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Episode 3: Bad Decisions

Find a way to support loved ones struggling with life choices without making their burdens your own.


Full Transcript:

BAD DECISIONS

What to do when someone in your life is making “bad” decisions…

I met my friend Skyler when we were both 28 years old. She has long flowing hair, and a tattoo of a nymph on her arm that she designed. She is funny and smart and almost too cool for me.

Guys love her not only because she is beautiful but because she has the perfect balance of feminine energy and adventurousness that makes you feel like something fun is going to happen every time you’re with her.

I met her on a camping weekend with some mutual friends. She was feeling free but also sad from just having broken up with a guy that she had previously thought was going to be the love of her life. 

His name was Sam, he was a successful artist like her, had a deep appreciation for music and completely embodied her idea of "hot"! He had played hard to get in the beginning but then completely fell for her and told her she was the one. 

The only problem was he sucked at expressing his feelings and often guilted her for wanting to spend time with her friends. This left her feeling more and more isolated and depressed. The kicker was she caught him cheating on her. And not just a one night stand oops I made a mistake one time kind of thing. She discovered a profile he created to court other women.  She had to leave.

So she did, but the hard part now was all of her friends and family were mad at her for having disappeared into this relationship that made her sad all the time.

This is the dynamic that I'm going to talk about today... what do you do when your loved one is making “bad” choices?

First let's dissect what emotionally happens when this happens. Skyler's friends felt mad but underneath that anger was actually fear. I'll let you in on a little secret all our anger is actually rooted in fear. When we corner a dog in a corner it will growl not because it is angry at us but because it is afraid and feels helpless in that moment.

So what Skyler's loved ones were feeling was actually fear of 2 main things- 1) that they were going to lose her and not be able to be close to her anymore and 2) that she was going to get hurt and they were not going to be able to protect her. 

This is where I came in... so I am on this trip with her meeting her for the first time and I can see what powerful, amazing woman she is. We bond, it's magical like we have known each other for years but it's only been a few hours. We laugh and talk deeply about our lives and by the end of the trip I know we are going to be friends for a long time.

We are now back in the real world and her and I continue to hang out regularly and talk on the phone and about 1 month into our friendship she decides to meet Sam for lunch. Just to see what he has to say, and get some of her stuff back. It's harmless just a quick closer lunch since things ended so abruptly and so bad.

Well you can probably guess what happens. By the next month she is back with him. He promises to be different and communicate more. And really she never felt this way about a guy before so maybe he is the love of her life and just needed a wake up call. 

Now it's my move: I have been around the block a few times and so internally my prediction is this is not going to be good, he probably wasn't able to change in those last 2 months and often when people cheat they do it again. But every single person in her life has now voiced this position, “he's an asshole, you deserve better, don’t be naive and go back to him; if you do go back I am not spending any more time listening to you cry about how much pain he is causing you.”

On one level I am with them, I don’t want her to end up with someone who is not going to treat her amazing. I don’t want her to live in pain. But you can see the conundrum I am in: she is back in love with this guy and feeling like none of her friends get it, and even worse she feels like they are angry at her and judging her decisions. If I join that band wagon there is a good chance that she will push me away like she had already done with everyone else and she will feel even more invested in the relationship with her Sam bc she now has no other support system she feels like she can turn to.

So what do I do? Well I am a therapist by trade so luckily I have a few ideas. When we see someone we are close to is in pain and making decisions that we believe will keep them in that pain, our first instinct is to snap them out of it with sheer force. Remember that scene in the movie Airplane where the person is panicking and the other passengers on the plane take turns walking by the person and slapping her across the face.

Just like in the case of Skyler, the more loved ones are making the person in pain feel bad for not being able to get their “problem” in check whether that be a crappy relationship, eating too much, not being successful in school, or overcoming depression, the more alone and hopeless the person ends up feeling.

But I digress, so again, Jesse, come on already what do we do? So the most powerful thing we can do for people when they are in a situation like my friend Skyler is to have hope for them that they are going to find their way through it. I believed that Skyler was going to figure out what was best for her and that all she really needed from me was for me to be there for her and listen to her without judgement.

