Alexa (Overbay) Lovell survived a near-fatal accident a little over one year ago. She dives into the details of what the past year has been like, including recovery setbacks, unrealistic expectations, continued frustrations, the reality of potential addiction to pain medications, what the future looks like regarding having children, and much more. 

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Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Tony talks more about anxiety, uncertainty, and the brain’s adorable desire to make sense of things that often don’t make sense. He reads a haiku and a poem from the women’s private Facebook group, and then he references “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” from the article “12 Signs You’ve Experienced Narcissistic Abuse (Plus How to Get Help) by Crystal Raypole

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

WUTN Episode 69 Transcript

Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 69 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. And host of the Virtual Couch podcast and the Waking Up to Narcissism Premium Question and Answer podcast, and soon to come Murder On the Couch, therapy meets true crime. And if you want to find out more about any of the podcasts or the Magnetic Marriage workshop, which is a $19, you didn't know what you didn't know about marriage and relationships workshop. It's an hour and a half long. If you go to the show notes, there's a link tree link, it's link.tree/virtualcouch. And there you can sign up for the newsletter and you can find the links to the courses and programs and all the things that are coming up, that would be wonderful. And if you would be so inclined, if you are one who would write a review or subscribe or rate, wherever you listen to podcasts, that is always something that will be appreciated. And I'm trying to do more with clips on the YouTube channel. So if you find the Virtual Couch YouTube channel, subscribing to that would be wonderful as well. 

And I think I mentioned in the past that I'm putting up more reels on Instagram and those are making it up, so if you find it's Tony Overbay underscore LMFT, and a lot of content going up on a pretty much a daily basis over on TikTok. The world of TikTok therapy is pretty fascinating. So let's get to today's topic. We're going to talk about anxiety, but one of the things I want to do first is I just have so many poems now from the women's Facebook group. And I would love if any of the men listening that are poets as well, that would like to express maybe the frustration that they're having, whether it's in their own relationships to emotionally immature or narcissistic women, or if they are poetic and waking up to their own emotional immaturity, please email me at And I continue to get a few more emails this week from therapists, which is wonderful because I want to do more with that, therapists who are referring people to the podcast. Or a therapist who is also working in the world of emotional immaturity or narcissism and men who are ready to group, then that would be wonderful. So please continue to reach out at 

So let me start. Well, actually, before I start with a poem, I just want to take you on a little train of thought. I think this will have to do with the topic today. Today, we're going to talk about anxiety. We're going to talk about uncertainty. We're going to talk about the unknown and that plays, I think a much larger role in the world of emotional immaturity and people that are in relationships with emotionally immature people because they are continually trying to manage other people's emotions or manage their own anxiety, which doesn't allow a lot of space or opportunity for people to just be for people to just be and explore and do and figure out what matters to them when they don't even realize how much emotional bandwidth is being spent on trying to manage their emotions, manage other people, but then when you do have people that start to recognize that they are enough, they start to recognize their own worth. They start to recognize that it's okay to tap into what they want to do and how they want to feel. Then I find that people will just start to say, okay, I don't even know what to do next. And I remember a time long ago, I was working with a guy and he loved movies. He loved movies and TV shows. And we were talking about movies and TV shows often because that was, you could tell it was his happy place. And for me, growing up, movies were just, they were an escape. They were a retreat. I just, I loved everything about them. And so he would just give me these in-depth movie reviews as if he were a real Siskel and Ebert. And if you know who they are, then you're probably of my age. If not, I don't know who the normal or who the current movie reviewers are. 

But he would just go in depth about movie reviews. And so when he started to really feel like, okay, I want to figure out who I am, but I don't even know what to do first, you kind of go for a little bit of what seems like the low hanging fruit. And I said, what would that look like if you wrote movie reviews and at the time everybody had a blog, I think the sites were called blogger, I think maybe Google bought that out, but you had a blog. And then he said, well, I don't know. And nobody would listen. Nobody would read it. And I don't know if it would go anywhere. And that's part of the yeah, buts. Yeah, but maybe I would want to, but yeah, but nobody's going to care and I don't know how to promote it and that's not even the point. So if the point is that you start doing instead of ruminating or worrying, then we suggested that this guy just start writing reviews. And so then we just had a, we were kind of having fun, just Googling different review sites. And then he was saying, okay, I wonder if I could pack in the review to just a few lines. Because he was a man of few words, a lot of depth, but few words. And so just joking, I said, what if you did a haiku and you did haiku movie reviews. And then he said he joked and he said, oh, they're probably already being done. And then I really did think to myself, man, in this day and age, and this was years and years ago, I thought he's probably right. So we Googled and sure enough, we found a review site that the reviews were all haikus. So I'm going to read a haiku from the narcissistic women's Facebook group, which is so simple, to the point, but yet beautiful and profound. But before I do that, let me read you a couple of haiku movie reviews. 

So the first one is about Pixar's “Up”. “Love, loss, and regret. All in the first 10 minutes. Better pack Kleenex.” That's it, but boy, it kind of encapsulates everything. There's another one. Haiku from “Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King”. Not only that, but the extended edition. “Couldn't the Eagles simply fly the ring, bear all the way to doom.” That is deep and it is true. I've wondered the same thing. So here is the haiku from the Facebook group. And actually what I should do is it's going to sound like I'm doing this in real time, or I already know this, but I am going to pause and remind people and myself what a haiku consists of. So I Googled what is a haiku and it is a Japanese poem of 17 syllables in three lines of five, seven, and five. Traditionally evoking images of the natural world. And now let me tell you what ADHD looks like. There was a haiku generator and I'm doing everything within my power to not just go play with that because I only have a few minutes before my first client arrives and I would like to lay down some of this content, so I can come back and finish it in the not too distant future. So back to the haiku, the haiku from the women's narcissistic Facebook group. Just simply says, “I was so alone waiting for him to love me, now I love myself.” So I believe that just is so powerful and so simplistic and it fits the five, seven and five lines of syllables. 

If that really resonated with you, and you feel like, man, I don't know how to do a lengthy poem and share the depths of my soul. It's really interesting because I feel like just even taking a look at something like haikus could be something that could raise your emotional baseline and just even starting to do, do what, start to read haikus, learn what they are, start to try to write haikus. It's all better than ruminating and worrying. Let me get to the full poem that I want to read, this is also from the group. “When darkness comes, that comes quietly. It tiptoes inside, slipping through the doorway. Tip tap tip tap, the faint sound of bare feet on the wood floor. It creeps its way in finding a way into every crack and crevice. Slowly, deliberately methodically. It wraps its long twisted gnarled fingers around my neck and I cannot breathe. It claws and tears at my heart, leaving me in agony like a parasite that infects my mind. It controls me. I cannot think. Bewildered and confused. I stagger up the stairs. The hallway mirror startles me. And I see gaping holes in my reflection. Where have I gone? What has become of me? Barely anything recognizable or a value, a stained and tattered t-shirt tossed into the corner of the dirty bathroom floor.” 

I feel like the poetry just so resonates. And I think in the last three or four weeks of the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast, that poetry really has just expressed how people feel this loss of self. And then recognizing that they are no longer, they don't know what it truly feels like to be the person that they were or want to be. And so I feel like this act of poetry truly is this expressing the fact that these people that are in these relationships start to just slowly but surely recognize this, this dying on the inside. And then, this desire or this now opportunity for new growth or rebirth. So today I want to talk about anxiety and I want to talk about uncertainty. And I think that you'll see how these really play into where many people are, especially when they find a podcast like Waking Up to Narcissism or somebody that likes to talk about interacting with emotionally immature people, whether it's a me or a Dr. Romney or a Ross Rosenberg. Whoever it is, Christine Hammond, but at that point, there's a lot of anxiety that has led the person to finally look for more or look for answers. And then the answers come. And here it begins that narcissistic awareness, grief, where the answers can often feel overwhelming and cause even more anxiety because the certainty that people were trying to cling onto or hope for in their, their marriage or in their lives of that, it will get better. And it will eventually look like this and he, or she eventually will get it. 

That's seeking certainty and the brain desperately wants certainty. But then when things aren't playing out the way that we hope that they will, then that uncertainty absolutely will cause just more and more anxiety. And it's so hard at first to try to just say to somebody, hey, let's just accept the fact that things might not be certain because then if we're understanding that they aren't what we thought that they were, now we can just truly be in each moment. And instead of trying to manage anxiety around trying to alleviate anything that will cause additional anxiety or will, that will cause additional pain, then we just accept the fact that there will be moments of anxiety and there will be moments of pain. But then what also comes along with that is the opportunity to have moments of joy, moments of calm, moments of peace. And I did an episode a few weeks ago, I think on the Virtual Couch, just talking about acceptance. And this isn't that acceptance of something like anxiety or acceptance of something like uncertainty. It doesn't just mean that I just given that I just acquiesce and that I am just saying, okay, I give up. But acceptance means to take in. And it's in its entirety without defense. So I'm accepting in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy. There's this principle or this concept that if I am unwilling to have it, I will. Meaning that if I'm unwilling to be anxious, then I will be spending so much emotional calories and bandwidth trying to make sure I am not anxious, that that alone will cause more anxiety. So, if I am unwilling to have uncertainty, then I will have even more because the desire to make sure of things or try to make sense of things or find certainty in every bit of my life is going to cause more anxiety and more uncertainty. 

So I'm going to use, here's where I feel like the, about as creative as I get, I'm going to use this, my muse today, an article from, it's medically reviewed by Daniel Wade. Who's a licensed clinical social worker. And written by Crystal Raypole and it is called “12 signs that you've experienced narcissistic abuse, plus how to get help.” The article begins with a definition of narcissistic personality disorder, talking about it being a complex mental health condition. This typically involves a grandiose or inflated sense of self extreme need for admiration and attention among other symptoms. And so this is where I want to jump off the map a tiny bit and talk about, again, I think that narcissistic personality disorder is being talked about a lot, but it's a pretty small percentage of the population. But if we talk about emotional immaturity and start with a place where we are pretty much all emotionally immature in so many different areas, but then those who are seeking help are looking to become more emotionally mature. And that requires a lot of introspection, a lot of self confrontation. And so if you are asking yourself again, if I am the narcissist. If you were literally asking yourself that you're probably asking, because you've been listening and researching and wondering, and doing, and trying to read and discover and find out. 

And those are not traits or characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. So there may be some emotional immaturity on the way to maturity. But definitely not, not narcissistic personality disorder at that point. She says that common types of narcissistic manipulation include triangulation, which is somebody who is trying to pull someone else, a third person, into your conflict. And that is trying to reinforce their own opinion or their position. And this can happen in so many different ways. Once you're aware of triangulation. One of the examples that I will often give is somebody coming into my office and saying that they were talking with their friends, they were talking with a coworker, they were talking with their doctor at, and their doctor even agrees that their wife should change her behavior, or, you know, was talking to my doctor about my wife and even the doctor thinks that my wife should get on antidepressants. And I remember that one in particular, that was a very real scenario. And at the time I didn't stop and say this. And in hindsight, I wish I would have, but if you just break that one down, so, okay. So you, the person in this situation, the more emotionally immature narcissist was the male. So he then goes to his doctor who in this day and age, it takes a little while to get an appointment for a doctor. You're probably going to have five or 10 minutes to lay out. And then in those five or 10 minutes with your doctor, you laid out a scenario so, so perfectly that then your doctor, who does not know your wife, was able to diagnose your wife with depression or major depressive disorder, including which medications that your wife should take. So triangulation just makes no sense whatsoever. And that was one of those things as a therapist, that the more that I was working with clients over the years, and couples where that was one of the situations where that was just not the way that we normally work in couples therapy where someone's coming in and saying, yeah, I was talking to your sister. I was talking to your brother. I was talking to my friends at work and it was all about, I was talking to them about you. And I mean, they agree that you should get help. You should change. And that's just not the way an emotionally mature person interacts. 

Actually, talking about the narcissistic manipulative tactic of gaslighting, someone trying to gaslight you tries to get you to doubt your own perspective and reality often by twisting facts or insisting things you remember that didn't actually happen. Hoovering, we don't talk about this one very often on the podcast. And I would like to give this one a little more attention. But this tactic involves attempts to reconnect or pull you back into a toxic or abusive relationship. So in hoovering, the emotionally immature and narcissistic person, they feel so uncomfortable because they have lost. Even if it's temporarily that ability to manipulate you, because if you've just had enough, you've shut down. You've started to withdraw or retreat, then the hoovering will just be just hanging around and just wanting to get you to engage, trying anything. And this is where I'm trying to push the positive buttons if they can't even to try to get you to think, okay. He gets it. This one feels a little bit better. The silent treatment. This is one that I think is more common than we know. And in the world of emotionally mature relationships, I'm sure there can be some time that people need to step back and get their bearings, but then they come back because they have the tools to communicate effectively. And the silent treatment and especially in the, some examples that are given in my women's Facebook group, where the guys in those scenarios can go days, days without communicating with their spouse. 

So this behavior becomes manipulation. When somebody purposely ignores you to control you or to make you feel isolated. So then at some point the discomfort becomes so intense that then the more emotionally mature person finally will just say, okay, I apologize because I don't like the way this feels, but unfortunately to the more emotionally immature or narcissistic person that can, the more palpable you can feel that tension. It's almost as if they are gathering more power. And so that when you do finally go and apologize as the more emotionally kind person, pathologically kind person, then it gives you a sense of relief, but then it also gives them more power and they now have more data that says the longer I hold out, then I will eventually get my way. Scapegoating parents who use narcissistic manipulation may place all the blame on one child that they designate as a scapegoat. And in the world of narcissistic family systems, you'll start to see that there's typically a scapegoat and there's typically a golden child and you may even have different golden children depending on what the scenario is. But typically there's just one scapegoat and that can be really difficult. And because that scapegoat then is the one that is more than not trying to show up and be the best version of themselves that they can be in hopes that it will change the dynamic in the family. But if they've already been deemed the scapegoat by the emotionally immature parent, and then passive aggression, indirect blame shifting, sabotage, sarcasm can all point to covert narcissistic manipulation. And those passive aggressive ways that people interact with one another can really be the point where people will sometimes say, and of course, if you are in a emotionally or viewer in a physically abusive relationship, then by all means there's absolutely no reason to put up with that at all. And please seek help. Safety, a safety plan. A domestic violence shelter, whatever you can do. But passive aggression can be that emotional abuse. 

And you'll hear people often say that at times they almost wish that their partner would hit them because then they would at least know, okay, this is what this is because the passive aggression or covert narcissistic manipulation can just be part of it just helped you, you lose your soul, you lose your sense of self because the words can just be so cutting and the things that are really important to you, the narcissist will then criticize and attack you for. You know, you're a horrible parent. You never show up for me. You don't do enough for the family and those things that will just hurt because they truly don't see you, but they know that those are the things that will get you to react. But she goes on to say that these tactics will confuse you. They can make you question your sense of reality. They damage your self esteem. So Crystal brings up a term that I haven't used on the podcast. It's narcissistic victim syndrome. And he said, it's a term that collectively describes the specific and often severe effects of narcissistic manipulation. So while it isn't a recognized mental health condition, many experts acknowledge narcissistic abuse can have a serious, long lasting impact on mental health, which it can. It absolutely will rob you of your sense of self. 

And she said keep in mind that abuse and narcissism aren't always related to diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder and don't automatically translate to abusive behavior. Many people who engage in abuse don't have narcissistic personality disorder, but regardless of mental health diagnosis never excuses abusive behavior. She said that people choose to abuse and manipulate others. And it's possible to live with traits of narcissism or any personality disorder without becoming abusive. And I think that what can be really difficult in that scenario is if somebody is opening up about their own emotional immaturity, and then they hear a phrase or a sentence like that, where it's people who choose to abuse and manipulate others that is true by definition. It's true. And it can feel really difficult for somebody that has extreme emotional immaturity, bordering on narcissistic traits and tendencies or personality disorders. When in those moments they feel as if they do not have a choice. But that is often because they weren't modeled the correct behavior. Or they weren't modeled a healthier coping mechanisms or ways to communicate or ways to self-soothe or self-regulate or self-control. And so when they feel this deep wounding or they feel this deep abandonment issue, then instead of being able to sit with that discomfort and self confront, then that's where often they will abuse to try to get somebody back into that in measurement or that codependency. And so then, you know, again I'm not trying to split hairs here, but I feel like I do have people that are listening to the Waking Up to Narcissism podcasts that are starting to do a little self confrontation. And so if you feel, if you almost feel offended when you hear that, well, I'm not choosing to abuse or manipulate. I'm just now starting to understand or wake up. 

Well, I'm grateful that that's the place that you're at. But that's even more of a reason to try to go find help from somebody that knows a little bit more about emotional immaturity or narcissistic personality disorder or any of those narcissistic traits and tendencies. Because, yeah, it might be something where before, you know, if you're in this amygdala hijack state because of this deep fear of abandonment. But then that's the area to self confront. That's the area to sit with that discomfort. And then and really you can grow from there. So she said with that in mind here, 12 signs that might suggest you've experienced narcissistic abuse. The first is that they seem so perfect. At first narcissistic abuse tends to follow a clear pattern though. This pattern might look a little different depending on the type of the relationship. Research from 2019 suggests that in a romantic relationship, this abuse typically begins slowly after you've fallen hard and fast, we call that one the love bombing. She said, it's no wonder you fell during the love bombing phase, they seem loving and kind and generous. They made you feel special and adored with gushy compliments, affectionate displays. And expensive gifts. And I often add that in that love bombing phase, this is where the person is, in essence, trying to consciously or subconsciously become the person that you hope that they are, because then they like that dopamine dump of this connection as well. 

And I give those examples of, if you say, I like whatever, I like country music. And if they are not country music fans, rather than being where they are stepping into their true self and saying, yeah, I'm not a big fan, but tell me what you like about it. It's like, I love country music, but then because in their mind they think, oh, I really liked the feeling that I'm getting right now with this person. And if they like country music, then I'm sure I'll grow to like it. But if that's something that they don't really enjoy. Then they're right out of the gate. They're being insincere or they're or they're not being willing to confront and say, hey, it's okay for me to have a different opinion or a different thought. And so it can be as simple as a different music taste or a different type of food or movie that you like. And the person is unable to express an opinion that they feel like someone else might disagree with. She said the early stage might've felt so intense and overwhelming that you never stopped to consider whether they might be too fantastic. Then slowly these other manipulative tactics begin to replace the gifts and declarations of love. And narcissistic parents might also offer love or adoration, praise, and financial support. Until you do something to displease them and then lose their favor. And then they too often turn to those tactics, like the silent treatment and gaslighting. 

Next, she says that people doubt that the abuse took place. Narcissistic manipulation and abuse are often so subtle that in public, these behaviors might be so well disguised that others hear or see the same behaviors. And they failed to recognize them as abuse. This is where we come up with the death by a thousand cuts episode. She said you might not even fully understand what's happening. You only know that you feel confused or upset or even guilty for your “mistakes”. And even in the scenario of parenting, a narcissistic parent might gently say, are you sure you want to eat dessert? Or they might turn a broken dish into a joke at your expense, man, you're so clumsy. You just can't help yourself, can you? And they laugh with everybody in the room while patting your shoulder to make the insult seem well intentioned. And she said that you would hope that friends and loved ones believe you, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen. Your loved ones might not doubt your belief that you are abused, but they might question your perception of the events and assure you. You might've just misunderstood those things. I'm sure that they never meant to hurt you. And that's where we get back into that world of the Switzerland friends, well, at least it wasn't this bad or I'm sure you're not remembering everything correctly. And this doubt that people instill can be harmful. Because not only does it dismantle your faith and your loved ones, but it can also lead you to wonder whether the abuse took place at all. 

She said, maybe you did read too much into their words, or just imagined that look on their face. And this is where it's so difficult because I want you to start to trust your gut. And operate from a place of, here is my memory. This is what happened. Crystal talks about the other sign of this narcissistic victim abuse that they've started a smear campaign. She said people with narcissistic traits often need to maintain their image of perfection in order to keep earning admiration from others. And to do this, they may try and make you look bad. And once you begin pointing out problems or questioning their behavior, then they may lash out by openly directing the rage toward you with insults and threats. Or here we go back into triangulation involving others and criticizing you by telling stories to your loved ones that twist the facts about your harmful or your unstable behavior, the narcissist tries to discredit you and even worse when you then act or react angrily, because who wouldn't, if you're being accused of these things that you know, to be false or you believe are false, then they use your response, your getting frustrated or upset the backup there lies. She said people with narcissism often have a knack for charming others, that persona that they showed you in the beginning, that everybody else still gets to see on a day-to-day basis. So then they can often win support from your loved ones who haven't seen through that facade by insisting that they only have your best interests at heart. And then when you try explaining the abuse, then your loved ones might side with them. She said that part of this narcissistic victim abuse makes you feel isolated. She said, if your loved ones don't understand, you'll likely feel pretty alone, which only increases your vulnerability to further narcissistic manipulation, because then the person that's abusing you may pull you back in with kindness or even apologies or pretend the abuse never happened. 

And there's that cycle, that continued cycle of abuse. So hoovering, as it's often called, tends to work better when you lack support, you're more likely to doubt your perception of the abuse when you can't talk with anybody about it. So if your loved ones reach out to tell you that you've made a mistake and they encourage you to give the abusive partner another chance, then you might end up doing so to simply regain your closeness with your family and friends. Because one of the most difficult things is that person that continues to go back into the trauma bond is that they may not have those skills from the factory to stand on their own. And we are again, while I love the phrase where we're designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human, but it's another emotionally mature human being, not someone that's going to take advantage of or manipulate you and the things that you hope to connect on. She talks about one of the signs that you freeze up. People respond to abuse and other trauma in so many different ways that you might attempt to confront the abuse of a person, which is the fight. Or escape the situation, which is flight. And if these methods don't work, you may feel unable to use them and you might respond over time, especially by freezing or fawning. And that freeze response usually happens when you feel helpless. And it often involves almost this feeling of disassociation because you're trying to emotionally distance yourself, but from the abuse and often you don't feel like you can even leave. 

That freeze response, you may just be battening down the hatches internally and waiting for this emotional storm to end. And so when you distance yourself from the abuse, it will help decrease its intensity, in essence, effectively numbing some of that pain and distress that you experience. She goes on to talk about freezing can have some benefits in certain situations, but it doesn't help when you can escape from danger. But if you believe there's no way out of the relationship, then you might remain in it. And perhaps even to respond by fawning, which is working to keep your partner happy. So we get that fight or flight. We've got the freeze, then we have the fawn, the fawning is where it's, so, yeah, you're right. Just to try to get that out of that, that uncomfortable moment. Here's the stuff that I start seeing as a therapist, she talks about one of the results of this narcissistic victim abuse. As you have trouble making decisions, she sets a pattern of devaluation and criticism can leave you with very little self-esteem and confidence. This narcissistic manipulation often involves frequent implications that you make bad decisions and you can't do anything right. And aren't you glad that you have that narcissist in your life? 

