563: Lori Gottlieb on Maybe You Should Talk to Someone & How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life

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Lori Gottlieb on Maybe You Should Talk to Someone & How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life
Wellness Mama » Episode » 563: Lori Gottlieb on Maybe You Should Talk to Someone & How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life
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563: Lori Gottlieb on Maybe You Should Talk to Someone & How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life
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Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author of “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” which has sold over a million copies and is currently being adapted as a television series. And I absolutely loved recording this episode with her. In addition to her clinical practice, she’s a cohost of the popular “Dear Therapists,” podcast produced by Katie Couric, and she writes the Atlantic’s weekly, “Dear Therapists,” column. She is a very much sought-after expert and has an amazing TED Talk, which I will link in the show notes. Highly recommend listening to it.

This was an awesome episode and we go into why she was supposed to write a book about happiness, but that made her depressed and what she wrote instead. She talks about what led her to therapy herself as a therapist and the reason she speaks from a perspective of a card-carrying member of the human race and not just as a therapist. She shares examples of stories that we hold onto that actually make us more miserable and why we are unrealistic narrators of our own lives, how men and women communicate differently in therapy, and how to bridge the gap and how we treat emotional pain differently than physical pain and why this is a problem.

I will let her work speak for itself, but so much good information in this episode. I know that you will enjoy it. So without any more wait, let’s join Lori Gottlieb.

Episode Highlights With Lori Gottlieb

  • Why she was supposed to be writing a book about happiness but it made her depressed and what she wrote instead
  • What led her to therapy as a therapist
  • The reason she speaks from a perspective of a “card carrying member of the human race” and not just a therapist
  • Examples of stories we hold onto that actually make us more miserable and why we are unrealistic narrators of our own story
  • “Before diagnosing someone with depression, make sure they aren’t surrounded by assholes”
  • How men and women communicate differently in therapy and how to bridge the gap
  • Ways to help your partner feel safe in communicating in a relationship
  • How we treat emotional pain differently than physical pain and why this is a problem
  • Why we often have trouble changing even though we know it’s good for us
  • The stages of change and why these are important to know
  • Why we seek out repeat situations that we had in childhood with the idea that now as adults we will win and this time it will work out. And how to repattern this
  • Why “we marry our unfinished business” and what to do about it
  • The inadvertent prisons we place ourselves in that are based on our own stories and how to get out of them
  • One thing that is hardest for people to do right in relationships
  • Her very valuable advice for parents after working with thousands of patients
  • Three words that can change your relationship with your children
  • The accidental criticism we give to our kids that stays with them into adulthood
  • Misconceptions about therapy that are hurting people and how to get past them
  • The one concrete thing we can all do right now to improve our emotional well being
  • Is it kind, is it true, is it useful?

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

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Hello, and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast”. I’m Katie, from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com, that’s wellness with an E on the end, my new personal care line. And I absolutely loved recording this episode with Lori Gottlieb on, “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” and how changing your story can change your life.

 

Lori is a psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author of, “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” which has sold over a million copies and is currently being adapted as a television series. In addition to her clinical practice, she’s a cohost of the popular, “Dear Therapists,” podcast produced by Katie Couric and she writes the Atlantic’s weekly, “Dear Therapists,” column. She is a very much sought-after expert in media, and she’s been on all kinds of media, as well as sat in on an amazing TED Talk, which I will link in the show notes. Highly recommend listening to it. And she’s the creator of the, “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” workbook, which I will also link in the show notes.

 

This was an awesome episode. We go into why she was supposed to write a book about happiness, but that made her depressed and what she wrote instead. What lead her to therapy herself as a therapist. The reason she speaks from a perspective of a card-carrying member of the human race and not just as a therapist. Examples of stories that we hold onto that actually make us more miserable and why we are unrealistic narrators of our own lives. Why she says before diagnosing with someone with depression, make sure they’re not surrounded by assholes. How men and women communicate differently in therapy and how to bridge the gap. Ways to make your partner feel safe in communicating within a relationship. How we treat emotional pain differently than physical pain and why this is a problem. Why we have trouble changing even when we know this is good for us. And we talk a lot about how we often repeat situations that we had in childhood and the idea is that now as adults, we’re trying to win this time and work it out, and how to repattern it. As well as how as parents, we can be aware of this to hopefully create healthier patterns for our own children, and she gives some really valuable tips for this, especially three words that I think are magic with kids.

 

I will let her work speak for itself. So much good info in this episode. I know that you will enjoy it. So without any more wait, let’s join Lori Gottlieb. Lori, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

 

Lori: Well, thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

 

Katie: I’m very excited to chat with you because, like I mentioned before we recorded, I’ve shared my own trauma story and how much therapy has helped me, and since then have gotten literally thousands of emails and messages from people who are on similar journeys. And I know you have so many amazing resources about this, and we’re gonna get to go deep about how changing your story can change your whole life. And you’ve done a TED talk on this. You’re such an amazing resource. To start off, though, I would love for you to delve into how you were originally supposed to write a book about happiness, from what I understand. And you say that the happiness book actually made you depressed. And I think this is a really important starting point. So, I would love for you to elaborate on that a little bit.

 

Lori: Right. So, the book that I ended up writing is called “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.” And in that book, I follow the lives of four of my therapy patients as they go through their various struggles. And then there’s a fifth patient in the book who’s me as I go through my own struggle, and I go to see my own therapist. And before I thought about turning something like that into a book, before that was even an inkling of an idea, I was under contract to write a book about happiness. And I was having so much trouble. I could not write this book because every time I would sit down at the computer, I just felt like it was missing this essential element of what I was seeing in the therapy room, what it means to be human, where is our humanity in this. And it occurred to me as I was writing this that the goal is not necessarily happiness, it’s meaning, it’s fulfillment, it’s connection, it’s being alive, whatever that means for each of us.