When Skyler talked to me in the good times and the bad she could feel that I genuinely cared about her, and I didn’t have an agenda. I only offered my observations if she asked. And I was careful even how I phrased my observations because there were moments where she had clarity that Sam was being a real jerk but I knew I shouldn’t jump on that because when she flipped to being in love with him again she could feel like she couldn’t talk to me about it if she thought I thought she was not smart to be with a jerk like him. Instead of attacking Sam I pointed out how I hated that she was in pain and I wished that she didn’t have to be, and she would draw her own conclusions about potentially leaving him.

Skyler and Sam went back and forth with each other for another 2 years. And through that time instead of feeling like Skyler was a senseless person that was messing up her life. I understood where she was coming from. I learned that she had a pretty tough childhood and an absent father, so I guessed that some of the reason she picked a guy who wasn’t great for her was her feeling the feelings she had not resolved from when she was a kid.

Side note: I believe that every human being wants to be happy and successful and good, so if that is not happening it is because they are stuck trying to resolve some pain loop that they do not know how to get out of yet. That thought helps me not be mad at people when they are making decisions that could potentially hurt them.

And even in that crappy relationship Skyler did grow because she got better at taking care of herself, like telling Sam, “I am going out with my friends whether you like it or not because that is important to me”. Eventually, Skyler felt ready and strong enough to leave for good. That was 5 years ago and we are still great friends. Skyler is now traveling the world living the life she always dreamed of living.

Now you might be listening to my speech and thinking that is all well and good Jesse but have you heard of a little thing called enabling?! It sounds to me like you are saying to support bad decisions and not take care of yourself. That is 100% not what I am saying. In no way do I think you should financially support your nephew who is smoking weed every day and living on your sofa trying to find himself. I think you should talk to your nephew in a loving nonjudgmental tone, have empathy for him, while at the same time telling him what you need from him in order for him to be able to crash on your sofa.

And in no way did I drop my life every time Skyler was really upset and felt like the world was caving in on her. I took care of myself first: I ran my business, I got enough sleep, I exercised every day, my point is I did not start drowning with her (when she felt like she was drowning), nor do I with anyone who is in crisis. I give what I am able to give from a place of unconditional love.

If I do not have love to give and I am starting to resent the person who is coming to me for help then I go take care of myself first, and then I reconnect with that person when I am recharged and want to give more.

So to sum it all up, the most transformative thing we can do for the people we love is to accept them completely and understand where they are coming from. If we come from that place it allows them to see the best version of themselves and often gives them the strength to reach for the next level of fulfillment in their lives. I know that’s what unconditional love did for Skyler!

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Episode 2: Mad Anxiety

Learn how to navigate the anxiety that inevitably arises when others are unhappy with us.


Full Transcript:

MAD ANXIETY

I’m a little bit of an obsessive person, ok ok a lot obsessive. What’s great about this is my mind works in a series of charts and lists and I am constantly calculating how to make things more efficient. How do I run my business more effectively? How do I implement a better eating program for my client who is suffering from health issues? How can I maximize the time I spend with my dad so he feels the most taken care of and I feel the most connected to him?

Where this whole organizational system can backfire is when my mind gets stuck in a negative loop. As I have mentioned I struggled a lot when I was younger and spent massive amounts of time working through different negative thought patterns.

But of all the things I have evolved and all the things that can potentially trigger me, the one that has been and is the hardest for me is people being mad at me. Oh man I can be living a perfectly peaceful content existence and then I find out someone is not happy with what kind of relative I am being or what kind of job I have done and I can be thrown back into that anxious child who just wants everyone to love her.

And as vulnerable as this is for me to share (I am supposed to be invincible because I am a therapist you know) it feels like it may be the most important thing for me to talk about. First because I can have true empathy for anyone who has difficulty with this and second because I have put a lot of time into figuring out how to solve this.

I feel like the best way for me to explain the things that have helped is to use an example from my life:

when I was falling in love with my boyfriend it was the first time I fell in love and I felt swept up in a hurricane of lust and love and a huge desire to be with him, talk about him and dream about him. And this momentous event came after a decade of pretty much being single where I was available and depending on my friends for all the support you might receive from your significant other- I talked to my friends every day, I hung out with them all the time. And I was present to them for emotional support. And all the mean while saying things like I am never going to be like those people who fall in love and disappear off the face of the planet. That is so "codependent" and awful. You stick with your people and you don't abandon them just because some guy comes into your life.