So an abusive partner may call you stupid or ignorant outright, or often with a falsely affectionate tone, honey, you're just so dumb. How will you manage without my help? I don't even know how you'd make it through a day. And over time, you might start absorbing these insults and attaching them to your perception. And then constantly second, guess yourself as a result. And unfortunately I see that in my office so often. Where people even say, I don't know. I didn't even know if I'm making any sense. I don't know if I'm right. I don't know what the right thing to do is because his gaslighting tactics can also make you doubt your decision making abilities. So if somebody is manipulating you into believing that you imagined things that actually took place, you might continue doubting your perception of events. And then this uncertainty can affect your ability to make decisions well into the future. And I want you to, even if you're doing this on the inside, start recognizing how you feel, what you think. And we want to get to this place where you eventually, we'll start trusting your gut. We want to operate from that place of trusting your gut and emotionally healthy and mature relationships. That's where we start. I may have my opinion, but my wife is certainly going to have her opinion. And I want to say, tell me more. What's that like, because we're in this together. It's this edification one plus one is three. Not, the person is right. Therefore the other one must be wrong. She said one of the other traits of this narcissistic victim abuse is you always feel like you've done something wrong. This key characteristic of narcissism is difficulty taking responsibility for any negative actions or harmful behaviors. 

If your partner literally doesn't say, I'm sorry. He hasn't said I'm sorry. Or that's the one of the narcissistic apologies of, okay, fine. I guess I'm sorry, but then you are going to feel like you're the one that has done things wrong. And so often the pathologically kind person will then apologize in hopes that they are modeling behavior to their spouse of saying, you know what I am sorry about what I said or how I showed up and hoping that the, even a spouse at that point will say, you know what, I'm sorry to, but not okay. Good. I'm glad you are acknowledging that. So these abusive partners typically find some way to cast blame on you. And they might accomplish this through the seat. And she gives a couple of examples often by insisting that they said something that you have no recollection of, or getting so angry that you end up soothing them by apologizing and agreeing that you were wrong. And so often again, this is just to get out of the discomfort of the moment. Unfortunately, a narcissist can just be so fascinating that they can either sit with this incredible discomfort of things like the silent treatment. Until then you finally break. Or they can't sit with a millisecond of discomfort and that's where they have to then get angry or take the complete victim stance. 

She said, say you suspect that your spouse or your narcissistic partners cheat on you and you explain the concerning behaviors that you've noticed and ask if something's going on. A partner using narcissistic manipulation might respond with extreme anger. They may respond with accusations of their own, redirect the blame saying that these things that are intended to hurt and belittle you. So that then the focus is off of them. So these barrages of rage can leave you feeling helpless and dependent and grateful that they're willing to remain with somebody who makes so many mistakes. So then even after leaving the relationship, you might carry forward the belief that you can't do anything right. That when things go wrong or in other areas of your life, that you might start to blame yourself for causing those problems. I appreciate that. She was so brought up that one of the traits of this narcissistic victim of abuse is you have unexplained physical symptoms, and we talk so much about “The Body Keeps the Score”, Bessel van der Kolk’s amazing book. But you'll find that when people are starting to just lose themselves, that they will often have a lot of aches, a lot of pains, a lot of things, everything from fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, backaches, neck aches, hypertension. You name it, there are so many things. Is chronic fatigue, or why am I drawing a blank on migraines? There we go. But she says that abuse can trigger anxious and nervous feelings that sometimes lead to physical symptoms. You might notice appetite changes, upset, stomach or nausea. Stomach pain and other gastrointestinal distress, muscle aches and pains, insomnia fatigue. And then she said using alcohol and other substances can sometimes seem like a helpful way to manage these symptoms, especially insomnia. So then as a result, you end up consuming more than you'd like in an effort to manage these unwanted feelings of physical distress. 

And I have this co-occurring situation where you are. I mean, I've worked with people that are drinking heavily. They're turning to smoking pot. They're doing these things to just try to tune out of life. Because they just feel so off. So imbalanced. Which leads to another form of, another symptom of narcissistic abuse as you feel restless and unsettled because she said it's so unpredictable. You may not know whether they're going to criticize you or surprise you with a gift. And if you don't want some, if you don't really feel like there's consistency or know what someone will do or say at any given moment, you may start to develop a lot of tension from needing to regularly prepare yourself to face conflict. And there's almost this just insane tension. And then there's this feeling of relief, but over time, that relief when they're, when they aren't being mean. It starts to just become this flat affect or this feeling of what's called this Anna Donya, she said, worries about the constant stream of criticism and how to best handle the abusive behaviors that you're beginning to recognize constantly leave you on edge and you may not even know how to relax anymore. Since you might not feel safe, letting your guard down. And I think that's one of the difficult things is people start having trouble with things like sleep and sleep is where you reset those cortisol levels in the brain. And so even if you're just having these fits and spurts of sleep off and on, and then you're hitting the next day and your brain hasn't fully had a chance to recuperate and to flush out the, you know, the bad things from the day before. 

Then it's as if your baseline of cortisol or this stress hormone, the stress drug in your brain is operating from a higher baseline. So then you may just snap or respond. It's the, you have a very small runway until you're at that place where you just feel like you are going to lose your mind. So she said you don't recognize yourself when facing abuse. Many people eventually adjust their self identity to accommodate the abusive partner. So she said, say your partner insists that when you go out with your friends, you're telling me that you don't love me. You'd rather see them instead. She has, of course you love him. So you stopped going out with your friends. Next, you give up your hobbies. You skip after work happy hour with coworkers, eventually you cancel your weekly visit with your sister. You spend time doing what your partner wants to do. So that they really will feel like you do care. So then she says these changes often lead to a loss of your sense of self, which can leave you feeling lost and empty. And you might have a hard time enjoying life and losing sight of your sense and your purpose. And that's the situation where in healthy relationships, people both are enjoying a vibrant version of life. And then we are coming together. And with curiosity, we're having shared experiences and it's all part of the maturation process. That of course we're gonna have relationships with other people that are healthy, that are empowering, that are emboldening, that are helping us raise our own emotional baseline. 

And our spouses are saying, tell me more, what's that like? What are you learning? And then how can we create meaning or shared experience together? She said that you have trouble setting boundaries. This is such a big one. So someone engaging in narcissistic abuse often has little respect for boundaries. And so when you try to set or enforce limits, they might challenge them. Completely ignore them, or even give the silent treatment until you do what they want. Eventually you might give up on your boundaries. And once you end a relationship or you get distanced from a narcissistic parent, for example, you promise yourself that you will not answer their calls and texts, or you won't see them at all. But if they know that they can eventually wear you down though, then they may or may not let you go easily. Instead, they'll keep calling they'll texts in hopes of getting you to set aside those boundaries again, because it's like saying a boundary, unfortunately in the world of narcissism is a challenge. It's almost as if you are handing the narcissist some food here, here you go. Here's my boundary. And as you can just run right through it or devour it, then it gives them more power of, okay see, you don't even understand yourself because you try to hold these adorable little boundaries, but I know best. 

And so if you've experienced that narcissistic abuse, you might also have trouble setting healthy boundaries in your relationships with others. And here's kind of wrapping things up. We get back to that concept around anxiety. As that she said that this narcissistic abuse can lead to these symptoms of anxiety and depression. That anxiety and depression commonly developed as a result of this narcissistic abuse. So the significant stress that you face can trigger these persistent feelings of worry, nervousness and fear. Especially when you never know what to expect from the behavior of the emotionally abusive, the emotionally immature. You might feel hopeless. You might feel worthless. You might lose interest in things that used to bring you joy. And you have a hard time seeing a hopeful outcome for the future. And I would just want to say in that moment that your, you know, your brain again, is this don't get killed device and it's trying to just manage and it's trying to manage relationships and situations. And so when you start to notice that you are losing just any joy in your life. I don't believe that it is your brain saying, okay, let's shut it all down. But your brain wants to live. And so it is, it is telling you, okay, I'm trying to use anxiety for good. I'm trying to make you aware. And if that isn't working, then let's, they may turn your brain to a little bit of depression and say, okay, let's, let's sit this one out because you going in there is not making you feel better going in there, meaning interacting with this emotionally abusive person. 

And at some point, I think your body, your brain is trying to tell you, hey, do something help me out here? I feel like even the manifestations of pain from these emotional situations when the body then takes that emotional pain. And then almost as if it transfigured it to physical pain is saying okay, you're not dealing with the emotional pain. Maybe if I give you this physical pain, then you'll, you'll take care of it. You'll address it. Because your body doesn't want you to be emotionally abused. It doesn't want you to shut down. It wants you to live. And once you find your sense of self, your sense of purpose and so that you can just be, be in the world and just enjoy and just let your light so shine and lift others around you and all those wonderful things. So if you find that you are overly anxious, trying to predict what can happen next, or if you find that you are depressed and just continually wanting to sit this one out, then I really believe that that is your body saying, hey this is hard and I want you to do something to take care of yourself. 

She said it's also common to have a lot of confusion over what caused them to change so abruptly, especially if you don't know much about narcissism and manipulation. This is part of those popcorn moments where if the narcissist can then find whatever button works, if all of a sudden they pushed you too far, you withdraw and then they come back and love bomb. Well, whatever works. If that doesn't work now, they may even go with the pull, push new buttons. Now go back to the you're a horrible person or I know you're an unfit father or mother. And so it's a continual battle to find the right buttons to get you back into enmeshment. She said you might even shoulder the blame for the abuse, perhaps believing their accusations, that you must not care about them enough or blame yourself for falling. For their deception in the first place, but either can add to feelings of worthlessness and further diminish your self esteem. So, what do you do? How do you find help? Any kind of abuse can take a real toll on your mental and physical health. In her article, Crystal said if your loved ones still doubt you or tell you to just move on, you may feel unheard and unsupported. A lot of the basis around the entire Waking Up to Narcissism podcast is that when you start feeling these things, hearing these things that when you talk to somebody and if they are not being a Switzerland friend, they may just say, well just get out right now. But I know it's not that easy. And you still, for most of the time, want to determine, okay, but is it me that's one of the number one questions I get, but is it me? And what would it look like if I change. 

She said, if your loved ones again, still doubt you, or just tell you to move on. You feel unheard and unsupported. That can make it really hard to trust people again, leaving you feeling isolated and alone. So, whether you're just beginning to notice the first signs of narcissistic manipulation are still trying to make sense of an abusive relationship that you maybe even already left. Then therapy can really help you begin healing. And she said, therapy offers a safe place to learn coping strategies to manage mental health symptoms. Practice setting healthy boundaries, explore ways to rebuild your sense of self. But it's really important to find a therapist who specializes in abuse, recovery. Because that can validate your experience. It can help you understand that you aren't at fault. And offer support through these early stages of recovery. So it's important to get help and there you can get emergency support 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the national domestic violence hotline. There you can text a love is. L O V E I S to 8 6 6 3 3 1 9 4 7 4. You can call 1 807 9 9 7 2 3 3. This is again, the national domestic violence hotline. 

Or they even have an online chat available. But one of the most important things that you can do is start to find help in that might even be just a phase of you starting to listen to more podcasts and watch more YouTube videos and read more books. And that is being you're on the path of awareness of a light enlightenment. You didn't know what you didn't know. And now you're starting to learn. You're starting to learn more about what is happening in your life, but it's still gonna be really hard to do anything about it. And just know that that's a really difficult place to be, but it's a real normal place to be. And eventually you're going to have more of a path of knowing what to do and you'll do it more than you don't. And eventually you're going to become, you're going to become this person that now is aware, is helping yourself, helping others, which is eventually going to help your family, your kids, those around you. And boy, I see you and I know that it's hard to be on this path or this journey. 

But just know that I'm glad you're on the path and I'm not just going to drop the old, well, at least you're on the path because that might feel invalidating, but I'm grateful that you're on the path. So reach out if you have additional questions, comments. Share this with somebody if you think that'll help. You can contact me at or through a verite, whatever the various social media platforms are as well. And, hang in there. I, again, I see you. I know the work you're doing and I'll see you next week on Waking Up to Narcissism. 

"Regret is a common feeling that has both negative and positive effects," Sian Ferguson from the article "How to Move Past Regret." Tony talks about regret and rumination's roles in keeping people stuck in a trauma bond with a narcissist. 

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Virtual Couch favorite and Tony's daughter, McKinley "Mackie" Overbay, joins the podcast to talk about some big changes happening in her life and how she has been able to do difficult, scary things despite having "all of the emotions." You can follow Mackie on Instagram @beautybymackie and mention the Virtual Couch Podcast for $10 off any service with Mackie. 

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

New Mackie/Tony Transcript

Mackie: I'm sweaty already. 

Tony: Nervous and sweaty. And what's the Eminem lines? What? You only get one shot. Don't you know that one? You're nervous and sweaty. Mom, spaghetti. What about mom's spaghetti? Mom's spaghetti. But at some point he looks calm and ready. Doesn't he throw up mom's spaghetti at some time?

Mackie: Yeah, that's what it is. There's vomit on his sweater already. 

Tony: Okay. Do you feel like throwing up mom’s spaghetti? 

Mackie: No, I didn't have any spaghetti.

Tony: But you're just a little nervous sometimes. But you know what? That is okay to have emotions, speaking of that McKinley Overbay, welcome to the Virtual Couch.

Mackie: Thank you, Tony. 

Tony: This is so funny. When you guys call me my name, can I just tell you that? 

Mackie: I think it's so funny and so I do it every chance I can.

Tony: Thank you. Does it sound different if I call you McKinley versus Mackie? 

Mackie: Yeah, my brain kind of shuts off.

Tony: Well, same when you call me Tony. Okay. McKinley, are you ready for your record fifth time on the Virtual Couch? Hey, so to sound a little bit dramatic though, I think I had almost called this an emergency podcast recording, but that does sound too dramatic. But you are doing some life things, big, changing things, is that correct? Do you not like the phrase, I used to think this was hilarious, but now I think it was years and years ago, because somebody last week mentioned that they didn't like this phrase at all, but adulting. Are you tired of that one?

Mackie: Not tired of it. It is kind of silly, but it's also, how else do you describe it? 

Tony: Okay. Because I think this is the point. An adulting moment is that, don't you think? 

Mackie: Yeah. Yeah. I don't think there's any other way to describe it. 

Tony: Okay. Because Mackie, what are you doing?

Mackie: Adulting, being a full grown adult.

Tony: By opening your own salon. Your own suite. Okay, well, we'll get to that too. And so the dramatic part, and I tried to tamper that down a bit, was, I was gonna say the last time we recorded, you were venturing out and going and doing hard things. You graduated cosmetology school and that's a whole amazing episode in itself because we talked about how you had felt, even though we were the most supportive parents in the entire world, oh yeah. Ok. I dunno how I like that. But that you even felt like you still needed to do some college and we were saying, hey, go find your passion and then you graduate cosmetology school. You move out to Utah from Idaho and you go to work with somebody that had a pretty established salon and that was scary. And you had all the fears of what if you don't know what you're doing and what if nobody shows up, and what if you don't make any money? And all of those things. And now what are the new fears in starting your own suite or your own salon? 

Mackie: I mean, it kind of goes back to a lot of the same things. Which is funny, but in a different way. Because like, I’m still scared that I won't have clients or I won't be successful or, blah, blah, blah. But I have a little bit more experience now, and I know a little bit more and I know what I'm doing now. So that's good. 

Tony: I love that. That's why I think it is fascinating that you have similar thoughts. But they are, they're similar, yet different, because this last, I guess it's been about a year and a half where you've been working at Ivory, you've been working with and I only know, I always joke about knowing her Instagram name first and foremost, which was Meg Brown Balayage. But that isn't, I don't think Balayage is an official part of her name, is that right?

Mackie: Not that I'm aware of.

Tony: Okay. But you had an amazing experience there. Maybe talk about the last year and a half. What's that been like? 

Mackie: It's been, I mean, it's been great. It was definitely scary and I was pushed outta my comfort zone a lot. Then the last little bit, I feel like I was at the point where everything was good and I was comfortable, and I was just ready for the next thing, the next scary thing. 

Tony: Well, and Meg's been good about saying that, and I love this because I have an intern and the things where if you're doing it right, you want your intern to launch and grow and be successful. And so this was always the plan I would imagine. 

Mackie: Yeah. Ivory was supposed to be a stepping stone into my career. And so then I just recently then took that career leap. Yeah, that spooky leap. 

Tony: Very spooky, very scary. Hey, tell me if this even applies, but I often say “you don't know what you don't know”. Because you, how could you have known, what in hindsight, looking back over the last year and a half, are there things that you didn't even know, that you didn't know, that you learned that would be helpful to share with somebody else, or that are just some interesting things that you didn't anticipate about working with Meg and working in the industry in general?

Mackie: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure there are a million, but like, yeah, on the spot, nothing super specific comes to mind. But in general, that concept that you don't know what you don't know, I think it, I was just thrown into that so heavily because I realized going into this industry and everything, I knew nothing at the beginning, I knew nothing and I seriously said like the first week I was working with Meg full-time in an actual salon, I learned more than I had the last year and a half of being in school. Like just being thrown into the real experience and actually doing it. And so I feel like it is just one of those scary things where, and I was, I would imagine this applies to other careers too, where it's like you just have to do it. Even though it's scary and knowing that as you keep going, you'll continue to learn more and you'll become more comfortable and you can lean into it and it'll be a good thing. But I definitely, yeah, I didn't know anything about the industry, and I think that's normal for certain things. The best way to learn is to just do it.

Tony: It really is. Because even as you're about to go into this new experience, and maybe I'm jumping too far ahead and we can go back, but all the things you had to learn with setting up your business and insurance and business expenses, a business name, all those things, you've just had to figure it out.

Mackie: Lots of things that, again, I just didn't know and there's still, I literally saw a TikTok today of someone who had just opened up a suite like I did, and she was like, okay, number one thing you have to do, get an accountant right off the bat. And I was just sitting there going, I don't have one. And then immediately going into panic mode, adding that to my list and being like, okay, there's another thing I have to pay for and another thing I have to deal with and so it is just that, yeah, just trying to figure out all the things and learning without becoming discouraged and getting too afraid or giving up, you know, which is scary, but again, all those are, the best way to do it.

Tony: I think anticipating now or having the emotional maturity to know that, how could I have known that? And so don't beat myself up about it, and then just be open to whatever that new experience is. 

Mackie: Just add it to the list and be like, I've done all these other things. I can do that one too. But yeah, lots of scary business things and I'm just like a silly little girl and I don't, I don't know anything. 

Tony: But yet, you do Mackie. 

Mackie: But I'm learning.

Tony: Hey I love the story too where you, when you told Meg that you were ready to venture out on your own, because I think this so well illustrates how we can have all these emotions and feelings, even to the point of letting those feelings out, if you know what I'm saying, and then still be able to go through with a scary thing. So tell us that story, 

Mackie: That's such a fun story. No, it's funny, I just, I was a little anxious and I was a little nervous to talk to my boss and so I went to work that morning and I just threw up a little bit because I was scared. Just quick, you know, whatever. No big deal. Did that, went back, gave my boss a quick call. I was like, you know, I think I need to talk to you before something worse happens. So that was, yeah, that was intense. But you know what? I did it and it was okay, and I only threw up the one.

Tony: Which is amazing. Yeah. And, when your mother, we will call her Wendy now that we're using all the formal names, when she was telling me the story about it, I think that day I had said, hey did you hear from Mac? Did she end up telling Megan? And Wendy said, yeah, she did. And she was so nervous she threw up. And I, it's funny because immediately I'm already thinking, oh man. And then that means she didn't tell her and I feel so bad, I think I'm probably pulling up my phone to send you a text. Or, hey, how are you? And then she said, and then she told her and Meg was amazing and it was awesome. And that happened.

Mackie: Nothing to be afraid of. But I think that's a whole thing in itself about life right there.

Tony: It really is. 

Mackie: You just kinda have to do the things and it usually ends up okay. 

Tony: And I love that because I feel like that's been a process for you to acknowledge that, okay, here's the anxiety and I can feel it and I can get frustrated with it. But then it seems like very much very often you then still follow through with whatever you feel like you need to. Has that been a hard thing?

Mackie: Yeah. It's a hard thing and it's something that I deal with every single day, like with my anxiety. That just, every time I have to do anything really, it's like I feel that anxiety and I panic and I think I'm gonna die, or, something horrible is gonna happen. It's gonna be the end of the world. And then so far up to this point, which is something you like to rub in my face all the time, nothing bad has happened. I always say with my anxiety, I say things like, I think I'm gonna throw up or I'm gonna pass out. And you always go, okay, but have you ever? 

Tony: I say it really nice though, right? 

Mackie: Yeah. You really do. You say it's so nice. No, but you really because I'll say, I think I'm gonna pass out. And then you go, have you ever passed out from your anxiety? And then I go, no, and then you just roast me.

Tony: Okay. Very well. Okay. This is funny though. I think that you were telling me maybe it was a psychiatrist or something at one point that had even talked about, okay, in heaven forbid, if you do pass out your body is basically saying, hey, I can't, you're freaking me out, so I just need to breathe, so I'm gonna tap you out for a little while so I can just be on my own.

Mackie: It's one of the most comforting things I think with anxiety. For anyone out there that's super anxious, worst case you pass out, your body does a quick little reset and people even say passing out's kind of euphoric and you just kind of, you know, whatever. And then you come too and you're breathing normal again and everything's fine. 

Tony: Okay. Here's the one that I sound, here's where I probably don't sound as sensitive, Mackie. I think when you'll say things like, I don't feel like I can breathe. I think sometimes I think I'm hilarious when I say, hey, you've been good at it your whole life. I'm telling you right now.

Mackie: You say that to me all the time and I feel like I'm dying in those moments. And then you say that to me and I'm so mad. But you're right.

Tony: Oh, that makes me laugh so much. Now, I'm, now I feel like I'm almost trying to pull things out of you, but I think when we were talking about this just offhand one time, there was also a concept that you had mentioned that had to do with a particular time frame of seconds that were not 15 seconds, but? 

Mackie: Not 25 seconds.