 

And so it’s kind of like happiness as the end goal is a recipe for disaster. But happiness as coming through something that feels meaningful and fulfilling to you I think is what we all should look for. So, I realized that I didn’t wanna do scientific studies about happiness and anecdotes about happiness because I think that that makes so many of us feel like we’re chasing the wrong thing. I wanted people to see the beauty and the joy of getting through our struggles, which is what I have the privilege of seeing as a therapist every day.

 

Katie: I love that. I’ve heard it’s said that the pursuit…like, searching for happiness can actually be a source of suffering, but acceptance of kind of the human condition can actually be a source of happiness. And I love that you touch on that in this book. And you actually introduce yourself in the book, I’m gonna make sure I get this, right as “not just a therapist, but a card-carrying member of the human race.” And I love…I really resonated with how vulnerable and real you are and had such a great perspective. But why did it feel so important to you to introduce yourself that way?

 

Lori: That’s such a great question because I never thought that I would, first of all, do this book. But secondly, when I thought about doing this book, I thought, well, I wanna bring people into the therapy room and they can see what happens with my patients. And I realized that felt kind of disingenuous because I was going through something at the same time and I didn’t wanna position myself as the expert up on high. I wanted to be just, again, a card-carrying member of the human race, which is what I am. I know what it’s like to be a person in the world, I know what it’s like to struggle. And I think it’s so important for people to see that therapists are human too. And I think in the media, the trope of the therapist is either like the brick wall, you know, the person who is kind of impenetrable and maybe they have their lives altogether, or the opposite you see on TV or in movies, which is like the hot mess. The therapist who’s really good in the therapy room but they can’t hold it together outside. And neither of those is true. We’re just normal human beings going through normal struggles. And I thought it was so important to humanize everybody in the book.

 

And if my patients were gonna be that vulnerable in the book, I thought I have to walk the walk and step up and be that vulnerable too. I should say one more thing about that, which is that when I canceled the happiness book and I said I wanna write this book about what happens in therapy, which is really a book about the human condition, people said, “Oh, no one’s gonna read that.” So, I thought, “Okay. Three people will read this, so I can be really open and raw and vulnerable.” And then, you know, now, it’s sold over a million copies, and I think that the reason is that I was so open and raw and vulnerable. But had I known how many people would read it, I might have tried to clean myself up a little bit in the editing, and I didn’t and I’m so glad I didn’t.

 

Katie: Well, I definitely resonated with so much you said, and especially the idea that we are unreliable narrators of our own lives. I think this is such an important point, and it was like a lightning bolt moment for me to really realize that is this thing I think of as reality is actually just my own story that I am making myself miserable by holding on to. So, can you kind of explain that concept and maybe give us some examples of these stories that we hold on to that actually make our lives harder?

 

Lori: Yeah. So, it’s really interesting because when people come into therapy, they are telling me a story. And they’re telling me the story as they see it. And we all think that our version of the story is the accurate version of the story. And it’s not that people are trying to mislead, it’s more that there are other versions of the story that sometimes we can’t see. And that’s where we get stuck. And so, I always feel like my job as a therapist is almost to be an editor in the room where I’m helping people to edit their faulty narratives, to see the other perspectives, to see what stories they’re carrying around that maybe are old stories that never were true or maybe aren’t true anymore. So, people carry around stories like, “I’m unlovable,” or, “I can’t trust anyone,” or, “Nothing will ever work out for me.” Whatever those stories are. And you see that in the book. You see that I think in life with the people that we love. In the book, I write about this thing, the difference between idiot compassion and wise compassion, which is really about this unreliable narrator that we all have.

 

So, idiot compassion is our friends come to us with a story like, “Listen to what my partner did,” or “Listen to what my mother did,” or my sibling, or my boss, or my friend. And we say, “Yeah. You’re right. They’re wrong.” And you know, “You go, girl.” We think we’re being really supportive. But often, if you listen to your friends enough, it’s kind of like if a fight breaks out in every bar you’re going to, maybe it’s you. And we don’t say that to our friends because that sounds really unsupportive. But often, even our own stories, if we start to notice them, we start to notice that we tell the same kinds of stories over and over and that’s where we get into trouble. So, that’s idiot compassion. It’s just blindly backing up your friend.

 

Wise compassion is what you get in therapy, where we hold up a mirror to you and we help you to see something about yourself and your role in the story that maybe you haven’t been willing or able to see. And that’s not to say that there aren’t difficult people out there. I always like to say before diagnosing someone with depression, make sure they aren’t surrounded by assholes. So, there are definitely difficult people out there. But then, what is your response to those difficult people? And then also, how are you choosing the people? And if these are people that you’re not choosing, maybe their family members, what can you do differently in the dance that you’re doing with them? And that’s part of the rewriting of the story.

 

Katie: Yeah. I think even that concept alone is so valuable. And I think often this maybe is the thing that seems illogical when you realize it, but it’s often hard to realize because as you explain more in the story. So, what are some of the ways you can help people kind of even recognize that they’re in the stories and then start to be able to rewrite that, because I think your approach is beautiful, and that you take people from often feeling like a victim or that they’re at the mercy of these things happening to them to understanding their own part in it and their choices they still have. And I think that’s so valuable, but I would guess it’s maybe an uphill battle sometimes because that’s hard when you’re in the story to even notice you’re in the story.

 

Lori: Well, I think it’s so empowering when we realize how much agency we actually have. And so, I think that people feel like they’re trapped, they’re stuck. Like you said, there’s sort of this idea that there’s nothing they can do about the situation because we can’t control other people, which is true. But what we can do is, by changing our own behavior, we can influence other people, because, again, it’s that dance. And if you do different dance steps, they will either have to do different dance steps, or they will fall flat on the floor.

 

So, I think… especially I see this with couples where…I always say to couples before they come in…usually, if I don’t do this, what will happen is they’ll come into a session and they’ll tell me all about why the other person is making the relationship difficult. And so, I say to people before they come in, “I want you to come up with your own goal. Just come up with one goal of what you can do differently to improve this relationship for you, what you can do.” And it changes the entire orientation. It changes the story of what we’re doing in there.

