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.


Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself


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.


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

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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What Are You Communicating Non-verbally?

Is non-verbal communication helping or hindering your most important conversations? Find out how to communicate better here! Texas Therapist and Communication Expert, Kaily M. shares her non-verbal communication advice on the Love, Happiness and Success blog.

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Happy, healthy relationships are built on healthy boundaries. If you struggle to establish boundaries, understand your boundaries, or even define your boundaries to others, this episode is for you!

I am talking with Denver Therapist, and Boundary Expert, Kathleen Stutts and we are going to cover the basics of boundaries and then dive into the nitty-gritty of establishing your boundaries in relationships so that you too can feel empowered in your most important relationships!

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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!” 

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.



Real Help, To Move You Forward


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



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



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

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Toxic Shame

Toxic Shame

Healing Toxic Shame

What is toxic shame? Shame is a normal emotion that many of us feel from time to time but don’t often recognize. Most of us will experience shame in our lifetime and it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong or “bad” about us. Usually, it feels like wanting to hide, trying to camouflage or blend in, and feeling bad or worthless. Shame can be really informational about our experience and how we react to certain events or people. Toxic shame on the other hand is taking these feelings and expanding on them. When there is an interference in your normal life due to feelings of shame, it can be an indicator of toxic shame. 

If you are reading this and it’s resonating with you, you are not alone. As a Colorado therapist and online life coach, I work with clients around feelings of shame and establishing a healthy relationship with their emotions, life events, and people. If feelings of shame are impacting your life, causing unhappiness, distraught, or the inability to fully live your life, go to work, or interact with others – then you may be experiencing toxic shame. 

In this article, I hope to shine some light on toxic shame, what it looks like and how you can begin to heal if you are experiencing toxic shame in your own life. If you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please feel free to share this content with them. We all struggle with shame from time to time, if it’s causing you or a loved one to live a life of hurt and loneliness – it may be time to reach out for help. 

Signs of Toxic Shame

When shame crosses the line into toxic or unhealthy territory, it can look like:

  • Obsessing over your mistakes to the point of interfering with sleep/work/relationships
  • More often than not, feeling worthless, hopeless, ruined, or bad
  • Feeling as though you deserve bad things to happen to you or that you don’t deserve good things
  • Saying sorry repeatedly for things
  • Feeling as though you need to overextend yourself to make others like you
  • Basing major life decisions on the feelings of shame (for example, passing on a promotion because you don’t think you’re “good enough” even when you’re aptly qualified.)

Do you relate to any of the above? It’s okay if you do, it doesn’t mean that there’s no way out. In fact, there is a way out – and there is a happier, healthier you on the other side of toxic shame. Working through and healing from toxic shame is a process, but with time and a good support system you can start to see changes take hold!

When beginning this healing process, I like to discuss the difference with my therapy clients between normal shame and toxic shame – it can be helpful to better understand how shame shows up in your life, why it shows up, and how to work through it if you can first determine what’s toxic versus what isn’t.

Where Does Toxic Shame Come From?

If you experience shame, congratulations, you’re human! We all experience it from time to time. There’s not one cut and dry answer for why toxic shame exists. Focusing into these feelings can be insightful into the potential reasoning. Although figuring out the reasoning could be relieving and informative, I want to mention that it’s okay if you don’t know. What matters is that this is something that resonates and affects your life, regardless of the “why” behind it.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

How Do I Stop Experiencing Toxic Shame?

Toxic shame thrives in avoidance, ignorance, and secrecy, and it wants to keep you isolated. By illuminating our feelings and giving them attention, we can start to protect ourselves from feelings of toxic shame. 

It can be painful in the beginning to show up for yourself in this way. If you have been experiencing toxic shame for sometime, you might feel like the darker blanket of avoidance is more comforting than the unfamiliar air of illumination, but if you sit in the sun for just a little bit you’ll start to feel the warmth of bringing to light toxic shame and working through the experiences that hold you back. 

If you want to make lasting changes in your relationships, workplace, and personal life – the first step is going to be identifying your toxic shame triggers and developing techniques to help you heal. 

Here’s a list of other things you can try when experiencing toxic shame:

  • Identify your triggers (think about emotional states, people, places, or events that increase your shame)
  • Create alternative thoughts or coping techniques
  • Talk with a therapist or coach about your shame
  • Confide in your friends and family about your experiences with shame (it’s likely they’ve had similar experiences!)
  • Find a mantra that you can tell yourself in times of shame

Is there a Treatment for Toxic Shame?

Unfortunately there isn’t a magic shame pill or “Stop it!” button to help us from experiencing toxic shame. I believe that if you’ve already identified that toxic shame is something you struggle with, you’re already on your way to healing. Self compassion is a useful tool to help combat toxic shame.