Tony: That's it. No, but 20 seconds. Yes, Mackie. Oh, what was that about? Tell me what you were telling me about the 20 second thing. Because this one, I really have thought about this a lot. 

Mackie: Yeah. This is one thing that's always stuck with me also in terms of anxiety, but I think when we were initially talking about it, it was in terms of when I decided to sign for my suite and go through with it and just decide to quit my job and do this big scary thing is like I do this thing and it's, it's, you looked it up. It's from a, a dumb movie or something, 

Tony: Hey, this is the best. Wait real quick, this story. So it's 20 seconds of insane courage. And then Alex, I was talking to her about it and she said that, yes, she didn't even, I think, realize it was from a movie. I found the movie, it's, “We Bought a Zoo”.

Mackie: I didn't know that either. 

Tony: Yeah, but she said apparently it was Alex and her friends. Well, and it was this legendary or urban legend example of some people that were spying on a kid that had went up to a doorstep situation to kiss a girl. And apparently he didn't kiss her. But then walking away, he just said something like, 20 seconds of insane courage, you know? And then that was then made fun of, I think, for a while. But yeah, it's from the movie. “We Bought a Zoo”. And I don't really know the context there, but tell me what it means to you. 

Mackie: I just think I do this in terms, whether it's job interviews or dates or making big scary decisions, or like whatever it is, it's just the concept that you can do, I mean, you can do anything for 20 seconds, like anything in the whole world you can do for 20 seconds and you'll be just fine. But also just the fact of like those big decisions and those, the big scary part, like the, at the height of my anxious moments, usually if I can just get through the initial whatever it is, I end up being fine. Usually it's more 10, 15 minutes realistically. But it's just the concept that, like for example, if I'm going on a date, it's just getting out the door. Because it's the, when I'm in my apartment, I'm freaking out and I'm like, I can't breathe. And I'm like, I can't go. I'm gonna die, like all this stuff. But then I get out the door, I realize, oh, you're okay. Like you're actually fine. And then the date's usually fine and it's whatever. So it's just that concept of you just you just have to kind of shut your brain off, just for a second, do the thing and then feel the other things later. But in a nice, positive way. Because I feel like it can kind of sound dumb because in terms of, I'm like, yeah, I signed this year lease for my suite and I just shut my brain off to do it. That makes it sound kind of dumb. But if you look at it in a different way, then it's like, okay, instead of leaning into the fears and the anxiety of taking the leap to do this big, scary independent career thing, it's like I didn’t even let myself even think about the scary things. And I had done research prior, I had, you know, crunched the numbers and done it's, you know, yeah. Knew it was a, it would be a good thing. I knew what my budget was, I knew all the good things, but then in that moment just had to say, okay, we're not even gonna think about failing or any of the potential scary things and just going to say, yeah, I'll do it. I'll sign it. Give me the paper. And then you just sign it. And then after. I like called Wendy and I was like, I was like, was that stupid? 

Tony: At that point you want, all you want is validation at that point, right? So at that point it's like, it is not stupid, it’s wonderful. 

Mackie: You don't tell me stupid. But no, and then she reassured me like, no, you knew your numbers, you knew what you could take. Like you knew what you were capable of signing for it. So everything's good and this is what you want and whatever. But all goes back to that, just sometimes you just have to be strong and courageous and have no anxiety for 20 seconds and then you can go back to feeling all your scary feelings. 

Tony: I love it. I can frame that from a psychology standpoint. You know, my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy, there's a researcher I had on Michael Twohig that said, “Happy healthy people spend 80% of their time doing things that are important, not things that are fun necessarily, but things that are important.” And then it was the unhealthy, unhappy people spend 80% of their time, in essence, trying to just seek joyous activities or avoid discomfort. And so, you did things that were important to you and then you can sit back and I say watch the “Yeah, Buts”. The yeah, but what if it doesn't work? And yeah, but it's scary and yeah, but I've never done it before. And all those may be true, but those are not productive thoughts when you're gathering up those 20 seconds of insane courage to do something that you already know matters to you. This is the direction I wanna go. 

Mackie: You know it's a good thing. And it's like you just, it just comes down to like, okay. 

Tony: Yeah, so like if I were to do 20 seconds, if I did 20 seconds of insane courage to eat a ghost pepper Mackie, because you know how my heat meter is, that would be the dumbest thing that I could ever do in my whole life. That or a warhead. 

Mackie: Exactly. So there are things I mean, you can add a million things you maybe shouldn't just, I don't know, get a tattoo in 20 seconds, or there's things that maybe think about it for at least, at least like 10 minutes.

Tony: Okay, is that what it is? 

Mackie: I don’t know the real rules, but you know, that's right. Not everything's gonna be 20 seconds. 

Tony: But as long as it says pa and not ma, or I love pa, then that's okay. 

Mackie: No, as long as you don't forget to think things through. Have plans a little bit, but just also don't let the whole point just, don't let the scary, anxious stuff take over.

Tony: I love it. You mentioned plans. Can we talk about this is one that I feel like will be, I'm so convinced that this, I know I am leading the witness, I am confirmation biasing, I am doing all these things. And so I want you to tell me “back off, old man”, or “it's not that easy”, or those sorts of things. And you may know where I'm going here next, but, so here's that part where, you know, plans, this wasn't your initial plan as a somewhere between 21 and 24 year old human being that you are right now. But I almost feel like who wants to go first? Do you wanna talk about what your plan was or do you want me to tell everybody why I was right? And then you agree with me? Which one? No, you tell me about where you kind of anticipated things at this point? 

Mackie: I really, and I mean, I can blame you and Wendy for part of this because you guys got married when you were 10, and like so did and so did all my friends and whatever.

Tony: Oh that's loud. Sorry for Alex editing the video, that probably just blew her eardrums out. Okay, we were not 10.

Mackie: Whatever you basically were, you might as well have been. You round it up, it's the same thing. But anyways, I just genuinely thought I'd be married by now, which I know is so young and I know it's kind of silly to be like, I am young and that's silly, but full, complete honesty. I really did think that I would, I would be one of those people that went off to college and in my first couple of semesters, meet somebody and then stop going to college and then just got to go be a mom. 

Tony: So get your MRS degree. Am I right? Lemme get that joke in there. That one used to make me laugh is that one's super offensive. 

Mackie: But no, I really did just, and I was like, I thought that was the dream and that was exactly what I wanted. And then all of a sudden I was 20 and I still wasn't married and then I was 21 and then I was 22, and now I'm 23 and I'm not even close. Not even, you know, not even, yeah. Nothing. Nothing coming up. So anyways, so I just thought I'd be married and get to be a mom because that is really what I want.

Tony: And you will be amazing. You'll be amazing at that.

Mackie: It'll be, it's slightly my calling in life to be a mom, I'd say. But sometimes life doesn't always go the way that you planned, well, it never does basically. Never you know, whatever. Yeah. All the things you plan. So that has not been the way that my life is gone, and I always just thought I'd be a mom and then I could do like hair or something with the beauty industry, like kind of on the side, like out of my house or something where it was just, I could choose a day or two here and there and do something that I knew I could be passionate about, but I never thought that I would have to, or I never saw myself being an entrepreneur, like a career woman or a boss lady, or, you know, anything like that. And I just didn't really have any interest in it. And I didn't, I just figured like, oh, I won't need to do that. It just won't be a thing. And then, naturally my life has not gone exactly how I planned it out in my head when I was like 14 or whatever. And I've had to then make this shift of still keeping my goals and my dreams, but then also healthily leaning into something that I know I'm passionate about. Which is all the hair stuff and the beauty industry. And I don't know, it's, yeah, it's been a weird thing, but it's been strange. The best thing that could happen, in a weird way, which is, this is kind of where it starts to become where you're right and whatever. 

Tony: Wait, wait, hold on, hold on. 

Mackie: No, I didn’t say anything.

Tony: I think I heard. I think it cut out. What'd you say? 

Mackie: No, nothing. 

Tony: Oh, I will, I will replay that clip over and over.

Mackie: Whatever. Whatever. But it is the thing that I've learned so much about myself and I've had this opportunity to learn more about who I am, who I want to be, what I want out of life, what I can offer to others, just so many things that I wouldn't have necessarily had the opportunity had my life gone the way that initially thought it would.

Tony: And can I go on a little soapbox rant here for a second? Because I feel like this is where, and it's so interesting because had you gotten married at 10 or 11, like your mother and I, which by the way, I think I was 19, almost 20, and she was 18, almost 19. So very much older than 10. But it was interesting because well, we thought we, you know, we thought we were so old and this is where anybody listening that is already married or young, of course, I'm not saying, wait, you need to break up right now. That's silly, right? Because for some people it works and it's great. But I do, I honestly, and I will speak about this with such passion, but I feel like as a marriage therapist, 1300 couples into this thing, that no one, no, absolutely no one knows what they don't know about relationships. They don't have the tools to communicate effectively. And I do, I call it the crapshoot theory. And your mom and I got lucky that we happen to just like a lot of the similar things and things seem fairly easy. And so then, you know, it isn't until later in your relationship where all of a sudden you start to deal with difficult things and you like each other so it's a little bit easier to work through. So it ends up being okay, but yeah, if there's a lot, yeah. But I'm convinced that, you know, it should be 25 or 30 or something and this is where I know it's gonna sound like I'm saying it just because you're my daughter, but I would say this to anybody, but when people are spending their 19, 20, 21 trying to figure out who they need to be in order to try to keep a relationship or get a relationship that they're not learning who they are.

And so, you have slowly but surely been finding out who you are as you learn to do the things that you like to do and you're really good at. Because I know we haven't even talked about all the opportunities you have to basically be a therapist in a chair. I wanna talk about that and we were talking about when we were kind of doing a little pre-interview, but the stuff where I want to ask you in a minute about why you like doing things like color and just getting to see the change in people. And there are so many things I had no idea that really was behind what you're doing. That I feel like that raises your emotional, emotional baseline really and so you are this different person now and I feel like you're putting yourself now, you're a stronger, more confident person that will now show up in a relationship versus trying to figure out who do I need to be?

Mackie: Well, I, no, I just think because it wasn't, it was something I knew I could be passionate about, but I don't even think I knew, like I didn't, I didn't know what I didn't know. And I didn't realize that that was even, I didn't know what that even meant because I'd hear people say, you gotta find something you're passionate about and whatever. And at the time I'm like, well, I like makeup. And so in my head I was like, I could be passionate about that. I could like it, but I didn't know what that would feel like and what that would look like and how incredible it is to actually be passionate about something and to yeah, get to do it every single day and live like that. And then, yeah, as I'm young and I'm learning and I'm growing and I'm finding out more about myself, it's like I'm able to do that through this thing that I'm passionate about, if that makes any sense. And it's just this kind of unreal experience when I step back and look at it because it is, this is my job. All these amazing things are happening, but it's my job. 

Tony: Tell me about, like, you were telling cool stories about when I was asking about what do you like about the things you do now? And of course I literally sometimes think back to when I used to get my haircut, which was literally 20 years ago and it's, you know, you're doing all kinds of color and extensions and you're spending hours with people, and so talk about that. What are you seeing and doing and what is that part where now you feel like, oh man, I love this. What all is that? 

Mackie: Yeah, I mean, there's, there's so much to it because I think initially it was just, I just didn't know what went into it. Like, you know, in school and everything. I was just like, okay, I don't really get what I'm doing here, but there's so many sides to doing hair that I don’t think people even realize, just from a technical standpoint, there's science to it, and there's like all this, color wheel and canceling things, and there's pH balances and there's like just all this stuff that you don't really think about that factors into it. So you're doing all this like science.

Tony: Because one could do damage, right? I mean, you could damage, do some damage. 

Mackie: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Like fry people's hair off. There's scary things that can happen. So it's like you're doing all this scientific, but then it's also this really artistic creative outlet and I've always been someone who's been fairly artistic throughout my life. That's always been kind of an outlet of mine. 

Tony: Well, can I pause right there, Mac? I don't like, I hate to feel like, I feel like I'm talking over you, but it's like that's the part I didn't even understand the depth of that because I mean, the things like the way you blend things and the looks and then the somebody's head shaped and all the stuff you were telling me about. And I go back to you know, you, you taught yourself music, you taught yourself piano and how to sing and you draw and I mean, poetry, all those things that you've just done that I never realized that creativity or that creative outlet could then be expressed in somebody's whole countenance and appearance. That blows my mind when you talk about that. 

Mackie: Right. And like, same with the makeup and all that. So it's this thing that I've always been low key really passionate about in my life. I've been able to make a career out of it because there is this artistic side and I do just get to zone out and do this thing that I love and I get to channel that creativity. Which is just so fun. But then I'm also doing this technical scientific stuff, which is also fun in a nerdy way. So that's cool. But then on top of all of, I guess two things, I get to make these connections with people that I don't think you, obviously there's a million careers that you get to make connections with people, but there's something different about this career that, and the connections that can be made because it is this kind of vulnerable one-on-one setting, which is kind of weird, but then it's casual. It's so casual and it's so, I mean, people open up and people are just themselves. And again, it's just vulnerable and it's, and so it's like I get to really connect with people in ways that I didn't think would ever happen. I never really thought going into it, like I didn't think about the conversations that I would have and the things I would learn about people or any of that stuff. It never crossed my mind. And then it's all day, every day I'm spending hours with individuals and I get to see them for exactly who they are, and I get to love them and I get to know them and I get to know all this stuff. And so that's a whole amazing thing in itself. So I listen a lot and there is an aspect of it that sometimes feels a little therapy-like, obviously an amateur and it's mediocre therapy that I'd be giving.

Tony: People just wanna be heard though, man, they wanna be heard and they're in this position of vulnerability. I'm not sitting there also holding someone's potential look in my hands as well as you are. So that’s powerful.

Mackie: And so it is just, there's this different side of it there that is just amazing though. And I think it's like you just become friends with everyone you get to interact with. And it's just a positive space. And I don't know, there's just something about it and about those connections that again, I just didn't think would be a part of this career. I thought I'd just be slapping color on people's hair and sending them on their way and like, yeah, none of this personal connection part. And then there's also just this, you get to see, I mean, there's always a big reveal at the end, right? 

Tony: And I never thought about this. What is that like? 

Mackie: Because like I put in hours of work and I've done all this science and art and all this stuff, and then I get to see it come to life. And then I also get to see people's reaction to my hard work, which is fun. It's always fun to feel validated about your own work. But it's also just this cool thing where I do get to see people's confidence shift, or I get to see people kind of feel like themselves again, or just all these little things. Maybe to someone, no offense with no hair, wouldn't really understand. 

Tony: I wish I had it, Mackie. I think that could be fun. A different look.

Mackie: Where it's like, because some people, their hair doesn't mean a whole lot to them, but other people it's, it's really important and it is this really special moment for them and it's their self-care time and it's their time that they get to just take for themselves. The thing I feel like I say the most is anytime anyone apologizes if they're busy or on their phone or I'm always like, it's your time. You do whatever you want. And if they wanna be silent the whole time, they get to be silent. If we just wanna turn up the music, we turn up the music if they wanna talk, like it's, yeah, it's whatever they need. And I get to be the person who advocates that. And I don't know, it's just really special, which I noticed. Some people, they're probably just like, it's just hair. Even people that get their hair done, to some of them, they're just like, it's hair, it's just an appointment, whatever. But there are those really just amazing moments within it and it is just something that I feel like I've got, I've come to be so much more passionate about than I even thought was possible.

Tony: Yeah. No, I love everything about you. No, that was so good, Mac. And I feel like if anybody is listening right now, maybe this is the sneak, sneak sneak preview too. We've been talking about even creating a tiny little workshop around the therapy of the hair chair and that sort of thing. And Mackie and I are at some point we're, we've got some we're laying out the bones of a little course that we wanna put together because I think about that, even what you were talking about there is even if somebody says, I want you, I want your people to be able to, even if they don't necessarily think it's exactly what they want, what an opportunity, because I think this is times where sometimes people don't even really know what they want or what they like, and they are almost probably saying, okay, make me beautiful and probably, I don't know, 90% of the time you do, and that other 10%, then what a time for them to say, okay, yeah, I really didn't even know. So what is it I like about this or don't like about this? And so, in the world of therapy, a lot of times when people say, I don't even know what I want to do, and that's even just a story their brain will hook them to, because in reality, then start doing. And now we'll figure out, okay, I like that. I don't like that. And I was thinking about that with hair. I mean, even if somebody is like, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna go in and self care and I'm gonna do something with my hair. And then I want them to be able to be honest and say, okay, I like some of this. And maybe not all of this because at least now, now they're starting to think. So I think that's, I don't know if I'm even making sense there to a professional.

Mackie: No, you totally are. And yeah, I love my clients that will just be honest with me. You know, they can, and we can have those kinds of tough conversations, kind of a, I didn't like this, but I like this, or we want this and I didn't, you know, whatever. And it's like you do kind of have those conversations which are uncomfortable at times, but good for me in terms of I get to grow.

Tony: I love that, honestly. And this is where, I feel like it's almost like everybody now that the mental health stigma is lessening that your therapist becomes part of your, I don't know, your life and I wanna think your hairstylist or cosmetologist does as well. And that then because they get to know you so well, that then they can say, man, yeah, I don't know what it is about this one that I, I like this or not this or, and feel safe enough. I mean, then that's where I start getting all therapist about it, where you feel safe that you can be open and vulnerable with another human being, because that's where we're so afraid of contention that I think people won't even, won't even bring something up. They'll just go somewhere else. Well, it'll be better over here with somebody else, but in reality, tension is where it’s like, no, we can talk about it. Yeah, talk's, that's a big boy principle right there. That really is. So that's where I feel like, oh, Mackie, you just wait. You've got all the tools and we're gonna solve the world's problems. And I'll take the therapy angle. You got the hair angle, we'll meet in, somewhere in the middle. So with that said and I really appreciate that too, the science part, the creativity part, but you're also nervous and this is a brand new opportunity and so this is where it will sound like the world's biggest commercial and I kind of don't care because I want people to go and see you. So how do they find you at this point? Is that scary? Like how do you get the word out? What do you do? 

Mackie: Yeah. That it's all like social media these days, which I don't know how to do that. Yeah. But no, I just, I have an Instagram. It's Beauty by Mackie.And I'll link all these things under the booking. Or you can message me, whatever. But that's how to find me.

Tony: Okay. And then your place, and I like this too, tell me if this is too much, but you, this is the stuff I've been proud as a father to watch you create the environment that you want to create because you have a very specific, what, a vision of what your salon, your suite will feel like or be. What is that?  

Mackie: My favorite place in the whole world is my bed. That is just where I feel safest. It's whatever. Yes. I know. Crazy. So I just really want that to translate to my suite and my space, and I want it to just be cozy and safe. Like those are kinda my two initial words that I was like, okay, cozy and safe and just really like a safe haven. Like a little, what my bedroom feels like to me. I want that space, and I want it to be a space that clients coming in just to come into and put everything else aside and just get whatever they need out of it. Whether that's, again, sitting in silence and just having a minute to themselves, or talking about all the crazy things in the world, or talking about the heavy things or whatever. It's like I just, I want it to be cozy and safe, and I wanna be able to be whatever they need me to be in that moment to get them what they need and let it just be this good positive thing in their life. Even if it's just this one small thing, a couple hours every, however long I just, yeah. Cozy and safe.

Tony: I forgot also, you are doing different certifications and hollow needle piercing, which sounded scary. And I remember the first time that you called home after that and you said there was real blood involved and things like that, not in a scary way. 

Mackie: No, no. But there was blood. Yeah, so I did get certified in piercings and I plan on getting certified in other things I think later on. But it's just a, it's another fun little thing and it's fun for me to do cause it's like a weird little adrenaline rush to be the piercer. But then it's also, again, just this other, it's just another thing for people to come in and be like, oh, I wanna get a piercing and it's this fun thing for them. And it's like another way to express themselves or have a fun little thing that's just for them. And just another fun thing. 

Tony: When you were at home and maybe doing some of those things, very very safe and very clean, of course. But I loved nothing more than slow motion videoing the person's as the needle went through their ear. And every, I promise, every single time though it was there, the anticipation was so scary. But then it seems like the thing happened and that it was routinely met with a, oh, is that, was that it? And I think that was hilarious. I got to the point where I thought that was really funny to see. So I don't know. I can't imagine what that feels like for you. 

Mackie: It's funny, but that just went full circle back to what we were talking about at the beginning. Things seem really scary at first. And then you do it. And it's not that bad. 

Tony: I feel like that should be a mic drop moment and we just end. That's true. Interesting. Hey, so, but I do also okay. I just have to be very transparent and we had a, I thought, a hilarious conversation when we were talking before, and I was saying, okay, Mackie, you were as gracious to say that if somebody mentions the podcast, you're gonna do what? $10 off. Yeah. Which I think is great. And then I said Mac, oh I think the Virtual Couch wants to pay for the first person who comes and does like a full whatever they need to do, let the Virtual Couch pay for it. And, if I remember correctly, and I don't know if you start it with old man, when's, when's the last time you got your haircut? And I said 2003. And it was by George the barber and literally rest in peace. What a great guy he was. And he was kind and he would, he would move his scissors above my head. I know he wasn't cutting anything and kind of just move his hands through it a little bit. And I thought, oh, bless his heart, he's making me get my $12 worth. And so then I realized that's probably not what we're talking about here. 

Mackie: It has been 20 years since you got that haircut.

Tony: And it was a comb over haircut. Like, it wasn't a haircut, it was like a hair. I don't even know. I don't even, I can't even come up with something funny. Yeah, just a little messing around up there. A little bit silly. Yeah I don't, I know it can be a very expensive process, so then I, but I still told Mackie the first person who does a bigger thing there, I would love to take half of it as a Virtual Couch discount. Where are you located? 

Mackie: I'm located in Orem, Utah. That would help, Utah County for anyone. 

Tony: I love the concepts around trivia. And so the first Virtual Couch client to go to Mackie and then get something done, then we wanna document that on social media and that will forever be in the archives. So somebody there can reach out to you as well. And then it has to be somebody that you've never seen and they want, they, they've reached out cause they heard you on the podcast. I think that sounds fun too. Yeah. Okay. I'm impressed. I really am not just as your father but also as the fact that, holy cow, for some of the things that you've come on in the past and we talked about depression, we talked about some anxiety, we talked about fear and scary things and a lot of people, when I go look at those episodes, and I'm not just saying this because you're here and you're my daughter but I mean, I think I was sharing them with you. I mean, a couple, one or two of them are definitely in the top 20 of all time downloads, one's in the top 10, and that people really have resonated with your honesty and your vulnerability. And so here you are doing scary things and doing things that you didn't anticipate doing at this point in your life. And you're being so honest about not saying, oh yeah, anxiety gone, done. Don't even see it around anymore. Potentially even worse. 

