layer that gets added. I'm a big believer in the gradual exposure. I think, I don't know where it's in there somewhere in the middle of week, six, seven, they have an assignment to say no three times that week. The goal is like instead of having a world war three, you just build the muscle by lifting us like look for something small that you can say no to it's something really small, and the same thing, a couple weeks later, we have them like what's one conversation you could go have? That would feel like it's leaning into that edge, but it's not the most intense conversation in your life. It's just, can you go talk to that person?

I find that if we give people that support to systematically do it, then they start to build that confidence of, “Oh, I can do this, it can go well.” Ultimately, the goal that I have for people is not just to increase their confidence, but as a change in their identity. So they start to say, “Oh, I am the kind of person who can have direct conversations, I am real, I am authentic, I am directed”, becomes who they are. Because then they're going to behave that way more and more and more. Eventually, it just becomes that's their new reality.

Dr. Lisa: Wow, that's really powerful stuff. That experiential component where people are really actively doing that reality testing, like, “Okay, the voice in my head tells me this is going to happen. But when I actually did it, that happened”, and that over time without support are really accumulating this new sort of like encyclopedia of experiences that help them reconceptualize what's real, but most importantly, who they are through that. That's really deeply transformational stuff. That's really great. 

Hey, I know that I know that we don't have a ton of time left and wanting to wrap up. We have talked about the experiential aspect of building confidence, and also the identity pieces communication, circling back around though, so you and I both know, I think from our psychology background that the cognitions that people have around self-concept around how they think. Going back to that idea of how to have a better relationship with yourself. A lot of it is learning or relearning how to talk to yourself and sort of shifting from one kind of inner narrative to a new, more helpful one. 

Dr. Lisa: Are there any things that you've seen over your years of practice that are some usual suspects that people who struggle with confidence usually have going on in terms of their inner narrative and some shifts that you find yourself routinely encouraging people to make like I'm thinking of jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about how other people feel? Or have you seen other things to be more, more impactful?

Dr. Aziz: Sure, absolutely. I mean, at some of the common ones are feeling a sense of certainty about knowing what someone's perception is typically about you like it's the might be called mind-reading and cognitive therapy, take it one step further, I call it projected dislike, where it's not just I know what they're thinking about me, I know, they don't like me.  I just feel it when I walk into the room, and it feels very true. I'm certain of it. I'll even look for evidence and I'll confirm that and look for it, or make it happen in some way. 

We often bring about those reactions to us. Because of that, I think there's a lot going on nonverbally, energetically, emotionally. I think the more they study thought, it's really fascinating how much thought can be measured. So thought can be measured as waves if they put device, EG, on your, on your scalp, for example. But there's also it's a squid, have you heard of that one, the super quantum interference device, where they can have…

Dr. Lisa: Are you talking about particles behaving differently when people observe the experiment or not?

Dr. Aziz: This one is actually it's a, if we could find it, it's if you look it up online, that seven liter like squid, reading thoughts or something. It's like a device that's measuring something in the quantum realm. I'm not going to really understand the physics of it, but they can basically measure your thoughts from outside of your head. So the idea is if we have enough refined instrumentation, that probably are already discovering and probably going to continue to discover that your thoughts are emanating out of you beyond the boundary of your skin beyond your own head. 

It's the same thing with like the energetic field of the human heart has been measured out, like 10 feet or more than the roots 30 feet, I don't know. So this idea that we're like all self-contained is a sort of a outdated reality. What's much more true is we're an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. So when we have these very like self-judgmental, self-critical unmet enough thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: Then it gets real murky because really it’s “Aha! I knew it, you see?” So we really want to intervene on that one that jumping to the conclusion that people don't like me. What I always help people with that one on is, you think it's about them, it's about you, and you not liking you, or maybe more specifically, a part of you inside judges you. So what are you judging yourself? That's one of the first things that we start with people like, what's your list? What's your, I like to probably talk my books out of things, I like to take stuff that's maybe more complex, or I don't like to use a lot of psychological jargon with people, because I like to keep it very simple so people can just pick it up and run with it and tell say, “Let's make a why I suck list.” You have that, right? What is that for you? Because we have to start looking at what this grudge list that people have been holding against themselves for decades, ostensibly to make themselves better, or to pressure themselves into growing or whatever weak story is there. But we got to face that we got to start looking at that. We need to bring in a lot of that on my own side work. That's self-compassion work. 