Well guess what... I did exactly that.

Mark came along and it was like being on drugs, I never felt a pull so powerful, and because having a partner was something that I had wanted for so long and so afraid that I was not going to get, when I found it, all I wanted was to enjoy the ride.

Well meanwhile this is hard for my friends. And so they are now coming to me and saying, “where are you? We miss you. You are being everything you said you would never be. It feels like we don't even know you anymore.”

As they are giving me this input I can feel a huge anxiety bubble growing in my stomach. On the outside I tend to look stoic and not let on how little and insecure I feel, but on the inside I am freaking out. Adrenaline is shooting through me. My nervous system is sending signals to my body that we are in imminent danger, RETREAT, RETREAT, RETREAT!

The logical part of me is saying breathe, this is not a big deal. They are merely voicing their upsetness at you. Just tell them you love them and make more time for them, problem solved.

But another part of me knows I am screwed, because often times when something like this happens I can be stuck in an anxiety loop for days or in bad times weeks depending on how ongoing the external situation is.

So what have I learned to do when I am in a situation like this one:

First things first take out my journal, the therapist I had when I was teenager would always tell me I cannot help you relieve your anxiety unless you tell me what the thoughts and beliefs that are connected to it.

When my anxiety got triggered by the situation with my friends I could tell you I do not like when people are upset with me, they were upset with me, now I have a knot in my stomach. But this is not a deep enough understanding of my anxiety in this moment for me to actually release any of it. What I need to start writing about is the root fear I am having. So I start writing as if I am the anxiety talking, “you better be careful, Jesse you are in danger of losing all your friends, you really messed up big time, and are a crappy friend. You are being everything you said you wouldn’t, nobody likes people like that. You know from your younger years when you did not have any friends that it is pretty miserable to be alone and sad. We don’t know if Mark is going to be here forever so DO NOT mess this up for you and them. Don’t be one of “those females” that doesn’t value herself and her girls.”

My anxiety would then flip to, “I am so mad at them, they know how long I have waited for this and how I am not one of “those females”. They know who I am, and if they think they do not know me, maybe we can’t be friends anymore. Maybe we have grown apart and I just need to move on.”

What my anxiety has just illustrated is that there are 2 places our mind goes to when we are anxious: judgements/fears/anger directed at ourselves and judgements/fears/anger directed at others. So now that I am in touch with my deeper fears I am ready for step 2…

Step 2, acknowledge and feel the feeling
When we write this stuff out and start to feel the deeper fear connected to our anxiety, our instinct is to jump to making it better. But like I told you in the beginning, I and most people already know the end point we are trying to get to (that this is not an actual emergency and everything is ok). But in order to release the anxiety we have to accept that the fear is there. A great teacher once told me, “what we resist will persist and what we accept will transform.” In other words, the more we deny the anxiety is there the longer it lasts, and the sooner we acknowledge the fear some of it releases.

So once I see the thoughts that are making me anxious, I take a deep breathe and give myself a big hug. And I say to myself Jesse, “it is ok that you are scared. You’ve been triggered but it will be ok.”

I often in this moment like to take a walk, go to yoga , meditate, get a massage, doing something for myself that is both loving to me that also moves the energy in my body.

And as I have acceptance for the fact that I am scared, some of that fear leaves me, so I am ready for step 3.

Step 3: is there anything that I can do to be better?

Sometimes the answer is no, someone is angry with us and it’s just about realizing that their anger is not about us and we just need to repeat steps 1 and 2 with lots of self-care.

On the other hand, often especially if our loved ones are upset, there is a call to action that we can choose in order to be better. You notice this is not until step 3: if I don’t stop and have understanding and empathy for myself first I am likely to screw this step up. Either by getting angry at the person who is angry at me or by doing what I often had a tendency to do which was over apologize from the wrong internal place, “I’m sorry I’m sorry. I was a horrible friend. What can I do to make this right?! I’ll do anything!” The message I’m giving is please don’t give me anymore feedback I’m not strong enough to hear it. Let’s just move on and sweep this under the rug.


