Tony shares new information from a recent speaking event addressing the challenges of navigating a faith journey. He talks about how difficult it is to understand any experience in life until you have gone through something similar; how hard-wired we are only to see things through our lens; how "non-violent communication" impacts our ability to separate an observation we have of someone else's behavior from our judgment; our strong desire to avoid feelings of anxiety and discomfort; and how James Fowler's Stages of Faith can provide a framework to understand ones own faith journey, as well as put others struggle with someone close experiencing a faith journey.
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 https://youtu.be/-RkRq8SrQy0
Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/waking-up-to-narcissism-q-a/id1667287384
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop 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 http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com 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 https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Virtual Couch Episode 358 Transcript
Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 358 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of another podcast Waking Up to Narcissism. And this week I just released the premium edition, Waking Up to Narcissism Questions and Answers, the premium podcast. So look for what is called the zero episode out there. I'll put the link in the show notes, and that is a paid subscription podcast where the proceeds are going to a nonprofit that helps people with the things that they need, if they find themselves in emotionally abusive or narcissistic relationships, whether it's with counseling, legal fees, psychoeducational work.
But take a look at that and then also Murder on the Couch. This is now a thing. It's a podcast that I have done with my daughter Sydney. And there is a sneak preview that is over on my YouTube channel. And I'll have the link to that in the show notes as well. Just go check that out. It's about a minute and a half, and I think you'll get a flavor or feel a vibe for what that podcast is going to be. It is fun. We have several episodes recorded. She is hilarious. I try to throw a therapy spin on true crime cases. And it's something that she and I are both fascinated by. And I just, I really can't wait. That is going to be released for for real in about a week or two, but you can go get a sneak preview on the YouTube channel and just sign up for my newsletter, go to tonyoverbay.com and then I'll fill you in on everything else, because there's still so many exciting things that are happening.
But today's topic is something that I have wanted to talk about for a little while. And I think if I look back at Virtual Couch podcasts in the past, I think it's about every 50, 60 episodes or so, which unfortunately is about every year, I will talk about navigating a faith journey or a faith crisis. I’ve worked with a lot of people that are religious people that have had some certainty in their life or what has felt like certainty of what their beliefs look like and what they mean to them and how that fits into their whole family system and dynamic. And then because of life experiences and all kinds of things that can change. And that type of change can be a little bit scary and unnerving. And so I had an opportunity over the weekend to speak at a, it's called a fireside, where there actually isn't a fireplace involved, but, I think you can get the sentiment where it was just me and about three or 400 of my friends that gathered together and I was asked to present about navigating faith journeys. We used to just call them faith crisis, but crisis does sound like a very dramatic term. And in essence, as people are going about life, they are truly on a journey of faith. And that takes a lot of different forms and shapes. So I really do like navigating a faith journey, a faith adventure, you can call it whatever you would like. If you feel like it is a crisis, then I'll meet you right there. And it is a faith crisis. But there are some really helpful tools, I think, to really understand what has maybe led someone to this journey of faith. So if you're someone who has someone in your life that has been struggling with their faith, or if you are somebody who has been really starting to go down that “what's wrong with me?” path, why am I thinking this way, or finding yourself frustrated with your faith community or finding yourself scared of maybe starting to distance yourself from your faith community.
Well, this episode is for you, and this is something I am very passionate about. And this is a topic that I would say a decade or so ago, I might see once or twice a week in my office, and now it is on a daily basis. And that is not said with ominous music in the background, but it is work that I love helping people navigate. So I want to in essence give you a little flavor of what I talked about at this fireside on Sunday. And then just having not talked about this topic in a year or so, there's just a lot of other thoughts I have. So I've got a lot of notes queued up, so I'm probably going to go in a lot of different directions. But let me start with how I started Sunday evening. And I told a story about my daughter, Alex, who, it's almost been a year now, got in a, just a horrific car accident. And the funny thing here is Alex has been editing the podcast. So there was even a part of me that feels like I don't want her to feel bad if I start to talk about this. But it's something that Alex has been living with on a minute by minute basis for almost a year. But the reason I brought this up at this fireside was because prior to Alex's accident, if I passed by a go-fund me or any kind of, something that somebody would post where they're saying, hey, we've had this horrific event happen in our family and we need help. We could use some help, whether it's, I'm asking for prayers, or finances, or food, or you name it. But it's not that I was some cold heartless person that would just pass right by. But sometimes if I had other things going on, I would just give a little cursory glance or if I knew the family well, then I might stop and take the time to read and donate.