 

So, you’re not gonna worry about whether your partner is meeting his or her goal, you are going to worry about whether you are meeting your goal of what you can do to improve something in the relationship. I often if I’m seeing an individual will say, “Can you tell me the story from the point of view of the person you’re talking about?” And it really makes them think. It really…first of all, it gives them some perspective, it gives them some compassion for the other person, it makes them realize that maybe that person is acting out of fear, anxiety, frustration that they’re not trying to kind of get the person, right? That they’re really…everybody is doing their best given the situation that they’re in. And when we can understand more about all the different perspectives in the story, we can make choices about what we wanna do. We can make much more informed choices.

 

Katie: And I’m so glad you mentioned couples because another important takeaway I had was the differences between how men and women feel and also talk about these things, especially in therapy. And it seems like there’s so much we can learn for our own relationships based on kind of these almost archetypes of how men and women talk differently in therapy. So, can you break that down for people who may not have been through couples therapy or be familiar with that process?

 

Lori: Yeah. And I should say that I see all kinds of couples. So, I don’t just see heterosexual couples. But these are kind of big stereotypes, but there’s a pattern that I’ve seen over the years, where first of all, we say that we want men to open up and be vulnerable, but there’s still so much stigma around that for men. And so often, men, if they come in alone, they’ll say, “You know, I’ve never told anyone this before.” And they literally have not told a soul. Women will come in often and they’ll say, “I’ve never told anyone this before, except for my mother, or my sister, or my best friend.” So, they’ve told maybe one, two, three people, but they feel like they haven’t told anyone. So, I think culturally that says something huge about what we’re allowed to express and what we’re not allowed to express. And then, if a couple comes into the room, and let’s say it’s a man and a woman, and the woman says to the man, “I just feel like we’re not really connected. I want you to open up to me. I want you to share more with me.” And he does right there in the room. And maybe he sheds a tear, and maybe he really starts crying.

 

Inevitably, she will look at me like a deer in headlights like, “What do I do with this?” Right? And it’s this paradox of, “I don’t feel safe when you don’t connect with me and you don’t share with me because I feel this distance between us. But I also don’t feel safe when you’re bawling in front of me.” And so, again, there’s that gender difference about what we’re allowed to do with our emotional lives and how we can connect emotionally with people. So, I think it’s important for us to consider what kind of environment we’re creating for the people we want to get close to. Are we creating an environment where they feel safe to open up to us? And if we’re not, what can we do to help with that?

 

Katie: What are some of the steps we can do to help with that? Because that seems like a common theme. When you say that, I’m like, “Oh, I’ve seen that play out in my own relationships and friends’ relationships.” Are there ways…kind of general. I know everybody is different. Every couple is different and there’s a lot of intricacies, but are there general ways we can help our partners feel safe?

 

Lori: Well, first of all, I think it’s knowing that you can tolerate your partner’s discomfort. And so, often what we do with our partners is we don’t like it when they’re uncomfortable, and this goes for anybody. And so we try to make them feel better in the moment, which might not be what they’re needing. So, if someone says, “Oh, I’m so worried about this.” And we say, “Oh, don’t worry about that.” Right? Are we trying to distract them? Like, they’re sad about something and we say, “Hey, let’s go out and get some ice cream,” as opposed to, “Yeah. Let’s talk about this.”

 

I think especially with some of the tender feelings, we get really uncomfortable when someone is being that vulnerable with us and we don’t know what to do with it. So, instead of being present for them, we’re trying to help ourselves manage our own discomfort. So, I think that this comes down to learning how to listen and really be good listeners. Listening is not just hearing the words that someone is saying, listening is when someone comes to you to say, “I’m here for you, and how can I be helpful right now?” And that’s gonna be different from maybe what you would want in the moment.

 

So, they might say, “I just want to hug” or they might say, “I just wanna vent right now. This just has happened and I just need to talk. I just need to say it out loud.” Or it might be, “I really wanna hear your thoughts about this. I’m not sure what to do.” But you have to ask to know how you can be helpful. And also know that it’s not just a one-off, meaning they might come to you with something and, in that moment, they just want a hug, or in that moment, they just wanna vent. But then two days later, they’re gonna say, “Remember that thing we were talking about? I’m wondering if you have any ideas about it.” Or “Can we talk more about that?”

 

So, that’s what it means to really offer your presence to someone else, and that’s when people really feel safe. They know that you will be there for what they’re asking for in that moment.

 

Katie: That seems like such a common sense, but very also groundbreaking idea is literally ask them and actually listen to what they say, versus assuming and then trying to fix the problem for them. I think of this in business and every aspect of life as well. So many of our problems are caused by our own assumptions. And you also talk about what you call the hierarchy of pain and how this assumption kind of leads to more problems in relationships and leads to us minimizing potentially the other person’s feelings. And I definitely can resonate with this in my own life. So, I would love for you to explain that kind of concept and why maybe there’s a better way to think of it.

 

Lori: Yeah. The hierarchy of pain is interesting, and I didn’t realize it existed until I became a therapist. And what I saw was people would come in and they would literally apologize for their problems. Or if they started crying, they would say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry to be crying about this.” Even though there’s three boxes of tissues near them and they’re in a therapist’s office. So, they’re even apologizing for crying in a therapist’s office. And I realized that people really rank their emotional pain. And we don’t do this with our physical pain. So, for example, if you fall and break your arm, you’re not gonna be like, “I’m not gonna go get a cast and go to the doctor because some people have it worse. It’s just a broken finger. It’s just a broken arm, compared to someone maybe has stage-four cancer.” We don’t rank it. We say, “I’m actually going to take care of my health.” What we do with our emotional pain is…it’s sort of like the difference between if you are having chest pain, you’ll probably go to the cardiologist before you have a massive heart attack and say, “What is this chest pain about?”

