Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter Life Crisis

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

Your friends are sending out wedding invites, but you’re still swiping. Your college roommate just updated her LinkedIn with a plum promotion, and you’re wondering whether you want to start over in a new career entirely. By this age, your parents had a mortgage and an infant, and you’re not feeling settled enough to adopt a dog. 

Does this sound like your life? If so, you may be experiencing a quarter-life crisis, or at least flirting with one. A quarter-life crisis happens when we realize we’re not where we think we “should” be in life — or when we realize that the goals we set for ourselves as very young adults don’t match up with the people we’ve become by our late 20s or early 30s. 

A quarter-life crisis, like its midlife counterpart, leaves you feeling stuck and uncertain. But there is a path forward, and following it can bring about a personal growth spurt that will serve you for the rest of your life. 

That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode of the podcast, which I’m so excited to share with you. My guest is Megan R., a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. Megan often works with clients navigating this important life phase, helping them find clarity not only about their career paths but about every area of their lives. She’s sharing tips on how to find the right career for you, how to use your internal guidance system to make big, life-changing decisions, and how to ride the waves of doubt and uncertainty that a quarter-life crisis can bring. 

This is a challenging season, but it’s also one that’s teeming with possibility. I hope this conversation helps you see the opportunity in your quarter-life crisis, so you can emerge clearer and stronger than ever before. Some day, you may just look back and think your quarter-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

I think you might. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

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

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

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Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis: Episode Highlights

We all like to feel confident about where we’re headed in life. When we realize we’re not so sure — that, in fact, we may be totally lost — it feels scary. 

But a quarter-life crisis doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. It can be a powerful springboard for growth, if you know how to use it. 

What is a Quarter-Life Crisis? 

Many people in their late 20s or early 30s arrive in counseling or coaching in soul-searching mode. They’ve often started asking themselves big, life-shaping questions, like: 

Am I on the right career path? 

Is my partner “The One?”

Do I want to have kids? 

Should I go back to school?

Do I want to move across the country and start over somewhere new? 

The popular term for this period of uncertainty is a “quarter-life crisis,” and while it’s not a phrase you’re going to find in the DSM, it is a real experience shared by many young adults. 

As the name implies, a quarter-life crisis is uncomfortable. But it’s also an opportunity to gain clarity about who you are and what matters to you most, and then use that insight to move yourself closer to the life you want.

Signs of a Quarter-Life Crisis

No two quarter-life crises look exactly the same. 

Yours might manifest as a feeling of stuckness in an uninspired career, or in a relationship that you know isn’t right for you, but that feels difficult to end. 

It might show up as feelings of regret or despair over not being where you wanted or expected to be at this point in your life, and painful comparisons with your peers who seem to be. 

Or, you may have realized that, even though you have accomplished the goals you set out to accomplish, you don’t feel the way you expected to feel. 

Since many of us define ourselves by our jobs, relationships, and life goals, a quarter-life crisis can strike at the very core of your identity, making it a deeply unsettling experience. Working with a good coach or counselor can help you find the courage to look for answers and then act on them with intention to change your life — without having a full-on breakdown. 

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

Many people in the midst of a quarter-life crisis feel left behind. They may be RSVP’ing to wedding after wedding, without a significant other to mark down as a plus-one. They may be scrolling through Instagram feeds populated by new homes, new engagement rings, and new babies, while feeling mired in a less-established life phase themselves. 

In previous generations, people got married, bought homes, and had children at younger ages, because they were living in an economic and social context that no longer exists. Still, young people today who haven’t reached these milestones may be comparing themselves to their parents and wondering if they ever will. 

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and that certainly applies to anyone experiencing a quarter-life crisis. By resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others, you can empower yourself to carve out your own life path, embrace your growth process, and feel better about your life. 

Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

You can emerge from a quarter-life crisis more confident about who you are and what you want, if you use the experience to make positive changes in your life. 

Here are some steps you can take if you’re in the midst of a quarter-life crisis to feel confident about the future, and at peace in the present: 

Explore your Values

Spend some time reflecting on what matters to you the most. It could be family, financial success, independence, partnership, creativity, community, or any number of other important pieces of life. When you have clarity about what you really value, you’ll feel more confident making choices about your future. 

Forgive Yourself

You might be experiencing a lot of regret. Maybe you feel that your education was a waste, given that you’re now contemplating a career change. Or maybe you regret spending time in dead-end relationships, and worrying that you’ll never find a life partner. 

In reality, nothing in your past was a waste. It can all be made useful if you’ll use it to guide your future. Practice forgiving yourself and moving from regret to self-compassion. Make meaning out of where you’ve been, and incorporate that meaning into the story of where you’re going. 

Listen to Your Internal Guidance System

Most feelings have a purpose, even the painful ones. If you’re having a quarter-life crisis, your feelings are alerting you that it’s time to grow. Listen to them. 

You can take good care of yourself emotionally, without stuffing those feelings down or avoiding the big changes that they’re pushing you to make. A good coach or counselor can help you take wisdom from the uncertainty, fear, or hopelessness accompanying your quarter-life crisis, and use those feelings to begin writing your next chapter

Episode Show Notes:

[2:42] What Is A Quarter-Life Crisis?

  • Many coaching and counseling clients in their late 20s or early 30s feel unhappy and unsure about what they want. 
  • To begin probing your own quarter-life crisis, ask yourself: What's going differently from what you expected?

[06:01] The Beginnings Of A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • We choose our careers early in our lives, before we have a clear sense of who we are and what would make us happy. 
  • By age 25 or 30, we often define our lives by our skills and careers.
  • When we realize our careers — or our relationships, or any other major life area — aren’t what we want, it can spark a period of soul searching. 

[09:15] Signs of a Quarter Life Crisis 

  • You may feel stuck or aimless. 
  • It's also common to feel despair, anxiety, and regret.
  • You may be comparing yourself to your peers and feeling that you fall short. 

[15:45] Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

  • People in a quarter-life crisis tend to feel left behind.
  • We are not in the same economic or social context that our parents were. 
  • Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to feel inadequate and unhappy. 

[30:48] Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

  • Make meaning out of where you've come from. 
  • Strengthen your “why.”
  • Share your vulnerabilities with your closest support system, and reach out to a qualified coach or counselor if you need help.

Music in this episode is from Lone Elm with “okaynowwhat.”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited for today's episode because, today, we're talking about how to navigate a quarter-life crisis. Now, “quarter-life crisis” is not a clinical term, and you're not going to find it in the DSM. People are usually not literally freaking out and falling apart. But this is kind of an existential crisis that we do actually often see with clients at a certain phase of life, here at Growing Self.

It's often people in their late 20s, early 30s, who are showing up in counseling, coaching, because they've started asking themselves some big questions. Often for the first time, they're thinking about where they are in their lives, in their careers and their relationships, how they got here, and kind of contrasting that with where they had wanted to be or where they had expected to be in this point in life, or even how they imagined it would feel to be at this point in life.

There's a disconnect there that helps them recognize that maybe they're not doing what ultimately they would like to be, but they didn't realize that without having some life experience first. This can all be a very uncomfortable experience, but also ultimately, a very positive one because it opens the door for some really meaningful self-reflection that generates a lot of positive change.

If any of this is sounding familiar to you, I am so glad that you're here with us today. We're talking about how you can use this crisis as a springboard for growth and come out of it to be more clear, more confident, and ready for the next chapter. With me today to talk all about this, is my colleague, Megan R.

Megan R.: Hello, good to see you.

Lisa: We're leaving our options open, Megan. Quick introduction — Megan is a career counselor, career coach on our team. Just before we started recording, she was sharing with me — Megan, if I may mention this. Is this okay?

Megan: Absolutely.

Lisa: Recently got married. Maiden name is Rankin, married name is Riley. Still a little bit up in the air which way that one's going to fall, so you shall be known as Megan R.

Megan: You know what? It works. When I got my email at Growing Self, I was like, “No matter what I choose, I’m set as Megan R.” Maybe this is part of my quarter-life crisis.

Lisa: It could be.

Megan: It’s trying to determine what is my new identity?

Lisa: What is my name? 

Megan: How do I name myself?

Realizing You’re Having A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: How very appropriate. Well, thank you so much for being here with me today, and sharing your wisdom and insight on this phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis because I know that so many people come to you for help in exactly this situation. Maybe, we could just start with your understanding of what's going on with people when they're like, “Wait a minute, this is different than I thought it would be. Maybe I'm not doing the right thing.” What is that about in your view?

Megan: Absolutely. But quarter-life crisis, it's a newer term, right? We've got mid-life crisis. A lot of people are more familiar with that one. We are seeing a trend towards it happening potentially earlier. It's doesn't get rid of our mid-life crisis, but it's happening sooner for some folks, and it presents in career most.

A lot of times, once clients do come in, they're walking in the door, saying, “Oh, it's my job. I'm not happy with my job.” That's part of it, and I'm glad that that's what gets them on in. But as we get deeper and deeper, we do realize that the quarter-life goes pretty far outside of career. It is relationships, it is where are you living, it's your social group.

Developmentally, in that stage of life, a lot of things are transitioning, and your career is usually the most obvious one. You come on in and you're like, “I'm miserable. I don't know what to do.” We're going to talk about what is going wrong, what isn't going right, what wants to come with you. I loved when you had said, “How is it different?” Because you do hit a point in your career, even in your relationships in your life, that you say, “I had some of this going differently in my mind. Didn’t I?”

Lisa: “That did not turn out the way I planned.”

Megan: It's frustrating, it's scary, it can be disheartening. A lot of people come in and they're like, “I'm not happy with myself. I thought I would do it differently.” There's stuff to unpack there, but the crisis, thankfully, isn't a full-blown crisis.

I don't often get people in meltdown mode, but you are close to that. You are in so much stress and despair that a crisis could feel like the next step for you. It's, unfortunately, a more common experience. COVID has only exacerbated the rates of it and the experience of it, and I'm sure we'll get into a little bit more of that. But it's pretty common at this point.

Lisa: Well, I can see why. I'm saying this as somebody who is much older than you are, but I think I went through a quarter-life crisis in my late 20s. But now, from my perch as a psychologist, what I know now that I didn't know then it's just a huge amount of growth that people experience in that life. I mean, you're a very, very different person in your early 20s. 

When you're making, unfortunately, career decisions like, “What am I going to major in?”, the internships, the first positions right out of school — you are not the same person by the time you're 30, and there's a lot of evolution there. Is that what you see as being the, “How did this happen?” part for yourself, or do you think there are other things? A lot of kids get railroaded into majors and career paths, and they're like 18 years old.

Quarter Life Crisis at 25/30 years old

Megan: Well, I was going to say, I think it starts even earlier than your 20s — these long-term decisions that we're making. You're in high school, and they're asking you about, “What is that elective course you want to take?”, “What's the classic option — business or psychology?” While those are fabulous things to test out, it's only two things in this giant world of career.

Even, pretty much prior to our knowledge, or even conscious awareness, we are beginning a track for ourselves. I find, a lot of times, it's an outside pressure, but it's also an inside lack of resources, which sounds horrible, but it's what's happening.

If you think about 25, 30, when this transition happens, usually the reason you're feeling stuck is because you do lack skills and resources to think critically about what's going on. You know something's wrong, but you're having a trouble putting a name to it, knowing where to go with it, how to get yourself out of that stuckness, that's usually because you have a lack of reflective skills or a lack of career skills.

Lisa: Okay.

Megan: It’s super normal. It's a bummer, but it's totally normal. Think back when you were in middle school, high school, even if you did go to higher education, people are just saying, “What are you going to do,” not, “How did you figure that out? What are you interested in? How does this fit for you? What is the long term?” It's just, “What are you going to do?”

Once you start doing it and doing it's not working, you don't know how to ask the other questions of yourself. It's a little bit of the education system selecting it, almost, for you. You've got those decisions in your majors, you're moving forward with that career, you pick the next entry-level job, but it's also a lack of resources internally that can help you unwind some of that track-setting that happened so early on.

Lisa: That is such a cool perspective. I've never thought about it that way, but you're so right. I think that people have this need to categorize other people, and that's what actually happens. People are asking you, “What's your major?” It's like there's this pressure to define yourself by this whatever it is, and it's not any reflection around, “What is that?”

Megan: I know. Think about, right? We live in a society that has — western culture specifically — identity is so tied to career. We do say things like, “Who are you? What are you doing with your life?” Very strong statements about your career. For some folks, when you do hit 25,30, and you're not identifying — your identity doesn't line up with how you answer that question, that's why it's hitting so deep because it's striking at your identity core.

It's not just what you're doing for a paycheck. This is, “Oh my word. Who am I? What have I become?” Because we think, “If this is what you choose in school, and this is your job, this is who you are.” We don't open up the conversation to, “Are you only your job? Do you have other things going on in your world? Is your identity comprised of multiple pieces?” Let's think about some of those aspects to dig ourselves out of this.

Quarter Life Crisis Signs/Symptoms

Lisa: Taking a much more holistic approach like, “You are not your job”, first of all. But this pressure that people feel to define themselves through those terms? Stifling.

In your experience, and also for the benefit of somebody listening to this, what would you say are some signs — the internal experiences, how people feel when this awareness of mismatch is beginning to emerge? How does it feel for people?

Megan: Absolutely. I would say the first characteristic, at least what folks come in and tell me most, “I feel stuck. I'm just stuck. I don't know where to go. I don't know where I could go if I wanted to change. I don't know how I got here. I'm stuck in thinking patterns.” I would say stuckness is really sort of the first feeling.

The second feeling often too is actually hopelessness. Just this idea that, “I don't even know where I need to go in general. Not just with my career.” This quarter-life crisis we're establishing is outside of just our career, but hopelessness of, “What is next?”, and, “Do I have any control over what's next?”