But I'm almost embarrassed to say that if I felt like I didn't have time to really take a look at what that family had been going through, that I might have the best of intentions, I'll get to it later. And then oftentimes not. But then in going through what Alex went through and putting her go-fund me account together, it took just a tremendous amount of time and effort and courage and vulnerability to put that together. And even when we hit publish, then it was still these feelings of man, it feels almost bad to say, hey, we need some help, even though we desperately did need that help. And there were people that kind of came out of the woodwork, so to speak, and just donated because they said we've been there and we've had to create these GoFund me accounts. And so enough said, I don't even have to finish reading your story. If you're at that place, then I see you. And I can't imagine how hard this is for you. And some of those messages, I think, were the ones that touched me the most. And so now, I'm that guy. So if I see a go-fund me, then it's going to be something that I just, I know how much went into that and what that family must be going through. And so it is something that absolutely we're going to spend time with and I'm going to, I want to send the money, want to send the prayers. I want to do whatever I can there. And the reason I lay that out when I was talking about a faith crisis or a faith journey, fireside or talk is because I thought that really illustrated this concept of it's something that you never anticipate even understanding what goes on behind the scenes of something that then you eventually see this outward appearance.
And so I think so often of somebody that's going through a faith journey that's been their experience, that it wasn't something that they ever planned on doing. My daughter, Alex, did not plan on getting in a wreck and having the last year of her life completely turned upside down. But it happened. And so oftentimes I feel like people that are navigating their faith, their faith journey, or starting to have questions, or starting to really question their place in their faith community is something that has happened gradually over time, there was something that they did not want to happen. They didn't sign up for that to happen, but it's happened.
And so for somebody who has never been through that, just like I would pass by a GoFundMe page, or I would give it a little bit of notice if I really knew the person or had some interest there, but I would, I would read something about it, but I still didn't really understand the depths of what that family was going through. And so much the same when somebody is going through, again, this journey of faith. That if somebody has been through that journey of faith and now they see someone else experiencing that, they are going to have a tremendous amount of more empathy for them. But if somebody that has not experienced that, this is one of those, forgive them for they know not what they do, where they really don't even understand how they're showing up for that person that is going through the faith journey or the faith crisis. And so from there, I really want to slowly lay out some steps that I think come into play when somebody is starting to interact with someone who is going through this faith journey. I quoted the author, David Foster Wallace. And this is from his speech “This is Water” and I've done an entire episode on that. It's an amazing speech. If you haven't looked that up, I will try to get that in the show notes as well.
But David Foster Wallace once said, “Here's just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of.” He said, “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.” And he said, “We rarely think about this sort of natural basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive.” But he said, “It's pretty much the same for all of us, it's our default setting, it's hardwired into our boards at birth.” And he said, “Think about it. There is no experience that you've had, that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experienced it is there in front of you or behind you, to the left or the right of you. It's on your TV, your monitor,” I've added, there on your phone, “and so on. So other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate and so urgent and so real.” And David Foster Wallace went on to say that learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. And he said, “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience.” Now that last line in particular, I think is profound. How you choose to construct meaning from experience because each one of you listening, me communicating, have our own experiences. I cannot say this enough, but you are this amalgamation, this compilation, this cornucopia of nature and nurture, birth order, DNA, abandonment, rejection, hopes, fears, and dreams. And everything that goes into making you, you. So those are the things that lead to your experience.
Now let me pull from the book, The Buddha Brain, the neuroscience of happiness, the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom by Rick Hanson. So let's talk about that. So, how you construct meaning from experience. And Rick Hanson says, “Much as your body is built from the foods you eat, your mind is built from the experiences that you have. So this flow of experience gradually sculpts your brain, thus shaping your mind. Now, some of the results can be explicitly recalled.” He says, “This is what I did last summer. That is how I felt when I was in love. But most of the shaping of your mind remains forever unconscious.” And he says this is called implicit memory and here's where it gets really interesting. It includes your expectations, your models of relationships, your emotional tendencies, and your general outlook. So implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind, or what it feels like to be you, based on the slowly accumulating residue of lived experience. So, when we talk about that you truly are the absolute center of your own universe, and that is not said to be negative. It just is the reality of things. So everything that you are seeing and taking in is coming through your filter, your lens. And then what it feels like to be you is based off of the slow, accumulating residue of lived experience. Now in that book, The Buddha Brain, Rick Hanson says, “Here's the problem. Your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences.”