Mackie: No, it’s terrible.

Tony: But then still be able to do these things. 

Mackie: You do it scared. Do it scared and that's okay. 

Tony: Proud, proud of you. Love you. What an impressive human being. This is exciting stuff. Thank you. So, I can't wait. We'll have you back on in a little while and just see how things are going. Sounds good. 

Dr. Michael Twohig joins Tony to talk about his early involvement in the then “new kid on the psychology block,” acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Dr. Twohig shares his initial hesitation in embracing ACT and what eventually led him to pursue his Ph.D. in clinical psychology by working with Dr. Stephen Hayes, the founder of ACT. He discusses the differences in using ACT to treat OCD vs. the traditional CBT-based model, and they talk about using metaphor in ACT. Tony shares his experience of how learning ACT changed his therapy practice and his general outlook on life. They discuss the differences between using diffusion in ACT to make room for thoughts and feelings vs. responding to the body’s cues concerning treating trauma. 

They talk about Dr. Twohig’s new online course on ACT and OCD and the challenges of marketing an online course. Finally, Tony challenges Dr. Twohig to a “try not to laugh” challenge.

Dr. Michael Twohig is a licensed psychologist, a professor at Utah State University, and one of the world’s most published scholars of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Dr. Twohig’s research focuses on using ACT across various clinical presentations emphasizing OCD and related disorders. He has published five books and more than 200 scholarly works and is the former President of the Association of Contextual Behavioral Science, the organization most associated with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

You can find out more about Dr. Twohig via his Utah State University page or his private practice website

If you are interested in being coached in Tony's upcoming "Magnetic Marriage Podcast," please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs. 

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here


Mike Twohig pt 1

Tony: Okay, I will start with the former, I mean, you were so kind to say, call me Mike, but, Dr. Michael Twohig, welcome to the Virtual Couch. 

Mike: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me. 

Tony: Yeah. I have you on this pantheon of my big gets, so I don't know if you ever get that vibe or, I mean, I don't know.

How do you feel about that knowing that you are one of these world renowned active researchers?

Mike: I don't feel that way in the slightest. So it's, yeah, let me think. Do I ever bump into that? I don't know. I feel like sometimes grad students applying here give me that feeling because they're all excited.

But no, really in my real life I don't really bump into that. And then one of the things about being a faculty member is your life really is kind of between your office and your lab. So that's all you really bump into. So whenever someone's like, oh, I like your work. That is kind of cool because you know, you don't really get to bump into that very often.

Tony: Okay, well, I sing your praises often, and so I'm going to try to be very calm and very collected throughout this interview. So what I'm really curious about, and this one is going to be personal, I just want to know, and then hopefully listeners will enjoy it as well.

I learned CBT out of grad school and I did CBT for a few years and then when I learned act, it really was like the sky's parted and the heavens shown down. And then it's changed my life, my practice, and then most of my podcast is all talking about act.

And then I'm curious, what has your experience been with it? I mean, you studied under Steven Hayes and so I would love to just hear your story about that.

Mike: Yeah, thanks for asking that question because it’s, you know, I feel like I was really lucky, because I didn't plan this, it just, right. Like sometimes things just happen.

So I'll tell you the story. I hope the listeners aren't bored because it's kind of fun. I'm working at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with a guy named Doug Woods, who's the best. And we're treating people with Trichotillomania and I remember saying to Doug, you know, I was getting a master's in behavior analysis and I said, Doug, we're doing a good job teaching people how to stop pulling their hair, but they have all this emotion and urges and like there's all this internal stuff and behavior therapy's not like we don't really have a strategy for it.

And he said, you should learn act. And it was interesting because this is like 1999. And I really liked Steve Hayes at the time because he wrote a lot of good behavior analysis theory on language and cognition and how private events work. So I knew of him as kind of like a researcher of behavior analysis. So the two of us in 1999 flew out to Reno and did an ACT workshop and back then they were like 24 hour workshops. Right. It was just ridiculously long and not many people. So we went and I remember being at it and not really enjoying it per se, because it was a little too much.

Because I was a behavior analyst and this [ACT] is like watching your emotions and sitting there and seeing your thoughts floating by. It was out of the world that I lived in. But when I was finished with the workshop, an interesting thing I took away is you can have whatever thoughts or feelings you have, and that's just fine.

And that was what 24 hours taught me. We came back and we integrated act and behavior therapy for the treatment of Trichotillomania. And it clicked really well. And I remember at one point, it clicked well for the clients, I remember at one point Doug Wood says, Mike, you don't know what a good idea this is.

And he's right because I was like 23 at the time. Right? Like, I didn't know that this was a pretty wise career move. So the next step would be, I applied to grad schools and I'm not that great a student. But when I applied to work with Steve, I had done an ACT project in 2001, not many people had done an ACT project. So that's how I got into grad school. And those years from 2002 to 2006 at UNR were super fun years because Steve had just stopped being department head so he had more time. And that's when ACT was in Time Magazine. 

Yeah. And also if you look at like, when the study started coming out, that's when everything was happening. And it was super fun. I just felt like the whole time in the lab was really inspired. You know, we thought we were changing the world.

I never felt like I was at work ever. And then that was my world, behavior therapy and act and I guess it's always stayed that way. Yeah, it's kind of a weird thing because the only therapy I knew how to do was act. So most people I bump into learn traditional CBT then act.

So I had to learn how to do traditional cbt. 

Tony: Okay. Which is funny because, I don't want to talk much at all in this episode, but I really would love, can I lay out what I say about my aha moment of CBT versus act? And I honestly, Mike, I want, I kind of want you to poke holes in it because now I realize I have confabulated this narrative where now I think I've got everything figured out, which obviously means I don't.

So I was a CBT therapist. I was an intern working for my church non-profit. And I had a guy that came in and he was, he had lost like half of his weight and he had social anxiety and I was trying to do the CBT skills of, okay, he walks into a room and everybody turns and looks at him and, and then he feels shame and he leaves and so in the old CBT world those are, that's automatic negative thoughts. That's stinking thinking. And so what are other reasons why they might be looking at you? They might think you look great. They might just turn when a door opens and you know, he would leave and say, yeah, right.

And then he would come back and then he would say, it did not work. You know, and again, start doing the, all right, what's wrong with me? This sounds like a good tool. And then we would come up with other things or other reasons. And I literally then went to an ACT workshop and for me, oh, and I say this often, he's the only version of him that's ever walked the face of the earth with his nature, nurture, birth order, dna, abandonment, rejection, all that.

And so that's how he feels. So I love what you're saying. Right. So then, of course he's going to think everybody's looking at him because he walked around as a 400 pound 12 year old where everybody did look at him. So if he didn't think that it would kind of be crazy, you know? So I started off by, okay, acceptance, that's how you feel.

And then we got into the values, and he had a value of connection and social connection. And so then whether they're looking at him or not, doesn't matter. It's not a productive thought, and he can bring that along with him. And so it was like a game changer. But then I realize now all of a sudden I go black and white, and now I think CBT is horrible and it's almost doing damage.

And because, you know, it says you're starting with your negative thoughts now just change them, you know, just to be happy. And then when I feel like, here's the part I make up, so this is where I want you to poke holes, please. So then the third part is and then if I say to somebody, Hey, how's that working for you, champ?

Then they say, okay, well I already started with broken thoughts and automatic negative thoughts. I can't just change them magically, but that must be my problem. So then I feel like they say, no, it's doing pretty good. And then they leave and just feel like I need to figure this out. And then they leave therapy and then I feel like then they look for the next self-help book or whatever.

And so I felt like ACT was so, I think I've almost demonized CBT, but then I know what act is, what do we call it the next, CBT? So please tell me I'm wrong. So can you explain that and then, and either validate the heck out of me or tell me I'm wrong.

Mike: I think you're on a great track because, you said, here's the part that I'd like you to, double check. The, how is that working for you. And that question, like when you said it, the light bulb, you know, that went off for me is what does that mean to him? When you say, how is that working for you and what do you mean?

When you say, how is that working for you. Because yeah, clients will usually go, how is that working? Am I feeling better? I'm doing air quotes. And an act therapist would say, how is that working for you? Meaning like, how is this working in your life? Are you going in the directions you want to go?

Tony: Yeah. And that's what I feel like was so good. I like your question because if I was saying, how was that working for you? And meanwhile I'm handed a population, and this is funny because I didn't even remember that it was you that I read an article about that helped me here too.

But I was working with people that were struggling with turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. And the training I was getting at that time was a lot of, you know, seeing him, do some pushups, behavioral, and then I felt like, ooh, that one's not quite working. And then I think I read something that you did there about, was it mindfulness?

Yeah. And that was, that was also a game changer. And so then it was getting people to start to just take action on things that matter. And right now we're going to not worry about the unhealthy coping mechanism. You know, nothing's wrong with you, you're human. And the more they started doing things of value, then the more they started to feel better and the less they turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

And so then, yeah. So I think my, well, how's that working for you? I think, right. I then had, I think the part with trying to identify people's values was a real challenge, you know? 

Mike: Yeah. I think the shift right there, you can say to a client or the two of you, you know, I don't know if this is a listener.

Actually, I told you, two of my friends said something about being mentioned on your podcast, and one is not a therapist and one is a therapist. So, okay. I'll say it for both people or both styles of people that we can work on altering how we feel, or we can work on altering how we live and we're whole human beings and whether you alter either one, it's going to affect all sorts of stuff. So if you change the way you live, you'll change the way you feel. If you could change the way you feel, you'll probably change the way you live. But from the kind of an act or behavior therapy model, we're going to lean on changing the way you live to affect, you know, without the goal of affecting how you feel but it will. So like this client, when he said it's not working. My question would be, well which one are we going to focus on? Are we going to focus on what you feel internally or how you're living? And I say this to clients a lot, that a lot of the things I really care about and a lot of things I work hard on don't feel good. You know, like parenting a team doesn't feel fun. But it's meaningful, it's important, but it's not like, ooh, you know, that was great. Or even the same thing like writing a paper, it's not the same as snowboarding, so like the feeling and the importance of it.

So yeah, it's orienting the client and you to what's meaningful. 

Tony: Well, and what I like about that so much, Mike, is sometimes I think in my head that if a client almost “breaks act” where I think, oh, that was well played. Where if maybe they don't hold a value of, I don’t know, if they almost hold a value of, I know there isn't necessarily in the values list codependency, but I'll get people to say no, my core value is helping everybody else and putting myself second and, and I want to say, but no, that, that one's not cool. But then you know it’s what it feels like to be them. And so I like what you're saying to yeah, that change in behavior, or living by one's, yeah, because I feel like, I don't want to sound arrogant, but I feel like, okay, that is where that person's at right now.

But if I go back to that, how's it working for you? Then sometimes I feel like, oh, okay, they're trying to just adapt or cope with this thing that they don't enjoy. 

Mike: Yeah, and I'll often, like that question, I'll be more precise. I'll say, how's that working to change these thoughts about your self image?

Or I'll say, how's that working to be part of the group?

Tony: Hey. Okay. So speaking of that too, and I know that this is going to feel like five minutes to me of talking with you. I really like the work you've done with ACT and ocd.

I had read Brain Lock I think when I was doing OCD work initially, and I feel now like maybe because I love act so much that I've almost had my own emotion and maturity, black and white, that oh that was bad, and this is good. But how does ACT and OCD stand out from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy?

Mike: So, and this fits with the conversation we were just having. Kind of the easiest way I've found to describe this is like, no matter your theoretical orientation for treating an anxiety disorder or OCD, I like to break it down to what is the outcome you're looking for. Like, how do you and your client agree things are better? What's the process of change? What is it you're trying to instill in the person that would help them be able to do these things? And then what are the techniques you use to instill that process of change? So in ACT, I think the main outcome that we're shooting for is that a person can live sort of a successful and meaningful life.

And I think for those who know ocd, what's missing from that, is any statement about what's happening internally. So I don't need the power or the frequency or the words in the obsession to be different. I just need the person to be able to effectively live when they show up. And then the process of change is psychological flexibility, which is being able to see thoughts as thoughts, emotions as emotions, sensations as sensations.

Allow them to be there and still move in the directions you want in life. Right. So again, nothing needs to change. We just need to not be overpowered by it. And then the techniques we use, what I tell my practicum students is, you know, we teach people how to be psychologically flexible until they kind of get it. And then we start practicing. And those can look like exposure exercises, but as you can imagine, the style is different. We're not watching intensity of internal experience. We're not watching habituation. It's more like, let's practice having what you have, and then we have our own style for doing exposure exercises.

Tony: And can you talk a little bit more about that too? Because I feel like the exposure for the sake of exposure to reduce anxiety and I, boy, I'm wanting to be so emotionally vulnerable here today as I realize, and maybe it's just I have created a narrative in my head of I've had clients that haven't had good experiences with just, okay, let's sit on a dirty floor because you don't like germs, you know?

Right. So can you explain the difference there in act? 

Mike: Okay, there's a couple things. Why don't we start with, when I think about doing an exposure, I would like the exposure to have some tied values. And either that's, that's obvious. For someone with social phobia, we might go talk to people or send a message to someone we haven't, or practice giving a phone call to someone they like, like you can make it values based.

Sometimes it's harder, but then even in that moment, we're going to help the client see how it could be value based. So if we're dealing with a germ phobia or ocd, we might go manipulate a garbage can or go to a bathroom, and then, let's practice having this stuff so that when the real game shows up, you're good at it.

And I'll use a sports analogy of we're just practicing being good at having what you have. And I'll remind the person a lot like when's the situation when this might happen, when you're going to go on a date or go out to dinner or something, and these things are going to show up. I think what stands out to those who maybe do exposure work is I have never had a moment where I would go above and beyond or do those sort of extreme exposures, because I kind of struggle to figure out where those tie to values.

Our outcomes are just fine, but I don't have to lick a gas pump or, you know, like rub my food on the toilet. And I did that work, you know, because I worked in an OCD clinic at the University of British Columbia.

And it can work if the person can engage, it works very well, but they have to be able to engage. Right. So, yeah, I always said, and I'm not knocking that work's great work, right? If you have 10 people, two will do nothing, five will get better. And the other three, kind of putter along, it's like those five who can't do this, they can't get behind the exposure work.

Tony: Okay. You know, I give a story that I think, again, maybe I swing to the extremes, but I've often said, okay, if somebody just lets a spider crawl over you to reduce anxiety, that's ridiculous, it might cause you to disassociate. But if your grandpa leaves you a $2 million spider farm then maybe that might be, you know, a value of financial security for your children, then maybe I'm willing to sit with the spiders. I mean, so is it kind of, we need to find some value if we can?

Mike: I think a value gives meaning to the work. Going back to raising kids, I remember sitting and doing homework with my daughter just many years ago, and she's essentially crying and trying to get away from the table and like everything about it's terrible.

And then I'm being sweet and nice and as helpful as I can be because I can find a value in this that is meaningful to me to help this kid be a decent student so she can do the steps she needs to do and go on and do whatever she wants to do with her career. Like I could find a reason, but if I didn't like this kid or didn't care, some kid screaming at me, it would be hard to find motivation to stay there and be nice.

Tony: Yeah. That makes so much sense. And man, I just, I want to go on a tangent, but I'll get back to the ACT piece, but when you mention one of the things that also I feel like dramatically game changer for me were the concepts of, socially compliant goal and then experiential avoidance. And maybe can you, as an expert in this field kind of speak to how those show up? 

Mike: Yeah. Rules, like when you said a socially compliant goal, rules are really interesting things. And this is a good point for a professional and non-professional that an interesting thing about humans is we decide the way the world works and then we follow that. And the truth is it's never fully accurate. Like it's always, it could be close to the way the world works or it could be totally far. But yeah, that's an interesting thing about human beings is that we'll make this rule about what we're supposed to do and then we'll just keep following it.

And lots of research has said it's really hard to help people do things differently. Like it's hard to create variability and behavior. If someone has a problem or like they have a way of living that's not really functional. Some of that is they've determined how it all works and they've been doing the exact same thing for 20, 30 years.

And part of the therapist's job is to create flexibility in different behavior patterns. And that is tricky. Now the experience of avoidance stuff is just that humans spend a lot of their time working to feel a certain way and I think that's in contrast with doing the things that are important to us.

So one of the lines I say is I think healthy, happy people are probably spending 80% of their day doing things that are important to them. I didn't say fun, I said important. And then people who are maybe less healthy are probably spending 80% of their day working hard to feel good.

And those are like the clients I see. If I say like, what was meaningful to you today? They don't have much. Their whole day was about dodging the anxiety and getting away from stuff that they're afraid of. 

Tony: Yeah. I can launch into a whole thing there where I feel like with the amount of things that we can use for experiential avoidance. Phones, games, unlimited access to downloads of things. I do feel like that's so difficult for people that aren't aware of what is important to them and why I feel like that values work can even be more difficult and yet even more important. And I even, you know, I do a lot of couples therapy, Mike, and I find that I will not do the individual, I won't do the values exercise with the couple in there because boy, you watch even the way that, let's say a guy wants to express that he doesn't necessarily have a core value of honesty. Maybe more of compassion because he grew up in a home where there was brutal honesty and that was harmful. But then if his wife hears that that's not a value. So I feel like just that example, I feel like the dynamic of even trying to get to one's core values or what matters to them can be tricky because I think people are still worried that, I don’t know if you hear this often, but I know I shouldn't care. You know, or I know I'm supposed to care about, I don't know. Do you hear that in the work you do? 

Mike: When I heard you talking about this, one of the things I was thinking about is with my clients, I worry less about having the right values just more like is your behavior about values? And then people get into like, well, I have so many things and I can't balance them all.

And to me that's more of that fusion and rule following that I'm supposed to do this right. And no, we're always wrong. You're always not living your values perfectly, but if you're at least living your values, that's pretty solid. And if you're too heavy in one area and too weak in another area, then you can work at it.

But I'll never,  I'll never balance this out totally. It'll always be a little heavy on work. Yeah. It's just how it’s going to be.

Tony: Yeah. And I like what you're saying because I do find that if I'm kind of bringing somebody from a, they don't know what they don't know to now, they know but don't know how to, in essence. And I love that you bring that, cause I feel like, okay, we have to figure out your values. But then I find that then often, oh, I still need to work on my values, becomes a story their brain is fusing to. I went to a training with a lady about act and she said that at that point she tells a client, just walk outside and begin. I see an animal, I don't like animals. Okay. Well note that. I tried to talk to a stranger, which was fun. Maybe there's, you know, there's something there and I just love that concept. 

Mike: Yeah. I think that's the rule stuff. If I'm going to do this, I need to do this right. Well, you'll never, you can't live right. It is going to be full of errors and mistakes and it's just like how it is being a person on the planet. I was giving a workshop and it's one of the moments it kind of stuck with me. This was a workshop just like a couple months ago, and I'm up there doing a role play and all my students are there and all these professionals are there and the role play is just like going really poorly and not really poorly, but you know, in the poorly category.

And it was in a weird way it was kind of nice. Because it was, that's how workshops will be, you'll be saying really fun, smart things at one point, and then you'll just be stinking and that's life. And I think in a way, it was like a good model for the group. Like yeah, well therapy will sometimes you'll like totally go into a dead end and you just have to walk back and go the other way. 

Tony: Oh I love that. Okay. Over back to the OCD treatment plan, which I love, you've got a course and I want to promote that, in the notes as well. But, you do a lot of metaphors and I have to, again, it's so nice. I feel like you're now my therapist for this. I don't know why I felt this insecurity around dealing with all the metaphors in ACT at first because there's a part of me that felt like this person's paying me large amounts of money for me to tell stories. And now all of a sudden, once I embrace act metaphors, oh my gosh, they're so powerful. And so what has that been like for you? Do you like metaphors? How do you feel they fit in? 

Mike: So what I think is okay, the idea of metaphors goes right back to our rule stuff. Like in act we like to teach experientially versus rules, because then people will originally follow what we said.

So we like to tell a story about it or use a personal example or use a client's life example and sometimes a metaphorical thing describes it better. Like just before I said, you know, I went the wrong way down the alley, and I had to realize, okay, wrong spot. And I had to back out that, that metaphors rich, because we've all felt that, you go down a trail and you're like, uh, this isn't right.

And then you have to like, literally, so there's knowledge that comes with our real life experience. So, I could say, your mind is picking on you like someone picked on you in grade school. It just has more meaning because people got picked on in grade school and they know what that was like and they can link the two.

And I think it's richer than me sort of lecturing on, you know, on what cognition is like. So I think that's the two parts. It's kind of rich and it's not so rule based, but you ask what it's like for me, I think at the beginning I had to use some from the book.

But then now it's just sort of my style and I've sort of also learned, I learned how to make metaphors that match the client's interests, but I've also learned how to use self-disclosure at that safe level. I've already talked about using my kids as examples and no one hears, oh my gosh, what a bad parent. You know? It's a metaphor that I think most people with kids can appreciate. And if you don't have kids, I think you can imagine.

Tony: Yeah, no, and it's funny, I don't think I've been doing this as long as you have, I'm at 17, 18 years. But I feel like even that concept of self-disclosure has been more embraced over the years that when I first started, that seemed like that was taboo, but I feel like it's more of that human experience. And I feel like act makes more room for that, I feel like, than my CBT days. 

Mike: Well, yeah, it'd be weird to be like, oh my gosh, you have these negative thoughts about yourself. So strange. 

Tony: Right, right. Hey, do you have a particular favorite of the metaphors though? I am curious, of course that's me wanting to say, because I do Mike.

Mike: What's funny, my students forever make fun of me that I lean towards sports ones. But that doesn't mean it's right. It's just like I can, I can find so many rich examples and actually we wrote a book and one of the editors was like, how about we take out just a handful of sports ones and we like mix in some other ideas. But with a client, I try to gauge what they're into. And then go that way. 

Tony: I'm laughing because have you ever had those fail? I mean, because I don't know, in the past I felt like I would talk and maybe give one about gardening and halfway through I realize I have no idea what garden, you know, but maybe you plant something and I don't know. You know what I'm saying? 

Mike: I do. I think there's a little skill in just assuming that things work under a natural order and this'll work. I like to have the client help me along. Your favorite, you said you had a favorite though. 