I see a lot of, almost, signs or symptoms of lack of control, lack of intention. They're 32 years old, they've been in marketing their whole life, and they're like, “I can't even really tell you how I got here. I had no control,” or, “It felt like I had no control over my career. Now, I believe I don't have any control over my next steps. I need intentionality.” Those feelings, they're uncomfortable, they're disheartening, they're isolating. That's also a really big mark of this.

Comparison seems to happen a lot around this age. Developmentally, we're establishing intimacy versus isolation if we wanted to go into a development model, “Are you going to live in this world alone and go at it by yourself? Do you go out and develop…” Typically, it's romantic relationships, but not always. We now are opening that to social relationships. In that, the developing and establishment of relationships, comparison is really natural. You're looking around and, “How is everybody else doing it?”

Another sign of, “Oh my gosh, maybe I'm at that crisis point”, is looking around and saying, ”How the heck are they doing it, and how have I not got there? How have I not figured it out?” I heard a great quote the other day, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Lisa: That's a good one.

Megan: Oh, it's beautiful, and it captures, I think, the quarter-life crisis because there is this idea, “I'll look at someone's LinkedIn”, “I'll look at someone’s Instagram”, I'll look at someone’s social media platforms to see how they're engaging with the world at our age. “Oh my gosh, they seem to be doing it so much better than I am.”

Feelings of stuckness, feelings of hopelessness, comparison — it's, unfortunately, pretty easy to spot for me, not so much for the folks that are experiencing that.

Lisa: Well, that's why I wanted to ask you because I think, sometimes, half the battle is just that self-awareness of, “Oh, I'm going through this thing, and there's a name for it, and there's something that can be done to help.”

Quarter-Life Crisis: A Generational Curse

Lisa: Can I ask you about one part of this — and I'm not sure the degree to which this part is in your wheelhouse because I know you're a therapist, and you're a career counselor, and that's your specialization, and I know that you do very holistic work, so people talk to you about, well, all kinds of things. I have more of a relational perspective.

One of the things that I very often hear from my clients at this phase is, particularly, around the sense of — they use the term “being left behind”. Their friends are getting married, they're buying houses, they're starting to have babies or think about it. That piece creates such an enormous amount of anxiety. When they see other people their age, at least, looking like they're moving into these other phases of life that they're not, do you have insight into that aspect of it too?

Megan: Minimal. Just because relationships isn't the direction I had, but absolutely. As I shared, you'll come in for career concerns — that's how it presents originally. We dig deeper, and we realize it is a dissatisfaction with life, with your social relationships, with your financial status even. That’s a big concern for folks is, “Financially, I don't feel stable or independent like I thought I might at this age.”

A lot of it is because they're looking around, and other folks are hitting some milestones that we see in this age group. What I would add to that, and from my personal experience with clients, there's also a reflecting back on the generation prior to us, “What did my parents do? What did my aunts and uncles do?” Just the generation right above us, comparison happens within that too.

Well, by the time my parents were 28 years old, they were married with three kids, and they got a house and a mortgage, and were investing in another property. Someone's 32 saying, “I don't have that just yet.” I noticed, or what I hopefully share with people is think about the context in which those generations grew up in, and accomplished some of those milestones that you're reaching for.

That context is not the same context we're living in now. COVID, a big, big, big, obvious one that has shifted a lot of things. But think about the state of our economy right now, think about our housing market. There are larger societal contexts that make some of those milestones more challenging to meet for folks in this developmental period. Comparisons happening to even the generations above us, not just the generation that we are currently growing up with.

Lisa: That's a really good point. How validating to consider that it's not necessarily your personal shortcomings that you haven't been able to achieve these things that your parents had done. Actually, legitimately, the bar is higher. The cost of entry to even buy a property is so much more than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. Thank you for bringing that up.

Megan: 100%. To swing it back to career, to keep in my wheelhouse here, we've also seen a shift contextually about how jobs line up. The generations prior to us, there was a little more of a linear path — you started with one company, you worked your way up that ladder, you retired from that company.

I giggle with clients to keep it light-hearted. I say, “Find me someone, nowadays, that does that, that starts with the same company and retired from the same company. I'd like to shake their hand and congratulate them on being one of the only unicorns in the world that do that”, 

because we don't follow that same start-to-finish trajectory.

If that's not matching — your parents had that experience, and your experience now looks a little bit more chaotic, your resume has a lot of jumps in it, and you're thinking to yourself, “I'm failing.” No, the job market’s totally different. It's entirely different. It's not going to benefit you to stay in one company from start to finish anymore. You get to change your mind around that context too because it is very, very different.

Lisa: That's a good point. Although, privately, selfishly, I'm sitting here thinking, “I sure hope you're not going to leave Growing Self, Megan”, because I'll miss you so much if you do.

Megan: No, I’m not going anywhere. It’s too early in my career.

Lisa: I have a gift for turning everything we talk about on this podcast to make it a bit about me. There, we've done it, now we can move on.

Okay, another thing that I did want to ask you about. You said, earlier in our conversation, that one of the things you feel are contributing to this experience, that I wanted to learn more about, you said a lack of critical thinking skills. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I'm feeling that that might be an exit door. If people are feeling trapped, I'm imagining this, “In case of emergency, go through this door,” and there’s “critical thinking” written on it. What does that mean, though? What do you do with that?

Megan: Sure. Critical thinking — what a funny phrase that we toss around because I think it does have a very educational connotation to it. But we forget to take those critical thinking skills and apply it to more abstract things: our lives, our trajectories, where we want to go, our hopes, our goals. We could point fingers all we wanted, but it's not necessarily built into our educational system, our work system.

We don't necessarily take the time to pause and have critical thinking moments as it relates to our future, our career. I've got a colleague that I used to work with in higher education who actually brought that to my attention. She shared, “When I'm looking at folks, and I'm trying to get to the root of where this dissatisfaction is coming from or this lack of direction, it, a lot of times, stems from an inability to reflect.”

All these skills are like muscles. If we don't have strong muscles, it's not going to be our reflex to use those muscles. What we get to do, instead, is say, “Hey, let's build up a reflection muscle. Let's see if we can develop your ability to examine a situation, and try to make some sense out of it.” That's why career work works, is because I help you develop those reflexes and those reflection skills.

Some really easy questions, just to start with, it's exactly what we had began with, “What was your original model, or goal, or vision for where you wanted to go, and how is it different?” It doesn't have to be this really scholarly critical thinking. It's just assessing what's happening, and how is that different than what you thought.

Sometimes, just identifying where the changes occurred, that's relief in itself, because we're like, “Oh, no wonder I'm feeling so lost. None of this worked out the way I thought it did.” It opened up space to move into some problem-solving or planning because you've almost diagnosed yourself. “Oh, I am totally in a different field”, and that's okay, “Maybe, I want to get back to my original field, or maybe I don't. Maybe, I'm learning that my vision did change for a really great reason.” Again, through reflecting, it's, “Well, this new vision fits me better.”

I had a life event occur, and I can't go back to that original vision. I take care of my parents now. I had a kid. I didn't finish my educational program. There's a lot of different things that can change a path, but giving notice or meaning to that, saying, “It's okay that it changed.” That's really helpful. I always recommend, start with the reflection question of, “What's different?” Then, assess what's happening presently. “What do you like right now? What is going well?” 

I would even give that as a recommendation before you jump into your reflection and your critical thinking, “What is going well?”, because there's a chance that there are some things that's going well, and it's a practice of gratitude. It's getting your brain into, hopefully, a more positive space. We're pulling from positive psychology here and saying, “What am I doing well?”

It's a strength-based approach. That, even still, is like, “Okay, now, I'm more willing to face critically what's not going right because I know what is going right, and I feel I have a platform to stand on.” It can be a little easier to bring up or begin to strengthen those critical thinking reflection skills when you start with, “I'm doing okay, but I can do better.”

Lisa: I'm so glad you're bringing that up because I think it's so easy for all of us to get very myopically focused on the things that we don't like, and that aren't going the way that we want them to. That's such a good reminder to not forget all of the strengths and abilities you do have, and to be able to keep those in mind as you begin that reflective process.

You know what I'm actually thinking of right now? I'll tell you this. I have been — it's time, Megan, for us to find an internal bookkeeper person for our growth. I have been spending a lot of time lately talking to financial people, which has been fascinating. I usually talk to therapists all the time, so like, “Ooh, this is — they communicate in spreadsheets. What are we doing here?” 

Anyway, I'm always so interested in people's stories, and with talking with these candidates like, “How did you get into this line of work?” It's been so interesting because for a lot of them, it was, “Well, my dad was an accountant, and he suggested that this would be a stable career”, or, “Well, I just kind of XYZ.” But for a lot of them, you can hear through the lines that their passion was somewhere else, that they had wanted to be doing something else.

I remember speaking with this one young woman who had been doing accounting for outside pressures, as opposed to an internal passion for numbers, which is… As I was speaking with her, I was reflecting to myself that this young woman was an excellent communicator. She was clearly very warm and compassionate. I was thinking about that when you were sharing that just a minute ago.

I could see that person being kind of bummed because, maybe, her career isn't going in the direction that she wanted in bookkeeping, but to use those skills in an HR kind of role, or in a mentorship, or something where she gets to work more with people — to be able to be thinking about that and reminding yourself of the strengths, even if they're not totally a fit with a profession you're in currently. I can see that.

Megan: Well, to add to that, that would be a really nice example of values conflict where, maybe, when she did begin her career, stability, family satisfaction, she had those values for her career. Going into accounting, because that's what mom did, that's what uncle did, whatever it is, that was a value for her.

At the time, what critical thinking and reflection also does, at different stages, is that it says, “You're going to change, and you're going to need to assess, ‘You know what, this is in direct opposition to my values now. My values are different, and that's okay. Maybe, I do want to be in a space where being warm, and friendly, and relational is the priority over numbers and spreadsheets.’” And that's okay.

That's not because you are poor at your job, or chose wrong the first time. You have a values change and, quite honestly, I hope you do, because it means you're changing and adapting and you're having experiences that are shaping you. Again, that reflection can almost validate. “I’m not crazy. I didn't do this wrong the first time, I did it for what was right at that time, and that time’s not here anymore. What is right for this time?”

I also heard another great quote. Rich Feller talks about your career, “It's a series of transitions.” That's the best we can we describe it. Not jobs, but transitions because, sometimes, it's a transition out of a job, it’s a transition into a part-time job. You will continue to have these mismatch conversations with yourself all the way up until you retire, you go back into the workforce, whatever it is, because your job is a series of transitions.

If you can remind yourself, “Hey, that's not serving me now, but that doesn't mean it didn't serve me at one point.” You give yourself a little grace. It’s like, “Hey, self, you did the best you could, let's do that again. I know that in a couple years’ time, we're going to reevaluate and make a different choice, and that's great because it's going to serve us in that moment of our lives.”

Lisa: That's very reassuring. Another question related to this, what would you say to someone in this life space who went down a career path, launched her trajectory and got a few years into it, and realized that they do not enjoy the experience of this particular profession — either their values have changed or it feels different than they thought that it would. 

But they are feeling an enormous amount of guilt, or, sometimes, even fear because of the expense it took to get the degree that allowed them to be an attorney or whatever. There's this — I'm not sure if guilt is the right word, but they’re feeling trapped. Maybe they even have student loan debt or if their parents helped them get this degree and they’re like, “Actually…” I'm sure that that's a familiar conversation with you. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Megan: 100%. It's almost an obligation. I’m with you in that…

Lisa: Obligation. There you go.

Megan: But it's not full guilt. It doesn't sit as deeply as guilt can, but it's an obligation, a sense of — I hear this a lot: “I owe it to fill-in-the-blank. I owe it to my parents to try this out. I owe it to my degree to try it out. I owe it to my boss — my boss stuck their neck out for me to be in this position. I need to tough it out”

So the obligation? Absolutely. It, now, contributes to that stuckness. It's not only, “I don't know, really, where I'm headed and how I got here,” it's, “The way out affects other people. Can I actually make this transition?” I think starting with a conversation about how you got into this field, and what it served at that time is important.

I would always start there because I do want to validate, “It has not been a waste of your time, it has not been a waste of other people's times, it's not been a waste of resources in this field. It's just time to transition.” So we start there. Let's make some meaning out of the decisions you did make, and how you got into this field. Validate it.

Then, understanding how you want to transition and what that's going to look like for you. It sounds silly, but it often alleviates the obligation. When you explore values, when you explore strengths, when you explore skills, when you explore interests, identifying the next step, the next direction, it can feel so personal.

I've got folks that say, “Well, I don't really know why I'm here, but I'm going to make this transition,” and they select a different field, and then begin whatever process to get into that field. When it's such a fit, and it's so personal, because it is based on values and skills and experiences and interests, the obligation has a funny way of dissipating.

When you do engage in those conversations with mom and dad who footed that student bill, and you need to explain that you're changing, the idea of not going in this next direction, it's just not an option. You come to mom and dad, and say, “I am so grateful, and I want you to know how that experience that you paid for has set me up to move into this new transition.”

Added from a very personal stance, a leveraging experience happens — that's the second big question I get, “How the heck am I going to become an attorney after I've been a firefighter for all these years? Those skills don't make sense.” Believe it or not, almost every job has transferable skills. That is the beauty of this age that we live in. A lot of jobs have things that we can bring over.

When we go at it from a personal experience, we make meaning out of where you came from, what you've been up to, what you've been building — that lets you also transition into this field with gusto because you're like, “Look, Mom and Dad, if I had not taken that one class, I would never have known I did have this latent excitement for this new field”, “If I hadn't pursued my CPA exam…”

Oh my gosh, that exam right now is the hot topic. I don't know what's going on. I've had more clients come in to me about the CPA exam that's going on. But when they do come on in, and they're getting ready and gearing up to transition, they say, “But you know what, I can use Excel. No one else can use Excel now, and this new field that I'm heading into, it's critical.”