If you aren’t familiar with self compassion, I encourage you to reach out to a friend, loved one, or support group that can help encourage you on this journey. Many times when we are stuck in an unhealthy place – it’s hard to see the good or light that may be part of us or surrounding us – having someone or a group of people who can help call out the good and lovely in you can be very helpful. 

Here are a couple ways to practice self compassion:

  • Accept that the moment is painful or uncomfortable
  • Respond kindly and gently to yourself
  • Honor your feelings
  • Remember that imperfection is part of being human

For more information of self compassion and tips for practicing self compassion in your daily rituals see:
Mindful Self Compassion
How to Practice Self-Love
Emotional Self Care When Your Life is Falling Apart

Getting Help for Toxic Shame

Sometimes it’s difficult to face toxic shame alone, and you shouldn’t have to. Working with a trained professional, whether a coach or counselor, can help you navigate toxic shame, vulnerability, and self compassion. When working through toxic shame, you may experience other emotions that come up – anger, hurt, unforgiveness, feeling unworthy, overwhelmed, or sad all the time. I want to remind you that there is good for you, there is happiness, and you can feel confident and worthy once again. It just takes time. 


Wishing you warmth and healing, 
Megan Brice


Denver Career Coach Online Career Counselor Therapist in Broomfield Online Therapy

Megan Brice, M.S., LPCC is a career counselor, life coach and therapist who creates a warm environment for you to explore the depths of who you are, so you can grow. She challenges, encourages, and empowers you to embrace transition in order to create future fulfillment.



Real Help, To Move You Forward


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



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



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

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Empowerment In The Workplace

Empowerment In The Workplace

Empowerment In The Workplace

Empowerment in The Workplace

Empowerment In The Workplace

EMPOWERMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: Have you ever felt disempowered at work? Like your voice isn’t heard, your needs and rights aren’t respected, or that your efforts go unrecognized?

Sadly, feeling disempowered at work is an everyday reality for many of the professionals who come to us for career coaching and professional development services here at Growing Self. This is a tough space to be in, especially if you’re in a career that you love otherwise. 

Empowerment in the workplace is crucial for your long term success. Even if you love the work itself, if you’re in a situation where it feels like your colleagues or leadership are keeping you down it’s an unsustainable situation long term. Feeling disempowered on the job can make you feel withdrawn, can contribute to feelings of burnout, and can even make you feel depressed!

The good news is that there are things you can do to cultivate empowerment in the workplace. We are discussing them ALL on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast! 

Empowerment at Work

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

Mory has so much to share: She works closely with leadership and executive teams as a “purpose coach”  to create company cultures that are healthy and affirming. She also has lots of experience in helping talented professionals from historically underrepresented groups, like women and minorities, learn how to advocate for themselves, get the respect they deserve, and advance professionally. 

Understanding Personal Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic Work Environments

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

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

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

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

Professional Empowerment

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

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

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

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

5 Powerful Takeaways from This Episode

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy This Podcast?

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

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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



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Empowerment at Work

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

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

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



Real Help, To Move You Forward


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



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



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

Empowerment in The Workplace 

Access Episode Transcript

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

[Like Calling Up Thunder by The Gun Club]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mory: Absolutely. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mory: 100%. Yeah, absolutely. 

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

Mory: Yeah, let's do that. 

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

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

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

Mory: Absolutely.

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

Mory: Okay.

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

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

Mory: Right, right.

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

Mory: Absolutely. 

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

Mory: Yes.

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

Mory: Yeah.

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

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

Dr. Lisa: The system, yeah.

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa: No, it’s not. 

Mory: And that is what people are proving.

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

Mory: Correct.

Dr. Lisa: You have to take it. 

Mory: You take it.

Dr. Lisa: You take it.

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

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

Mory: Alright.

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Whoa, complete loss.

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

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

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

Mory: Absolutely.

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

Mory: Exactly. Correct.

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

Mory: Right?

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

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

Dr. Lisa: That is awesome. 

Mory: Yeah.

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

Mory: I love that.

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

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

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

Mory: Correct. Yes.

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Okay.

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

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

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

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

Mory: Right. 

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

Mory: Yeah, that would be so…

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Sure.

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

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

Dr. Lisa: Okay. Yeah.

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

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

Mory: Yeah. Exactly. 

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

Mory: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Sure.

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

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

Mory: Yeah.

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

Mory: Well, and let me tell you this…

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

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

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

Mory: Yes. 

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Ugh. 

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

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

Mory: Yeah, the society.

Dr. Lisa: Like, ugh.

Mory: Yeah.

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

Mory: Yeah. 

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

Mory: That's a whole other podcast.

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

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

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

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

Mory: Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: Six months in, right?

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

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

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Mory: And so, I always…

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

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

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

Mory: Right.

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa: I see.

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

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

Mory: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Mory: Uh-huh.

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

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

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

Mory: 8-22. Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa: The number 822group.com is the website, and she's also on Instagram at @moryfontanez. Mory, thank you so much.

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


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