Tony: You're very good, Mike. Because I was going to say, I love the one about you've fallen in a hole and you have a shovel. I love that one so much because I feel like I work with people that are determined to then, no, right. The shovel is an amazing tool by itself, and I am a hard worker. And so I love being able to say, and have clients say to me, and then I went and grabbed my shovel and I dug a little bit more. And then my favorite ever is the, and then somebody hands you the ladder and you try to deal with it. And so that one alone to me was the metaphor that then allowed me to embrace metaphors.

Tony: So do you maybe want to talk about your course a little bit. I mean, have you done courses? Have you done a lot of courses? Is that something you enjoy doing? Or what was that like? 

Mike: Well, yeah, kind of a broader answer. . It's an interesting thing being a professor, because I really enjoy training my students how to do therapy and that includes act, but you know, professors, we're almost taught to not market.

So that's been like a weird thing because I feel like after all these years, I actually do know act pretty well and I kind of know how to teach people how to do it, but I have this like weird emotional reaction that happens when it's like, well, you know, come to my workshop or buy my book. And I've been able to let that go more and more in the sense that this work does good and people, like even if they're very good at therapy, we can get stagnant or stale and coming at things from another perspective can be really useful. ACT is getting big and people want to know, act is big, and people want to know how to do it. I'm really privileged to work at a university where they give me the time to sit and develop things. Like write a paper or writing a book. You know, like if you're a clinician, how do you find the time to write a book? And it's, it's really great that a university's like, that's why, that's what we want you to do. So something like this course, it took me a little bit to, it's an act for anxiety disorders and OCD.

It took me a little bit to sort of wrap my head around like, no, it's okay to create something that is going to get sold. And I think I had to find the value there, which is, I do think this works important and I've spent a lot of time understanding how to do this. And then I start feeling good about getting it out there. And it's a really high, high quality course. And that's another just, it's another great thing. I think it's worth what people have to put into it. 

Tony: And why I'm so grateful for the way you just shared that, Mike, I have a lot of therapists that do listen and I feel like I have a fair amount of life coaches, and I feel like there's a battle between the therapist and life coach, and I talk about this from time to time.

The guy that helped me create my magnetic marriage course, which man, I'm right there with you. I feel like I have this stuff I want to share and I know it can help, right? But then I feel anxiety around promoting it. I feel like I'm being prideful and boastful. And so I will often set the frame up by saying I'm standing in my healthy ego, which nobody else knows what I mean by that, but it makes me feel better because you know, a healthy ego based on real experience and work and that sort of thing, but here's what I think is interesting and I want, I would love your opinion, so I bought courses by other research, Sue Johnson, and I bought Steven Hayes's course, and I've got your course. And then as I was creating a course, I was struggling with the guy that's helped me. He's a very successful life coach named Preston Pugmire, and he kept talking about selling the destination. And do you know this concept? Okay. It's this, I fought him for about a year on this and so, you know, he would say that, okay, if you look at a Delta Airlines commercial, they show the family in Hawaii, so they're selling the destination. This is what you want. But they offer a plane. And basically what he said is what I was saying, well, I've got these, what I call my four pillars of a connected conversation based off of emotionally focused therapy, and here's the nuts and bolts, and here's the emotional bid. And so I'm saying, hey, forget the destination. Let me show you how cool my plane is because I've got these really cool nuts and bolts. Right. And that's what I felt like and then I realized, and I love this, like the courses I've taken from somebody like Sue Johnson and I feel like, oh, as a clinician I'm buying the nuts and bolts.

I want to see how the rivets go into the seats and that sort of thing. And so I found that if I'm trying to get a client to get excited about a course like that, they sit through maybe one section of it and it's like, eh. Yeah. Right? And so it's like, I found, it's a weird balance to try to sell the destination and have this person that I trust help me create it say, nobody cares about your plane. And that's where I'm saying, okay, I need to stand out in my healthy ego as a clinician and say, I think it does matter, but I will try to work some of the destination in the coolest plane that you can get there, you know. So I love your honesty around that because I feel like a lot of the therapists I work with, the first course I ever put out was probably just showing how to make up a bolt, you know, that sort of thing.

Mike: Well that's a really nice point because it's real values consistent because it's like, I don't love writing every paper but while I'm writing them, I usually connect to like, well, this is really cool. I want people to read this. I want this to be out there. And  same, I'm not trying to sell the course here, per se, but it's a neat sort of values analogy, that there's a lot, like, take trichotillomania and ocd, that the course is a non trick, but let's say you know, OCD and panic, if you knew how to treat those well, you will always be busy, you will always have a flow of people, which means there's that many people out there who are looking for therapists and my life, and I'm not knocking any therapists around me, my life is seeing people after they've seen other people. Because, and nothing against the person who worked with them before, sometimes clients need to be in a new spot, but hard panic cases, hard OCD cases, you probably do have to do the best of breed intervention, otherwise you're not going to get the movement. So yeah, that's a nice way of thinking about it. I'm not promising if you learn how to do act for anxiety disorders, you're going to win every time. But I do think this is where the data is today. Like this is well thought out, well researched, it's as good a bed as you can think of right now.

Tony: See, and I love that because I feel like that is healthy ego and healthy ego comes from our actual lived experience. And I had a whole career in the computer industry where I didn't realize, and I didn't enjoy it. It was not value based. I lived for the weekend, but then by the weekend I was so bummed from the week that I kind of didn't care. And I would say, well, next weekend or next, you know, that whole thing. And so I do, I appreciate what you're saying because I feel like from a healthy ego, it's more of like what we feel like inside and I am offering this, so I love that you just shared that because I think that'll resonate with so many people that are listening. And maybe, because I have to bring my insecurities and anxiety and fear of invalidation along with me, maybe, you know, while I put those things out there. So, no, I love that. So would you rather work with OCD than any, any other thing, or is it just something that you have found yourself really good at?

Mike: Okay. Interesting question. I started out working with Trichotillomania. 

Tony: Which by the way, you've mentioned that I know some of my clients aren't going to know, but, so talk about that. 

Mike: Yeah. So, it's a disorder where people pull their hair out and, if you're like, why? I'd say it's really self soothing. We call it egosyntonic. That's a very enjoyable behavior for people. And almost all my clients would say, you know, I would happily pull my hair and then if the next day I came back and all the hair had grown back, I would never be coming in because I enjoy doing it. Okay, but obviously they end up with bald patches and or huge hair loss, it can get pretty extreme and then one of the things that happens is as you pull a lot, the area you pull from starts kind of getting infected and stuff. So then it's almost like you need to pull, because it's like a little infected. So you pull out the hairs that are infected and it feels better.

So you get yourself caught in this trap. Wow. So where this ties into OCD is that was like one of the areas I started and then when I got to UNR to work with Steve, it was like, well, what's, what's the next step? It would be OCD. Like trick and OCD are what we call OCD and related disorders. So then I did my first studies on ACT for OCD, and what's slightly different is clients with OCD come in and they say, I hate this. My life is terrible. Please, please help me stop. And people with trick are like, uh, I know I should stop, but I don't really want to. So there's something about OCD clients that they really want it gone. And that's kind of enjoyable to have clients who are just on the same page as you from day one. I will, and I don't mean this to like pick on the clients, it is a little funny story, but I did an OCD trial followed by a marijuana dependence trial. And I have to, I have to tell you the difference in sort of clients like being on time and not canceling appointments. You know, it's another thing. My clients with ocd, it's kind of easy work. They're on time, they are ready to work and certainly there's hard times, so it's just, the other thing, if I can just kinda keep blabbing, the idea of sticky thoughts is really fun to me. 

So when someone has a really horrible thought and they just feel trapped, I find it really fun disentangling it and helping them find a way to not get pushed around by that thought. And I have a sort of a unique style to myself where that stuff doesn't bother me. So, you know, clients can describe all sorts of stuff, and I like am a hundred percent, that's just a thought. You know what? Whatever this thing is. And, that's been really fun. And learning that skill has generalized to other areas because like really sticky thoughts show up in other disorders. 

Tony: So what's an example, by the way, of a sticky thought? Tell the listeners. 

Mike: Oh. You know, I'll admit I even got caught in it, like, oh, do I wanna share one. So you're from Utah, so do you have some knowledge of the local religion?

Tony: Oh, absolutely, yes. 

Mike: Okay. So, one of the most predominant things in the local religion to Utah is like the importance of family and taking care of your family. So OCD is always going to attack what you care about most. So parents having thoughts about harming their kids is, I don't know, half of what I see. And, they come in and they're like, this is the worst. Like you can't get any worse than picturing seriously harming your own children. I can just hear that and be like, that's an obsession. Let me work with you on what we should do with that. And they're like, but I'm a horrible person. Deep down, I'm a horrible human being who needs to get off this planet? And I'm like, no, you have an obsession. We got it. We'll figure this out. Like, it's okay. And, when I hear someone say their obsession, like just nothing. Like I don't have an emotional reaction because I know it's an obsession.

Tony: Don't you feel like one of the, I love that, because I do talk about, one of my first episodes five, six years ago was on intrusive thought syndrome and at that time, right, I said, we all have them, just because you have them doesn't mean anything, doesn’t mean you're going to do them. And then, thought suppression doesn't work.

And at that time, I actually was speaking to a lot of relief society organizations and I don't know why I found it hilarious, but when I would open it up, I would say, I would kind of share that just for fun and say, how many of you thought about your driving? And man, I could just mm, right over into a tree and you would see the people like yeah, but I've never told anybody. And, I would tell a story about sharing this with my family, and we had a little yorkie at the time, and I was sharing this with one of my daughters. She's like, you ever think about just that you could snap her leg? And I'm like, I have thought that.

And then all of a sudden she's like, okay. And then we go all in on it. And my wife wasn't aware. And so then one night at the dinner table, we're talking about using a watermelon, melon baller. And one of my kids saying, you ever thought about like, that could just be an eyeball, you know, and I could see that, you know?

And my wife, I think she was not up to speed on the conversations, but, so I really like what you're sharing because I feel like being able to express it and having somebody just say, oh yeah. Or I have, or tell me more. There's some pretty cool research, right, that shows that, oh, the scary thing in my head and that person didn't react. Maybe it isn't scary, do you find that's the case? 

Mike: Well, I'll just give, this is a really interesting one. When I worked at the University of British Columbia, they were finishing an intrusive thoughts trial. So they were just treating it like sometimes what people call where you have the obsession and then the compulsion is something you do in your head. You say a prayer, you try to squish the thought, you picture something else. And, it was interesting because the control condition actually got a lot better. I don't know what they did with a controlled condition, but it wasn't supposed to be that useful.

And how we hypothesized it at the end was no one had ever said to these people like, this is just an obsession. This isn’t you. And like half of them walked in and they were just assuming this was a police sting. Like people who wanted to murder or kill or you know, whatever the horrible obsession was and they just assumed they'd walk in and the cops would be there and we were like, no, this is an OCD clinic. You have OCD, welcome to our world. And for a ton of people just hearing like there's a category of people who have really rough thoughts and the truth is the reason they have such rough thoughts is when they first had the initial ones, they tried so hard not to have them that it went out of control. Whereas if you would've been like, that's weird, then it probably wouldn't have grown into anything. But if you tried really hard to get rid of it, yeah, then it just kept growing.

Tony: Well, what I like about that too is one of the things that I, in your treatment program or for OCD, is you and I wrote down a note on this that I like. Can you maybe talk about 95% of life when you don't want it, you can get rid of it. And then that other five, that's, that's good stuff. So I don’t know, can you kinda explain that? 

Mike: Yes. Like in our life, this is you know, second session of therapy. In our life, if we don't like something, we can change it. If you need a haircut, you can get a haircut. If your room's dirty, you can clean it, your clothes look grubby, you can purchase new ones. So then, you know, as you grow up in life, you have thoughts or feelings you don't like, why wouldn't you try to get rid of them? Like everything else in life, if you don't like it, you could get rid of it.

And a lot of times our families are going to say, yeah, that's how it works. But, like right now, if I said, you know, don't think of a pineapple or a pineapple painted blue that someone wrote “you stink” on it. 

Tony: Done, done and done. 

Mike: Right. It doesn't work that way. But if I said, you know, don't touch your keyboard, everyone can do that. That's the difference between behaviors we do with our hands and our feet and attempting to control internal stuff, internal stuff doesn't work that way. And frankly, it might work the opposite way. And then one of the jokes I say in therapy a lot is, this is the reason I have a job. Like, if it worked, you wouldn't need me. But it actually goes backwards, so that's probably why you need me. 

Tony: Well and I find that a lot of things that I feel like in the world of mental health are counterintuitive, which is, I guess I would say that often too, that thank goodness, or I would be out of work but then I know that's humor and sometimes we have to use humor and people, if it's heavy for them, that might sound right. And then, and I feel like that's maybe part of their avoidance is, well I can't, this guy's being silly, or I can't, I can't look at it a different way or somebody, he doesn't understand what it's like. And I don't know, I feel like what do you do with those kinds of situations. 

Mike: Yeah, you don't understand what it's like. I mean, I don't get that as much. I know people get it with other disorders, and I will say from an ACT perspective, if I keep talking about that I have disturbing thoughts, I have frustrated thoughts, I feel overwhelmed. I don't feel good enough like that’s just part of being a human being.

I feel like it's probably nice for a client to see that, you know, my therapist who seems to have it together also doesn't feel smart enough and feels overwhelmed and feels annoyed. And like if he has it, then it may not be so weird that I have it. And I'll definitely stress in my work, it's way more what you do with it than what you have.

Tony: I like that. Yeah. Well, it's funny, the insecurities even, we had a technical glitch there, and we went silent for a while and oh, I was all in my head about, man, this is my one chance and I thought we were vibing and now Mike's never going to come back in and you know, and that whole thing.

And it's funny the way we do that and then I just had to notice that was the thought. You know, that was something. So really quick as well I like that part about trying to control, so we don't do that. I do have one, I have a hypothetical, not even a hypothetical, so I would love your take just as I view you like this world renowned act researcher and knows act so well. And I tell you one thing that my latest kind of aha is I've got somebody, so if I have somebody that is, let's say they're in a job and they don't like their job and I've done, I've had enough of the experiences where I can then maybe have somebody that they feel like they really can't do anything about it, we can work their values into their current job, and then, you know, they might insert a value of humor or a value of connection, or they might go learn other values of curiosity. And I've had some success with that. But then I've also had, you know, I do a lot of work with trauma and I don't if you're familiar with the book The Body Keeps the Score and it's amazing. And so over time, because our emotions are traveling faster than our logical brain.

And you know, that visceral reaction as our brain says, is it safe? And if it's safe, then what do I do with it? And so when people have felt unsafe, that emotional reaction can intensify and they're all up in their amygdala and that sort of thing. So then I'll have people that will be in situations where, in a work situation where, okay, but my blood pressure is rising and I'm starting to have different ailments and then, and in the trauma world we say, okay, that's your body trying to tell you something and we need to listen to it, and maybe that's not the right opportunity for you. And I've been doing so much of the act work where, oh, that's just, you know, these are stories your body, your brain's telling you. And so invite them to come along with you and insert your values.

And so I don't know if you have any thoughts, and I know I'm just springing this on you right now, but it's interesting because act works so well, and now I've had a couple of people that are like, man, I'm still trying to be present. I'm noticing, I'm meditating, I'm working, you know, but I am still, I am still having this visceral gut reaction. And, and so I feel like there's an interesting, I'm not sure which one to rely on, you know? 

Mike: Mm. Well, you tell me if I heard your question right. That if it's like the person's trying to be there for something but it's hard because their internal stuff is so loud. 

Tony: Yeah, well said. 

Mike: And what I'd probably say to that client is, you know, we may have spent 20, 30 years conditioning this to be at this volume. And now that we are not giving it the attention it needs, it's going to scream pretty loud. And I'd say, what do we want? Do we want it quiet or do we want to be in life? Because I'm going to be honest, it's not going to get quiet until you stop caring it's there. 

So if you're always trying to check how loud it is, it's like it knows to put out some noise. So it's like you really just have to shift the game and then, and then we'll see what will happen. Yeah. And it's interesting, the description you gave, maybe we're about the same age. I'm starting to get more and more clients who are like, where do I want my life to go? My career isn't quite what I'm hoping it would be.

Tony: And then I love that because and then when I'm putting out there on my podcast that yeah, I switched after 10 years and now I love everything I do and it's value based and passionate.

And then I'll feel like people will then say, well, yeah, but that was easy. You know? No, it was incredibly uncomfortable. But, I find that then those yeah buts, that's why I call them, the yeah buts from act where, okay, I'm going to take action on this value and then sit back and I'll listen to all the yeah buts. Because it's scary and I think that just people hearing that that's part of the human experience is pretty cool. Hey Mike, I am just grateful for your time. I really am. Thank you. I am going to be very honest and say that I have done something exactly one other time with an interview a few days ago. And I love humor and I feel like that is something that maybe you can identify with as well. Okay. So this is either going to be something I will delete and never use again. I would love to see if you cannot laugh and I'm going to read a couple of my funniest two line jokes ever.

Mike: Okay. Oh, I'm gonna be terrible at it. We'll try. 

Tony: Okay. Let me find one, let me get one here. I've got a couple of them that I think are just hilarious to me and let's alright, so, Dr. Michael Twohig, world renowned ACT researcher, try not to laugh. Just say no to drugs. Well, if I'm talking to my drugs, I probably already said yes.

Oh, that's good. Okay, next. I thought I could get you on that one. Don't laugh yet because this one, I’m Scrolling through them, here it comes. I feel bad for the homeless guy, but I really feel bad for the homeless guy's dog because he must be thinking, man, this is the longest walk ever.

Mike: Okay, you try. I have like two banked jokes.

Tony: Okay. Well this is my second experience and the first person texted me yesterday and said, oh, I want to do it to you now. So, alright, now, this is the first ever experience.

Mike: So there's two fish in a tank. One says, I'll drive you man the guns.

Tony: I don’t even know what that means.

Mike: In a tank.

Tony: Oh, that's even better. I just thought it was complete nonsense. Okay. All right. Okay. 

Mike: How does it go? What did the fish say that swam into the concrete wall? 

Tony: What? 

Mike: Damn. 

Tony: Okay. Okay. Maybe I need to rethink this. I thought I'd be able to do that. Okay. Well done. Those are good enough. So, alright, Mike, thank you so much for coming on and I hope that I can have you on again in the not too distant future. Sneak preview. I meant to even bring this up earlier, I work on some with scrupulosity, which I think is kind of a whole other realm and I would love your thoughts on that. Maybe as just a sneak preview.

Mike: Well yeah and being two Utah based guys, we just skipped right over the pornography stuff.

Tony: Yes.

Mike: Such an interesting,, yeah, I was like, oh, I want to tell you stories about that. Okay. 

Tony: So maybe next time? Okay. Yeah, yeah, we'll do that. So, alright. What a pleasure. I really appreciate the time. This is everything I had hoped it would be and more, so I can't wait to talk to you again. Okay. Right. Thanks Mike. 

Tony is the interviewee on Michaela Renee Johnson's "Be You Find Happy" podcast. From the show notes on Michaela's episode, "Ha, got your attention. If you're asking yourself that you're probably not, but you might be in a relationship with someone who is "less emotionally mature." It seems narcissism is on the rise but is it? More and more people are waking up to toxic relationships no doubt and leaving one of these relationships in the words of Doctor Ramani is like "hugging a porcupine, you've got to do it carefully."

In this episode, you'll get to meet Tony Overbay, a marriage and family therapist who helps couples and families who are Waking Up To Narcissism (podcast) and the Virtual Couch (podcast). You'll walk away with insights and tangible tips on how to move forward in this."

If you are interested in being coached in Tony's upcoming "Magnetic Marriage Podcast," please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs. 

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here


#1- “When a healthy, emotionally mature person like you in this scenario is now able to do, and be, and grow, and flourish, guess who now can also give their kid a secure attachment and external validation? It's the healthy parent.” -Tony

#2- “It's really interesting to see how people think they're doing something for the kids, or they think they're doing something for the right reasons. And maybe that's the necessary reason, but there's always another option.” -Michaela

#3- “I've come to realize when people do extract themselves out of these relationships, they flourish. You're talking about that loss of sense of self, and it's after you deal with the loss of time, right? Because that's a big thing. And sense of self, that's a big thing. Then you start to see them doing amazing things that were probably hopes and dreams that they'd had for years that they didn't allow themselves space to do at all. Or, they weren't allowed space because they were threatened or you know, et cetera.”  -Michaela

#4- “It's normal to find this codependency and this enmeshment. But then when we start going through life and we start having jobs, and kids, and opportunities, and loss, and growth, now all of a sudden, of course two people are going to start to have two different experiences. And so in an emotionally mature relationship, they're going to both be able to express them and explore those emotions. That is going to be where growth will occur.” -Tony

#5- “‘What is the intention?’ It's a question that I have to ask myself frequently while migrating through various different relationships because I feel like sometimes it's this interesting juxtaposition of trying to allow myself the freedom of expression and feeling that I'm having, and not gaslighting my own emotions.” -Michaela 

#6- “I spent 12 years of my life fixing myself to fit into a mold that was never good enough. That was my story. And I allowed it. Why? And then I think, okay, in what ways do I need to ‘unself’ help, but in what ways do I need to continue to self-help to grow from this experience?” -Michaela 

#7- “I feel like we can all take ownership of ways or places that we’re emotionally immature. And that's what I love about the highly sensitive person or the empath who finds themselves in this trauma bond or this, they call it,  human magnet syndrome with a narcissist or a severely emotionally immature person. The nice person almost inevitably thinks, wait a minute, am I the narcissist? My number one rule is no. Because you literally asked yourself the question which means you're not.” -Tony

Tony tackles the touchy topic of anxiety and gives tips on what to do when you're feeling anxious. You can watch this interview on YouTube here Please subscribe to The Virtual Couch YouTube channel at and follow The Virtual Couch on Instagram

This episode of The Virtual Couch is sponsored by With the continuing “sheltering” rules that are spreading across the country PLEASE do not think that you can’t continue or begin therapy now. can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your own mental health a priority, offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.

Tony's FREE parenting course, “Tips For Parenting Positively Even In the Not So Positive Times” is available NOW. Just go to and sign up today. This course will help you understand why it can be so difficult to communicate with and understand your children. You’ll learn how to keep your buttons hidden, how to genuinely give praise that will truly build inner wealth in your child, teen, or even in your adult children, and you’ll learn how to move from being “the punisher” to being someone your children will want to go to when they need help.

Tony's new best-selling book "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" is now available on Kindle.

Tony Overbay, is the co-author of "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" now available on Amazon The book debuted in the number 1 spot in the Sexual Health Recovery category and remains there as the time of this record. The book has received numerous positive reviews from professionals in the mental health and recovery fields.