It's not a direct, “You went here, so now you're going into this job.” I did a little meandering, but those skills were direct links. It's a complicated process because it's very individualized. But when we do start with, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who are you, and where do you want to go,” the obligation, it will lessen just naturally. Very naturally.

Seeking Solace In A Quarter-Life Crisis

Lisa: I hear what you say. It's like you have to have this really powerful, exciting “why”. You have to have clarity about what you want to move forward to. Then, that last part sort of releases… But you know what, I'm also thinking right now — you know our colleague, Dr. Lisa? Another fabulous career counselor that I've had the privilege of speaking to.

She talks a lot about your narrative — the story that you tell yourself, and I'm just hearing that and what you're saying too, and it's like changing the story to, ”Actually, you have to have different life experiences and learn about different things in order to create clarity.”

To learn from that is how it actually works, as opposed to beating yourself up that you're changing your mind. That's the story. Actually, you have to do that. Is that what I'm hearing?

Megan: 100%. Those varied experiences contributed to your feelings of stuckness, contributed to this desire to change, and will contribute to your success in your next role, in your next educational endeavor, in your long-term career. That's why starting with, “How did you get here?”, has to be square, circle, number zero. Otherwise, we're going to learn about you, and that's great, and we're going to move you into the next path with intention and very personalized information, but you're right, the “why” doesn't feel as strong.

It can feel like an untold part of your story. I have all of my clients that they come on in and we're going to do any sort of job searching, whatever they come in for — I start with their story. There's a lot of benefits to it, but it's ownership of that story, of that narrative, being able to tell it, not only clearly.

It's an interview skill, it's a resume skill, it's going to help you at job searching. It’s also going to allow you to release yourself and say, “That was critical for me to take that odd job that doesn't fit on my resume anymore. But do you remember that one colleague I met? They’re how I know I need to be in a different field.” Making meaning out of where you've come from, it strengthens your “why”. Absolutely.

Lisa: I love that. Making meaning from where you come from strengthens your “why”. That's so good.

I know we don't have a ton of time left together, but I am curious to know. For the benefit of somebody listening to this right now, and who has been feeling that stuckness, maybe who has been feeling dissatisfied, but also beating themselves up because they don't know what else to do. What would your advice be to them for how to get started in moving forward?

I'm hearing you say that it is very much a process — that asking yourself why. But what are some easy first steps that somebody could do, either on their own or with a career counselor like yourself?

Megan: Absolutely. Step one: Nice, big, deep breath, and acknowledging, like we had started, knowing there's a name for this experience. That in and of itself can be relieving. Take a second to pause and say, “I am going through something, and it makes sense that I'm going through something.” Give that some time to chew on. Big deep breath to start.

I would say, and this could even happen prior to your reflection questions or critical thinking that you're going through, reach out to your network. It is the top thing that gets missed in job searching because we do it in a vacuum. Even folks that are coming in to me, I'm your support network. That's fabulous. I don't know you the way mom and dad does, cousin does, roommate does, partner does, spouse does, grandparents do.

They have a very intimate view, often, into your life, and can speak to some of the dissatisfaction. They can remind you of, “Do you remember when you did make that choice to move into that career? This was going on?” “Grandma, you're totally right. Thanks for reminding me that.”

Always if you can, start with your support network to just pour back into yourself and feel, “People do know me, they love me, they support me.” It normalizes not just, “Hey, I am a person going through this.” A lot of times people are like, “Oh my gosh, me, too.”

Lisa: I was just thinking. This experience is so common, but everybody else seems like they have it all figured out, they seem like they have clarity. Why don't people talk about this more? Megan, what is that about?

Megan: Because these realizations happen at midnight when you're laying in bed, scrolling on social media, and you're like, “Who am I going to call?” No, I’m just joking. But it can be like this obligation that we're talking about, those feelings of guilt, maybe.

Lisa: Like ashamed almost, is that it?

Megan: That's exactly where my brain was going. There's shame around, “I don't have this figured out, I don't know where I'm going.” We are a very curious set of people in the States, and that's great, but how often do we say, “Where are you going with your job? What do you do with work? Are you liking it? Are you having fun?” When you don't have answers to those questions, avoid the questions, avoid the situations you would have those questions —  the holidays.

Lisa: Maintain the facade.

Megan: “I am doing well, I'm fine. Everything is great”, and in reality, you're cracking under all of this. It’s shame-filled to share a lot of that stuff. That's why I say start with your support network because those are people who can hold that shame with you, who are safe, and you can be vulnerable and be like, “This isn't going well.”

Your vulnerability is going to lead to their vulnerability often, and they're going to share, “You know what? I had the same thing happen. You know what? I am currently experiencing that now.” That's the best-case scenario. Like, “You too? Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

Starting with your support network — validating, encouraging. Also, it's going to set you up for job search success because, now, other people, not necessarily in your professional network, but your personal network, know that you're potentially job searching. That is your best tool in networking, is telling as many people as possible that you are looking for a new job because now you're on their brain.

When something comes up in their company, when they see a job posting, they're like, “Oh my gosh, Megan and I just had a conversation about this. She's looking for a job. Maybe, I could pass this on to her.” You begin to leverage other people's networks when you invite them into your own network. It's a really cool — not even a trick of the trade. I know a lot of folks that do that, but we forget that because we are so stuck.

It's shame and guilt-ridden, and we're not feeling great. We don't want to reach out, we don't want to talk to other people and share that experience. Yet, when we do, all these benefits seem to unwind or unravel. I always recommend: take a big, old, deep breath. Start with your support system, see how they can help you. Then, jump into some of your reflection, if you can.

When I look into quarter-life crisis — I was curious how it was being talked about in the media right now. Every article I came across had reflection questions to ask yourself. “Here's what to consider if you do want to make a change, if you are in this quarter-life spot.” You don't even have to come up with the reflection questions on your own, they're all on Google.

Lisa: You can Google them.

Megan: You can Google everything. One day, my job is going to be obsolete because Google will be me, and they will ask all the questions. Spend some time journaling, writing it out.

Lisa: Well, no because I want to bring something up because one of the things — I am all about a good journaling question. I know from my own experience and others’, here's what I think is important: We have blind spots. There are things about us that we don't know, and that's why I think having a relationship, either a trusted friend, a counselor, or a coach, because they can ask you questions or reflect things back to you that you would literally not connect.

Megan: 100%.

Lisa: But I also know that a lot of people, unfortunately, don't have access to an amazing counselor, or a coach like yourself, to be shining that spotlight on, “Okay, but what about this?” To take the personal reflection questions, are there any tricks or tips that you have for people to help themselves get past what they know and access new information about themselves through these questions, or is that just —

Megan: Yes. It's not as easy. It is hard. It's why a counseling or a coaching relationship can be so beneficial, and expedite this process. I have, again, Rich Feller, a colleague that I'm working with — we're talking a lot about unknowns, hidden things, blind spots that need to be resolved. Typically, those blind spots are what keep you from success or moving forward.

A good indicator or a place to maybe uncover that: What are your self-doubts? What are your concerns? What are insecurities? Blind spots often show up in those, and that is something — our self-talk As much as we would like to avoid it, we all know our own insecurities, we all know our shortcomings, we all know our doubts. How to answer those questions — that's a nice place to open up a blind spot.

I'll give an example here. I see this blind spot — I don't know if how I come across in that meeting is effective or non-effective. That's a blind spot. That's probably an insecurity for someone. I don't know how I show up in this space. I'm really concerned that I don't show up well. Start with what your concerns are about yourself. That's a pretty good indicator that might be an area where you could do some work, do some self-exploration, and uncover, hopefully, some of the unknown about yourself.

Lisa: That is such good advice, and I'm so glad that you're talking about this right now. I do say this as a grizzled Gen X-er who is deeply suspicious of many things happening on social media, but it's like there's this sort of, “Rah, rah, positive thinking, girl boss, take no prisoners, you got to manifest,” you know what I'm talking about.

What you're saying is that, actually, the door to cracking into a lot of this stuff is giving yourself permission to tap into the darkness, and go there, and write about that stuff — the part that maybe you're a little bit afraid of. That's really where you can make contact with these. Thank you. I'm so glad we're talking about this. You are a force of good in the world, Megan.

Megan: Thank you. Hey, I'm just here to help. Again, open those blind spots for you. If I can expedite that process at all by saying, “What is troubling you?”, let's go there. Sometimes, it is easier to have those conversations with somebody else because it is scary when you're alone with that journal, and you're kind of having to take a look in the mirror.

Sometimes, having someone that you trust in a coaching or counseling relationship to guide you through that conversation, that's just the little extra support that we do need. Some folks, they're like, “Forget it. I got it. I can do this on my own.” Awesome. Other folks, come on in if it's not feeling like, “This is something I can tackle and resolve on my own.”

Lisa: Well, thank you so much. I'm very grateful, though, that you shared so much actionable advice for people who really do — if I were listening to this, I would have like, “Okay, these are a list of questions I need to think about. I am going to resist this toxic positivity and actually tap into this other stuff”, and really giving people a roadmap if they've been dealing with this. There’s so many people are — for how to begin to move forward again.

Thank you so much, Megan — from me, but also on behalf of our listeners today. This was a lot of fun.


Megan: Thanks for having me on. This is a subject that's pretty near and dear to my heart, considering my personal age, but also just what we're noticing in career trends. Always grateful that someone's willing to listen to me babble about what I'm excited about. So thank you.

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

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

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

If you’ve tuned into the news over the past year or so, I’m guessing you’ve heard about “The Great Resignation.” Here’s the gist of it, just in case: So many workers have left their jobs and forged new career paths over the course of the pandemic that employers in nearly every field are struggling to fill positions and keep their operations up and running. 

Among our career counseling and coaching clients, there are so many reasons for this, from difficulty finding child care, to burnout, to working conditions that feel unsafe. But for many, the pandemic has brought something else into focus: awareness about what’s actually important to them, what they want to be doing with their time, and how they really feel about their work. 

I believe this is an expression of post-traumatic growth, and it’s one of the few silver linings of the past two years. When we live through traumatic events, we tend to emerge with new clarity about what really matters, and we can use that insight to change our lives for the better. And your career is an excellent place to start — we spend an enormous chunk of our lives at work, and I hope that you’ll do everything you can to choose work that feels meaningful, rewarding, and worthwhile to you. 

If the pandemic has inspired you to consider a big career change, this episode of the podcast is for you. My guest is Dr. Lisa S., a past president of the National Career Development Association, former director of career services at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. 

We’re talking about what the Great Resignation means for you, and how you can use this moment as a springboard for radical, positive career growth. I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen. 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

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

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

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Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation: Episode Highlights

If the pandemic has you questioning whether you’d be happier in a different job, or on a different career path entirely, you may be an excellent candidate to join the Great Resignation — or benefit from it, whether or not you actually quit your job. 

Millions of American workers have left their jobs over the course of the pandemic, and this reshuffling of the workforce has created new opportunities for job seekers in many fields. If you’re considering a big career change, the Great Resignation may be your moment. 

What is the Great Resignation? 

Since the onset of the pandemic, an unprecedented number of workers have voluntarily left their jobs. Career experts call this phenomenon the Great Resignation, AKA the “Big Quit,” and say it signals a major shift in our attitudes toward work. 

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic may be this time to reflect on what’s most important to us, and how we’d really like to be spending our time. If you’re considering a career change amidst the Great Resignation, you’re in great company — and your timing is impeccable. 

Great Resignation Statistics

Nearly four million workers quit their jobs every month in 2021, the highest monthly average since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping records in 2000. The trend peaked in November with 4.5 million quits — a staggering three percent of the total American workforce. 

This produces a great climate for job seekers, who will find many open positions and many employers willing to make concessions on salary, location, and other conditions in order to attract workers. 

Reasons for the Great Resignation

Why are so many people quitting their jobs en masse? 

No one can say for sure what’s driving the Great Resignation. But many people have arrived in career counseling because, after a period of introspection during the pandemic, they’re starting to see their careers through a new lens — and to question whether they’re really content with their “life’s work” such as it is. There’s data to back up this observation too; a survey by Indeed found that 92 percent of Great Resigners say “Life is Too Short to Stay in a Job You’re Not Passionate About.” 

In the midst of a public health crisis, people are not only sacrificing their time for work, but also in many cases their safety, which calls into question whether or not the tradeoff is really worth it. If you’re not doing what you love, chances are it’s not. 

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation 

The news is full of headlines about workers leaving their jobs and employers struggling to fill positions. For any worker who’s not totally content where they are, this moment presents an opportunity to get unstuck and find something better. 

If you’re not paid what you should be, not happy with what you’re doing, or you’re feeling stuck in a toxic workplace, this could be the time to make your move. During a labor shortage, workers have the upper hand, and your chances of getting hired elsewhere are good. 

Finding Meaning Through Work

Many people have quit their jobs not just because of the pay or working conditions, but because they’ve realized their work isn’t really their passion. Ultimately, it’s hard to feel passionate about anything that’s not attached to any greater meaning for you. 

So, how can you find work that feels meaningful, if you’re currently in a career that feels pointless, uninteresting, or empty? Getting in touch with your core values is a great place to start. Maybe you value creativity, or service to others, or teamwork, and there’s a career out there that would allow you to live out those values more closely. Find out what you value, and you’ll find out what motivates you and ultimately what makes work feel meaningful. 

Making the Great Resignation Work for You

If you have goals for your career, it’s important to be proactive about them. Wandering from one job to another without a clear outcome in mind is unlikely to lead you where you’d like to go. 

The Great Resignation and the labor market it’s created is an opportunity to reflect on the current state of your career, reimagine what’s possible, and make a bold, strategic move that sets you up for a bright career future.  

Episode Show Notes:

[02:53] The Great Resignation of 2021

  • The pandemic has produced an overwhelming workforce turnover, with 4.5 million workers resigning from their jobs in November 2021 alone.
  • Many employees who left their jobs say they feel life is too short for work they aren’t passionate about.
  • With so many ways to earn income, people don’t need to settle for jobs they dislike.