And he says, “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. So consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber the negative ones, the pile of negative implicit memories partially grows faster. So then the background feeling of what it feels like to be, you can become undeservedly glum and pessimistic.” Now, this is a podcast for another day, but he says the remedy is not to suppress negative experiences when they happen. They happen. Rather it's to foster the positive experiences in particular, take them in so they become a permanent part of you. So I feel like now we've established that you really don't know what an experience is like until you've been in a similar experience. The example that I give with the GoFund me. And now we talk about how everything that's coming in is coming into you. And you are the absolute center of your universe. And so it takes effort to be able to have someone else's feelings or thoughts or emotions communicated to you. Now, take a look at what it feels like to be you or this implicit memory which is based on the slow accumulating residue of your lived experience and your lived experience. It's not something that someone else can tell you what you felt or thought or did as much as people like to do, which if you really step back and just listen to people communicate with each other. I think it almost, I don't know if I'm going to the world of confirmation bias now, but I think it's hard to not hear people say, well, what you're doing is, or what you don't understand is, or what I think or what you're not even aware of. And those are all really fascinating sentiments. And that leads to this next point that I shared. And I talked about nonviolent communication.
And this is a concept coined by Marshall Rosenberg and he talks about nonviolent communication. And, I'm pulling from a site that is fourminutebooks.com. So I'm going to be very honest about that. There's an amazing site called the Center for Nonviolent Communication, or CNVC.org, which goes into great detail of nonviolent communication. And on CNVC.org, it says nonviolent communication or NVC is based on the principles of nonviolence, the natural state of compassion. When no violence is present in the heart, NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies, and here's the key, whether verbal or physical are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. So a nonviolent communication assumes that we all share the same basic human needs and that all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. And what I love about these concepts around nonviolent communication is when I go into my four pillars of a connected conversation, which I feel are true gold, the first pillar is to assume good intentions or no one wakes up in the morning and thinks, what can I do to sabotage myself or to hurt someone else? Now, there's a part B to that pillar one. So we've got assume good intentions, but when somebody is showing up and they're not being very kind, part B is, or there's a reason why someone is acting, saying, or behaving the way that they do. And I feel like if you look at this nonviolent communication website it assumes we all share the same basic human needs and that all actions are strategies to meet one or more of those needs.
That when people are showing up and they aren't being very nice or they are being violent with their verbal, emotional or physical self, that that's coming from a deep wounding where they feel like that's the only way that they can be heard or understood. Now it does not mean that with that information that you need to sit in there and just take it. But I feel like that does play into the assumption of good intentions. Is there a reason why somebody does what they do? And even if it's coming across in a not very helpful or productive way, so judgment, and this is where I think nonviolent communication gets so good and I call it the pre four pillars. Well, let me take a step back from the site fourminutebooks.com. The author is Pamela Hobart and Pamela in a one sentence summary says, “Nonviolent communication explains how focusing on people's underlying needs and making observations instead of judgments can revolutionize the way you interact with anybody, even your worst enemy.” So in that summary, in that sentence, making observations instead of judgments is one of the keys I think of really understanding nonviolent communication.
So, Pamela says, “Free speech advocates commonly argue the speech is the opposite of violence. That words can offend us, but they don't do actual harm.” So she says, “From this point of view, nonviolent communication is practically an oxymoron.” But communication expert, Marshall Rosenberg begs to differ. So according to him, most people's default manner of speaking to others is highly violent. That is if you consider violence to include attempts at cutting others down to size and coercing them into doing what we want. And I think that's where you start to see where people communicate violently. And yes, it may sound dramatic, but when you really look at where Marshall is going with this, it does start to make a lot of sense. Pamela goes on to say whether or not most ordinary speakers are consistently committing literal acts of violence or not, most of us can see this potential benefit and learning to communicate more effectively. So one of the key lessons learned in nonviolent communication is separating observation from judgment, but that's one of the first steps toward reducing needless conflict. So back to this fireside on Sunday. When I was talking about this, I went with some pretty easy examples.
One of those is the concept of if one says, “My kid doesn't do their homework because they're lazy.” The observation is that the kid isn't doing their homework, the judgment is that they're lazy. And again, I'm trying to probably be humorous. I shared at the fireside because it can't be because I stopped helping them in fifth grade when I could no longer keep up with their math, which is a very true story. Or it can't be because I passed along this hillbilly DNA or it can't be because I just didn't spend enough time with my kid. It has to be because they're lazy. So then if you ask your kid, “Hey champ, why aren't you doing your homework?” And they don't say, “You know, it's because I'm very lazy.” Anything that they're saying, other than that, then, you've already made this observation and judgment. So now you get to even say to yourself, they're not even being honest with themselves. So that can just be such a difficult place to operate from. So now, if I am observing and judging what I'm trying to communicate with somebody, I'm taking everything in through my own lens, because I am the absolute center of my own universe. Then you can start to see where it is more difficult than we think to really hear and understand somebody else's experience, which it's going to have a great effect when we start talking about how to even communicate about navigating a faith journey or a faith crisis.