One of the ways I'll have them do that is to start to dialogue with that critical voice too, and have a book called, On My Own Side, which guides people how to do this, where they can dialogue with that voice. Start to find the fear and vulnerability underneath that part and start to really get to the core of it, which is usually some sort of pain that's underneath that hypercritical voice and really meet themselves with a lot more love, a lot more patience, a lot more compassion, a lot more humanity. Then as they do that, it starts to melt away this chronic assumption that people are against me because you no longer are against you. You can start to see a lot more clearly.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow, powerful stuff, man. Just I feel like we could talk for two more hours about just all of these things that you brought up at the end about how we can really, through our thoughts and expectations, almost create the experiences with other people that support our preconceived ideas, which are based on how we feel about ourselves, not actually how others feel that it is a projection. That by really understanding that wounded part of yourself and having a dialogue with it and getting to know it compassionately. That's a very powerful path of healing.

Dr. Aziz: Yes, well said absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Good stuff. Gosh, well, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and perspectives on this important topic with us. Again, I feel like there's a lot more to talk about so if you would ever like to come back and continue this conversation, the door is open. 

Dr. Aziz: I would love that! A part two. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, a part two. But in the meantime, I'm sure my listeners are very interested in everything that you had to say. If any of you would like the opportunity to learn more about Dr. Aziz or his books, or his courses, or his groups, or all other fun stuff he has going on out. There's also a podcast called Shrink for the Shy Guy podcast. You can find them all at DrAziz.com. Is there anywhere else that they should follow you? Are you on social media or anything like that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean the website will link to all those things. But I'd say I'm probably most active on YouTube, we have usually one to two videos that come out each week where I'm teaching stuff for free, a lot of insights. Usually, what I'll do is I'll take run a lot of groups. So I'll take some of the key insights and teachings from the groups and then record videos that I think are gonna help everyone based on what we're doing in those. 

So that's a great way to get active to get support. So yeah, the website is a great place to start. You can look it up on look me up on YouTube, as well, more than the podcast, but any place that you want to get plugged in. I mean, that's why I'm doing this is to reach people who think, “Oh, this is who I am. I'm just I've been this way for x years. And I guess that's it.” I guess the final message I would have is like you don't have to settle. 

The past doesn't equal the future. In many ways, it's irrelevant how long you've struggled with something. If you're willing, you can make shifts really fast and not just manage it, but truly transform your experience of being around others. To really start to experience a level of intimacy and connection with yourself with others that gives life depth and meaning and fulfillment. That's absolutely possible. It's absolutely your birthright if you're willing to claim it.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. What a beautiful note to land on. Thank you again, so much for spending this time with me today. It's really been a pleasure. 

Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. Thank you.

Episode Highlights

  • How to be Kind to Yourself
    • You need to learn to work with the voice inside your head describing how you treat yourself and think of yourself.
    • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where “you are on your own side.”
    • To transform in a fundamental way, you need to involve other people such as counseling, groups, a friend, or your life partner.
  • Signs of Social Anxiety
    • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
    • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance.  And the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront it.
    • The way to deal with social anxiety is to test it. You need to be able to confirm that you are not unworthy and not unlovable.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • You would need someone to give you feedback. Someone who you can be messy with, make mistakes and be vulnerable to.
    • The more you are willing to lose, the faster and the better you'll become.
    • You would need bright and verified faith. Bright faith is the feeling that an action is possible without having done it before. It then turns into verified faith when you have accomplished the task several times.
  • Therapy for Low Self-esteem
    • An example is a 12-week program where gradual exposure is used.
    • The participants are encouraged to find small things that they can say ‘no’ to. This would result in being able to have authentic and better conversations with other people.