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program The Path Back by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs, and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript click here

----- TRANSCRIPT -----

[00:00:00] Hey, everybody, welcome to Episode 250 of the virtual couch. We're going to do things a little bit different today while I am still your host, Tony Overbay, and I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, all those wonderful things. And I'd love for you to go to and sign up for all kinds of things and find me on Instagram, a virtual couch and even go to, get 10 percent off your first month's online therapy experience, all those things. But today's podcast going to be a little bit different. So I get asked to speak a lot. I absolutely love it. I have always loved it. And I will speak at any any opportunity that I can if I can make it work with my schedule. This week alone, I've done a couple of podcasts, interviews. I did have been mixed faith marriage event. But tonight I have a presentation on anxiety to a very large women's group and I may not be exactly as prepared as I wanted to. So I had another podcast planned for today. But then I thought, OK, I did some additional research on anxiety last night, got in here to the office nice and early, did some more this morning. So I am going to prepare it for this very podcast. I thought why not haven't than a podcast on anxiety in a while. So I will do this podcast today.

[00:01:05] I will do the presentation tonight and I will release this podcast tomorrow. Little will the group know tonight that what they heard is actually a repeat of what I'm recording right now until I released this episode tomorrow, the day after the presentation. It's genius, I tell you fool proof. And actually the more I think about it and I thought about this on my run this morning, what if I recorded this podcast so that it could be used as a presentation for any group moving forward? I fired up the webcam. You can find this on YouTube and it's probably not going to be perfect. I can understand that. So if you are looking for a presentation to give to your group, fill in the blank of what that group would be on anxiety. I want to see if with the right pauses, the right laughter, that I can make this a pretty universal presentation. So here we go. Welcome to my presentation on anxiety for insert your group here. Thank you so much for that introduction, Seriously, I appreciate that and I have to be honest in sitting through the introductions are one of the things that I dislike the most about doing events like this. But I just want you to know that I am grateful to be here. And I know I know I'd rather be with you all in person.

[00:02:13] But hey, 2020, how about it, huh? Zoom, Social distancing. I know you're all in your homes right now, but the raise your hand. If any of you guessed that you'd be watching somebody talk about anxiety in the setting rather than all of us being together like we normally would, that that would be the case. Okay, but my bad that question was confusing. I see some of you raising your hands, some of you hesitating. But just quickly, if you can mute your microphones and no, don't worry about it. I'm I'm not sure if the rest of you heard that parenting moment happening there on the on screen with one of your friends there. But we've all been there. Right. So I just have to tell you how grateful I am to be asked to talk about anxiety to all of you. And when I was asked to do this, you're a gracious host. And I just have to say we go way back, or at least I feel like we do simply from the back and forth that we've had in setting up this event. I've heard a lot of good things about this group. So, again, thank you. And I want you to take full advantage of the chat function in Zoom, particularly the direct message. I would love for you to ask any specific questions about anxiety and I promise I will keep it confidential.

[00:03:10] After all, I am a therapist. That's what we do. So before we get to more of the content, I've got some specific content on tips and tricks that you can use when combating anxiety. I wanted to turn to one of my favorite books of all time. It's called The Happiness Trap. It's by an author named Russ Harris, and he's actually someone that I've been interacting with or just trading some emails and want to get him on the podcast. And until that moment, I just have to tell you, his book, The Happiness Trap and his book The Confidence Gap, are a couple of the books that I feel like have really helped me in my practice and kind of change the way that I interact with people in my office. But the happiness trap in the confidence gap really lay out these principles of a therapy modality that I love called acceptance and commitment therapy. And what one of the first things that drew me to really pay attention to acceptance and commitment therapy was the way that Russ Harris lays out why it can be so difficult to be happy. Because I feel like at our core, what anxiety really is about is this desire that we have to be happy, this desire to know that we're doing all that we can. And if you look at anxiety as a protection and this is the part where the brain bless its little pink, squishy heart, really is just looking out for you.

[00:04:26] So anxiety is just trying to pay attention to all the things that your brain can pay attention to and hopes that that will keep you safe. So let me I'm going to read a little bit from the happiness trap on why it can be so difficult to be happy. So Russ Harris says, to answer this question, let's journey back in time. The modern human mind, with its amazing ability to analyze and plan, create and communicate, has largely evolved over the last hundred thousand years since our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared on the planet. But our minds did not evolve to make us feel good so we could tell jokes or write poems or say, I love you. Our minds evolved to help us survive in a world fraught with danger. So he says, Imagine you're this early human hunter gatherer. What are your essential needs in order to survive and reproduce? There are four of them. There's food, there's water, there's shelter and sex. OK, and I see some giggling there on the zoom. But these are your basic needs. But none of these needs matter if you're dead, if you're not alive. So the number one priority of the primitive human mind was to look out for anything that might harm you and then avoid it. So your mind, the primitive mind basically was a don't get killed device.

[00:05:31] And I love that phrase that if you think in terms of your mind is this thing that is there to protect you, it's a don't get killed device, then you can start to see where anxiety comes into play. And so the better that our ancestors became in anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer they lived in, the more children they had. So with each generation, the human mind became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger.

[00:05:51] And now, hundred thousand years later, the modern mind is constantly on the lookout, assessing and judging everything we encounter. Is this good or bad? Is it safe or dangerous? Is it harmful or helpful? But these days, though, it's not saber tooth tigers or wooly mammoths that our mind warns us about. Instead, it's losing our job or being rejected or getting a speeding ticket or embarrassing ourselves in public or getting cancer or a million and one other things and other common worries. So as a result, we spend so much of our time worrying about things that more often than not never happen. So does that sound familiar? Can you start to get the vibe of what anxiety is really about? And then another essential for the survival of any early human was to belong to a group. So just like we're all here tonight. So if your clan boots you out of the group, it won't be long before the wolves find you. So how does the mind protect you from rejection by the group, by comparing you with other members of the group? Am I fitting in? Am I doing the right thing? And I contributing enough in my as good as the others? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected? So does that that sound familiar? Russ Harris says our modern day my. Are continually warning us of rejection and comparing us to the rest of society, so no wonder we spend so much energy worrying about whether people will like us.

[00:07:08] No wonder we're always looking for ways to improve ourselves or putting ourselves down because we don't measure up. And one hundred thousand years ago, we only had a few members of our immediate clan to compare ourselves with. But these days we only have to glance at. And this is where you can see that the book's a tiny bit dated, Harris says. We only have to glance at the newspaper, a magazine or television instantly find a whole host of people who are smarter or richer or slimmer, sexier, more famous, more powerful or more successful than we are. So insert social media comment here and you can see that we have so much visual stimulus that we can now compare ourselves to, not in a healthy way, and especially when what we're seeing is the best that everybody puts out there. So, of course, it's going to lead us to feel like what's wrong with me? Why am I not having all these amazing times and wonderful experiences and and the family looking perfect and everybody smiling. So when we compare ourselves to back to the book where Harris says these glamorous media creations, we feel inferior or disappointed with our lives. And to make matters worse, this is the part I can so identify with, he said. To make matters worse, our minds are now so sophisticated that they can conjure up even a fantasy image of the person that we'd ideally like to be, and then we even compare ourselves to that.

[00:08:17] So what chance do we have? We're always going to end up feeling not good enough. So he said that for any Stone Age person with ambition, the general rule for success is get more and get better and better your weapons. The more food you can kill, the larger your food stores, the greater your chances for survival. In times of scarcity, the better your shelter, the safer you are from weather and wild animals. The more children you have, the greater chance that some will survive into adulthood. So he said it's no surprise then that our modern mind continually looks for more and better, more money, a better job, more status, a better body, more love, a better partner. And if we succeed, if we actually do get more money or a better car or a better looking body, then we're satisfied, but only for a while, sooner or later, and usually sooner than we end up wanting more. So if we look at it that way, our brains now have evolved to be hardwired, to suffer psychologically, to compare, to, evaluate and criticize ourselves, and to focus more on what we're lacking, to rapidly become dissatisfied with what we have. And to imagine then all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen.

[00:09:25] So no wonder we humans find it so hard to be happy. And I feel like that is what is at the core of anxiety, is that we are programed to constantly be on the lookout for things that that we are fearful of because our brain thinks it's doing us a favor, that it thinks that if we can control all the things around us, that that will allow us to be happy. But in reality, the more things that we try to control, the more anxious that we often get. So I'm going to read one more thing out of the happiness trap and then we'll move on into some of the tips and tools for dealing with anxiety. So in acceptance and commitment therapy, Russ Harris lays out two very different views of what happiness is. And I absolutely love these definitions. Well, one in particular. So he says, what exactly is happiness then? We all want it. We all crave it. We all strive for it. Even the Dalai Lama has said the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. But what exactly is it? The word happiness has two very different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure or gladness or gratification. And we all enjoy these feelings. So it's no surprise that we chase after them. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness don't last.

[00:10:37] No matter how hard we try to hold on to them, they slip away every time. And as we will see, a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is, in the long term, deeply unsatisfying. In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. So the other far less common meaning of happiness. This is the one that I love and identify with the most now is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, when we move in directions we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full of meaning. And we experience this powerful sense of vitality. And this is not a fleeting feeling. It's a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, that's also going to give us a lot of uncomfortable ones, such as sadness and fear and anger. And this is only to be expected because if we live a full life, we'll live a full life feeling the full range of human emotions. So I feel like that's kind of the set up or the start of what causes us to feel anxiety or causes us to feel these anxious feelings and can cause us to feel less than and oftentimes not happy.

[00:11:49] So now let's address a little bit of what has been going on the last year or year and a half, or especially the last year. And that's this. The the world is a different place no one could have anticipated, what are we in now, the end of February? So even a year ago we knew that things about covid coronavirus that the world was was really worried about what was going to happen, but we didn't really know what that looks like. And within a few weeks from now, a year ago, then all of a sudden we're on lockdown and we're in a social isolation. And we've got now the social distancing and we have just this fear of the unknown. We have this ambiguity. We have this these all this gray area. So if you already take what we've laid out here and that our brain wants to know, it wants to anticipate danger and it wants to do all that it can to avoid these fearful, uncomfortable things, we were just handed a whole lot of fearful, uncomfortable things. And so knowing that our brain likes patterns, that our brain likes, it likes to know what's coming next and it tries to anticipate what's coming next. But we're in one of the world's biggest. We don't know what's coming next that we've ever been in, especially in our lifetimes.

[00:13:00] So it's no wonder that our anxiety is maybe even amped up over the last year or so. So what do we do about it? Well, here's a few things that I think are important to note. Number one is you're OK. One of the biggest things that I like to talk about is the fact that you're not broken. And I have people literally come into my office and for a few weeks it's almost like they're saying, I know I am broken and I'm going to convince you that I am broken. But this is one of the core principles of acceptance and commitment therapy that I so love. And not that I want to go off on some tangent of telling you about two different types or modalities of therapy, because you might not even be familiar with the one that I would be comparing. But let me just ask you if this sounds a little bit familiar. So there's a type of therapy that all therapists learn. I feel that all therapists learn in grad school almost the fundamentals, which is cognitive behavioral therapy. And I feel like that's what's at the core of a lot of motivational speakers and really good powerful messages, life coaches and a lot of therapists. I mean, again, most therapists learn cognitive behavioral therapy in school. And what cognitive behavioral therapy says is that your thoughts lead your emotions and your emotions lead your behaviors.

[00:14:12] So in that model, the and I was a cognitive behavioral therapist for years, I'm telling you about six or seven years before I switched over to acceptance and commitment therapy. And so what I found with cognitive behavioral therapy is it does start with the idea of that your you have these incorrect thoughts, these negative thought patterns you have these ANT's, these automatic negative thoughts or there's a clever rhyming piece to cognitive therapy. You have stinking thinking. And so when you come into a situation and you have a certain thought that leads to an emotion and that emotion leads to a behavior, when you're working as a cognitive behavioral therapist, you really want to challenge that automatic thought and say, hey, that's your stinking thinking or that's your automatic negative thought. And so you just need to change it. And then that will lead to a different emotion in a different behavior. And I have found some scenarios where that can still work well. But what I started finding in my life and in my office was that it's just not as easy as waking up one day and saying, I am going to not be anxious, I'm just going to choose to be happy. Now, the reason I'm laying it out this way is you maybe follow some accounts on Instagram or Facebook or whatever the social media platform is.

[00:15:28] Or maybe you've got books, self-help books, motivational books, you've got speeches. You've got all kinds of wonderful things that say happiness is a choice. And you wake up each day and you decide to be happy. And I, I fully agree that I do make that choice every day. But I also recognize that I'm human and life happens and we're imperfect people in an imperfect world. So when things inevitably happen, when you are running late to get to work or when you have technical difficulties, when you're trying to do a Zoom conference to 50 or 60 therapists that you're trying to train, hypothetically speaking, when these things happen and you all of a sudden find yourself not being happy, then instead of beating oneself up and saying, man, I chose to be happy today and now I'm not happy, what's wrong with me that knowing that now you're actually human and so you're going to have the thoughts and feelings and emotions you do because you're the only version of you that's ever existed and you're the only version of you going through the experiences that you're going through. So you can wake up every day and give yourself some good positive affirmations and decide to be happy. And if that works, then I am so excited for you. But if you're like a lot of people, a lot of human beings, life's a little bit messy.

[00:16:41] Life can be a little bit imperfect and we don't know what's coming next. And so we go back to this concepts that I laid out earlier that can lead to some anxious feelings of we want control, we want to know what's happening next, want to control our environment, want to predict everything. We want to watch out for all the things around us, and we want to compare and we want to anticipate and we want to guess and we want to control, we want to fix that. We want a judge. And all those things lead to this overall feeling of anxiety and feeling anxious. So what's the antidote? To know that life happens and to know that you're human and to know that you're going to think, feel and behave the way you do because you're human? And that's OK. There's acceptance because you're the only version of you that's ever stepped on this wonderful earth. And so you're the only one that knows what's going on inside of you and knows your hopes and your dreams, knows that you're this beautiful combination of your nature and nurture, birth, order, DNA, abandonment, rejection, hopes, dreams, fears, losses, that you're the only collection of all of those experiences. So when you step into a situation and it doesn't go the way it goes, instead of saying, man, why, what's wrong with me? Why am I feeling the way I'm feeling? Why am I thinking these negative thoughts? Instead, we want to start to reframe that and say, hey, check this out.

[00:17:59] Look at what I'm thinking in this scenario. And if you're watching this video, then I'm holding my hand up because I want you to be able to take a look at these thoughts because you're a good person. You have amazing days and you have experiences and you have connections with people. But then there's also times where you're human and things happen and you react. So at your core, you're still this good person. But in certain situations, when things happen, it's almost like I think about anxiety or depression or any of these things can descend upon you almost like this cloud. So it'll go away and sometimes it'll be there depending on the circumstances. And you're still a good person. But then check this out. Here's where my brain is going when a certain thing happens. So back to anxiety. What do we do with it? First of all, we normalize it. We accept it. We understand that we're human and we're going to have these thoughts, feelings and emotions that we do. So just like the concept of thought, suppression doesn't work. If I were to tell you right now, whatever you do, don't think of a white polar bear wearing a green hat. Most likely thought of a white polar bear wearing a green hat.

[00:19:04] Don't know what kind of had he was wearing. Might actually just switched right there from some sort of fedora to almost the top hat. Now it has a feather in it, but if I try not to think about it, it's going to be right there. If I try to tell myself, stop feeling anxious, you're your own brain is going to say with this this anxiety, no, it's right here. So instead, it's acknowledging that I'm feeling anxious. I notice that I'm feeling anxious, and that's OK. I can make room for that anxiety. I can make a choice to not let that anxiety cripple me. And that's the part that takes practice. That's the stuff that we're going to get into now. The tips and traits of dealing with anxiety for. The first thing is to know that you're human. Your brain is designed to protect you. You're comparing yourself with all sorts of things around the world because that's how your brain thinks that if it can figure out how to stay engaged or be a member of the group or the tribe or the community, that you're going to survive. But meanwhile, to be a member of the group or the tribe or society, your brain's trying to process a lot of information and figure out how do I fit into here, because if for some reason I don't fit in, then that's going to lead to abandonment.

[00:20:10] And then abandonment is really scary. So our brains are wired in a sense, to have a little bit of anxiety. For some of us, that can be a little bit more because we're thinking about these things constantly. So we first start with acceptance and now let's talk about what to do with that anxiety. I've written down a few different examples of things that we can do. So I want to talk about some steps that we can take. Let me let me cover I used to watch a lot of Wheel of Fortune when I was a kid, and I was I'm old enough to remember when all of a sudden I don't know when the final that's not a showcase, but when they're spinning the wheel, it's only one person.

[00:20:47] They're going to solve a puzzle. Win all the prizes, everyone will pick the same letters over and over. So at some point the showed. Is that right? We're going to give you R T.L. S and N? I believe it was so a lot of times in my practice or when I'm talking about certain psychological situations or things like anxiety, I want to give you the Given's the RCL in and the Given's are if you can get sleep, if you can, it's important to stay hydrated, if you can. Eating well is going to help. So those are the things that are going to help a lot. And getting some exercise actually in my online recovery program for people that turn to pornography as a coping mechanism, I have a clever thing called a successful six and the successful six are: it's food. It's sleep, it's exercise, it's hydration, it's meditation and it's prayer. And those six things can really set the stage for you to be in a good place emotionally and mentally, so that you can take on the challenges of the day. But I understand that, again, life happens sometimes. We don't get the sleep we need. Sometimes we don't feel like eating. Sometimes we. We want to therapeutically eat things that make us happy in that moment. So, again, I understand that. But those those fundamentals are those foundational principles are very important. If anything, just start to work on one, if possible, work on staying hydrated today or try to get a little bit more sleep.

[00:22:15] These are things that I don't I know that you can't just knock all of these out of the ballpark on the first attempt. But so those successful six, if you can get those as a start, that's a wonderful thing. But one of the first things I want to recommend, and I've already alluded to this, is accepting that anxiety. So if you really want to manage your anxiety, the key is to accept it. And this might sound a little bit counterintuitive, but acceptance and I've done some podcasts on this recently, acceptance doesn't mean apathy. If you accept that you have anxiety or you accept that you're struggling with anxiety, then that doesn't mean that all or nothing, OK, this is my lot in life. I'm going to this is what I'm going to deal with the rest of my life. It's actually the opposite. That's why the belief here is that it's a bit counterintuitive to accept it. Once I accept that I have anxiety now, I'm no longer trying to fight the anxiety. I'm no longer trying to look for examples or evidence of, oh, there's anxiety, there's not anxiety. I accept that it's OK to have anxiety. Now, what do I want to do with it? So accepting it doesn't mean that we're resigning ourselves to this life of misery. It just means that once we accept it, then the existence of anxiety and other things are inevitable.

[00:23:26] But they don't have to define us or shape us or it doesn't mean all or nothing, black or white, that this is the way things are going to be forever. So if you experience anxiety, sometimes one of the first things you can do is just accept it and observe it. Think of it like a wave. I have a sign here in my office that says that feelings are much like waves. We can't stop them from coming, but we can choose which one of them to surf. So one of the best things that we can do is start to recognize that we may have some feelings, some anxious feelings or feelings of anxiety in a moment. But if we can over time, we'll talk about this in a minute. Learn to turn to our breathing some good old in through the nose, out through the mouth, breathing that if we're focusing on our breathing, if we're focusing on sounds around us, if we're focusing on touch or feel, if we're focusing on smells or whatever, we can make more of something in front of us and focus on, then we can realize that sometimes those feelings of anxiousness will pass like waves. So which one do we want to surf? What feelings do we want to surf? If we really do look at feelings are like waves, it can feel overwhelming and it can feel like it's going to weigh you down.

[00:24:35] It can feel heavy. But by taking small steps, some of the things we're going to talk about next that you can start to get yourself out of these anxious moments or these sometimes people refer to them as a panic attack a lot sooner than you would if you didn't accept it as a therapist. I'm a big fan of if you feel like you need some tools and techniques that are specific to you, then go see a therapist. There's nothing wrong in that. I'm so grateful that the stigma around mental health, I feel like is continuing to slowly evaporate. So go see a therapist engage in practices that will bring you back to present or that will give you a calming feeling. I cannot stress enough that embracing a daily mindfulness practice is a game changer. I often say that if I could give someone a pill or a shot or something, that would allow them to see what it would look and feel like six months down the road. If you engaged in a daily mindfulness practice right now, I feel like everyone would immediately start a mindfulness practice. And I'm a fan of the app Headspace, but I even recognized last night as I was drifting off to sleep that every night when I'm going to bed, I do the same thing. I breathe in through my nose and I count one and I breathe out through my mouth and I count 2 and I just try to get the ten.

[00:26:01] That's what I do to go to sleep. Or if I have a moment where I'm sitting, standing in a line or even sometimes between clients, that one's a good one to do. And it sounds simple, but in reality, it's not. There times where I never get to ten, I'm in through the nose, one out through the mouth to I can maybe get to three, four or five. And then all of a sudden I'm thinking, thinking about whatever it is. And so when I recognize that I'm not counting anymore, I don't beat myself up. I notice it. And then I come back and I start over at one. Or sometimes I'll notice I'm at fifteen or sixteen. And the same thing I blew right past ten, so I wasn't very present. So I come back and I start at one. And I think one of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness is that the goal is to clear one's mind. And if that is something that you can do, that's an amazing talent or trait. But the real focus or what mindfulness is about is training your mind that when I recognize that I am somewhere else. So let's say that I'm on a an anxious. Roll or I'm on a depressive thought or I'm ruminating about the past or I'm worried about the future, that if I have this daily practice, if all of a sudden I get myself centered and I start breathing in through my nose and count one and out through my mouth and count 2, then what I'm doing is I'm not thinking about whatever that anxious thought was.

[00:27:17] So it's not that I'm trying to clear my mind, it's that I'm bringing myself back to the moment, bringing myself back to present. And one of the keys to this is that as I'm doing that and I feel myself do it, even as I'm expressing this to you on this, saying this training is that when I breathe in through the nose, then I am lowering my heart rate. When I'm lowering my heart rate, I'm lowering my stress hormone cortisol. So cortisol is there that the more that your heart rate raises, then your stress level, your cortisol levels raise. And what that does is that starts to shut down your logical thinking part of the brain, your prefrontal cortex, because you're getting into a fight or flight mode. So the brain's this beautiful, wonderfully complex device that is there to protect you. So when your heart rate starts to elevate, your brain says, oh, there's danger. So we need to shut down the logical part of the brain because we're not going to be able to logically interact with a saber tooth tiger or a wooly mammoth or a bear or a snake or whatever it is. No, we need to get our fight or flight response going up, our heart rate shutdown the logical part of our brain, and get that fight or flight mode going so that we're either going to fight this wooly mammoth or we're going to we're going to take flight.