I’m sorry can be very powerful but only from a place of strength and looking to truly rectify the situation. It might sound like, “I’m sorry I have been distracted. I value our friendship and want to us to be close. Can we make a regular plan to hang out and put it on the calendar?” I’m trying to give the message: I hear you and understand why you’re upset and I truly would like to make it better.

What did I do in the situation with my friends?

I’d like to tell you I did it just like I demonstrated above but I did not. Common, I told you at the beginning of this speech that people being mad at me was the my toughest anxiety loop. And this situation was 8 years ago and it took some time for me to work through it with them. I was integrating Mark and his giant Lebanese family into my life.

So…. sometimes I hid from my friends especially when I was worried they were particularly upset with me. Sometimes I over apologized from the wrong place. Sometimes I got mad at them for not understanding my perspective. AND In some conversations I got it just right communicating exactly what I felt from a strong place and owning my part in creating distance between us.

In the end, I was close enough for me and for them. Life’s a growing process and none of us are perfect. And the closer we are, the more opportunity we have to trigger each other’s anxieties.

The thought that helps me the most through is whole loop is, “I have good intentions, and I am striving to be the best communicator I can be, and the people who see that are my people. “

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Episode 1: Recipe for a Successful Relationship

Discover the four steps to building and maintaining a positive and healthy romantic relationship.


Full Transcript:

RECIPE FOR A SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIP

Psychologists often talk about the importance of basing your romantic relationship on love and not dependence but what does that really mean? And why do we care? 

Love is the feeling we feel when we are not looking for our partner to change or be different in anyway. It is when we are in the space of feeling total positivity towards them. 

Dependence is when we are looking for our partners to fill a need inside of us. It can look like wanting them to express their love in a certain way, or act a certain way around our loved ones, or for them to make decisions in their life the way we want them to.

The truth is in romantic relationships, we constantly fluctuating back and forth between love and dependence. It would be unrealistic to think a perfect romantic relationship consists of not wanting or needing anything from our partners (why even be in a relationship then). At the same time, what often destroys good relationships is people not being aware of the balance. 

The recipe for a successful relationship is as follows:

  • Fill all the needs in yourself that you are able to

  • Accept everything you possibly can about your partner

  • Whatever is left over communicate to partner with love 

  • Tell your partner you are grateful when they change to take care of you

As a younger person every single one of my relationships was based on me trying to feel the love and safety I didn’t feel in my childhood. My parents we're not raised with parents they could be emotionally dependent on and so they passed on the same process to me. They raised me to be smart, adventurous, compassionate, but also kinda lonely. 

When I got into the dating world all I did was look for people who could make feel secure and loved. This worked in some sense; I got lots of love and codling. What didn't work was I did not feel inspired by my partners or pushed to grow in any way. As soon as all of my needs were filled in relationships, I was not interested in them anymore. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum when my partner stopped telling me they loved me every second of the day I would turn into a needy mess. 

It was not until I took break from relationships to focus on myself that I was really able to change the cycle. In the time off: I went to therapy, I pushed myself to find what I loved about myself, got emotionally closer to my parents and took some surf trips all on my own. 

After getting really comfortable on my own, I started dating again, and when I found the man of my dreams I was ready. I worked on really getting to know him for him. Finding what I admired about him separate from my own needs. I loved how passionate he was about music, hockey, and his own business. I also loved his live in the moment attitude! 

Of course the deeper we got into our relationship, the more my dependency monster started to reel its head. I wanted him show me love the way I thought men should show love: cards, flowers, planned dates. As I ruminated about what he was doing wrong, it pushed me further away from him. 

Luckily this time I was prepared, the work I had done on myself had paid off… When I noticed myself wanting to be upset with him, I refocused on whether or not he was showing me love. It turns out he was: he was taking me and my loved ones out to dinner. He took up skiing because he knew I loved snowboarding so much, and he woke me up every morning with tons of kisses telling me how much he loved me. It was in this reflection that I realized I could either focus on what he was not doing or focus on all the ways he was amazing to me! 

Over the last 6 years there have been many examples of this process. Of course there are times when I ask for certain things that I cannot let go of. Overall it has surprised me that 99% of the things I thought I needed, I just needed to change my perspective on. The more fulfilled I am, the more unconditional love I have to give and guess what? The more unconditional love he gives me back.


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