So following up with this nonviolent communication, if we can learn to separate the observation and the judgment, when it comes to somebody's struggling with their faith or their faith community, then often it's as blatant as somebody saying, “Well, that person left our faith community or that person left the church because obviously they want to sin.” But in reality, the observation is they have maybe pulled away or left our faith community. But the judgment is they must want to sin. And so if you look at why we make that judgment with the observation, I feel like often it's to ease or manage our own anxiety or it's to try to make sense of the world through our own lens. Because in that scenario of someone leaving a faith community, it couldn't possibly be because they're having their own experience. It couldn't possibly because they feel judged by our faith community. Or it couldn't possibly be because there may be more than one path to heaven. Because if that's the case, then all of a sudden it might make us feel uncomfortable because we've been doubling down on, this is the only way. And I must convince you of this way. So when you start looking at that observation and judgment, you can see that it really can get in the way of really trying to hear and understand what someone else has experienced. And what comes next is we really do not like to sit with any discomfort. And so when people start to communicate and people have different experiences, this is where all of the sudden we have these immediate reactions to calm our own anxiety. So when somebody brings up something that we maybe haven't thought about or something that might challenge what our view of life is, that makes us uncomfortable and one of the immediate ways that we can get rid of that discomfort is to tell them that they're wrong or to tell them, “you don't even know what you're saying”, or “you don't understand”, or “I know better than you”. So if you look at it from that way, that is the, I observed this person having their own experience. Then I make a judgment that they're wrong. And sometimes it's to manage my own anxiety. So I feel like all of these things are these precursors trying to set the table to have healthy, emotionally mature conversations around someone's faith, faith experience or what it feels like to be them based on their implicit memory.
So where that led next is I love talking about Fowler's stages of faith and I haven't talked about these on the podcast in a while, so let's, let's dig in. Who was James Fowler? He was an American theologian who was a professor of theology and human development at Emory University. He was born in 1940, died in 2015. He was director of both the center for research on faith and moral development and the center for ethics until he retired in 2005. And he was a minister in the United Methodist church, but he's perhaps best known for his developmental model based on faith, which he wrote about in his book Stages of Faith, The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. So, according to James Fowler, he broke down the stages of faith. He actually had a stage zero, which I don't talk very often about, which is the pre-development, but he starts at stage one faith and then goes up through stage six faith. Those stages, he puts them in this context. And it's similar to Kohlberg's stages of development. But let me walk through these and I'm going to try to spend a little time with each one, some little more time than others. So stage one faith is called intuitive or projective, and this is the stage of preschool children in which fantasy and reality often get mixed together. However, during this stage, our most basic ideas about God are usually picked up from our parents or society. So I often look at that stage one faith, I believe it's typically zero to three years old and intuitive and projected projective. The kids are playing on the floor and a parent says, “Hey kids, there's a God.” And so a kid will make note of that and continue to play with their toys on the floor. But if you go back to that implicit memory or what it feels like to be them based off of this, slow residue of lived experience, you can see that the stages of faith are significant because if someone has never heard of anything to do with religion, God, faith, the faith community, what the “right” answers are, then this would be a completely different conversation. So when it comes to someone's faith community, it does start with this stage one, intuitive or projective fate.
So then we go into stage two, mythic and literal. This one's pretty fascinating. When children become school age, they start understanding the world in more logical ways. And they generally accept the stories told to them by their faith community. But they tend to understand them in very literal ways. And Fowler said, a few people remain in this stage through adulthood. And for some reason, I go immediately to Lenny from Of Mice and Men. So maybe someone that is a little more simple. But the mythic and literal is typically this three to 12 year old age range. and everything becomes mythic and literal. So here's where I talk about all of a sudden in the mythic and literal phase, we've got the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Jesus, the stories of the Bible. These things are big. They are mythic and they’re literal. And the reason I think that's interesting is that over time we do start to slowly debunk a lot of those now. Heads up. If somebody who's listening with a little kids in the car, which I don't imagine that would necessarily be the case. But, you know, but eventually we kind of learned that maybe there isn't Santa Claus. I am so sorry. I think my wife still wants to preserve that Christmas magic. But as we start to knock those down, we still say though that some of the mythic and literal characters are real so I believe that that part is in there. This mythic and literal stage, because it's just interesting to make note of what someone's implicit memory is or what it feels like to be them that at times, they're led to believe that this thing is absolutely true until it's not.