[00:28:29] So that's where a mindfulness practice is allowing you to lower your heart rate, get yourself back to present gently. Remind yourself that what what you may be thinking right now is not a productive thought and then come back to the here and now. So find a calming practice and practice it daily because it's not something that comes naturally to us and it's something that does need to be worked on. Some cool studies I remember reading long ago when I first started embracing mindfulness, and I think it's from Dan Harris's book, 10 Percent Happier, where he referred to some study. And I used to have this at the tip of my tip of my tongue, but where I believe it was eight weeks of a daily mindfulness practice of at least I want to say eight minutes a day started to change the neural pathways of the brain so that your brain starts to then know that if you are getting into this heightened state that it already knows, it anticipates that you are going to start breathing and you're going to start lowering your heart rate. So your brain already starts doing that for you as soon as you start to get elevated.

[00:29:30] So it's an amazing feeling that when you this is where I go back to. If I could show you what mindfulness would look like six months down the road when you're driving on the road and somebody cuts you off and you're already getting almost more calm, or when you're parenting teens and they're just starting to really want to push your buttons and see you explode so that we're not going to be talking about the thing that they just did, then you find yourself actually getting calm as they start to elevate. And it's one of the most fascinating and empowering things that I think you can feel. So start a daily mindfulness practice. That would be a wonderful do something you enjoy. I have a thing called the emotional baseline theory, and I can point to podcasts on that as well. But I find that this is so critical and this is where I say self care is not selfish. What the emotional baseline looks like is you're going to be dealing with situations on a day to day basis, regardless of where you're at, if you're in a good place or if you're in a bad place or and not a not a good place. And so the way that you respond is going to be based on, I feel, where your emotional baseline is. When you are feeling on top of the world, you're going to respond much differently than you are when you're feeling pretty down.

[00:30:42] So when I get clients in my office and they're struggling with severe anxiety or severe depression, a lot of times all we do is start to say, hey, what's something that you can do that is self care? And it can be anything from going on a walk, spending a little bit of time with a book that you enjoy, petting a dog. It can be anything. And your brain is going to still be in this all or nothing thinking and feel like, well, that's not enough. That's not a big enough thing to do. But all we're trying to do is start to raise your baseline a little bit, because the higher your baseline gets, then the more apt you are to respond differently to the things that are going on around you on a day to day basis. I have a very unscientific view of this. When it comes to the role that medication can play, I often get asked, should I get on an anti anxiety medication or an antidepressant? And that is up to you and I. I, of course, recommend that you go over that with your doctor, psychiatrist, that sort of thing. But oftentimes I feel like medication can bump your baseline up just high enough that then you can start to do the work, you can start to do some mindfulness, you can start to read some things that you enjoy. You can start to get out and go on a walk.

[00:31:47] So oftentimes the medication can raise your baseline up just enough that now you can start to engage more in life and the things that you enjoy, which that will then raise your baseline more so at some. Point, if you decide I don't want to be on medication any longer, then your baseline, I feel, can be up high enough that then we can just anticipate that if, if and when you get off your medication, you can anticipate a little bit of a drop in your emotional baseline. But at this point, hopefully you've done enough of the work that you know, enough of the self care, enough of the turning toward things that are important to you that then you can, with that anticipation of that, a little bit of a drop in your emotional baseline, you're still in a high enough emotional baseline state that now you can really double down on the work and the efforts to get your baseline back up to a place where it was where you can still deal with all of these things that are going on around you. So that's a do something you enjoy, raise your emotional baseline. And I often give examples. One of the my classic example is someone that I was talking with that was just down and they said that they I said, what do you like to do? And they said they like to read, but they feel like when they read, they need to be reading some deep, heavy spiritual tome or something that will that will, in their minds, some, you know, magic pill or something that will just get them out of this funk.

[00:33:04] But in reality, every time they read something deeply spiritual or something self-help, they found themselves feeling worse because they aren't able to stay focused or they aren't able to implement those things in their life. So I prescribed, so to speak, reading about 30 minutes a day of just something they enjoyed. And so in doing so, then after they read something they enjoyed, they felt a little bit of a pick me up, a little bit of a boost. And from that they could go into another activity they enjoyed in this particular situation. It really was going outside and then taking the dog for a walk. So they start to create this pattern of where they read something they enjoy, go out and take a dog on a walk, then come back in the house that their emotional baseline is up and now they can engage in work was what they were really trying to to get done at that point. So that's a great way to go. Staying connected to others I think can be so important. And I think this is one of the things that we often feel like we want to be isolated and we want to feel like we need to figure things out or we don't want to be so vulnerable and put ourselves out there.

[00:34:02] And a lot of times I understand that it can be for good reason, especially when people are going to should on you. I always say that no one likes to be should on. So if someone is going to say you should do this or you just need to do this, that's where we can start to feel like. But what if I don't want to do that? I'm just going to sit this one out. I'm just going to wait until I feel better and then I'll reengage with people. But we need to be able to find people that you can trust. And here's where you get to self advocate. You get to say, hey, there might be times where I'm going to reach out to you as a friend and I just want to hang out. I don't want you to tell me what I should do or shouldn't do. I just want to know that I can be around someone. I can be in someone's presence. I know that somebody cares about me. And a lot of times I found success where some people can just say, hey, I just need to come hang out or could you just stop by? If you have a moment, we're just going to sit there and watch TV together. We're going to sit there. We're going to play a game together and we're not going to talk about the elephant in the room, which might be this crippling anxiety or these feelings of depression.

[00:34:57] And just knowing that someone is in that room with you oftentimes is enough to bump that baseline up so that you can't reengage more in life. So staying connected to others is important. And so many of these things that I'm talking about right now, the best time to talk about these things with others is when you do feel like you're in a little bit better place. So a lot of times when the waters are calm or when we're feeling pretty good, those are the times where we feel like I don't want to think about anxiety, I don't want to think about depression. I just want to keep living in this moment. I want to keep vibin. I want to keep being what I'm being right now. And I hear you. But those are the times where it would be good to reach out to somebody and say, man, I'm feeling it now and I hope I never get in this situation again. But if I ever am in a low spot, would it be OK if I reached out to you? And if I do that, it would be ideal if they have again, maybe you don't go right into fixing or judgment mode, but you just let me stop by or you stop by. And just to know that there's somebody there that cares about me or that I know I can reach out to. This is where I do feel like positive affirmations are not a bad thing.

[00:35:58] I think sometimes when I'm doing my whole cognitive behavioral therapy versus acceptance and commitment therapy thing, that people get the message that I say that positive affirmations are not positive. Now, in ACT, there are some pretty fascinating bits of data, some studies. I've done a couple of podcasts on these where if you are telling yourself positive affirmations that at your core you don't believe, then that's where things can be a little bit damaging. If you are telling yourself I am the world's most creative person, I am a very powerful person, and I will go out there today and I will I will dominate in sports or I will I will be the the best presenter that there ever was or those sort of things. Then if at your core, that's really not who you are, who you desire to be, then those positive affirmations can feel like they're fake, that they're not really you. And so at the end of the day, if you don't live up to those positive affirmations, then one can actually feel a little bit worse because they feel like they're trying to tell themselves to be somebody that they're not and then they're not achieving that. But if you have positive affirmations that, hey, I'm a good parent, I'm a good person, I'm I'm friendly, I like to smile, I can be there for others.

[00:37:05] And you want that that reminder each day, then, man, that's a wonderful thing to do. And let's talk about gratitude. It is absolutely true that keeping some sort of daily gratitude journal is a very positive thing. Why? Because you have within your day you're looking for things to be grateful for, knowing that I am going to be writing these things down. This is where I like to say that a morning routine is absolutely fantastic. And I know there's a lot of people out there that are not mourning people. But if you can get up and establish a morning routine where there is some exercise, maybe there is some meditation, there is some prayer, there's a little bit of reading. And all of these things, these can be very they can be one minute, two minutes. But when you establish that pattern, there's some amazing things that happen over time. It becomes the default, which is is wonderful. I've been getting up and exercising now for 25 years of my life, and I haven't even really know that. I don't think I noticed how important that was. When I get clients that wake up and they feel anxious because they're unsure about the day ahead of them, that if you start putting in practice a morning routine when you wake up in the morning, your brain already knows this is what we're doing.

[00:38:14] So it's a wonderful way to start the day because you don't wake up and necessarily feel the anxiety of I don't know what to do, what's the day have what is it going to lead to? What's in front of me instead? Your brain knows we wake up and we're going to exercise, we're going to meditate, we're going to pray and we're going to read. And so it just knows that routine is coming and so that that launches you into your day at a higher emotional baseline. And I believe that's going to give you a bigger chance for success. I feel like that's a really important thing to do. Boy, that was a deep dove. I feel like I covered the things that I really wanted to cover. Now I feel like I can't even keep up the ruse or the charade that this is a real meeting. I think I forgot about that part as we were talking about this. But I hope that these these concepts around anxiety are helpful, that they're productive. I was going to say at this point, hey, I see a question in the chat, and I was going to make up a question that somebody would ask, but I can anticipate some of the questions that people are going to ask. A lot of the things that when I'm talking to people that do struggle with anxiety is the a lot of the.

[00:39:14] Yeah, but what do I do. Yeah, but what if people don't understand. Yeah but what if people aren't responding the way I want them to respond. And so here's where I will, I wasn't even going to work this in today. But let me give you my big abandonment and attachment speech because I love this. I love this so much. And and with all that we've covered about why it can be difficult to be happy and these tools to combat anxiety and the whole concepts around acceptance and commitment therapy, if you're the only version of you I want to lay out from the factory setting how what abandonment and what attachment looks like, because I think this is so key. I think about this stuff on a daily basis. I truly do. When we're born, we're talking right factory setting out of the womb. If we don't get our needs met, we will literally die. If we're not fed, if we're not clothed, if we're not held, those sort of things. So we are programed to to cry, to scream. And when we do, people pick us up and our moms feed us and they clean us, they change our diapers and we get that attention. So for the first year or two of life, that's the way things work. People respond to our needs. So that is our wiring. This is where I always want that.

[00:40:26] I love laying this out from zero on because that is our wiring when we hit two, three, four and on, then I love saying welcome to this world of abandonment, that now all of the sudden people you're still emoting, you're expressing yourselves, but people are not meeting your needs. They're not responding like they once were. They're not jumping at your every whim. And so now what that looks like is if I want candy before dinner, if I want to stay up late on the weekends or on any on a school night or if I want to have sleepovers, if I want to do any of the things that I want to do as a kid. But my parents say, no, not today, champ, no, not right now. Then we look at that as well. Wait a minute. I'm expressing myself and you're not meeting my needs. And remember, the factory setting is abandonment equals death. So people aren't responding to you, then that's going to be that's going to feel like abandonment and abandonment is scary because abandonment when equal death, that's our factory setting. So if we if people are not responding the way we want them to respond, then here's where I say that there are two paths, two tracks that are going on. This one that's an abandonment path and one that's in an attachment path on down the abandonment path.

[00:41:36] What that eventually leads to is as we get into adolescence and we get into being teenagers, that every kid is an ego centered, unsympathetic kid. Bless their hearts. That's just the way that we come from the factory setting forward, because we have just come out of this stage of life where the. The world literally did revolve around us, if we cry, people jump. So how do we not come forth and feel like it's all about us. So then the more we express ourselves and people aren't reacting in the way that we want them to, this is what starts to lead to what we refer to as toxic shame, where eventually that leads to if people aren't responding the way that I want them to, then that must mean something is wrong with me, that I must be unlovable, that I must be broken, that something's wrong with me. But instead, we as adults can wrap our heads around the fact that, no, now we're all going through a lot of our own stuff. It's imperfect people in an imperfect world, but we're coming from this abandonment place as a child, bring in our own childhood defense mechanisms and our childhood coping mechanisms into adulthood. So we feel like if people aren't responding the way we want them to, there's something must be wrong with us. And now down this attachment path. How do we get our needs met? How do we ensure that we are going to matter, that we're going to get our needs met so that we aren't feeling abandoned because abandonment equals death again, coming forward from the factory setting?

[00:43:01] How do we do that? It's how do we show up? How do we maneuver ourselves in a situation where we show up as the intelligent person? Do we show up as the athlete? We show up as the peacemaker? Are we the emotional or emo kid or are we the angry kid? How do we get attention? Because that is going to assure that even if it's not good attention, this is where it goes. The kids want attention. They want to be recognized whether it's good or bad, because to them, as long as I'm getting recognized or I'm receiving attention, then I'm I matter and I'm going to that doesn't mean abandonment, which means that I will not die. So then we bring forth those two things into adulthood. And now we're trying to figure out how to maneuver, how to show up so that our our spouses will like us, our friends will like us our religious leaders will like us and our kids will like us or people at work will like us. So we're trying to figure out each way.

[00:43:49] And sometimes we feel like every bit of us is going to be different in the way we show up in these different places. And that can be somewhat maddening because we're trying to figure out this puzzle that we don't have all the pieces to, because there are all of the other people's stuff that is involved as well. They're holding a lot of their own puzzle pieces. So we're of course, it's not going to mesh or it's not going to match up. And then back over on this abandonment side, then we're bringing forth these childhood wounds of where and if people aren't responding the way I want them to, it must be me. I must be broken. I must be unlovable. So now as adults, we need to realize, oh, no, I'm now master of my own destiny charge on my own ship. That doesn't mean that. Forget it. I don't need a partner. I don't need connection. Now, we're still programed to be a part of a group, to be a part of a clan, a society. And if we're booted out of that, here come the wooly mammoths or the saber toothed tiger. So I hope that you can start to put all of these pieces together. And so the more from this attachment angle that we can figure out who we are, then we in an ideal situation, this is where we get to show up as authentic. We need to show up as vulnerable and authentic and raw. And we don't have to try to figure out how do I show up in all these situations. I show up as me and I show up as the unique and only version of me. And I figure out what matters to me. The values that matter to me in this may sound like a lot of me and selfishness, but this is where I go back.

[00:45:09] This selfishness is self care is not selfish. When you figure yourself out, when you learn who you really are at your core, then you're putting yourself in a better position to be there for others, it's the put your own oxygen mask on in the plane before you put the one on your kid. This is how you can lift people up to higher ground is when you get in a better place, when you get on solid ground, and then that's the attachment side. Then that abandonment side is recognizing that if people aren't meeting your needs, it's not because you're unlovable, it's not because you're broken. It's because they're imperfect people. In an imperfect world, if you want your needs met, that can sound again, can sound very selfish and egotistical. But it's OK for you to say, hey, I'd like help with this. I would like help with my anxiety. That's an adult way to show up, the bring in our childhood abandonment and childhood coping mechanisms into adulthood is the man I've withdrawn. Why isn't anybody noticing? Why isn't anybody showing up and expressing concern or care? And so it's important that we can self advocate because that's what we didn't know how to do when we were kids. We get to take charge of our own destiny. We get to take charge of our we're masters of our own ship. And so as we show up and we're OK saying here's what I need, I need human connection, I need help, and then we don't have to figure out how do I say this? How do I do this? We just bring calm, confident energy forward and that's the way we're going to get these needs met.

[00:46:36] I can continue and go on and on on this. But I hope that you have an idea now of a little bit more about where anxiety comes from, what anxieties about what it's like, and that with that, you also I hope you heard some new tools or tips or tricks tonight that will help get you in a better spot. Now, I was going to say, unfortunately, that sounds very dramatic. Just know that by small and simple things, great things come to pass, that it takes time and it takes work and it takes effort because our brains are designed to go to the path of least resistance. Our brains have a really funny idea of the way things work. They feel like that they have a finite amount of energy. And so they want to do things that that cause the least amount of effort so that they can live forever. But the truth is, your brain does not have a finite amount of energy, it has unlimited amounts of energy and potential. So if your brain right now has been thinking of anxious things for a long time, then that is the path of least resistance. That's the path in the field that is deeply trodden. So when left to its own devices, your brain is going to head right down that that rutted neural pathway.

[00:47:43] So every time you do something a little bit different, it's if you're it's as if you're walking one time in the field and in a diffterent direction still probably to get some stickers on you. There's going to be some muddy patches and these new pathways, but over time, with enough of this intention, then that starts to become the new path and then that becomes the path of least resistance, the path of least resistance. You will still feel anxious, but now your brain will immediately start to go to things, connections, breathing, turning toward value-based activities. And the more that you do that and you're still going to be human, you're going to have days where you're not going to do any of it. But when that happens, you just gently bring some awareness to the fact that you aren't doing the the morning routines or maybe you've gotten a little bit off of trying to look for ways to raise your emotional baseline. And you don't say, there I go again, I'm hopeless. Now, you just noticed that. And then you get right back on the path, this new path, because eventually then that becomes the path of the well-worn path, the path of least resistance.

[00:48:41] So thank you so much for joining me on this episode. If you have questions, I love them, And I will see you next time.

Do you always feel like you’re never going to get what you want? Do you continuously find yourself thinking, “I should have done that differently?” (Knowing that NOBODY likes to be “should on?”). Or have you ever found yourself in the midst of what feels like a pretty good day, when one thing goes south and then you feel like your entire day is shot? Welcome to the world of “cognitive distortions.” These negative patterns of thinking are all-to-common, but they lead to increased feelings of anxiety and worry...two feelings that I believe we have enough of already...we certainly don’t need our automatic thought processes piling on as well. In today’s episode, Tony references the article “Challenging Our Cognitive Distortions and Creating Positive Outlooks,” by Dana White, LMHC, from


Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript click here


Please subscribe to The Virtual Couch YouTube channel at and sign up at http://tonyoverbay.comto learn more about Tony’s upcoming “Magnetic Marriage” program!


Tony's FREE parenting course, “Tips For Parenting Positively Even In the Not So Positive Times” is available NOW. Just go to and sign up today. This course will help you understand why it can be so difficult to communicate with and understand your children. You’ll learn how to keep your buttons hidden, how to genuinely give praise that will truly build inner wealth in your child, teen, or even in your adult children, and you’ll learn how to move from being “the punisher” to being someone your children will want to go to when they need help.


This episode of The Virtual Couch is sponsored by With the continuing “sheltering” rules that are spreading across the country PLEASE do not think that you can’t continue or begin therapy now. can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your own mental health a priority, offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.


Tony's new best selling book "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" is now available on Kindle.


Tony Overbay, is the co-author of "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" now available on Amazon The book debuted in the number 1 spot in the Sexual Health Recovery category and remains there as the time of this record. The book has received numerous positive reviews from professionals in the mental health and recovery fields.


You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program The Path Back by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs, and podcasts.

EP228 - Cognitive Distortions Never Work-2020-10-14
[00:00:01] Coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch, do you always feel like you're never going to get what you want out of life, or do you always find yourself thinking about what you should have done instead of what you already did? Well, welcome to the world of cognitive distortions. Now, if you go back and listen to what I just finished saying, you'll hear the words always, never. And did you realize that you just should all over yourself? We'll talk about these words and several others that ultimately leave us feeling a sense of worry and increased anxiety. Again, we're talking cognitive distortions coming up on the virtual couch.

[00:00:42] Hey, everybody, welcome to Episode 228 of the virtual couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay and I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. And where's the rest of the intro? So I had somebody in my office a few days ago and they claim that they have listened to all of my podcast episodes and they asked me if I was a marriage and family therapist or a clinical social worker. They couldn't remember. And then they said something funny. They said, you know, I feel like I would know this after hearing two hundred and something versions of your intro, but I can't really remember what you've said. And so that kind of took that to heart. I thought, man, I don't even think about it. As I'm saying it, the part about being a certified man will have a coach and husband and speaker and father and author of a book and the path back, pornography, recovery and all those good things. But they are all still the case. And maybe I will try to weave them into the episode today. But let's mix it up. I'm glad you're here. And we're going to talk about cognitive distortions. And as I often like to do, I am going to use an article that is called Challenging Our Cognitive Distortions and Creating Positive Outlooks. And that is by Donna White, who is a licensed mental health counselor.

[00:01:50] And this article was first published in October of 2018, one of my favorite websites like So I've wanted to do an episode on cognitive distortions for a very long time because I believe that you'll hear so many phrases and sayings today that have most likely crept into your own speech patterns. And as I want to stress at every single opportunity that I can, the goal with this episode, the goal here is to create a no shame zone. The goal is to bring some awareness and challenge you to try and make a little bit of a change moving forward, based hopefully on some of the things that you hear today, because cognitive distortions can really start to creep in, even with the most intelligent, the most aware people when they are sitting in my office and especially with couples, not, you know, even individuals, you hear these concepts of that always happens. I never get what I want. He always says this. It'll never work. And quite frankly, I don't think that we even realize that we are doing this, that we're slipping into these cognitive distortions. And there's plenty more more than just the all or nothing black and white thinking. But we don't even realize that they become such a part of our speech. And I feel like at the core, cognitive distortions just come out of us because we don't often feel like we're going to be heard.

[00:03:08] So we find this subconscious resorting to no one will ever hear me. This is the way it will always happen. Nothing good ever happens to me. And I feel like at the heart of a cognitive distortion is when you just don't feel like you are going to be heard, you're going to say or use words that are kind of just screaming, somebody listen to me or somebody take me seriously. So I want to jump right into well, let me first define what a cognitive distortion is. And I really feel like Dana White explained this very well in her opening paragraph. She talked about and this was twenty eighteen. I think we've got a bit of a different scenario going on here in twenty twenty. But she said in this time of mounting economic issues and financial burdens that the stress of everyday life many of us find ourselves in a state of constant worry and worrying is not a solution to problems, but rather a non-productive way of thinking. And I want to add in here my own two cents that really we want to keep in mind that our brain, bless its little pink squishy heart, is constantly thinking that it's doing us a favor, that it's doing us a solid. So even worry we can think our brain because worrying and worrying will bring on anxiety.