[10:34] Developing Your Passion

  • A sense of mastery arises when you're good at what you do. This can be incredibly rewarding. 
  • The silver lining of the pandemic is that people have found time to reflect on their ideal pursuits. 

[31:37] Growth Opportunities in Leadership

  • Some employers choose to just reassign their employees instead of firing them.
  • Recurring self-doubt makes it hard to pursue your career goals. Counseling can help. 
  • If you desire positive outcomes in your career, you need to be proactive about seeking them out.

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On this episode of the podcast, we are talking about the great resignation, and more importantly, what it means for you and how to use this moment as an opportunity to maybe reevaluate what you have been doing in your own career, and talk about where you might want to go next. To join me in this conversation, once again, I'm visiting with my colleague, Dr. Lisa S.. 

Dr. Lisa is an expert career counselor. She's a past president of the National Career Development Association and a past president of the Colorado Career Development Association. She was the Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of numerous book chapters on the subject of career counseling. Today, she's here to share her wisdom with you to understand what is going on in the world around us as it relates to career. 

I think both of our goals for today's conversation is for you to listen to this episode and hopefully leave it with some new ideas, and at least even new questions to be asking yourself to help you get clarity on what you really want to be doing with your career — and by extension, your life. Dr. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me again today.

Dr. Lisa S.: Oh, thank you. It's my pleasure.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I really appreciate your time. I have to tell you, I got so much wonderful feedback from the last podcast that you and I recorded together a while ago on your thoughts about how to use narrative techniques to get clarity around starting a new chapter. That was just so helpful to many of my listeners, so thank you.

Lisa S.: Thank you. That was a lot of fun. I've heard from a lot of people as well. That's always wonderful to get that feedback.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, you have a lot of great wisdom to share. I invited you back, of course, to talk about today. As you know, there's so much in the news lately —- this idea about the great resignation they're calling it, which is people leaving their jobs in pursuit of we hope something better, something more meaningful. 

It's like a reshuffling of the deck. There are people leaving positions, but also a lot of people coming into new ones, just as an extension of that. First of all, as a career counselor, you're sitting with people day in and day out as they're sort of grappling with these big, “What do I do with my life?”, kinds of questions. What do you make of this?

Lisa S.: It's definitely been interesting. The word I use most often with clients is, “The job market’s just really weird right now.” I should probably come up with something much more wise.

The Great Resignation of 2021

Lisa Marie Bobby: But seriously, in all seriousness, you've been a career counselor for a long time. How is this weird or different than historically what you have experienced?

Lisa S.: Just as a marker if you will, I'm very curious to see what the total 2021 numbers are. They're not quite out yet from the Department of Labor. But in November, 4.5 million workers quit their job. A million of those were in leisure and hospitality — your quintessential customer service roles. That's 3% of the whole workforce in terms of turnover and why recruiters and other folks who hire going kind of nuts — 3% of the entire workforce. That's just amazing. Assuming that the trend continued into December, those are records.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I mean, forgive me. I'm so ignorant here. I don't even have a frame of reference. What's typical?

Lisa S.: That's a really good question.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I have to cite statistics… significantly more than —

Lisa S.: Absolutely. Unemployment tends to hang around 5—6%. Depending on where you are in the country, that may vary greatly. But 3% of the whole workforce turning over is just amazing. Yeah. I don't know if you're the same, but just anecdotally — walking around, or trying to order things online, or trying to go to your restaurant that's closed, or changed hours — nobody has the help that they need right now. It is an interesting piece. 

I think a huge part of that is reading a survey that Indeed did have the workers that take part in their social media/professional website with job seekers, and they did one back in March, and 92% of the respondents said the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren't passionate about. To me, that was huge. Because oftentimes — I can remember when you were talking about sort of historically where does this fit. 

I remember back in 2005, 2006. I was working at the university at the time. That was when the recession hit. People were having a very difficult time finding jobs. The first thing that every article said was, “If you're unemployed, contact your alma mater.” Being at an alma mater, none of us were prepared for that. For the most part, we didn't work with alums. That was a huge shift in terms of helping people to find jobs. 

But it was nothing like this — which is not just about high-level of unemployment, or inflation, and those kinds of pieces to me. There's been a shift in terms of, “Not only am I going to give you my time, but I may be sacrificing my safety.” There may be other things that are going on, like childcare that's really hard. People have — I think, that part is really key in terms of, “I have to really want to do this, or I'm not going to”, which was, I think, very rare before and is becoming more and more common.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, that's one of my big takeaways from our last conversation is your observations about this trend towards empowerment that people do feel this greater sense of agency and choice. I think this idea that is really coming back into the collective consciousness that our careers are — I don't mean this in a hyperbolic way — truly are our life's work in many ways. I know some people have careers that are supporting other aspects of their life. 

They are actually just earning a paycheck so that they can do what is meaningful in other parts of their life. But I think for a lot of people, and I'm included in this, it is our life's work, and to find that meaning, and passion, and value in that. Do you feel like that is a newer thing in the sense that people almost have permission to do this in a way that they didn't before? Or is it because of that introspective period from the pandemic?

Lisa S.: It's very interesting. I think it's a combination, of course, of a lot of different things that are all happening concurrently. But I do think that underlying piece of — at this point, it has to be more. It has to be more than a paycheck, especially as people have become creative about how they do income, how they earn income, and those kind of pieces that they don't necessarily have to settle anymore. So, why are they going to? 

In our culture, especially, but I think it's true in a lot of places. Work is the way we connect with the world. We even talk about it as that “work-life balance: as if those are two very separate, very different things. The pandemic that sent everybody home, and the estimate is about half of us then worked from home, and about half of the careers out there are not careers you can do from home. That shifted. 

It would be very interesting to see how it's going to shift back if and when we return to some different — people say “return to normal”. I'm not sure normal is really the goal, but whatever — it looks like moving forward and to see what that looks like. Again, if we do have this sort of stronger mingling of home and work that the pandemic has brought about, what is that going to look like moving forward? How do we build in those things that we're passionate about and where that comes from? 

I mean, I think in terms of that — we got to a place and it seems like natural progression where we got to a place where work really consumed us and was kind of unbalanced in terms of the role it took in our life.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Glorified even in the culture, really.

Lisa S.: Then, when other things came up, people are worried about getting COVID, of course — especially before vaccines. But even now, that's not a universal thing that people do, so it stays with us. Childcare is nuts. I don't have kids. I know you do. That's a piece — it's crazy. When paying for childcare became more expensive than what you were able to earn, that was so crazy. Of course, then — that left, and that's still a challenge. 

I think that the competition for workers, as he said, “If you go to restaurants now, and you have to wait. There's open tables, but they don't have enough servers.” That people are leaving because people feel confident that they're going to be able to find something better now. It's all out there in the news. Everybody's leaving their jobs. Well, if I think my job is is pretty bad, I'm pretty sure I can find a better one. 

If you don't pay well, and you don't have good working conditions, people are out of there — which I see as a silver lining in terms of outcomes from this particular job market that it's equalizing salaries and working conditions, especially in low wage working opportunities. That's fabulous. I really hope that that sticks with us.

Developing Your Passion

Lisa Marie Bobby: That would be such a positive thing. But it's interesting what you were saying, too. It's like people are leaving. But I think for many people — who aren't in low-wage situations who are just seeking better opportunities. There are also a lot of people who are leaving jobs in search of meaning, in search of that passion. 

Can you say more in your experience? If somebody is listening to this and has been feeling their chosen career has been lacking in that meaning that passion — in your experience, where do people find meaning in their work, passion in their work? What is it about work? 

I guess, what I'm asking is — is it certain kinds of jobs, or careers, or industries that are more meaningful than others? Or, is it sometimes mindset that helps create meaning in the work that you do? Where does that sense of meaning come from in your experience?

Lisa S.: It's a great question. I would say in terms of the clients that I've worked with, some have had that experience of having a job. It's interesting because oftentimes, as early on in their career, and it wasn't a particularly prestigious position, or a big title, or a huge paycheck — but they have that sense of flow. When you're in a job, and you're kind of moving between tasks, and you feel that sense of expertness, “I actually know what I'm doing. I can do this.” 

That passion, then, comes from that. Or, they're working for a particular cause that they're passionate about. I always think of that with me. I feel so lucky to be able to do this work because I love hearing people's stories. If I can be helpful in some way in that time, it just feels so good. You're completely in that flow. If a client has had that experience, then we can kind of unpack all that and figure out where it came from.

If you're not experiencing that now, why? What's happened in the meantime? Life kind of happens — there's career trauma, and there's great supervisors, and there's bad supervisors. Sometimes, you can promote yourself right out of being happy and dying yourself in a position where you're a little bit trapped. The money's good, the title’s good, the prestige is good — yet, you're not doing the things that you really enjoy doing. 

That's one set is to sort of recreate the environment in which that happen. For some people, they've never felt that. Work has always been a struggle. They've never felt that kind of passion. I think of it kind of as a blank slate. “Let's go back to the beginning. If it hasn't been worked, find other examples of when you've had that experience in your life and what you can bring forward.” 

I do think that this wacky time period in our collective history of the pandemic has, as you said, given people permission to say, “You know what? I don't like this at all.” Whether it's a refocus on, “I want to bring something to the world. I want it to be meaningful — the work that I've done instead of just moving things from one side to another. I really want to build something.” Whatever the case may be. 

I do think that it's been a time of great reflection, and people have really thought about, “Alright, I'm giving this my time, and potentially my health exposure and my family, and all of those pieces — it's got to be worth it.” Again, I feel like that's kind of a silver lining of the time period because people are — they're stressed up to here. If there's something that they can do to make a change, to really bleed into all of those other pieces of their life — that they're taking the time to do that. I think it's a wonderful — again, weird outcome of this time period.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Weird, but maybe understandable. As we're talking, I'm thinking right now this idea of post-traumatic growth. I don't know if you're familiar with that — that might be more of a psychology term than a career term. But this thing that we see oftentimes is — we think of post-traumatic trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, that something bad happens or scary happens, and that there's this, “Never the same!” 

Actually, the moral of the truth is that when people do live through really hard, awful things, there's often a lot of like growth and personal reflection, like making contact with core values and sort of a reset of priorities that on the other side of those traumatic life experiences. There's an enormous amount of growth and positive change that sometimes never would have happened had that person not gone through that.

I was just sort of thinking the same thing like that kind of collective trauma, especially when it was really intense like shutdowns, people are looking at this existential like, “Am I going to die if I leave the house without a mask on?” Like that whole thing — and just how reflective that makes you. The connection that I'm hearing you say too — that meaning and happiness in work, that sometimes it can come from mastery, feeling just really good like you're surfing on top of the wave and know exactly what to do in that flow experience. 

But that the other piece of meaning that you talked about was very much attached to that, like core personal value. For you, you were saying, “It's around that helping value.” For others, that might be the building value. I've talked to so many creative people — and for many of them, it's just the opportunity to create things, to have had ideas and sort of actualized them, that the act of creation is very meaningful. 

That's what I'm hearing you say is that to either figure out what that is based on your historical experiences — or if it is a blank slate, try to find that basic value, that pillar of meaning. Then, you can start to design a career around what would allow you to be helpful — what would allow you to build something; what would allow you to create. Is that what I'm hearing you say? 

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That's why to me, the narrative work fits so well because it is designed around identifying what those themes are. I think this time period, in addition to the fact that people just did have more time on their hands because we weren't supposed to do things, especially in big groups and those types of things. But also, again, that that sense of reflection, I really do think that that sort of theme around — we all now feel like life is short. 

Before, we kind of had become somewhat complacent about what that looks like, “I really don't like my job. I'm playing the lottery most weeks. So, I'm trying to find something new. But it's fine, it pays the bills.” We kind of do get stuck in that. This whole period of time has been a major shake-up of those kinds of things, like, “Do I even like what I'm doing anymore? Do I like the people that I work with? Am I feeling positive?” 

I think about is that most jobs are stressful, but it isn't the type of stress that you actually want to engage in and find a challenge, and is sort of thrilling stress versus the, “I don't want to get up this morning. I feel a little nauseous Sunday nights because I don't want to go to work on Monday.” If it's given us permission in a way to kind of step back and say, again, “Life is short. I want to enjoy what it is that I'm doing.” 

For a lot of people, that's been retirement, which has been sort of interesting too like, “I want to do it on my own terms. I'm not so sure I can do it through work, I'll do it through volunteering or when we are allowed to, again, traveling.” Those types of pieces., “To me, it's not worth it anymore. If my plan was to retire in 10 years — hey, maybe I do that now.” 

I think it's not only the great resignation — not only people moving from job to job, but I think there are some that are like, “You know what? I think I'm good. I'm out.” So that's been interesting too.

Lisa Marie Bobby: That is interesting that it isn't always people leaving one situation and moving into another, but really just sort of questioning the idea of working for compensation entirely — that I'm going to expend my energy doing things just because I want to do them.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. I think that's been some changes well, which is a little bit different. We haven't quite touched on it yet. But there are certainly patterns in terms of where people are leaving as well. I mean, I mentioned leisure and hospitality — certainly, the customer service angle. For some people, there are a lot of really kind-hearted and generous people out there who started tipping three times as much as they had before and really recognize.  

There are other people who have taken their own personal stress out on other people. I think in leisure and hospitality, that's been a big piece. But also, obviously, with people traveling less frequently, and those types of issues — there's also been downsizing in those fields as well. But some of the other ones like health care and teaching, I really can’t. 

I have a number of teachers that I'm working with right now. Their lives have just been nuts over the last few years — totally changing the way that they teach from in-person to online, managing what that looks like, seeing directly into kids’ homes and what that looks like… Just the level of change, and again, putting their own health and safety at risk. That piece that used to be a great sense of accomplishment for them and sense of purpose and meaning, and now is just the frustration has overwhelmed all of that. 