 

If you are having emotional pain, often people will say, “Oh, I’m feeling a little sad, or maybe I’m a little bit anxious, or I can’t sleep, or I’m having this problem in my relationship.” But it’s not that bad compared to whatever in their mind they compare it to. They’re like, “I have a roof over my head and food on the table, so it’s fine. It’s not that bad.” Then they end up in my office when they’re having the equivalent of an emotional heart attack. And the problem with that is that, first of all, it’s harder to treat because now it’s gotten really, really bad, whereas before, we could have dealt with it at the level that it was at.

 

The other problem is that you have suffered unnecessarily for maybe weeks or months or even years when you didn’t have to. You didn’t have to suffer alone in silence for all this time. So, I think we really need to think about why that is that we have this hierarchy of pain around our emotional health. And remember that pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. You don’t have to rank it. It doesn’t have to meet certain criteria before you’re allowed to go and get help for it. And I think it comes down to prioritizing our emotional health as much as we prioritize our physical health.

 

Katie: Such an important point. And I can recognize times I’ve even done that in relation to myself where I minimized childhood experiences because I’m like, “Well, that’s not as bad as the high school experience. It was an actual assault. So, that can’t be the reason.” And I kind of avoided dealing with those things for a long time because I had that same mindset of, “Oh, well, it can’t be that bad,” versus actually acknowledging and dealing with it. And another interesting thing I’m sure you encounter all the time is people go to therapy. The whole purpose of therapy is to help create positive changes in our lives. And yet also, statistically, it’s actually very hard to make those positive changes in our lives. So, why is it so difficult, even when we know it’s good for us to actually go through the work and make these changes?

 

Lori: The thing about change that people don’t realize, and this is why New Year’s resolutions often fail to because we think, “I’m gonna make a decision to change, and then I’m gonna change.” And that’s gonna be how it works out. And of course, statistically, that doesn’t happen. And that’s for few reasons. One is that change travels with loss, meaning that when you make a change, you are giving up the thing that you already have. So, the thing that we already have is familiarity. So, even if you’re in a bad relationship, it’s like you know that relationship. If you have patterns that are holding you back, at least you’re used to them. They’re familiar to you. And often they’re familiar things from childhood. We’ve had them for years and decades. These are things that…we’ve lived with these patterns and these ways of being for a very long time. And so, even if the thing that we have makes us miserable, or is less than optimal, it’s still the devil you know. And humans don’t do well with uncertainty.

 

And so, when we make a change, we have to go from the thing that we know, even though we don’t like it, to something that could possibly be better and probably will be, but it’s uncertain and it feels unfamiliar and it’s like we’ve been plopped into a foreign land. We don’t know the language, the customs, the directions. We’re lost. And it’s very, very scary. And that’s why there are stages of change.

 

So, the first stage of change is called pre-contemplation, where you don’t even know that you’re thinking about making the change. And then comes contemplation where you’re aware that you want to make the change, but you’re not ready to go ahead and do it. And then comes preparation where you’re starting to prepare. You’re saying, “What steps do I need to take to make this change?” And then there’s action where you actually make the change, and people think it ends there. “Okay. I’ve gone through the stages.” No. The most important stage of change is what comes next, which is called maintenance.

 

Maintenance is the stage of change where you maintain the change over time. And the big misconception about maintenance is that somehow you’re not gonna slip back, that somehow you’re not going to not do your exercise thing, eat differently, have a drink when you weren’t supposed to, call that boyfriend at 3:00 am that you weren’t supposed to call. But that’s not gonna happen in maintenance. Yes, it will. You’re going to slip back because it’s going to take some time and adjustment for you to get into this new way of being and to feel safe and comfortable and to make that your default instead of these old ways that are your default.

 

And so you can see in the book, there’s this young woman that I call Charlotte, and she keeps dating these men that are just…they’re always going to disappoint her. And it’s just repetition compulsion where she keeps…it’s like, “Hey, you look familiar, come closer,” because it looks like her childhood just happening again. And she doesn’t realize that when she first meets people. She thinks, “Oh, that person is so different from my parents.” And yet our unconscious has radar for people who are going to hurt us in the same ways that we were hurt when we were younger if we haven’t worked through that pain. And so it isn’t until later when she is finally ready to make these changes. And then she goes into maintenance. And it takes some slipping back, but she ends up finally getting really comfortable with the change. And that becomes the thing where she says, “I would never wanna date someone like I used to date.” And she finds the person that she wants to be with. So, I think we have to give ourselves a lot of grace around change and realize there are these steps, we are going to slip back, and we have to be really gentle with ourselves as we do this.

 

Katie: That was a firsthand lesson I learned in even my own internal response to those situations, where instead of going like, “Oh, why is this so hard? Why do I keep messing up?” Which is then now your subconscious is gonna answer those questions and give you all the reasons you’re having trouble with it. It’s trying to kind of switch my perspective into, “Okay. I acknowledge that. I felt the feelings of that. How do I now get back to the place where I was? How do I forgive myself and move on?” But you also said something about we choose the situations that sort of reaffirm how we were hurt, especially as a child. Can you elaborate on that and why we do that? Maybe the idea of a little bit of trauma bonding, or why do we subconsciously seek out these situations?

 

Lori: Yeah. So, that goes back to the familiar. And part of it too is what… There’s a term called repetition compulsion. And it means that, unconsciously, we want to repeat the same situation that we had in childhood, except now that we’re adults, this time we’ll win. This time, it will work out. That’s the unconscious desire and fantasy that we have, but it does not work out that way. And so we keep repeating it like, “Okay. I’m gonna pick this person. And yeah, they have these anger issues.” We don’t realize that we first meet them, by the way. So, first, they seem shiny and new and they’re gonna make us feel safe and it’s all gonna be great, and we’re gonna get all the things we didn’t get when we were children.

 

But the reason that you’re so attracted to that person if you haven’t worked out the childhood stuff is because they are exactly like something you experienced in childhood. So, maybe they have a drinking problem, or maybe they have anger issues, or maybe they’re really avoidant, or maybe they put you down or they criticize you, whatever it is. And then you start to see that, but instead of breaking up with them or saying, “Wait a minute, what happened here? Why did I choose this person?” We say, “Oh, but I’m gonna get them not to criticize me. I’m gonna get them to see that I am worthy of them. I’m gonna get them to love me.”