[00:04:19] Anxiety brings on these fight or flight chemicals. And our brain thinks that it is doing us a favor by making us hyper alert or hyper aware of what's going on around us so that it can protect us, but often to our own detriment. So she said that many individuals often confuse worrying with planning. However, planning produces action, while worrying tends to produce more anxiety. And she says worrying is often the result of her own cognitive distortions. Enter today's topic. Cognitive distortions are defined as exaggerated into irrational thoughts. And here's one of the ways where and I love this article and she brings up all of the cognitive distortions and ways to challenge them. And we're going to do that. But I'm going to add my own two cents in here where she says this, explores this article, explore several common cognitive distortions and ways that we can challenge these thoughts. And I do appreciate the concept of challenging a thought. But I think this is where my love of acceptance and commitment therapy kicks in because acceptance and commitment therapy is truly recognizing a thought, maybe making room for the thought, thinking my brain for the thought, and then bringing my thought or my emotion along with me while I take a different course of action, one that matters to me or one that's maybe more meaningful to me.

[00:05:34] And we'll talk about that more as we go along here. So let's jump right in the first cognitive distortion that Donna mentions in this. Article is diminishing the positives, so she said that when we diminish the positives, we come up with several reasons why the positive events in our lives don't count. For example, one might say my proposal at the meeting went really well, but I just got lucky or I got a promotion on my job. But that's because no one else wanted it. And diminishing the positives will steal this joy. Are these good feelings from our accomplishments and our achievements. And I want you to think in terms of when you hear these cognitive distortions, is that something that you do or do you know someone that does these things? And I feel and I hope that my wife knows that everything I will say on my podcast is done with the utmost respect and love. But she is is one of the ultimate diminishing the positives because of her incredible humility. That is one of her strengths is this humility. But I will find that if she runs an incredible time or and boy, she's going to not like that. I'm sharing this. But she swam from Alcatraz to the shore eight different times at different races. And I've never done this thing once because I'm afraid that I will drowned or get eaten by sharks.

[00:06:42] But she's done this eight times. And if you bring that up now, it's not a big deal. And I'm thinking, OK, it's a huge deal. It's a mile and a half is in the current. It's cold. There are not everybody has done this, but it's really diminishing the positives and it's not a big deal. I just jump in there, I swim, but I'm terrified of swimming from Alcatraz to the shore. So diminishing the positives. Now, the challenge and what I love about this article I went to it is that Donna mentions a cognitive distortion and then defines it and then says, here's a challenge. And she says, embrace the positives and take pride in accomplishments, evaluate the thoughts and take away the negativity instead of terms like I got lucky or it's not a big deal. Believe that I was prepared or I did work hard. And increasing the positives will create a positive outlook. And then I think it truly will increase self-esteem. And I told myself today that I could go on a bit of a tangent or two. And the first tangent that comes to mind is with this concept of diminishing the positive. It reminds me of literally my favorite poem by Marianne Williamson. I did a whole episode on this a couple of years ago called Our Deepest Fear. And I'm going to read it and I'm going to tell you why this reminds me of this cognitive distortion.

[00:07:48] She says, Our deepest fears, not that we're inadequate. Our deepest fears that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us, she says. Who? We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant or gorgeous? Talented or fabulous, actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. And here's the part that came to mind with this cognitive distortion. She says you're playing small, does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you because we're all meant to shine as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that's within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our light so shine are as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. And I believe there are some deep principles in here that have to do with that cognitive distortion of diminishing the positive that I have found that the more that we talk about some of our accomplishments or take pride in them or the hard work that we do, that it truly can lift others around us.

[00:08:53] And I find that, yes, we need to be aware of not being overly prideful or braggadocios or any of those concepts. But I find that for the most part, I want to air on the side of confidence because that inspires others around us. When you think of leaders that inspire you, they are most likely confident now. Yes, they put in hard work and effort, but those are who are you to play small because it doesn't serve the world. I love when I will. I love helping people that are just starting out with a new podcast. I am, what, two hundred and twenty eight episodes in and I have download numbers that I never dreamed of. I never anticipated that the virtual couch would reach the audience that it has. And so what good does it do me to play small? Because I have heard many people say that they have felt like they could do a podcast as well after hearing topics or hearing me just talk about things that I love or that I'm passionate about. So do not diminish the positive. I love doing the Virtual Couch podcast and it is literally now reached almost every country in the world. And I get feedback that I never anticipated getting. And it is one of the my greatest accomplishments. And even saying that is hard, but don't discount the positive. That is a cognitive distortion. Challenge yourself. Take pride and know that, yeah, it's taken a lot of work. It's taking consistency, but man, is it worth it. OK, next up, the second cognitive distortion that Dunaway mentions is overgeneralization.

[00:10:27] So that is defined as taking a single negative experience and then expecting it to be forever true. So she says an individual practicing this cognitive distortion may say, I didn't have friends in middle school. I'll never have friends in high school or I was. Able to pass that test, so I'll never pass any tests, so the challenge here is that we will all have negative events that take place in our lives and some of these events are going to hurt more than others. Some are going to impact us more than other events will. And so the challenge is to take those negative events and truly recognize them, make room for them, but believe that we can create different outcomes in the future. So she says, instead of stating, I wasn't able to pass the test, so I'll never pass any. We want to reframe this. We want to challenge this cognitive distortion, this overgeneralization, and say, I didn't pass that one, but now I know what I need to do to pass the next test. And remember that a single negative experience does not hold true forever to negative experiences. Three, a dozen. It does not hold true forever. And it might also be helpful to reflect on times where a single negative experience did not have the same long lasting outcome. But I know that can be difficult. And let me throw in acceptance and commitment therapy. Principle in here is that our brain constantly is trying to orient itself, basing its thoughts on the past. Well, this happened in the past.

[00:11:49] I failed these tests or I didn't study enough or it's looking ahead at the future and it's saying, and what if I don't pass any other test on the future or what if I don't figure out how to study in the future? And so what it's trying to do is, again, Orient, this happened in the past. What if this happens in the future? But what that does not take into account is right now the present, what you can do right now. So I know I make this sound maybe overly simplistic, but one of the greatest tools that you learn in acceptance and commitment therapy is recognizing that when your brain says you passed, you didn't pass any of these tests in the past that you say, OK, thank you, Brain. I know that you mean. Well, you're you're telling me that I didn't pass these tests. And so that hasn't really helped me. But then it says and you might not ever pass these things in the future and all you can do with that information is say, OK, noted, maybe that could be true. But all I can do is deal with right now, right this very second in the moment in the present. So I will take those thoughts and I will bring them along with me.

[00:12:48] I will make room for those thoughts of what if I don't pass and I didn't pass in the past and then bring them along with me as I study, as I try to develop some nice new patterns of behavior, new neural pathways. OK, so instead of front loading the podcast with all of the information that I normally do, let me weave it in here between cognitive distortion. Number two, a number three, I would love if you would go to a virtual couch at virtual couch on Instagram. I'm an open things up a lot. There have a couple of people now behind the scenes that are doing amazing work and posting some quotes from episodes and trying to get a little bit more interaction and feedback with listeners. So go to virtual couch and follow me there. And I would love it if you share some of the quotes. If something really inspired you, feel free to share that. And I would be forever in your debt. And also I'm getting now these new these rough cuts, these edits of the magnetic marriage course that I have finished now with my buddy Preston Buckmeier, a fellow podcast. And it's good. I'm really excited about it.

[00:13:47] Who am I to play small? No cognitive distortion here we are teaching people how to communicate more effectively in marriage. So go to Tony Overbay dot com and just sign up there to find out more about what is coming up. Because the magnetic marriage course is game changing. It really is. So I cannot wait for you to find out more about that. All right. Let's get to cognitive distortion. Number three, filtering out the positives. Dana White says focusing on the negatives and filtering out all the positives is another example of a cognitive distortion. In this case, an individual focused on the one thing that went wrong instead of all of the things that went right. For example, she said, I once asked the client how things were going and their reply was awful. And when I asked her to elaborate, the client went on to say, I studied last night. I got up on time and made it to class. I passed my test. I ran into an old friend and I had lunch, but then I got a flat tire. So then the client said the date was awful because the flat tire and that they weren't able to focus on the positives of that day. So I love that. Dana says the challenge here, focus, focus, focus. So this is again, I'm going to throw in my own mindfulness concept here. I love using the app Headspace to practice mindfulness, but there are so many other ways to practice mindfulness, so many other apps. There are things you can do. There's music, there's tapping into smells or sounds or any of those things around you. But it's a way to just try to be present, be focused in the moment. And remember, the goal of mindfulness is not to completely clear your mind of thought. That is one of the biggest misnomers on the planet. The goal of a mindfulness activity or practicing mindfulness is letting yourself do some breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, and that will lower your heart rate, which lowers and gets rid of all of those fight or flight chemicals that cortisol, adrenaline, all of those things.

[00:15:30] And when when you lower your heart rate and those fight or flight chemicals dissipate, then you are more calm and your prefrontal cortex, the frontal lobe, the part of your brain that can. Rationally, think comes alive, because when we get ourselves stressed, when we start thinking about things, ruminating about things, and we increase our heart rate and we get those fight or flight chemicals going, that thinking part of the brain, the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex shuts down. It's like light switch is literally flip off in our fight or flight brain or amygdala or reptilian or Neanderthal brain kicks in. So it is not interested in making a lot of sense of things at that point. So when we are using a mindfulness practice, we are learning how to when we notice that we are thinking something that might be going astray or heading in a negative direction, we turn back to our breathing or we tap into the sounds around us or the smells around us.

[00:16:23] And by focusing on that, rather than the negative rather than the negative outcomes or the negative thoughts that are going through our head, then we are thinking about our breathing or sounds or the smells, and it lowers our heart rate and reduces these fight or flight chemicals. And we can be more present and in the moment. So instead of not thinking about anything, we're thinking about our breathing, we're thinking about the wind or feeling the wind on our skin or rustling through our hair. If I had hair, I think you get the point. So she says, focus on the positives, review the events of the day or that moment. And I like her example or she says, create a game of positive versus negative. She said it might even be helpful that you might want to write down a list, fold a piece of paper in half and write down all the good things that have happened and a list of all the bad things. And she said this might seem challenging at times, but more often than not, we'll discover that the positive side wins and sometimes writing it down creates just the visual. We need to put things in perspective. There's a exercise in my pornography recovery program, the path back, which I guess I could work in the plug for, go to path back recovery dotcom. And there you will find a nice strength based, hold the shame, become the person you always wanted to be way to overcome pornography and put it behind you once and for all.

[00:17:37] But in that program, I have a very simple exercise which is called wrong thought. Right. And so when you are thinking this quote, wrong thought where you want to relapse or you want to do something that you know is not going to be helpful or productive for you, that one of the best things you can do is that even as you think that, quote, wrong thought, just think about what would be a better alternative. Just think about it. Just give it a little bit of energy. So if you're thinking I have no one around me and my brain immediately says, OK, I can act out, then even if you are starting to act out, just give the right thought a chance. Just give it a little bit of give it a little bit of air time there and just think or I could go outside right now or I could call a friend. So that is one of the things that you can just focus on, the positive things that could happen. I'm not saying this is just a just wake up and choose to be happy and life will be fine. It is not that, but it's just being aware or even bringing up that positive thought. And that is a way to start to just train your brain that when you are going to the negative, that it's at least going to allow some room for positive as well.

[00:18:43] So cognitive distortion, number four is making everything a catastrophe, often known as catastrophizing. This is when an individual expects the worst scenario to happen. And some of us are really good at this. I have to tell you, I've never thought of it in this context, but my undergraduate degree was in mass communications with an emphasis on public relations. So I took a few public relations courses. I did not work in the public relations field, but I often found myself catastrophizing things for probably the first ten to 15 years of my marriage or my postgraduate life. And I used to say, let's the public relations professional and be OK. I took three PR classes. Just because it was the emphasis of my undergraduate mass communications degree did not mean that I had PR juice flowing in my veins. So I would often think of what's the worst thing that could happen? And then I would work backwards from that and try to anticipate the worst thing that could happen and all of the things I could put in place to avoid the catastrophe. So she said, for an example, an individual involved in this type of thinking might say there's a 30 minute delay in traffic, I'll never get to work. Or the pilot said there's turbulence, we are going to crash. So the challenge here, she says, is to once you are aware of those thoughts and think positive, take the event for what it is and try not to make anything other than that.

[00:20:02] If there's a delay in traffic, think rationally. Instead of saying, I never am going to get there, try to reframe that and think I might be late, but I'll get there. In the meantime, focus on any of the things you can. She says focus on positive things you can do, such as enjoying the scenery. You're listening to your favorite music, and you might find that engaging in another positive thought decreases the amount of time that there is for negative thinking. I love the way that she frames that. Again, it is a version of mindfulness. So if I am stuck in traffic and there's nothing I can do, I'm human. Absolutely. I will start to get frustrated or I will find my my heart rate raising and my blood pressure elevating and my fight or flight. Response kicking in, but then once I am aware of that and one of those scenarios that is one of the most one of the best places to practice mindfulness because there isn't anything you can do about that traffic jam. So at that point, look at your hands on the steering wheel, listen to music, roll the window down, feel the air and just try to be as present as you can. The number five cognitive distortion that she mentions is jumping to conclusions. And I find that I'm guilty of many of these. I don't know if you're having that same experience as you hear these.

[00:21:13] But number five, jumping to conclusions is defined as making interpretations without actual evidence. So she says in this case, the individual often make those interpretations negative. So one might claim without cause. I know my co-worker doesn't like me because of the way he looks at me or I just know that I'm going to have a bad day. So she issues a challenge to think before you leap to a conclusion. That is, if you find yourself engaging in this type of thinking, take a step back and ask yourself, do I really know this to be true? And if the answer is no, then focus on the things that you know to be true. And it's also important to remember to try your best to not negatively predict the future. I will so often think and sometimes I will say in my practice in my office that I did not know that you owned a crystal ball, as someone would say. And I know that this negative thing is going to happen. So if you are going to predict the future, I might recommend predict if you're going to predict the negative ending, if you can just do me a favor. And just for the sake of allowing yourself or training your brain, think of a positive outcome as well. So if you say, I know I am going to have a bad day to day, then we can reframe that today might have some obstacles, but I'm going to overcome them.

[00:22:26] And I hope that will lead to a good day or I know that will lead to a good day. And that is one of the ways that you can train your brain. The No.6 cognitive distortion, and this is the one that I referred to in the opening, all or nothing thinking. And this is it might be number six on the list, but I think it's number one in our hearts. It's the always never every. So this distortion is described as thinking in things, in absolute terms, these all or nothing thoughts. So they contain these words always. Never. And an example. I never get picked. They always make bad decisions. Every time I try, I fail. So this is one of the things that I want you to do today is just your goal today is just to recognize when you say an all or nothing statement and then just even if you aren't in a position or don't feel like you can say, I guess that's not always the case or I know that me isn't never going to happen, then just bring some awareness to that. If you can verbalize it, say it out loud. If you think if you catch yourself doing that, just make note of it in your mind. And she said, just try. The challenge here is don't put yourself in a never always every box. These words are not only negative when used in this type of thinking, but they can do a number on your self-esteem.

[00:23:44] And here's my marriage therapist intervention or putting my two cents in here. I want you to hear this example and think of what you would say if this was your spouse saying this to you. If your spouse said, hey, I can never count on you because you're always late, you're never on time. And I think that if we're being honest with ourselves, maybe you've said that or maybe you've heard of your spouse say that. I hear it in my office often. And here's the problem. If we're talking about I would like for you to be earlier when someone says you never are on time, you're always late. What's the first thing that you would think of? It's not, oh, wow. I hear them. It's all I will point out ten different times where I was on time or I will point out five times that you were actually late. And so now we're having this argument about when I was early, when you were late, and maybe you can see where I'm going here. That's certainly not productive. So the all or nothing or black or white thinking can really be a challenge because it puts the other person on the defensive. You never are there for me.

[00:24:45] Then the person is going to say, what about the time when this or what about the time when that? And that's where you see conversations devolve. That's why these cognitive distortions can be such a challenge, because they cause people to even if you are diminishing the positive. One of those ones we talked about earlier, if you say I, I passed this test today and I got a raise and but I got really sick when I ate lunch, and so that ruined my day. Then if somebody finds himself listening to you say that and they say, OK, but it sounds like the situation at work went well, it's not often the case that the person that just described this getting sick at lunch is going to say, you know what, you're right. No, they're going to they feel like we didn't just hear me told you I got sick at lunch. So cognitive distortions will really just throw the conversation off track. Let me get to number seven, which is labeling and with labeling. An individual with this distortion labels themselves based on mistakes or shortcomings, and they often use negative language. And this. You can just suck the energy out of a room, they use words such as, I'm a failure, I'm a loser, I will never be good at anything.

[00:25:47] I'll never get what I want. And again, we've got this one's a little combo pack because we've got those we've got that all or nothing thinking, and then we have these labels as well. So the challenge that Donna says is for every negative, there's a positive. So many times after a disappointing moment or a failed attempt at something, then we label ourselves as failures are stupid and challenging these negative thoughts by replacing them with positives can be difficult. She's suggesting that is what we need to do. And I understand that. But I also feel like going back to some nice acceptance and commitment therapy techniques is if we find ourselves saying I'm a loser, that's one word that carries so much negative energy. So doing a little bit of self is context, kind of stepping back from the situation. And I notice that I am feeling like a loser is a little bit better than I'm a loser. But if it's me and I notice check this out. I notice that I'm feeling like a loser. What's the story that my brain's telling me? My brain's telling me the story that I didn't pass this test and so I'm never going to pass any tests.

[00:26:44] And so by just taking a step back and removing yourself from that situation, you can have a better perspective on that and kind of recognize, OK, I'm noticing that's a label. And so I'm going to just set that I'm a loser thing aside here and I'm going to bring it along with me maybe while I am trying to engage in something that is more productive or maybe a better value based goal of mine, we've got one more. So the eighth cognitive distortion is personalization. So personalization involves assuming responsibility for things that are outside of one's control. For example, without having anything to do with the situation, somebody might say it's my fault that my daughter had an accident or I'm the one to blame for his work being done incorrectly. And so the challenge can be using critical thinking skills. Think logically, when we personalize things, we take on the full responsibility and bless your heart. If you are one of these that your kid is struggling in math and then you say, OK, no, that's my bad. I didn't spend enough time with him in math three years ago when I had no idea that it would have this kind of impact down the road.

[00:27:51] We can't personalize or take that responsibility on everything, do not place unnecessary blame on yourself for the behaviors or for the actions or the responsibilities of others. And unfortunately, oftentimes, if you are the one who personalizes or takes responsibility for things that aren't truly under your control, we almost create this enmeshment or this co-dependency where someone around you is going to say, yeah, that is your fault. And so oftentimes they're not going to take ownership of their part as well. And I feel like this is one of those challenges when we talk about things like gaslighting or when we talk about things where people start to feel crazy, where if they've been told that this is your fault enough times, then they start to believe that unfortunately I hear situations a lot. I was going to say all the time I was going to use them all or nothing thinking. But I hear so many situations, especially through email, whenever I do a podcast about narcissism or gaslighting, that I get such feedback where people did not even know that was there was a name for what they were experiencing in their relationships where someone makes them feel absolutely crazy, where someone might lose something and they immediately blame it on their spouse so they can't find. This is when I just got a couple of days ago where they found out that their spouse lost their tie or it was a tie that they wanted.

[00:29:16] And so the guy couldn't just say, can't find my tie. He eventually said, OK, you've changed things in my closet. You've hung some clothes up here. What did you do with my tie? And she's saying, I didn't do anything with your tie. And he's saying, no, you did, because I know that I put it right here. And so, of course, she tells me that a few days later he finds his tie. Does he say anything about it? No, he does not. But in that moment, she started to think, gosh, that I move his tie. I don't think I moved. I'm confident I didn't move his tie. But so when someone is guest late or told so many times that it's your fault, they will tend to personalize everything oftentimes because they feel like that's the path of least resistance. If I do this, at least he'll move on from this conversation. But it's not healthy. It is not a healthy way to communicate with your spouse. All right. That is a list of cognitive distortions. I would love for you today to try to just make yourself aware of times where you might be engaging in one of these cognitive distortions. If there's somebody in your life that you recognize uses these cognitive distortions often, then forward on this this episode.

[00:30:21] I feel like this is not one of those episodes where somebody is going to be overly offended, because I feel like if you have a tiny bit of self-awareness when you hear about these cognitive distortions, I feel like we probably can all at me all or nothing. I feel that most of us will recognize times where we engage in one of these cognitive distortions. And so our goal now. Now is to be aware of them and just try to make a little change, try to be aware of the any of these that are your top two or three that you turn to often just do a little bit better, have a little bit more awareness today, and you'll start to feel like you're starting to make some change and some change for good, replacing these kind of distortions with more healthy or positive ways to interact or think. All right. Hey, I appreciate you taking the time to listen to the virtual couch. I am so grateful for that. And taking us out, as per usual, is the wonderful, the talented Aurora Florence with its wonderful.

Tony welcomes Julie Lee, author of “I See You” back to The Virtual Couch. Julie talks about the surprising series of events that led to the writing of her book, “I See You” and discussed the challenges of completing the book while the world turned upside down through quarantine and the uncertainty of the pandemic. Julie talks about why interacting with, and truly seeing those around you is so important for not only the mental health of the individual but also for the collective mental health of society. Julie and Tony talk about a touching moment during Julie’s first appearance on the Virtual Couch where they talked about how important it is for people to feel seen and understood before getting to a point where they begin to feel hopeless. Julie’s book is available now on Amazon or you can purchase directly through Julie’s publisher here use coupon code PRE15 for 15% off (and I personally purchased the version with the I See You bracelet!). You can also learn more about Julie including her podcast, I See You at

Tony’s new website is live! Please go to now and sign up for the newsletter to be the first to hear of his upcoming Magnet Marriage course!

Tony's FREE parenting course, “Tips For Parenting Positively Even In the Not So Positive Times” is available NOW. Just go to and sign up today. This course will help you understand why it can be so difficult to communicate with and understand your children. You’ll learn how to keep your buttons hidden, how to genuinely give praise that will truly build inner wealth in your child, teen, or even in your adult children, and you’ll learn how to move from being “the punisher” to being someone your children will want to go to when they need help. And Tony is so confident that this program will work, that he's offering a money-back guarantee!

This episode of The Virtual Couch is sponsored by With the continuing “sheltering” rules that are spreading across the country PLEASE do not think that you can’t continue or begin therapy now. can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your own mental health a priority, offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.

Tony's new best selling book "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" is now available on Kindle.

Tony Overbay, is the co-author of "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" now available on Amazon The book debuted in the number 1 spot in the Sexual Health Recovery category and remains there as the time of this record. The book has received numerous positive reviews from professionals in the mental health and recovery fields.

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