I think, again, in health care and teaching, and then hospitality and customer service, there are also folks that are like, “I've done what I can do, but I can't take it anymore and I'm ready to move on to whatever is next.” It's been interesting to hear people's stories talk about your career trauma. For a lot of people, that's been really difficult. 

Leadership Systems at Work

Lisa Marie Bobby: Because that was something, in the last podcast, that we sort of touched on and didn't really have time to fully explore. But that the idea of career trauma is so real. I think it doesn't get enough acknowledgment or like airtime just in the general zeitgeist. But like, when you were just talking about people in the health care professions or educators — there's the work itself, but they're also, in some ways, battling these very large systems that are in place around — 

Certainly, public education or large hospital systems. I'm curious to know, when you talk to people who are really coming out of positions or careers that were traumatizing for them, is that sort of a pattern in what you see? Are there big systems? Or, is it more really toxic relationships with leaders or supervisors? What have you noticed with that over the years?

Lisa S.: That's a great question. I think the answer is both. I mean, certainly, absolutely — now, you can hear the systemic pieces. I’ve talked to people who actually are on the East Coast, so they're in a position where they can work in, say three different states, depending on where they live. They'll change because of the leadership in that state. They'll look for a job in another because the system is so different. 

The Department of Education, even just the governor's office looks really different from everything — from mask mandates to vaccines, and everything else. The systemic stuff, absolutely, is a problem for folks, and how that looks like, what it looks like, how it plays out. It’s very interesting. There's also, as you mentioned, the relationship piece. 

I hear all the time people are being basically bullied at work by supervisors and peers. There's a power dynamic there as there is in systems too, of course. But individually, a power dynamic where something's going on, and there can be a bazillion underlying reasons: bosses who feel threatened, bosses who really are incompetent, they take that out on their supervisees — there's a lot — and just people who are naturally bullies. 

There's still not a whole lot people can do about it. There are more and more systems put in place for sexual harassment, which is great. Still, I think not necessarily all that helpful. If you're in a bad situation where you're going to work every day and somebody, usually not literally, is beating you down, that's something you need to get out of. Absolutely, there are parallels with relationship work — friendships, families, partners, like all of the above. Sometimes, there's some things that you can try to help it be better. But oftentimes, it's just leaving. 

You can get HR involved in those sorts of things, but oftentimes that ends up making a situation — maybe it helps improve the system a little bit. We'll cross our fingers and hope that's true. But this situation by then is so uncomfortable that really the only way you can handle it is to move to something better. It's balancing that out. I always kind of tread lightly in terms of that because I want to help someone fight the fight if that's what they want to do. 

Absolutely, how can I support you in doing that? Also support people who are like, “I just got to get out of here.” Fine. Let's do that. Sometimes, that's parallel work. But I think if you've got someone with a little bit of work experience and ask them about, “What has been your best situation at work? What has been the worst?” Everybody has horror stories about people they've worked with, or systems they've worked in — exactly, as you said, supervisors that have been terrible — everybody has stories. 

Just like as in any other kind of trauma, how do you integrate that into your story moving forward is so important. Does that become energy for moving forward? Does it make you a better supervisor because you now know what not to do in terms of your own clients? How can you build on that and integrate it in so that it's not dragging on you moving forward, but becomes part of your growth? 

Exactly, as you said — it's an interesting challenge, but most people, I think, get excited about that idea, “Hold on, this doesn't necessarily just need to be baggage I carry with me for the rest of my life — but I can find a place for it, learn from it if I can, and then move on without it.” I think ultimately, that's the goal. But certainly, yeah… 

Just reading the news about stories over the last few years. Again, you can read great stories about the wonderful things that happened, and just awful stories, especially in healthcare and teaching, and customer service, and all kinds of areas.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, let me ask you this, though. Because I don't specialize in career work the same way that you do because I think careers are such a large part of everybody's life. I do often, when I'm working with my private clients — we do talk about, sometimes, the things that they're experiencing in their jobs. 

Oftentimes, it is, “I like what I'm doing but there's the supervisor who has unreasonable expectations.” Or, like you say, beating people down — a lot of negativity, even like aggression, not physical aggression, but like that sort of emotional aggression. It can be hard to change jobs. It's not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it's not as black and white. People might have other reasons for wanting to stay and work it out like go into a relationship. 

I guess, I'm curious to know — have you ever seen it get better for people who are in a situation where they have an aggressive, weirdo supervisor, and they have been able to either do something or have a courageous conversation or affect positive change so that it gets better? Or, are you always with people like, “Just pull the ripcord. Just get out of there.”? What do you say to that?

Lisa S.: Just to be real. It is rare if you have that situation. It's rare. I think people stick around for a number of different reasons. Again, not unlike many relationships. One, you can look at somebody's history, especially within a company, and it could be they'll move along. Sometimes, people stay because they're sort of waiting it out, especially if it's a supervisor who's kind of bounced around to different areas. That is a strategy that people have to kind of wait. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Last man standing. 

Lisa S.: Some of that, again, is values-based because I think a lot of people are incredibly dedicated to their jobs, their clients, their co-workers, the actual content of the work that's being done. I think there's the sense — and I totally get this of, “I don't want to let all those people down because of this jackass.” But at the same time, I do think that it's worth having a conversation because generally, it doesn't really make it worse of just sharing with a supervisor — and I've practiced this with clients quite a bit of how to have that conversation. 

Like not from a place of, “You need to change. But I can tell you, I will be more productive and would thrive if we could talk about this.” Or, “If you could share feedback this way.” Or, whatever the conduct is to kind of take it into a place. For example, someone who calls you out in a meeting for something that you've done, and chastises you in public in front of other people and those kinds of things. To be able to talk about that — I've had experienced that in the past, and I can tell you, it is not helpful. 

Having that conversation and sort of thinking about it. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it works for a period of time, and then oftentimes goes back. But then you can remind people, if it's a small organization, and someone knows the supervisor’s supervisor, or there's actually a process in HR for making a complaint, that is a strategy as well. At least it goes on the record so that if you do end up leaving but three co-workers down the line, HR finally sees a pattern. 

That may be helpful. But generally, it makes the person more angry because they feel like you've gone around behind their back. I do think the best strategy is to go but to somehow provide that feedback at some point, even if it's in an exit interview of, “I love everything about this organization or this company, but I'm leaving because of this person.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Kevin.

Lisa S.: Exactly. I know people don't like to burn bridges, and all of those kinds of pieces. But again, patterns are important. If nobody's saying anything, it could be everybody's having the same experience with Kevin, but nobody's saying anything. That's kind of a problem too.

Growth Opportunities in Leadership

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, and a growth opportunity because I think too — many, many people in leadership positions are very focused on the work itself and pressure that is coming maybe from higher-ups on them. In my experience, they do not have a ton of awareness about how they are making other people feel. 

I think that's why, especially in our practice here on Growing Self over the years, we've started doing so much emotional intelligence coaching for leaders and managers because people — Kevin — shows up and is like, “I've had four people leave, and they're telling this is the feedback, and I don't even know what they're talking about. So can you help me with this?” 

Says like, “Yes!” Then, we can kind of dig it, and it turns into a very positive growth experience. Maybe, not for the people who leave, but the people who come after because I think a lot of leaders and managers do really have personal growth work to do. They don't unless somebody says something, they really, legitimately do not know that it's about them.

Lisa S.: I absolutely agree because I think that's huge. I mean, obviously, some people are just jerks, and they've gotten — whether their contact… Maybe they’re content experts — I don't know. But they continue. The other thing is that, unfortunately, there's this weird thing, as you're talking about systems, where one way to get rid of someone without firing them is to promote them or move them to another place… 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I never thought about that. 

Lisa S.: Oh, my goodness! It's definitely — it's an issue. I can solve my own problem by moving Kevin elsewhere. But he gets promoted, and now he's supervising other people. It looks like he's phenomenal because he's had all these promotional opportunities when really, it's just people trying to get rid of him. 

I think that happens in systems all the time — like kind of wary about this, “Are you that good? Or, are you getting shuffled?” So that is an interesting thing. Again, there's nothing that a subordinate can do about that. It's got to come from the system, or from that person recognizing, or somebody’s supervisor recognizing that they really need to do some work.

I agree. I think not everybody, of course. But most people are open to that in terms of that work because sometimes they're given feedback in they go, “What? What do you mean bully? I’m not a bully.” Let me align your behavior. It's an interesting process, but it's just so hard to be in that position where that's happening to you. There's not a whole lot you can do to make this situation better. You really just need to take what amazing things that you have to offer and find someone who can appreciate them.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I agree with you. Maybe, you could speak to this piece of this. I think it takes a fair amount of confidence and connection with your own self worth to say, ”I am going to take all my gifts and things that I've learned, and take this to somebody who will appreciate me.” Because in my experience sometimes, especially for people who tend to struggle a little bit with depression or anxiety anyway, will — just like being in a toxic romantic relationship or with a parent or a friend. 

When they do live through a toxic occupational relationship with Kevin, they come out the other side feeling like they've done something wrong, or, “If I were better, if I was more talented, if I were a better communicator, I could have made it work with Kevin.” It damages their self-esteem. It makes them doubt themselves. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That's why I like the coaching mode so much because when people think about career stuff, they think about sort of strategy, and job titles, and resumes, and interviewing, and all of those kind of concrete pieces. But so many people that I work for, I look at their credentials and think, “Oh, my God. This is fantastic. You have such a unique set of skills.” And what people see instead is, “Okay, but I don't match the criteria that somebody is posted as preferred qualifications.” I think that's because they don't know that you're out there. 

There's so many pieces that are about that. But when you add in — so I do focus a lot on self-esteem and getting rid of the recurring messages of self-doubt, not, “I'll never get this job. I'm not good enough.” Absolutely, you never apply, you're never going to get that job. You're right. That's the way that it works. 

But I do think that tie up the anxiety and depression that I’m really unpacking a little bit — how much of that is tied to the current work situation, versus I struggle with that in every aspect of my life, and this is how it's showing up at work. Those things are really difficult to untie, but it's so important to focus on because if you're having that horrible, toxic environment at work, you're going to bring that home. 

Again, right now, half the people are working from home, so you're in it — in your own house, and it's impacting your other relationships, your relationships with your kids, all of that. Who has energy when they're having all of their energy sucked by a work situation? Figuring out kind of where all of those pieces come from, and how to best address it: 

“Is it really situational and contextual, and being caused by this work problem? Or, is it something underlying that I need really some help in working through more consistently because it's showing up everywhere? It’s showing up at work, and showing up at home, and it's really become, for me, kind of a systemic thing that I really then need to go a little bit deeper, and figure out kind of the core of those, and hopefully — high tide raises all boats — all of those situations then get a little bit better.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I hear what you're saying. It sounds like it's kind of a chicken and an egg thing that there are some situations… Like if you're in a toxic relationship with your boss, Kevin, and it is making you feel bad, it is making you feel bad about yourself, it's making you question yourself — you're saying that one strategy is to kind of look at the context, and that can be a way to recenter yourself if you're able to say: 

“Actually, it's really specific to this relationship. I didn't feel this way about myself until I started working here, and being able to identify the source of that is a way to understand these feelings are coming from these external circumstances.” 

Maybe, not a sweeping statement about your self-worth. That could be one point of strength. But then the other thing that I'm hearing you say is that if there are predispositions to things like anxiety and depression — and then I think this is probably we're saying out loud because I think that maybe many people don't really understand that the way that we feel changes the way that we think and the way that we perceive things — because I think that it's very easy for we humans to sort of make a causal, “Well, this thing happened, therefore I feel bad.” Whereas what's true in depression and anxiety — you feel down or you feel scared, and therefore, you find reasons to support that feeling. It's kind of like that internal versus external piece — what you're saying, Dr. Lisa is that if it's more like a global thing, and you feel this way in many areas of your life, that would be an indication that maybe it is actually depression or anxiety. Instead of trying to jump out of a job or break up with your boss or something, maybe the more valuable work would be to manage those feelings, and then see how you feel about your job once you're in a better place overall.

Lisa S.: Sometimes that healing process is impossible in a current situation. Then, it's a matter of resources. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: What do you mean? 

Lisa S.: I'm thinking, if you're in a really toxic work environment, even if it is a more global struggles with anxiety and depression that you're dealing with, you still may need to get out if it's a kind of an emergency situation like, “It's pulling me down to the point where I may be thinking about hurting myself.” Or, any of those kinds of pieces. You have to figure out the resources that you need to actually just leave as you would in a toxic — in any kind of toxic relationship. 

I often ask people — when just in the course of conversation, somebody says something that's fairly negative about themselves, or their credentials for a job, or any of that kind of piece. I asked people, “Alright, whose voice was that?” Because whatever that statement was, “I'm not good enough”, “I can't do my job” — like those kinds of pieces. Oftentimes, it is the boss, “Well, Kevin tells me that every day.” Kevin — set up camp in there. 

Part of that, as you said, that sense of empowerment is you need to stop listening to Kevin. It's been long enough. Who knows where those voices come from? If you've been in job searches before, there's a whole lot of rejection that goes along with that, right? Everybody's talking about how great the job market is right now, how people are desperate for employees, but you could still send out hundreds of applications and never hear a thing, or a lot of rejection. You just have to kind of power through some of those things. 

But thinking about certain messages that now you've internalized of how to shut those off. They could be your fifth-grade English teacher who told you you couldn't write, or — those voices come from so many places. Unfortunately, not all of them are positive. Interrupting that pattern can be really helpful. That self-doubt, “Oh, no. They're not going to want me.” “Wait a second. Whose voice is that? Is it yours? Is it your depression? Your anxiety working against you? 