 

And it’s so confusing if you haven’t worked through that stuff because you don’t know what love is. Love to you looks like trying to get someone to do something different with you, as opposed to love is someone who loves you as you are. There’s no fight involved in love. And so I think that with this repetition compulsion, we do it because we’re like, “I am going to win the battle this time.” But you need to concede the battle. You need to give up the hope for having a better childhood in order to have a better adulthood. And when you could let go of, “I have to grieve that I didn’t have the childhood that I wanted,” then you are free to have the adulthood that you want. But if you keep trying to get what you didn’t get as a child, you’re gonna be trapped as an adult. You’re gonna be imprisoned.

 

Katie: Wow. That resonates deeply and I would guess also for a lot of people listening. And I would also guess because many people enter relationships kind of on those premises without even realizing those subconscious things that are happening. And then maybe one person or the other within a relationship works through some of those things. And now the nature of this relationship has shifted and probably can’t and doesn’t feel the same as it did before, which I would guess often in couples causes tension or causes problems, or causes maybe even the end of that relationship. Do you see that happen with your clients and any advice for navigating that if maybe one person in the couple changes the agreement and now has worked through maybe that childhood wound and doesn’t need the same thing in a relationship anymore?

 

Lori: Right. Well, there’s the saying, “We marry our unfinished business.” So, a lot of people who haven’t worked through their unfinished business, we marry it. And what I see in couples is I see couples who maybe haven’t worked through that and they get into a lot of trouble in their relationships. But I also see people who are able to work through it once they become aware of it. So, so many couples who come in start to realize, “There’s something going on here that’s bigger than the person in front of me. There are other people in the room that I don’t even realize it. So, when I’m talking to my partner, I’m also, without realizing it talking to my mother or my father, or whoever it might be.” And I think that when people are open to that and willing to do the work, so often it becomes this incredibly meaningful experience for both of them that they can work through their own unfinished business and become closer as a couple and see each other cleanly and not through the lens of all this stuff in the background that they didn’t realize had been operating.

 

Katie: That’s so important. And then you have lots of resources. I’m gonna make sure I link to lots of the things that you have available. Another thing that really stood out to me is you talk in your TED talk also about a cartoon that your own therapist shared with you that had a really big impact on your life. And when I saw it, I was like, “Oh, it kind of hits deep, but it really is important.” So, will you explain what I’m talking about and why it’s so important?

 

Lori: Yeah. You can see a picture of it in “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” so I’ll try to explain it without the visuals. But he said to me in therapy…I was talking about how all these things were happening and I felt…I was being very victim-y in my therapy. And he said to me, “You know what, you remind me of this cartoon. And it’s of a prisoner who’s shaking the bars desperately trying to get out. But on the right and the left, it’s open. No bars.” So, why is it then that, for many of us, this is true? And it’s not to say that there aren’t difficult, again, people, circumstances, society, the world we live in, everything. But the thing is, we can walk around the bars. We do have choices. We do have agency. So, why don’t we walk around the bars? And it’s because with freedom comes responsibility. And when we walk around those bars, we are responsible for our own lives, we are responsible for our choices. So, we can’t blame whatever’s happening on someone else or something else anymore. Now we have to say, “This was my choice. I’m the one who’s driving the car here.”

 

And I think for a lot of people, that’s a big shift and a scary shift, especially if they don’t feel equipped to do that. I have this line in the book like, “Who am I to make the choices? Who am I to make choices about my own life?” Which is ironic, because who else? And I really believe…as a therapist, I’ve seen over the years so many times people come in and they want me to answer questions for them. And I feel like everybody has their own answers. They just don’t have access to them for all kinds of reasons. So, my job is to ask the questions so that they can access the answers that they already have. And I think that’s what walking around the bars is, is, you know, how can we navigate our own lives without staying in this? It’s really a safe place, this place of victimhood. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s very safe because then you’re not responsible for anything that happens in your own life. And why wouldn’t we wanna be the protagonist in our own lives?

 

Katie: Yeah. I think that’s so profound. And I love you talking about that in your TED Talk and writing about that. Like I said, I highly recommend the book. I think this is so, so important. And I also know firsthand how difficult it is because I remember moments in my own therapy of going, “Oh, I just wanna be able to Google the answer to this” or like someone to tell me the answer and not have to figure this out because this is hard. So, what are some of those steps of… and I know each person is different, but maybe some guideposts for people in what are the first baby steps in making that shift and walking around the cage instead of just running into the wall of it over and over?

 

Lori: I think that it’s practice. I think one big misconception about therapy is that you come into therapy each week and you kind of download the problem of the week, and then you leave and you go live your life. And then you come back and you talk about whatever problem is happening, and you leave and you come back. That is not what therapy is. Most of therapy happens between sessions. People don’t realize this.

 

So, you come in, you talk about something. If it’s a good session, which, you know, I hope that you’re seeing someone where it’s a good session, you’re going to be asked to think about something in a way that you hadn’t thought about it before. So, it’s just like the right question or the right comment will suddenly have you asking yourself something different, or have a shift in some way around the way you were thinking about something. And then you go out into the world and you walk around the bars and you see what that’s like. So, an example might be someone says, “I keep having this argument with my partner.”

 

And then, in session, something comes up where it’s like, “Oh, wait, this is what I can do differently,” or “Here’s my own role,” or “Here’s what I do that triggers my partner too.” And so then they go home and then they come back the next week and they say something like, “Well, we got into that argument again.” And I’ll say, “Well, did you do something different?” And they say, “Well, no. But I knew why it was happening this time.” And so, we like to say that insight is the booby prize of therapy, that you can have all the insight in the world, but if you don’t make changes out in the world, the insight is useless.