What Are You Communicating Non-verbally?

What Are You Communicating Non-verbally?

The Power of Non-verbal Communication

Oftentimes we think that “communication” refers solely to the words being spoken in a conversation. We are taught from an early age how to communicate our needs, thoughts, and feelings verbally to others around us. In our society, there is a high level of importance placed on language that is used in conversation to convey your message in the most understandable way possible to the listener.

While the focus on verbal communication skills is highly important, it means we could be ignoring what we are communicating to others non-verbally. This article aims to shed light on the ways that non-verbal communication can impact conversation with those around you, as well as suggestions on how to reduce non-verbal communication that could be negatively impacting conversations.

As a coach and therapist with Growing Self, I spend time in sessions to help clients reflect on what their non-verbal communication might be conveying to their partner, friends, family, etc.

What Is Non-verbal Communication?

Before we can move into how to reflect on your communication, and ways to reduce negative non-verbal communication, we need to first explore what falls under the umbrella of “non-verbal communication.” Simply stated, non-verbal communication is what takes place outside of the actual words that are being used in conversation.

Non-verbal communication has been studied and said to make up around 90% of communication, leaving the remaining percentage to be associated with the words we are choosing to use in conversation. There are many different types of non-verbal communication that exist and have the ability to impact conversations we engage in.

Paralanguage: This refers to areas related to vocal qualities such as tone, volume, pitch, etc.

Facial Expressions: Facial reactions can convey feelings about a conversation through smiling, frowning, squinting, raising your eyebrows, etc.

Proxemics (Personal Space or Physical Closeness): We can also non-verbally communicate by how much space we allow between each other in conversation. The norms or expectations for physical space can vary with cultures and settings.

Kinesics (Body Movements): This type of non-verbal communication covers bodily actions that are used in conversation such as head movements (nodding), hand gestures, rolling your neck, etc.

Touch: In some conversations, we may choose to hug or use light touches to convey meaning or understanding to others.

Eye Contact: With the use of eye contact, we can show others our level of interest in a conversation. When we are continuing to break eye contact or look off in different areas, it could convey to the speaker that we are not fully invested in the conversation.

Posture: This area focuses on how sitting versus standing or closed versus open body posture can impact a conversation. This type of communication has the power to communicate emotions and overall attitude about a conversation.

Physiology: While this area is more challenging to control, this refers to noticeable changes with parts of our body such as blushing, sweating, or beginning to tear up.  

Opportunities For Reflection

With non-verbal communication making up such a large part of conversation, there is seemingly no way to entirely eliminate non-verbal forms altogether. However, there are opportunities to reflect on how our non-verbal communication could be negatively impacting a conversation or conflict. 

Think about a time where your partner, friend, or loved one came to you and the conversation turned into a disagreement or conflict. I encourage you to reflect on ways that you used non-verbal communication to communicate your feelings of frustration, anxiety, hurt, or disappointment. In those moments, do you feel the conversation could have been impacted using non-verbal communication instead of conveying our feelings to the other person?

If there are people in your life who you trust to help you with this reflection, I encourage you to open up a dialogue about non-verbal communication that they have previously noticed you using. There is opportunity for this discussion to shed light on areas of non-verbal communication that you might not even realize that you use in conversation and/or conflict.

How To Reduce Negative Non-verbal Communication

Many clients I work with report having, as we call them, “default settings” with non-verbal communication. This may be rolling eyes, increased volume, head shaking while the other is speaking, and so on. I often see these “default settings” being used as a protective mechanism in communication. Frequently, when we are using negative forms of non-verbal communication, we are feeling hurt, disappointment, frustrated, or overwhelmed by the conversation or other person. 