If you want positive things to happen, you need to be proactive about them. But you also need to think about — you just reinforced that message. It was planted by somebody else, but you're now repeating it. How can we interrupt that process? It’s a huge part of the job search process. I find that a lot of people who make an appointment with me, and they don't really know what they want to do. 

But when you start having a conversation, they know exactly what they want to do, but they don't have the confidence or the logistical understanding, or there’s some obstacle that’s standing in their way. That's kind of an interesting process like, “Hmm, sounds like you kind of do.” The question is, “How to make it happen?” Let's go from there. That can be really fun too. But how many of us are our own worst enemies when it comes to those sorts of thoughts? It's kind of amazing. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: That's the hard part, isn't it? 

Lisa S.: When I was working as a recruiter, my favorite question to ask people is — if it's somebody who has various workers, “What would your last supervisor say about you?” Because it has people to sort of put their own like, “I'm not supposed to talk about myself”, and really think from a lens of other people. It's sad that somehow we can advocate better for ourselves in the third person. 

But it was a question that kind of got at that for people. People, “Oh, they can rely on me. I'm always on time.” And all those things. If you were to say that right off the bat, it would feel uncomfortable. But when I'm thinking about, “What would Anne say about me?” Somehow, that's an easier question. Working through some of those pieces to help people be strong advocates for themselves the way they would with anybody else, and do that for themselves. It's amazing to me how hard that is.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What a wonderful idea, though. Just an easy, almost a hack to build up your confidence around, especially career stuff, especially if you have been feeling a little low lately, “What would Anne say about you?” Just to kind of reconnect with that because, yes — so many opportunities right now for people because of the great resignation and all the spaces it’s opened up. 

But I think my main takeaway from our conversation is that that also requires, not just clarity about what you want, what is meaningful for you, but also that confidence piece — that there are other opportunities for you, and you are worth it.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That worth and deserving. It's interesting to kind of unpack what those obstacles are, and some of them are new like, “Okay, I haven't gotten out of my yoga pants in three weeks. How am I going to get in my suit for an interview?” Those types of pieces are just funny and really particular to the pandemic? But I did — I had a client that talked to me after one of their interviews, and they said, “At first, it was really awkward and hard. Then, all of a sudden, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, I do know what I'm talking about. I am good at this.’” 

How do we get that sense back into people, especially if they've had a lot of shuffling around in the last couple of years or have been fairly disconnected because of unemployment, or work structure and what that looks like, and the interviewing process is such a social process of how to get people kind of up and ready for that again. 

Embracing that piece of, “They're lucky to have me. I hope this interview goes well because I can really make a difference for that organization.” We want everybody going into their interviews and life in general — but specifically interviews with that sense of, “I have something to offer, and we'll see who gets to take advantage of that.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Yes. What a beautiful idea for us to end on. They're lucky to have you. You could do so much for them who is going to win the prize of getting to work with you. 

Lisa S.: Absolutely, that's the goal.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What an inspiring conversation, Dr. Lisa. Thank you so much for doing this with me. This was wonderful.

Lisa S.: My pleasure, always. Thank you.

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

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

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

People Pleaser? How to Stop.

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

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How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

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

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

What is a People Pleaser

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

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

Signs of People Pleasing

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

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

The Danger of People Pleasing

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

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

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

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

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

People Pleasing and Boundaries

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

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

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

How Values Can Help People Pleasers

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

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

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

How to Stop People Pleasing

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

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

People Pleaser Podcast Highlights

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

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

[06:32] What Is a People Pleaser?

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

[11:26] Acknowledging a People Pleasing Personality

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

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

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

[20:23] People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger

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

[28:37] Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Signs of Being a People Pleaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is a People Pleaser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledging Your People Pleasing Personality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: Page 43—

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

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

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

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

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

People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: Do yeah, especially nice men.

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

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

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

Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa: I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: All right.

Start A New Chapter

Start A New Chapter

Start A New Chapter

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

Start A New Chapter In Life

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

For decades, counselors and life coaches approached career development like a big matching game. They believed that finding the “right” career was a matter of measuring a person’s strengths, talents, interests, and personality, then choosing the path that aligned most closely. 

You can apply this “matching” approach to choosing a partner, or a place to live, or a new hobby. It’s a handy paradigm for making decisions — but it’s not the only paradigm. 

The “life design” or narrative approach to counseling and coaching starts with the assumption that you are an adaptable, malleable human being capable of tremendous growth and positive change in pursuit of your most important goals. 

By approaching your life as a narrative that you’re actively constructing day by day, you become empowered to change your story about who you are and what you’re capable of. 

Change Your Story

When you reflect on the story of your life, which plot points stand out to you as times when you were at your best, tapping into your potential, and truly sharing your gifts with the world

These likely weren’t the most comfortable experiences of your life. In fact, they may have been incredibly challenging. But they gave you an opportunity to grow and adapt, and the result was increased self-confidence and a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. 

If you can discover what it was about those experiences that put you in touch with your best self, you will have a North Star to guide you in the direction of meaningful, rewarding work that you love

Starting a New Chapter In Life

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

Lao Tzu

If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, or have a nagging sense that you could do more and be more, that’s a sign that you’re ready to start a new chapter in life, at work or in another area. 

Start by reflecting on how you got where you are. How did you choose your current path? Which decisions were really deliberative, and which just felt like the thing you were supposed to do, or the logical “next step?” 

Your answers here will tell you a lot about the values, conscious or unconscious, that have been shaping your story up until this point. Once you have a clear sense of what your values have been, you can decide whether to carry them forward, or shed them for values that are more aligned with the new story you want to create. 

Getting Unstuck

When you’ve invested a lot of time (and money!) in education and training to break into a specific career, it’s not easy to admit to yourself or others that you’re unhappy. 

To get unstuck, it helps to examine your expectations about how careers are “supposed” to go. If you’re like most people, you chose your career path as a young adult, and you likely expected to work in the same field until retirement. 

But in reality, major career changes are incredibly common. If you’re unsatisfied — with your career, your relationship, or any other major life circumstance — are you really willing to endure your current path for another decade? Or three? This is the “sunk cost” fallacy at work. It’s a very human mindset, but it doesn’t lead to courageous, empowered decision-making based on the life you really want. 

Instead of focusing on the investments you’ve already made that can’t be recovered, focus on the new insights you’ve gained about what you want out of life, and the opportunities you have here and now to begin creating it. 

A New Chapter Begins

For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has been a time for re-examining how work fits into our lives. 

We’re seeing the result of all that reflection in what some are calling the “Great Resignation,” an economic and labor trend in which tens of thousands of workers have left their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. 

While the labor shortage has caused serious stress for business owners, it’s a signal that our collective attitudes toward careers are shifting, and that people are beginning new chapters with new values in mind. 

Writing My Next Chapter

When we’re unhappy with some area of our lives, we often feel an impulse to get away and start something new as quickly as possible. We may quit a job to pursue a shiny new opportunity, or leave a partner and immediately enter a new relationship, for example. 

But it’s important to step back and think about your own role in creating whatever circumstances you’re eager to leave behind. If you skip that step before making a major change, you’re likely to find yourself in a similar situation again. 

It’s not easy to take responsibility for a relationship, job, or any other pursuit that didn’t go as you’d hoped. But by looking at past patterns and recognizing your role in creating them, you become empowered to write an exciting new chapter. 

A Fresh Start

The New Year is upon us, and so many of us are feeling energized to make major, positive changes. 

What would you like to bring into your life in this New Year? What would you like to leave behind? 

I hope our conversation gives you a chance to reflect on these questions, and some guidance on making real changes that stick. I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below. 

Cheers to the next chapter, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is by Wet Leg, with their song Chaise Longue.

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

Start A New Chapter

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

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Start A New Chapter: Episode Highlights

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Have you been feeling like it's time for a new chapter in life? A fresh start? A new beginning for your relationship? Or maybe it's time for a career change? Maybe it's time to change your story — the one you've been telling yourself about who you are, what you're worth, and what you can expect from the world because learning how to rewrite your story is one of the single most powerful things you can do, not just to change your life, but also how you experience it. That, my friend, is what we're going to learn how to do on today's show with the help of my expert guest, Dr. Lisa Severy

Now, I am going to go ahead and give Dr. Lisa a proper introduction here because she is so incredibly modest that she would probably never tell you about what a big deal she really is if I gave her the opportunity. You should know that Dr. Lisa is not just an amazing therapist, not just an amazing career counselor and career coach, she is also a past president of both the National Career Development Association and the Colorado Career Development Association. She is the former Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

She is the author of numerous book chapters devoted to the art and science of career counseling and professional development counseling. Dr. Lisa does career counseling, executive coaching, life coaching, and therapy. She has a PhD in Counselor Education, and a master's degree in Mental Health Counseling. She currently serves on the boards of both the National Career Development Association and the American Counseling Association. I am so proud to call her my colleague here at our practice of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. 

Dr. Lisa, welcome.

Dr. Lisa Severy: Thank you so much. I love to hear that. Such a confidence booster as we lead right into this. Thank you so much.

Lisa Marie Bobby: It's so true. I don't know if I ever told you this, but when you first applied to join our practice, our colleague Rachel sent over your materials, and I looked over your CV, and I spit out my green tea a little bit. I was like, “Oh,” because you have just — seriously such an amazing career. You've been such a leader in the field of career counseling, but you are so modest about it. When we were working on your bio to put on our website, we were like, “No! You have to tell people about all of those things.” And you're like, “Oh, okay,” so nice about it. I mean, it's just amazing. 

Here's the first interview question, Dr. Lisa. Why are the most genuinely accomplished people so humble, while kind of questionable and marginally qualified people are shouting to the world about how great they are. I think Sarah Silverman made a comment not too long ago, “One in five residents of the State of California are now some kind of self-anointed life coach or success coach of some kind.” They're happy to tell you all about it, but not the real deal. Inquiring minds would like to know, what do you make of that?

Lisa Severy: It’s probably funny because it probably has a lot to do with cliches about practicing what you preach. Of course, all the clients that I work with, that's a major part of searching for a new job, changing careers, reaching out to your network. There are introverted ways of doing that. But still, it's really hard to do partly because, I don't know about you, but for most of life, you just doing what you do. Something comes up, and you respond, and you do what you do. You don't usually think about it in that holistic way. 

But I certainly do feel privileged to be a part of working with individual clients and then having conversations at the national and international level about everything that's happening with employment and unemployment, and professional practice things like licensure, and making sure people are practicing within their scope so that clients are protected. There's just a lot going on, and I love those conversations. It's a lot of fun for me. It's nice to have it framed in a nice package. But it really does just feel like — I just kind of do what I do each day and try to keep up with what's going on in the field, which is ever changing and a lot of fun.

Career Counseling

Lisa Marie Bobby: That was awesome. Well, the world needs standard bearers such as yourself to make sure — but that's wonderful. Clearly, you love what you do, which is, I think, the goal of so many people. That's why I'm just so thrilled to get your perspective on our topic today because you are — I know you're a therapist, but you specialize in career counseling and career development, career coaching. 

The reason why I really wanted to talk with you today is because you use a particular theory of change to help your clients figure themselves out, and create a meaningful, meaningful path forward. It is a narrative approach. If somebody is listening to this and is ready to create a new chapter — a fresh start to go in a different direction, perhaps with their career or another part of their life — Tell us a little bit about why that narrative approach is so powerful and important.

Lisa Severy: Yes, great. I'd love to. I think it might be helpful to start off how I came to become aware of this. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Tell us your story.

Lisa Severy: Exactly. Because when I was in graduate school — in my master's level program, I had a basic class in career development basically geared towards how to pass the National Counseling Exam, which is great. Of course, career makes up a big chunk of that, but it was very much focused on career development practice that had been since we launched. The National Association actually celebrated its 100th anniversary back in 2013. It's been around for a while. But it was, and appropriately at the time, when it came into being, it was a lot about matching. So matching —

Lisa Marie Bobby: You’re talking about the field of career counseling right now.

Lisa Severy: The field. The approach to career counseling was called person-to-position fit. The idea was if you test the heck out of the person and you characterize a position, or a place or a type of job, you just measure the heck out of these things, and then match them up. That was really the career development mode we used for most of the last 100 years. It worked very well, especially when large groups of people were returning to the workforce — like people coming back from war and those types of situations where we had to do it quick. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Electrician, plumber, right.

Lisa Severy: Exactly, “So here's what we know about you. Here's what we know about this world of work. Let's match up.” It worked, as I said, for a long time. I remember going to a conference and hearing a theorist talk about a different approach, which really is much more proactive, and it fits under two categories, I think. One is positive psychology; so it's very much focused on strengths and what people bring to the world. I mean, the world of work is really how we bring ourselves and our talents to other people. Otherwise, our family and friends know us, but the way we interact with the world is through work. 

The question then became, “Does this really work?” I always think of the quote from Shrek, where he's trying to describe to Donkey that, “Life is like an onion. It has layers, and you just peel it back.” We kind of approached career like that. There is a deep calling. There's a career somewhere inside you, and we just have to find it. That's wonderful for those people it worked for. 

For most of us, no, I don't really have a latent career in there that's waiting to be discovered. Why don't we design it? The whole function of life design, really, is in this group of theories called “constructivist theories,” which is basically, “Let's not just try to figure out something that's there. Let's kind of make it up as we go.” That might be kind of scary for a lot of people. I know it's scary for me, but at the same time, there's a lot of power there. In narrative career counseling, really, take a few steps back, and instead of assessing things like skills and personality type and values, it's kind of clustering it all together under the umbrella of themes. 

What are your life themes? They could be positive or negative. I mean, all of us, but some have had awful things happen in their lives and in their careers. It becomes a part, I think, of the narrator — that voice in the back of your brain that is narrating your life. Sometimes those messages that are coming out, “You're strong. You can do this. You've survived a lot.” Others, quite frankly, not so helpful, right? “You're stupid. You can't do this.” Like all of those things that are negative too. 