 

So, what I want people to do is to not only realize, but then to do something different, do one thing different that week. And that’s what it means to walk around the bars. And then the next week maybe you’ll do something else different. And eventually, you won’t even see the prison anymore. You’re just gonna be walking out in the world and you’ll be free.

 

Katie: It seems like that freedom is also it’s a hard step to get to, but the freedom is found in that realization that I am 100% responsible for my own experience, my own story, and my own actions. And I have, like you said, way more autonomy in this area than I thought I did. But there’s also a lot of fear that can come with that because that means you are responsible for your own outcomes, and that’s often a new experience for a lot of people.

 

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And I love how much focus you give to relationships. I think relationships have been hard for a lot of people, especially the last couple of years. The last couple of years have been a magnifying glass on maybe problems that were easy to look over in the past. And a lot of couples seemed to be in a tough spot. And you talk about this. But what do you think is the hardest thing for people to do right in relationships? I think this is another important point.

 

Lori: I think the hardest thing for people to do right in relationships is to offer the other person grace. I think we personalize other people’s actions so much. Instead of saying someone is being really mean, or inconsiderate, or whatever they’re being, I would maybe try to reframe that as they’re really unskilled at doing this thing right now, they’re really unskilled at interacting with me in this way right now because people don’t want to do something that’s going to harm someone else. They’re doing it and if they do, if they are sort of consciously trying to harm you, it’s for self-protection. They’re protecting themselves from something. So, when I say give the other person grace, it doesn’t mean put up with somebody who’s treating you badly. It doesn’t mean let someone abuse you. What it means is try to understand what might be motivating what they’re doing.

 

And also, I say that in the other direction too, which is, before you speak, ask yourself, “How will what I’m about to say land on the person that I care about?” And that’s very different from what we say in the moment in reaction to something. There’s a difference between response and reaction. Can we take a breath? Can we think about how we’re going to respond as opposed to just reacting? So, I think the thing that people do that really trips people up the most in relationships is not understanding where the other person is coming from and making up a whole story around that that puts the other person in a very negative light and doesn’t move forward anything that can happen between the two of you. And then also thinking about how what you do, or about to do, is going to land on that person.

 

Katie: And that seems like a very valuable practice in every relationship, in parenting especially. I’m thinking of all the applications for parents and having that experience for our children ahead of time, especially because I’ve often heard we become their inner voice. It’s simply like the voice we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. And I know you’ve worked with thousands and thousands of people and seen a lot of these patterns played out, probably many of them go back to childhood. And many of our listeners are moms. So, I’m curious if you have any just foundational tips that we can use as moms to hopefully give our kids a better foundation for maybe not having to repeat some of these patterns or play out their unresolved issues in their own relationships later on.

 

Lori: Yeah. I would say one thing that we often do as parents is that we don’t let our kids get practice with difficult feelings because our instinct, as moms, is often to…we want them to not be in pain. We really can’t tolerate their discomfort. And so, when our kids say something like, “I’m really sad about this.” Often we’re like, “Oh, look over here, look over here, look over here.” We try to cheer them up, or we just kind of dismiss it. Their anxiety, we dismiss a lot. Like, “I’m really scared about this test,” or “I’m really scared about this thing that’s gonna happen with my friend tomorrow,” or whatever it is. And we say, “Oh, you’ll do great. Don’t worry about it. You’ll do great.” And it’s like, no, they’re actually really worried about that.

 

And so the message we’re giving them is these feelings are things to get rid of, and they get zero practice sitting with anxiety, zero practice sitting with status, zero practice sitting with anger. We can’t tolerate their anger toward us. We say, “Don’t talk to me that way.” Right? Which, by the way, okay, let’s learn about, “Oh, you’re really angry right now. It’s not okay to talk to me that way, but let’s talk about what you’re angry about.”

 

So, they get both. They get…you can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. And then you have to learn, what do I do when I’m angry? What’s okay to do when I’m angry? How do I deal with my anger in a productive way? So, those are two very different things. People say all kinds of things to their kids, like try to solve their problems for them. “Here’s what you should do.” I think there are three words that are so important when our kids come to us with something difficult, which is, “Tell me more.” And then you stop talking. Just say, “Tell me more. Oh, tell me more.” They will tell you more. And what they really want and what they will carry into adulthood is your presence.

 

Presence doesn’t mean overwhelming them with your internal experience of what they’re experiencing. That’s not being present, that’s abandoning them. Presence means sitting with their internal experience of what’s happening. So, don’t argue with it, don’t say, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” It really is very big for them. When you’re 10 years old, or 5 years old, or 16 years old, it’s big in a way that might feel different to you as someone who’s decades older.

 

So, I think when you say, “Tell me more,” what they do is they start talking more and they start figuring out, “Oh, well, then this and then this and then this.” And you just say, “Aha, yeah. Say more. Tell me more.” You’re there, you’re present, and you’re breathing, and you’re letting the silences be there, you’re not filling in the silences. And then they might say, “Well, maybe I could do this,” or “Maybe I could do that.” And they come up with their own solutions. And that makes them resilient, that makes them good problem solvers. Or they might not have a solution, but they might say, “You know what, I feel like I wanna go take a walk right now,” or “Will you take a walk with me?” Right? They’re learning coping skills. So, they might not have a solution to this problem, but they know how to deal with the fact that they’re experiencing these feelings. And that’s what they will take into adulthood.

 

I’ll tell you what else they take into adulthood that we don’t want them to, which is criticism, which is the kinds of things that we don’t think are critiques. We think we’re helping them, we think that we’re teaching them. “You’re gonna wear that? Oh, no. Oh, what about your hair? What about this?” Let them experiment with how they present in the world. Let them learn about how people react to them when they present a certain way.

 

Every time you try to impose your version of how things should go on, they’re experimenting with how things should go, again, when things aren’t dangerous, you’re teaching them they can’t trust themselves. And what we want is we want people to grow up into the world where they can trust themselves, where they know that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them, where they know that they can be a separate person from you. That just because you live your life a certain way and that works really well for you, doesn’t mean that that’s gonna work the same way for them.