Instead of naming our feelings, it can feel safer to communicate those things through non-verbal communication and hope that the other person picks up on our feelings. However, this can lead to a negative cycle where both parties are only utilizing non-verbal communication to communicate their feelings and can sometimes increase the level of conflict or disagreement that was already taking place.

Instead of falling back to our “default settings,” I encourage you to think about how the dynamic might change by being able to open up to the other person in the conversation about how we are feeling in that moment. I have seen drastic shifts in conversations when “I feel…” statements are used instead of letting non-verbal communication do the talking for us. 

By replacing an eye roll with “I am feeling really disappointed right now” can be a powerful turn in a conversation where both participants can then talk about their emotions. 

This takes practice to be able to feel comfortable with and requires challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone of relying on your “default settings.” With time, people feel more comfortable naming their emotions in conversation rather than putting the other person in the position to make assumptions based on non-verbal communication.

Another way to challenge yourself to change negative non-verbal communication is by thinking about the response you are hoping to receive in conversation. If we use a harsh tone, increased volume, or roll our eyes, we cannot expect a positive and gentle response from the other person. 

I encourage my clients to think about setting the other person up for success in conversation to give us the response we are hopeful for. If we are aiming to receive a gentle and understanding response, we have to be mindful to use an approach that gives this response the opportunity to be present in the conversation.

With all things, practice makes perfect. If you have been stuck in “default settings” mode for a while, then it will take time for this new way of communicating to feel like your go-to. 

There will be times of success with challenging yourself, and then there may be setbacks along the way. My hope is that the setbacks do not cause you to be hard on yourself but encourage you to think about how you want to be successful next time the opportunity presents itself.

Warmly,
Kaily

Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

[social_warfare]

Trust Yourself

Anxiety vs. Intuition, and How to Tell the Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Trust Yourself: Podcast Episode Highlights

Gut Feeling About Relationship?

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

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

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

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

Recognizing Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Listen To Your Intuition

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

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

When To Go With Your Gut

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Fear

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

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

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

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

To Know Yourself: Learn and Grow

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

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

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

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

Listening to Our Feelings

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

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

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

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

Patterns in Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting Yourself and Gaining Clarity

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Intuition

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

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

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

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

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

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Trust Yourself

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

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

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Trust Yourself: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Anxiety or Intuition

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Intuition vs Anxiety 

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

 

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

Feeling or Thinking 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Self Development

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

 

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

Individual Therapy

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

 

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

 

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

 

Trust Yourself

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Anxiety Support 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger is a Secondary Emotion

What's Your Anger Telling You?

Anger is one of the first emotions we learn as a child. It is easy to express, and therefore usually the first emotion we show when we are upset about something. The problem is that anger is a secondary emotion or an emotion that only shows what is happening on the surface. 

I often use the “iceberg analogy” with my clients to talk about anger as a secondary emotion– When you think of an iceberg, you might immediately visualize a large piece of ice floating on the surface of the water, however, what we often forget is that there is a massive chunk of ice underneath the surface as well. Maybe you’ve heard of the expression, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg”? The same is true with anger!

Anger is what is happening on the surface, and if we keep exploring underneath, we might begin to see the larger picture of our emotional experience. Underneath we find our “primary emotions,” the ones that explain where our anger comes from (e.g. shame, fear, disappointment, hurt, and loneliness). If we are able to access these primary emotions, then we can communicate them to others. Doing so also helps us resolve those emotions quicker than simply responding with the secondary emotion, anger. 

Where Your Anger Comes From

Anger is not bad. Yep, I said it! Anger is actually a very useful tool that we’ve picked up as humans to protect ourselves. You see, in moments of anger, our brain sees a threat and is trying to protect us from it. In fact, our brain is triggered into its “survival mode” where we find our fight, flight, freeze response, which in most cases is demonstrated with anger.