The idea behind the narrative career counseling is helping a client to develop, “Okay, these are the themes that I want. These are the themes that I want to keep moving forward here. The ones, maybe, I want to reframe, and rewrite. They, maybe, served a great purpose at the time, but they're not helping me anymore, and I need to reframe them and reuse them.” Then, figure out okay, “Now that I know my themes for my story, what do I want my next plot step to be?” Those things just go hand in hand.

What Is Your Story?

Lisa Marie Bobby: As you're talking, what I'm hearing through my framework — that themes are really those like values, and that, “What is most important to me in the whole world? What am I put here to do? What am I about?” This is wonderful. This is what I love about your work, and why I wanted to talk to you today is because of the depth that you bring to career counseling. 

I think there are so many parallels to all kinds of different life changes. I know you're a coach and a therapist too. Just even the way you talk about career stuff, it's so holistic. I think that you still kind of think about that career counseling as being very cut and dry — like you go see a career counselor, and you take an assessment, and you get the results, “Okay, it looks like I should be a forest ranger. Now, I'm going to research national parks and put out a resume, and now I am standing in the Grand Canyon, swearing in Junior Rangers, and we're done.” Like that kind of thing.

What you're saying is, it's so much different. You're really cracking into who people are, what they are about on very fundamental levels, and where have you been, where are you going, what is meaningful, what is important, and not just with your job, but almost your entire existence. Now, let's talk about how that career path fits into that, which is a totally different thing. The truth is, I think a lot of people could actually do many different things successfully and well, and make a nice living. That's another form of paralysis, right? How do you even choose where you want to go next? 

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. Well, it's always funny to me because so many people, still, will talk about work-life balance. I don't know what that looks like anymore. It's not that we leave work at work, especially as a result of the pandemic. I mean, look, right now. We're both in our houses, right? It's just a very funny thing. Because generally, our work and life are so enmeshed with each other, that it's funny that we still kind of talk about them separately. 

I think in terms of that, really diving into the metaphor of storytelling, and thinking about not what the last chapter is going to be, but what your next chapter is going to be because I completely agree with you too. Most people would be happy and successful in a lot of different career fields. Interest is certainly a huge part of that. What is interesting enough to you that it will hold your attention for 40 hours plus a week? That's, of course, important. 

But in terms of the things that are really reinforcing to you, that you do the things that you do well, and you're working with people that you like and enjoy, and feel a sense of teamwork, and a sense of community — all of those pieces are just as important as your actual work function that you do each day. I like to think of it — I think I've shared this with you before — but I think of two layers related to career and stories. If you think about it for a moment, maybe it's Lemony Snicket, I don't know. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I love that show!

Lisa Severy: If you think of your favorite story, and some people think iconic things — Gone With The Wind or whatever — just a really important story to use — Star Wars. Think about what's happening. There's generally things happening on two levels. One is the story itself, and that's the part that you get all excited, and you describe to a friend,  hopefully with no spoilers. But you describe that to a friend, “This happened, this happened, this happened.” Then, if you ask them, “Okay, what's the underlying theme?” Most people will share something slightly different. Some things are universal, but some things touch each of us as individuals at a very different level, either personally or because you're at a certain period of your life that you just kind of attach yourself to a certain theme. That, to me, is the difference. 

Things like a resume have been at this plot level, right? You outline, “I was at this job. I was at this job. I have this many supervisees,  this many billable hours.” Whatever the case may be, but the theme underneath is really different for everybody. I think about that. Well, the interesting part is, whenever you ask someone to tell a story — does not matter the topic — they're going to tell you their themes. If I were to ask you, “Tell me about your very first memory.” Because we're humans, and we categorize things, you're going to tell me a story that has something to do with the themes in your life. 

When I work with a client, that is my only goal at the beginning — is just to get them to tell stories about themselves. Not necessarily — it could be work related, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. An example I use is when I was in high school, I was part of the soccer team and part of the choir. Nobody else overlaps between those two. But I was the person on the team that wasn't “the party person” or whatever. But whenever anybody had a problem, I was the one that they came to — with family, boyfriends, whatever the case may be. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I could totally see that.

Lisa Severy: Now, I'm a counselor, right? That theme absolutely followed me throughout. Again, when I'm working with a client, regardless of what it is, I use a lot of various techniques, various questioning to get people to think about, what are their underlying themes, and how does that come out in the stories that they tell? How can we build that into their story moving forward?

Lisa Marie Bobby: Got it. Got it. Getting away from the facts, the circumstances — you had this job, and you had that job — and really thinking more about the things that feel important to you that are almost patterns that come up over and over and over again in your life, times when you felt flow, or sort of maybe were using your natural talents, or just taking pleasure. I bet it felt nice to you when people would come and talk to you. 

Lisa Severy: Absolutely!

Making a Career Change

Lisa Marie Bobby: That sort of quasi-counselor role after soccer practice or whatever — because that was just what you are supposed to do. Without thinking about those times of… When was I being my — I hate to use such a corny phrase — but “best self”? You know what I mean? When was I just being my — this is so vital because I think what you're also shining a light down is the path towards having a career path and work in your life that is genuinely enjoyable and pleasurable, and fun. 

I think that for so many people — which is crappy to think about — but getting hooked into jobs or careers, situations where they're just showing up, they're doing it, they're getting the paycheck, and their life is — it's almost like they're enduring their time. It's like you can actually love it. I mean, we all have days, but, I don't know about you, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would come right back here, and be sitting at this desk and doing the same thing. Do you know what I mean? Because it's not connected to that for me. It's like I just like it.

Lisa Severy: I talked to some clients before about an 80-20 rule. I find in general, if you like it 80% of the time, there's always going to be stuff that you don't necessarily like. It's not all rosy types of careers. There are careers that are very necessary and very rewarding that are really difficult. One of one of my many career paths was working as a victim's advocate. That was very hard to do. It wasn't the content that was necessarily reinforcing but the ability to make a difference in the lives of those victims who'd been through some very traumatic things — of course that's rewarding. 

Especially for some very high functioning folks who get sort of into traps. They're making a lot of money, or they’re in a very prestigious position, but it's not really connected to who they are. We all know people who are the opposite who absolutely adore their jobs — they do. Like leap out of bed to go do the work that they do because they're enjoying it so much. I know in various positions in my own past, I thought, “That's what I want to be like. I'm here because it's comfortable.” Comfortable might be a terrible word for us. We might want to just get rid of that level.

The thought is, “Can it be better?” When you improve, as with everything else, it bleeds into everything. You could say, “Well, I'm doing this job. I kind of hate it, but I'll keep doing it because I have a family to support, and I need the health insurance.” And whatever. All of those things are valid and true. That level of stress and anxiety is going home with you. Your general sense of not feeling engaged at all in what you're doing. Again, 40 plus hours a week — you can't really be a full healthy human if you're experiencing that, and we all deserve better than that.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I agree. It's such a devil's bargain in some ways. I'm just the parallel of just enduring a really terrible relationship. So much of your life energy is going into that as into a career that is just not compatible and not congruent with who you fundamentally are, and what your life is really about. That's a hard spot to be in, even if intellectually, it makes sense. Also, let's all just acknowledge that there's a lot of privilege involved in being able to do exactly what we want to do all the time. There's that. 

Okay. This is super helpful. I know that we have people listening right now who would love to get some of your insights on how to launch this growth process inside of themselves. With your permission, I'm just going to pretend to be one of our listeners here for a minute. Let's say, I show up to see you for a first session with you, and I say: 

“Dr. Lisa, I feel so stuck. I have a job. It's okay. I don't love it. I feel like there has to be more to life. I know that I can be more and do more, and feel more fulfilled. Not just by my career, but my whole life maybe, right? But I'm just having so much trouble getting a handle on what I should be doing instead. I think about things if I start to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the options. I just don't, right? I managed to fill up my time with distractions. I keep trudging along in my little rut, and oh — look, another year has gone by, and here I am. Dr. Lisa, what do I do?”

Now, I know career counseling is a whole process, and you work with people for months — no, really — like months, helping them dig in and sort through all this stuff. A podcast is not the same as doing this with you. I mean, what advice would you give to a listener who is in that space and really eager to begin doing some of this deep existential work? Making contact with their themes, and trying to figure out like, “Where's my lighthouse? What should I move towards?” What are some questions you might ask, or things you might invite them to think more about, or ask themselves? I mean, I know everybody's different but —

Lisa Severy: Well, I think — as with a lot of counseling of course, my first part of the process is to ask way too many questions. I'm sure that's what it feels like as a client, right? Just like trying to get it everything. I think a starting point is really to ask people how they got where they are. Because most people don't start from, “Okay, I'm going to try to find a mediocre job that I can just slog through.” Sometimes, people's jobs have changed dramatically from when they started. It could be that they kept getting offered — again, self-disclosure. When I was the director of the career center, or even working in a career center, I kept getting offered jobs with more responsibility. Eventually I found myself as an administrator not working with clients. Bummer! It was all positive; that all worked. 

Generally speaking, after “How can I be helpful?” My second question when somebody is in that place of, “I don't know what I want, but I don't want this” is to really ask someone, “Okay, how did you get here?” To really be thoughtful about, not an elevator pitch, not what you tell someone in the seat next to on an airplane, but how did you get where you are, and which pieces were very deliberative in your decision-making, and which things kind of — you were speaking about privilege earlier — which things were sort of, you did them because you were supposed to do them next, but they weren't necessarily part of your process of making meaning out of your life and your career. That would be my starting point, is to really look at the career path, career trauma that has happened because all of us have had that, some horrible supervisor or everybody gets laid off. 

Man, the pandemic caused trauma for a whole lot of people work related. I love reading articles right now about the “Great Resignation,” as a lot of people are saying, “No, it's not worth it.” Now that I've seen what life is like in a different way, not going back. Whatever that process was will tell both of us a great deal about your story and your themes up to this point, and how you got to the place where you made the proactive decision to go find help. Listen to a podcast, have a session with a career counselor. 

Even talking to family and friends about it because once you start to talk about your story with family and friends, they'll tell you from their perspective what your story is. You can decide which pieces fit for you and which don't. Like if you were writing a novel, you need to do all of that background research and figure out all of your characters. Every hero has a backstory. What is your backstory? Where do you want to, sort of as a starting point, moving forward from here?

Rewrite Your Story

Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow, gosh! This is so good and so helpful. I'm so glad that we're talking about this because it's so authentic. You have to get radically honest — but I tell you because I've actually done some of — not related to career specifically so much, but I've done things in my life that I've regretted and felt bad about afterwards. I think that kind of work that you're talking about that, “What was my motivation at the time? What were my intentions?” 

There's also so much, I think, self-compassion that can come out of that because when you really go back and put yourself as that person in the past, and just making the best decisions you could at the time, it's a very healing process I think in some ways. I think people can release a lot of the shame and the regret because hindsight is always that 20/20. With so many things in life, it's okay to say, “I'm a different person now five years ago when I moved to Delaware, or took this job, or started this relationship. Like this is what made sense. When I think about how I got to this place, it makes sense to me. But I also know that I don't want to stay here.” That's that empowering piece.

Lisa Severy: Hopefully building in a sense of hope around various pieces because I really think — you used a great word earlier that I hear often, and that's stuck. What is it that is the stuck part? Is it not wanting to — I don't have a resume that I've done in the last 30 years, and I really don't want to do that. Or is it again, the financial piece that you're stuck? Is it benefits? Why? Why are you stuck? Do you not want to tell someone that maybe you have a position that's prestigious? You want to do something totally different? Some of the career fields that people go into and leave the most are things like dentistry and law. Those require a huge amount of school and investment of tuition money, and time and all of those pieces that somebody's like, “I can't leave that now. I've invested too much of it.” 

There's this Economics 101 of diminishing returns. But do you see yourself doing this until the day you finally get to retire because you really don't like what you're doing? Or is it time to, “Okay, but don't wait another five years. I'll change eventually.” That's the other one. You've earned it, in other words, you've earned the chance to change. I think about the fact that historically, our — well, maybe in the last 100 years — that the trajectory has been very much, “You go to school for however long that period of time is. Then, you work for however long that period of time. Then, you retire and you have a period of leisure.” That's not the way we exist anymore. 

Students take a gap year before they go to college, or maybe after college. Before they start work, they go back to school after years of being in one career. Maybe they want to advance. Maybe they want to change fields entirely — whatever. Same thing. Maybe you take a year off to do that. Now, we're doing, I think, more, which is very fun — fun to work with folks who are willing to, “Well, let's shake that up!” That very linear kind of timeline of school, work, leisure. What if we mix that all up and took leisure when we were healthy, and could travel the world? All of those sorts of questions, and a sense as exactly as you were talking about — giving ourselves — we'll do it for friends — but giving ourselves permission to let go of some of those “shoulds.”

“I've reached here, how could I possibly leave?” Whatever the case may be. And it does, it happens in relationships — relationships with people, relationships with work. It's very similar. How do you sort out what's working and what's not? As you said, give yourself permission to make a dramatic change. You can do that in a very calculated way so it’s not as risky as it feels. Baby steps are okay too. Some people just want to leap, and that's fine as well. But working through those pieces so that there's a comfort level in change, not just a comfort level in stuckness.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Right. I'm just sitting here thinking about the — going back to that idea that we first started talking about the narrative, about the story. Until you are able to change that internal story that you're telling yourself, you can't change the external circumstances — that plotline. It's like doing that internal work around the “shoulds,” and the, “Do I actually have to do what I've been taught I should do? No! I don't,” being able to write new mythologies, so to speak, like the world according to me.

Lisa Severy: I just love all of these superhero movies in the last 20 years or so. As they said, they all have this origin story. Clark Kent, who's working in journalism — doing very well at that, and all of those things working — “Okay, so now I'm going to go save the world.” Okay! Maybe you're going to miss a deadline here or there with your story. Obviously, not everybody is going to develop superpowers.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I was thinking that he probably would have taken an aptitude test, pointed him in the — I mean, he can fly and throw cars. That's fairly specific. You have to wear the tights, and the underpants on the outside if you have that thing.