 

And, ironically, the paradox of all this is that what ends up happening is they end up becoming really close with you. They end up really trusting you. They end up feeling like you are the safest space they can go to. So, they will start telling you things, they will want your opinion, they will want your thoughts, they will trust you.

 

Katie: Yeah. That’s absolute gold, I think. I wish I could just infuse that into every parent because I can look back on my own life and go… By all accounts, my parents were amazing loving parents, and yet I still internalized in some ways that certain emotions weren’t okay by them saying like, “It’s okay,” or, “Don’t cry,” or, “You’re not allowed to be angry. Go to your room,” or those different things. And I understand as a parent now, of course, why they said those things. Now, I can completely understand the emotion behind it. But, to your point, I love that phrase, “Tell me more” because that validates that you’re having an emotion, it validates like I’m here and I’m present and I care about your experience, and also it helps them, to your point as well, separate the emotion from the action. And I’ve been able to tell my kids, “You know, I also feel angry sometimes. And there’s a difference. Feeling angry is okay, and let’s talk about why you feel that way and how you feel, and where you feel in your body, and what it makes you feel like. And also, you hitting your sibling or you yelling at me. That’s an action you’re choosing and that’s a separate thing. And the anger is okay, but what you do with it is your choice. And let’s have a conversation about it.”

 

But I love that. I think that if parents could internalize that, it would shift the course of society in how many of us as children…you know, if we had been talked to differently, how that would have changed our lives. And this is one of the reasons I believe…pretty much I say this and it may be controversial, but I think everybody benefits from therapy. And I’ve even said this to very important people in my life who when I suggested it were like, “Why do you think I need therapy? You think something is wrong with me?” And it seems like there are still a lot of myths. Thankfully, now I think we have much more acceptance of why therapy is so valuable. But still, there’s a lot of myths that circulate about the benefits of therapy, and you probably confront this head-on. So, can you just talk about some of the myths that are still prevailing?

 

Lori: Yeah. And I think going back to that point about parenting first is just I think that when you try to talk your kids out of their feelings, when you try to talk them out of their experience, that’s where they’re gonna shut down. They’re not gonna come to you and they won’t know how to handle it, and that’s when they’re gonna hit their sibling and they’re gonna say something that’s really rude because they just don’t know what to do with it. When you give them the space to be angry in a safe way, that’s when they learn how to manage it.

 

I would say misconceptions about therapy. Is that what you were asking? Sorry, I got sidetracked. I got really into the parenting thing as a parent myself. So, I think that one of the big misconceptions is that something has to be wrong. We go to the doctor every year for a checkup just to make sure that we’re being healthy. And I think that we talk about emotional wellness. The word well is in there. Mental health, the word health is in there.

 

So, we want to de-stigmatize it because there’s… Would anybody say, “Why are you going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned?” Nobody would say that. “You know, you should only go to the dentist if you need a root canal.” No. You go because you need to maintain the health of your teeth, right? Why do we go to the doctor for a checkup? To maintain the health of our bodies. Why would we go to therapy? To maintain the health of our minds. And it’s not like they’re discrete things. The mind and the body are so connected. And when something is not working well for you, or if you don’t maintain the health of your emotional life, you’re going to have physical health problems. They’re very much related. So, I think it’s odd. As a therapist, I can say this, but I think just in the world, I think it’s kind of odd that we would say, “Well, there’s this whole part of our bodies, our emotional health, right? Our minds, that aren’t our souls, that aren’t tended to.” And yet, if they aren’t, what’s gonna happen? High blood pressure, diabetes, our immune system shuts down. I mean, there are a million things that happen to us when we have emotional struggles that we aren’t dealing with.

 

So, I think that…I don’t know. I don’t know that I would go as far as to say everybody should be in therapy. But I think that if you are asking yourself that question, “Should I go to therapy?” Or, “I’m curious about it or what would it be like,” I would say that’s your inner therapist telling you that you want to go and see what it’s like and go to therapy. And it doesn’t mean you even know what it’s gonna be. Maybe you’ll just go and you’ll learn some things about yourself, and that’ll be valuable. And then there’ll be other times that maybe you come back. There might be something where you’re like, “Wow, I realized this is really valuable and I wanna do this on an ongoing basis.” They’re very different experiences of therapy. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all.

 

Katie: And I know you have so many resources available for free to people online, and of course, your book, and then you have many other options as well. And I’m gonna make sure those are all linked in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm for you guys listening. But could you briefly talk about your podcast and then the TV series that developed from this book, because I think those are great resources?

 

Lori: Sure. So, I have a podcast called “Dear Therapists,” and I have a co-therapist, Guy Winch, and we do actual sessions with people. And the reason we’re doing that is because we really want to make therapy accessible to everybody. We just wanna make emotional health accessible. It’s not even so much, again, about therapy, it’s about what happens when you hear somebody else go through a session and, in one conversation, they can make a shift in something that has been plaguing them for a very long time, a relationship with their partner, with their mother, with their child, whatever it might be. And I think it’s really powerful for people because I think that they can see themselves in whoever comes on, even if they don’t have that specific issue going on in their lives. And the beauty of it is at the end, we wanted people to really have actionable advice. So, at the end of each session, we give the person a homework assignment that they have one week to complete, and then they come back that next week and they tell us how it went. And you hear it all in one episode.

 

So, it’s not just, “Here’s the session,” but then, “Here’s what we told them to go do. They did it, and here’s what happened.” And our listeners…we’ve gotten so much feedback that our listeners have tried the advice and they’ve tried it even in different realms. Like somebody was maybe having a problem with their boss, but they tried this thing with their kid, or whatever it might be, or somebody who didn’t have kids tried this thing that this parent came on and had this issue but she tried it with her own mother. So, it’s really interesting that the advice is very universal and applicable to all different kinds of situations. So, I think the podcast, again, it’s called “Dear Therapists” and we’re about to launch season three starting May 10th. And you can go back and listen to seasons one and two as well. And we are adapting the book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.” We’re adapting it as a television series. Right now it’s just available as the book, but we are working on the series. And I’m very excited to, again, just make these human stories available to everybody.