Long ago, our ancestors were faced with real-life threats, such as bears and snakes, and they needed their brain to kick into survival mode instantaneously in order to live. While we don’t necessarily have the same predators lurking around our neighborhood today, our brains still operate in the same way, only this time the threat might be your partner yelling, your child throwing a temper tantrum, or someone cutting you off on your way to work. 

Your brain kicks into survival mode, your heart rate, and blood pressure increases, your pupils dilate, and you might get flushed or hot. The blood rushes from the front of your brain where logical problem solving occurs and settles in the back of your brain where your flight, fight, freeze response occurs. Your body is preparing for an attack and is using anger as a defense mechanism to protect you. While this was helpful for our ancestors, it's not as helpful for us (unless you're hiking and encounter a mountain lion!). 

Vulnerability and It's Connection to Your Anger

Vulnerability makes us susceptible to pain, the opposite of what our brain wants when it feels threatened. Even the word vulnerability is defined as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” in the dictionary.

Since we know that our brain is usually operating in survival mode when we feel angry, it is very hard to convince our brain that being vulnerable with our emotions is a good idea! Our brain is looking right back at us saying, “Yeah, yeah, nice try chump.”  But what if the threat our brain is perceiving isn’t really a threat at all? What if we’re expending so much “survival energy” just to push away people who actually care about us and want to help us survive?

It makes me think… maybe we should redefine vulnerability? 

Maybe being vulnerable with our emotions can actually help us find a deeper connection with others. There are some cases when vulnerability is not a good idea, such as when emotional or physical abuse is happening. In those situations, your brain is doing its job very well. However, most of the time, what we are experiencing is not a threat to our existence. In fact, sometimes it’s the very opposite! It’s a moment when a loved one might want to connect with you in an intimate way. However, we often miss out on these moments when we react in anger. 

Stop The Cycle of Not Allowing Yourself to be Vulnerable

Little by little, teach your brain that it is safe. This requires consistently taking a risk. Putting yourself out there, sharing your primary emotions, and trusting that the other person will respond in kind. I know, I know, this is scary stuff! Especially if you’ve lived your whole life avoiding vulnerability. But isn’t it worth it to experience an intimate connection with someone you know you can trust and love? 

As hard as this may be, the good news is that our brains are incredibly flexible. We can shape it and teach it our whole lives if we try! The more you practice vulnerability the easier it becomes, because your brain is learning that there’s no actual threat to your survival. 

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

3 Steps to Better Communication When Angry

Step 1: Help your brain! The blood needs to move back to the front of your noggin where logical thinking occurs. The best way to do this is by giving your brain more oxygen to move the blood back where it belongs. Try taking deep breaths, leave the room momentarily to take a break from the “threat,” or simply find a mantra that reminds your brain it is safe! I tell my brain, “You’re okay, just breathe.”  

Step 2: Think about the iceberg. Ask yourself, what’s really going on underneath the surface here? Do feelings like shame, fear, or hurt explain what I’m experiencing better than anger? Try using an I feel statement to describe what you're feeling at that moment (I feel _____ ). But instead of filling in the blank with “angry”, reach for a word that tells the fuller story. 

Step 3: Remind yourself that you survived! Your brain saw a threat, you helped it realize you are safe, and you practiced vulnerability by communicating how you’re really feeling underneath the surface. If you did it once, you can do it again. And the more we practice the easier it is for our brains to realize there’s no need to “survive” next time. 

As a couple’s, family, and individual therapist, I’ve had the privilege of watching countless people take control of their brains and risk vulnerability which ultimately leads to a beautiful connection with their partner, friends, family, and many other people in their lives. Regulating anger can be a difficult and scary task, but it is possible. So in the words of the great Gloria Gaynor, tell your brain, “I Will Survive!” 

Warmly,
Georgi Chizk

 

Bentonville Arkansas Marriage Counselor Bentonville Therapist Bentonville Premarital Counseling Bentonville Family Therapy Online Therapy Arkansas

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

 

 

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