Lisa Severy: I can't think of that showing up on any norm referenced test though. Very first question on some of those like, “Would you like to be a dentist, or no?” And it just goes through career by career, by career. I don't know that superheroes are on it — but it should be. It absolutely should be. Because how can you contribute to the world? 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I think we all have a superpower.

Lisa Severy: I think so too. Absolutely, I do! So, discovering what that is. A lot of people who come into counseling or coaching with career, they do know. They do know what their superpowers are. Some don't. That's a fun process of discovery. Often, they do. What's interesting to me is half the time, they're not doing any work related to it. That's like a side kind of occupation, if you will. Talk about integrating those things. It's wonderful if you have your act together, and you can do that at 18. I don't know many people who do or did.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I couldn’t. I could barely be a waitress. Like I wasn't even a good waitress — forget stuff, sell things on people. Can we just go back briefly to a thing that you started to mention a couple of minutes ago when we were talking? You are mentioning this sort of new movement in the world, which I think is fantastic. People feeling empowered to leave their jobs. I was kind of curious to know, what you make of this? I mean, I think you just alluded to it. As people were sort of more in their actual lives maybe, and less in this inhabiting a work world all the time, they were like, “Wait a minute, I like my life. I want to do more of that.” Do you think that's what it's about, or is there something else going on?

Lisa Severy: That's a really good question. I think there's a mixture of a lot of different things. I think a lot of people reached a realization where they said, “You know, this isn't worth it.” Whatever they're having to give up — whether it's safety, or safety of family and friends, kids, parents — that whole piece, and really thinking about the fact that we all have time, treasure and talent that we bring to the world. A lot of people feel like, for the first time, they're having that realization, “I don't think that people I'm working for right now value that in the slightest. They don't value my health. They don't value my well-being, what's happening in my life.” 

As more and more news stories get written about how employers can't hire — I'm going to go find someone who can. On one hand, it's not particularly great for a lot of employers, especially small businesses, and they're struggling. At the same time, I do feel like there's this sense of empowerment. There's so much going on with the world that you as an employer have to show me that this endeavor is worth it which is a very different sense of — I think in the past, people have just felt like, their employer — they owe something to their employer as if they've given them some gift of a job. 

There's just been this fundamental shift in terms of the way that people think about things of, “No, I bring this to you. In return, you give me a salary and benefits.” And really thinking about that equation, and am I on the positive side of that equation? A lot of people are coming to the, “No, I don't think so. I feel like I'm getting used.” So, bye! Again, it’s great, especially if you don't have something else to go to. That to me, I have a lot of admiration for that.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Take this job and shove it. But I love this, and this is so interesting because like there's this emotional component. It's almost like people have been trying to have almost a one-sided relationship, and coming to the conclusion, “These people don't care about me. They don't have empathy for me. They don't value me. I'm going to find somebody who does.” 


Lisa Severy: I think the flip side of employers is also customers. That's been a challenge as well. Certain industries — like talk to a flight attendant right now about how abused they are. It's not always just employers, and I get that. You could have phenomenal people to work for. Again, if you don't find any meaning and purpose in working in a career that you're in, and knowing that there are options out there now, especially in things like customer service, that people are saying, “Okay, I'm going to go find something else.” I think it's great. It's scary, but it's great.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Yeah! Well, I think — and changing the system truly, like with our — back 100 years ago, there were unions, and people unionized, and they changed the big systems. Now, we're sort of still doing it collectively, but just in a different way. I’m so curious to see what happens.

Lisa Severy: Me too. I mean, we've worked for so long to try through legilation and things — to change the minimum wage. Now supply and demand is — okay, nobody will work for minimum wage where I am in the world. It's not necessarily everywhere. That's driven it up. So it's interesting — you're right — to see how those dynamics are going to play out, that circumstance. The world went upside down for sure. Back to normal, it's not something I even talk about because, “No, no! We want to go forward to normal, and really create something new and just full circle.” I think that's what's so fun about working with narrative career things is that you're really writing it and creating it. It's not like you're going to take somebody else's script, and start reading off of that one. 

Maybe that's how you've always felt. Let's start from here. I can help you as an editor, consultant, advisor, write the next chapter of what your life looks like. But it's you. You're the one that's going to do it, and take ownership of it. You really should never let, in any circumstance, nobody else should write your story. You should write it yourself, and you have lots of people to support and help you do that. I love working with clients who are doing that. Front and center; you are the author of your own story.

Starting a New Chapter

Lisa Marie Bobby: I'm just sitting here thinking about how important it is to do that work. Maybe this is not an accurate parallel, but when you were talking about people jumping ship to try something better — because you're a career person, and I am a relationship person, American Family Therapist. 

It's really common for people to feel those feelings in a relationship. They feel unhappy. They feel uncared for. “I'm not compatible.” “There's somebody better for me,” so they abandon ship. They ended. They jump out of the plane, and they parachute down. Sometimes, I see this a lot. My relationship work — there's almost this reflexive reaction. It's like wanting to get away from an unhappy situation that they don't know how to fix. But with people in relationships, they end their relationship, they think, “Problem solved.” Because of that, they don't always do their own personal growth work in that kind of time in between, so it's very easy to hop into a new relationship with a different person — but you're still the same you. You have your baggage, your patterns, your ways of relating and communicating, and attachment styles, and dealing with conflict, and all the things that you might not always consciously be aware of. 

What you often see is that people will, over time, start to just almost energetically elicit the same kinds of reactions from their new partners that their old partners are having to them, and the relationship starts to feel familiar in not a great way. I'm wondering if there's ever that — do you see that with your career coaching clients, like leaving a job because there are new opportunities available, and so they kind of jump into the next one without really thinking about it or doing that deep work that you're describing that, “Okay. What happened? How did I get here? What do I want next? What do I want to do differently next time?” Do you find them sort of vulnerable to recreating the same patterns if they're not fully self-aware before they make an actual change, or is it different?

Lisa Severy: No, I think absolutely. I think you're right. I think pattern is the right word to use, which is really funny because, again, it's easy to see in other people but really difficult to see in yourself like, “Well, I'm just attracted to the bad boy.” Hold on a second! The one consistent in all of your relationships has been you. I think because we are naturally sort of comfort seekers, so we'll seek out a similar environment to what we had before. If I'm trying to get away from a supervisor that is not supportive or whatever, but then I get into a new supervisory relationship. Somehow, I set the same patterns and end up with a similar thing. Am I just unlucky, and I've always had bad supervisors, or do I need to be more thoughtful about how I establish a relationship with a supervisor? How I nurture a relationship with a supervisor? Maybe doing things I've never thought to do before — like finding an external mentor who can help me process some of the things that I used to unload on a supervisor. 

Just unpacking all of those stories and again, seeing what patterns are repeating that maybe I don't want to include moving forward. “I really want to do that in a new way.” I absolutely think the relationship parallels are there because we talk about work as if it's this inanimate object, but really, it's a series of people doing a series of tasks. It's not all that different. It is funny the things that repeat like, “I stayed in for the children.” That can certainly describe a marriage or a job you don't really like that has great benefits and a great salary, those things. 

I think that pieces are relatable, which again, you described it as holistic earlier. I completely agree because, as I said, if you're in a bad work situation, it’s going to impact your relationships elsewhere and all of those pieces. How do you kind of unpack — I mean, in the counseling textbooks, we talked about it — the locus of control, right? I don't want to feel lucky when things go well, and unlucky when things don't go well. You have to take more ownership and more power than that. How do I make things go well, or how do I set myself up to be in a situation that things are more likely to go well? Because obviously, we can't control everything. But how we respond to the things that are happening to us is everything. It’s the difference between being satisfied and successful at work, versus just sort of sailing along. It’s how much ownership and control, so that we're not — to extend that metaphor — drifting all over the place, but rowing in a particular direction. 

I do just meet a lot of people that I think, “Of course you can decide that.” Whatever the question is, or if somebody says, “Well, I can't do this.” Who told you that? Like those types of questions that really, oftentimes, that's what I love about the coaching aspect. You have these skills, get in the game and use them, which sometimes again, people just need that a little bit of extra external validation to go do. Maybe they have a few tools that aren't quite there yet, so we need to work on those. Once you can get them together — but you do have to have your own sense of agency that you can write the next chapter, and you can do these things. You don't have to wait for that lucky break.

Lisa Marie Bobby: To be the author of your own story, and write your next chapter where you're the hero, and you do have superpowers, and you can actually do anything you want.

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I love it. What a nice and empowering note for us to end on. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners who might be feeling like they're on the cusp of a new chapter and ready to go? Actually, let me ask you more directly. If I were to ask you to tell us a story, maybe about somebody that you worked with who did this work and did go on that amazing hero's journey, and did start writing their own story — of course not identifying details or anything — but what have you seen happen?

Lisa Severy: That's a really — that's a good question. That, to me, is the reward of the work as well. I do remember, I was working with a group of people, and we were using collages. Back to kindergarten, we're going to cut stuff out of a magazine, and there's a lot of pieces that really fit the narrative piece in that. Sometimes, what happens if you are to just flat out ask people, “okay, so tell me what are your life themes?” It’s very difficult.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I don’t know.

Lisa Severy: “I don't know.” But again, if you ask them, “Okay, what sort of magazines do you read?” Or watching people as they go through a magazine. Some people pull out words to use that are very meaningful to them. Some people pull up pictures. It's just this process, and you don't have to think about it very much, which is great. I was watching somebody, and they laid out all these beautiful pictures of things that they liked and used very empowering words, which are great, out of magazines, and all of those pieces. There was this giant white space in the middle. We went around in the group, and people were sharing various aspects of their collages, and other people were giving them feedback. 

Then, he kept deferring — like, no, no. Somebody else should go. Finally, like, “Okay, your last. That’s it, you have to share.” So, he described the whole thing, and then held it up, and he was like, “But I don't know what goes here.” Then, there was this giant pause, and he said, “I don't know what goes here. I need to figure out what goes here.” There was just this — nobody even said a thing. He realized that he may have a lot of, “These are the things I kind of want, but what is my essential sort of totally ‘blank’ slate.” And that was very scary to think about a blank slate, but also incredibly empowering for him to start to do the work, “I need to figure out what's right here.” And I thought, “Couldn't have said it better myself.” It was great.

It was, as I said, everything that you described was in his own language, in his own words, using his own pictures. None of that came from me, which I think is sometimes the danger of, “Well, you're very articulate. I think you should do this.” No,no. It all should come from him. Just in talking about it, that he was the one that had that realization of the work that he needed to do. It was a great launching place then for the rest of the work of the group. It was really fun. I thought, “I hope you put this on your fridge and you look at it every morning so that you know what you're doing, and you know what you're working on.” That right now is enough. To know that you don't know is enough right now, and we'll work on it from there.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Do you know how that story ended, or was it a group that maybe he kept doing his own work after that’s ended? 

Lisa Severy: That is sort of the, sometimes, the drawback. I mean, we did work on figuring out what that essential piece was, and got a lot of work done in that area. Last one, the group ended, he was still in the same position — just trying to figure out sort of what to do next.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, what a gift though that he got from his work with you, it was just that realization of I don't have a central theme. I don't have a meaningful anchor in the middle of my life to kind of hold all this stuff together. Just how cool that you were able to help him connect those dots experientially without somebody telling him that when he was like, “Wait a minute!” Everyone within the sound of our voices, get yourself a glue stick and start ripping up some magazines, and see what happens next.

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. It's a little bit harder to do online, but those types of activities where we can because so much of career stuff is in our brains. A lot of us overthink a lot of things. Sometimes, you need to stop thinking about something. It's like trying to think of a name. You can think of it as soon as you stop trying to think. Some of those types of exercises are when I'm asking people to tell me a story about their early childhood like, “What's the earliest thing you can remember?” You're not overthinking, “Should I take a manager or director position at that point.” You're way in a different space, and that allows for that creativity to come out.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Wow, that's yeah, people get trapped by their own minds, don't they?

Lisa Severy: Absolutely. And I do it all the time. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: As I do, routinely — the human condition. Well, Dr. Lisa, this was such an amazing conversation. Thank you, on behalf of our listeners today, because I know that a lot of people listening to this got not just inspiring ideas, but also some actionable advice for things to start thinking about and asking themselves about. On behalf of them, thank you so much for being so generous and sharing that with us.

I would love to have you back on the show again sometime because one thing I didn't get to ask you more about — we ran out of time — you had talked about toxic or traumatic work experiences. We're going to plant a flag in that, and I'd like you to come back and talk to me about that again.

Lisa Severy: Yep, absolutely. That'd be great. Thank you for your time today. This is great.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This was wonderful. I'll see you soon. 
Lisa Severy: Thank you.

[Outro song: Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”]

Music in this episode is by Wet Leg, with their song Chaise Longue.

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

Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

Emotional Invalidation

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

Feeling Invalidated

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

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

Emotional Invalidation

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

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

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


Emotional Invalidation

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

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Emotional Invalidation: Episode Highlights

Step One: Let's Define “Invalidate”

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

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

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

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

Let's review.

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

Types of Emotional Invalidation

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

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

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

But here are some of the “usual suspects.”

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

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

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

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

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

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

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

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

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

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

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

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

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

Does this sound like something you might say?

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

Example of a Truth Owner in Action:

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

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

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

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

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

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

What is “Validation” Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Validate Someone's Feelings

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

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

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

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Validation?

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

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

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

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

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

How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Emotional Invalidation

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?

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

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

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

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

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

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

Inattentive Invalidators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belligerent Invalidators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlling Invalidators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgmental Invalidators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Invalidators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr./Ms. Fix-It 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arc of Change is Experiential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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