 

Katie: Well, all those links will be in the show notes. You guys, I definitely recommend you find Lori and keep learning from her. I love your work. A few last-minute questions in the interest of respecting your time. I know you have a hard stop. The first being if there is a book or number of books other than your own that have had a profound impact on your life. And if so, what they are and why?

 

Lori: That is such a hard question for me. I have books maybe the way that other women are the stereotype of having shoes. I have books like that. So, they are all over my house in every room. I’ve always been an avid reader. And I would say interestingly, it’s novels. I could name so many of them, but I think that there are these psychological truths in novels that help us to see ourselves where we felt like, “Oh, I had that thought too” or “That’s really true. That explains why I do this.” And you see that in these characters.

 

I’ve been reading…I don’t know if you ever read “Olive Kitteridge.” There’s a sequel to it called “Olive, Again.” I think the first one was made into a show for HBO. I did not see it. But the sequel was so powerful because you see this woman as she’s going through her life and as a parent and as a wife. And she’s very curmudgeonly and she’s not very kind to people, and she has this reckoning near the end. But then in the sequel, you see her as an older woman and her son is married and now he has this wife, and she doesn’t like the daughter-in-law, and then she has a lot of regrets about how she was as a parent and how she was as a wife and as a friend. And it sounds depressing, but it’s actually quite uplifting. And it really makes you think about living with intention and how you want to live now and fast-forwarding several decades and thinking about how I’m living now is going to affect how I look back at my life later. So, I wanna make sure that I’m being really aware of how I am in my relationships that are important to me right now.

 

Katie: I love that message. I said recently people think about time travel and get scared because they’re like, “What if I change one thing that has this massive change in the future?” But how many of us think in the present moment? What one thing could I change that would have a massive change for my future? So, I’m gonna pick up that. I’ve been looking for a novel anyway. I love that. Thank you for the recommendation. And to leave on a concrete note, I know you have so many resources. You guys, go find them in the show notes. But what is one thing our listeners can do today, a concrete thing, that will help improve our emotional well-being?

 

Lori: So, I think that’s the reason I put out the workbook to “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” because it’s a step-by-step guide to rewriting your story. And I would say the most important thing that people can do right now from the workbook is giving themselves…being kind to themselves. I was gonna say giving themselves grace, but I think it’s really about kindness.

 

And I think that people don’t realize how unkind they are to themselves. When I’m giving talks, I’ll often say to the audience, “Show of hands, who’s the person that you talk to most in the course of your life? Is it your partner?” Lots of hands? “Is it your child? Is it your parent? Is it your sister? Who is it?” And you get lots of hands. But the person that we talk to most in the course of our lives is ourselves. And what we say to ourselves, is it always kind or true or useful?

 

And I had a client who did not believe that she was so self-critical. She was like, “No. I’m really not. I’m really not like that.” But I would hear it in the way she talked about herself all the time. And I said, “I want you to go home and I want you to listen for that voice in your head that you’re probably not paying conscious attention to, but you’re definitely paying unconscious attention to. And I want you to really listen for it. And I want you to write down everything it says to you over the course of a week.”

 

So, she comes back the next week and she’s written it all down and she starts to read it and she starts crying. And she says, “I can’t even read this. I am such a bully to myself.” And there were things like she was typing an email and she made a typo and she said to herself just reflexively “You’re so stupid.” And you would never think that. If your friend did that, you wouldn’t think my friend is so stupid because she made a typo, or she caught her reflection in a mirror and she said, “Oh, you look terrible.” She didn’t even realize she was talking to herself this way. Those are the stories that we’re walking around with. So, I would say the one thing that we could do right now today is listen to how you talk to yourself. Ask yourself, “Does it meet these criteria? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it useful?” And if it doesn’t, change the radio station because the radio station you’re listening to is not something that you wanna carry around with you. Listen to another story. The story you’re telling yourself is a lie.

 

Katie: I love it. I think that’s a perfect place to wrap up. I am deeply appreciative to you for being here today. I very much value and appreciate your work. Thank you so much for your time.

 

Lori: Oh, thank you so much. It was so great talking with you.

 

Katie: And thanks to all of your for listening and I hope you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast.

 

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This podcast is sponsored by Hiya Health… a new type of childrens vitamins.  Typical children’s vitamins are basically candy in disguise — filled with two teaspoons of sugar, unhealthy chemicals, and other gummy junk growing kids should never eat. Hiya is made with zero sugar and zero gummy junk, yet it tastes great and is perfect for picky eaters. Hiya fills in the most common gaps in modern children’s diets to provide the full-body nourishment our kids need with a yummy taste they love. Manufactured in the USA with globally sourced ingredients each selected for optimal bioavailability and absorption. Hiya arrives straight to your door on a pediatrician-recommended schedule. Your first month comes with a reusable glass bottle your kids can personalize with stickers, then every month thereafter Hiya sends a no-plastic refill pouch of fresh vitamins — which means Hiya isn’t just good for your kids, it’s also good for the environment. To check them out, go to hiyahealth.com/wellnessmama and save on your first month at this link!

This episode is sponsored by NativePath, and in particular, their collagen, which is my go-to right now. I like using collagen because it helps replenish the body’s natural collagen levels, and our modern diets are often low in these important compounds found in collagen that we used to get in bigger amounts from natural sources like broths. Collagen is great because it is a super convenient and easy way to get these benefits. It’s flavorless and dissolves easily in hot or cold liquids so it’s easy to add to coffee, soup, smoothies, or really any food or drink. Every scoop of NativePath Grass-Fed Collagen is consistently formulated with 10 grams of the highest-quality grass-fed, Type I and Type III collagen which makes up 90 percent of all the collagen in your body and is critical for maintaining your skin, hair, nails, lean muscle metabolism, smooth digestion and so much more. Use this link to receive a special deal – wellnessmama.com/go/nativecollagen.

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About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

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