Now let's move on to stage three, which Fowler called synthetic and conventional. And this is where I think things get really interesting. So most people move on to the stage as teenagers. And at this point, their life has grown to include several different social circles and there's a need to pull it all together. When this happens, a person usually adopts some sort of all encompassing belief system. However at this stage, people tend to have a hard time seeing outside of their box and they don't recognize that they are inside of a belief system. So at this stage, authority is usually placed in individuals or groups that represent one's beliefs. And Fowler said that this is the stage in which many people remain. Now I want to introduce them as this concept of a box and not in a negative way, but just as a matter of a framework. So when he says, at this stage, people have a hard time seeing outside of their box, that in that box is an all encompassing belief system. And I believe when Fowler did this work, it wasn't necessarily specific belief systems, but it was just faith and belief systems in general. So you can plug in your Judaism, Catholicism, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormonism, any all-encompassing belief system that in that box you have from the preexistence all the way through the attorneys here is the way life works. It fits in the box. And then authority is placed in individuals or groups that represent one's beliefs, whether it's your pastors, your bishops, your reverend's, your ministers, whatever that looks like. It can all fit in a box and it can make sense for people. And when Fowler says this is the stage in which many people remain, then there are people that fully live a life in this stage three faith. And what I brought up on Sunday night is, I almost wish I could go back and re categorize these instead of having stages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, because we're just conditioned that when we hear numbers and they go linearly, that there's an assumption that then if there's a stage three, then four must be better than three and five must be better than four. And so I would love to suspend that belief. And just talk about these in the context of a framework. So in this stage three, if that works for someone, it works for someone and there is no need or desire for somebody to try to pull somebody out of their box. Because again, if that works, then who am I, because of my experience to tell them that what their life or their situation is, is incorrect? But here's where I start to throw, let's throw some therapy in here.
So there are a lot of people that find comfort in the box until they don't. And that is because they go through these life experiences. Go back to this beginning when I talk about, I didn't know about the depth of pain that a family must be going through by the time that something hits a go-fund me stage. And much the same when somebody starts to ask the “what's wrong with me” question. So for some, that stage three box that states free life can just be very comfortable and things are relatively easy for them. Granted, everybody has their struggles and their problems. But what I often find are the people that really struggle in that stage three box where this may be because of the infidelity of a spouse, it might be because they struggle with addiction, it might be because they happen to be in a position or a situation where the information that they are surrounded by causes them to question and doubt their faith. When I was getting my intern hours, I actually was trained and focused for my church on helping people navigate faith crises and faith journeys. And at the time, which only makes sense that it led to an absolute faith crisis and faith journey of my own because the more that you're taking in, the more you're reading, the more you recognize the things that you know that you didn't know and so on, that now I say, oh, it absolutely, it comes with a built-in faith crisis to the point where everything makes sense and then absolutely nothing makes sense. There must be a God to there isn't a God. And so for somebody that has navigated those waters, then they're going to have a lot more empathy and compassion for others that are in that similar position. But if somebody is still in the stage three box, and again, not saying that in a negative way, and they haven't been on that pendulum or on that ride, then if somebody else is telling them about their experience, it can feel scary. And if it feels scary, then somebody can say, I really don't, I don't know what you're talking about. And I don't, you know, I just don't think you should have done that. And that's easily said when somebody that hasn't experienced that faith journey or that faith crisis. But what that can lead to then, as I like to say that when people are continually trying to fit into the box and they feel like they don't fit in the box, they start to bounce around that the sides of the box, all of a sudden there, they pop their head out of the box because they start to feel like what is wrong with me? And nothing. You're a human being and you're going through experiences, but it's very easy for people in more of a judgmental place, in that stage three box, to say, “Hey, just have faith. Just read your scriptures. Just pray more.” And that's the part that can be maddening for the person that has absolutely been trying to do that for years. And it is years that goes into someone finally getting to the point where they are really experiencing an outward crisis of faith or really being open about their faith journey.
That then can lead to stage four. And I would say, these are the majority of people that then come into my office. No one is coming into my office in the stage three version of faith and saying I'm struggling with my faith, because if they're in stage three, they don't even know they're in stage three. They're just living and doing and vibing and things make sense to them. And what it feels like to be them, is this makes sense. And it's comfortable. Stage four, Fowler said, this is a tough stage. Often begun in young adulthood. When people start seeing outside of the box and realizing that there are other boxes. And they begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own, and they often become disillusioned with their former faith. Now here's the irony. He says stage three people usually think that stage four people have become backsliders when in reality stage four people feel like they have finally moved forward. And so I feel like I often see the stage three and stage four battle of sorts. For the stage three people, they know what they know and they may feel somewhat comfortable and they may still continue to share this narrative of just pray and read your scriptures and have faith. And so a stage four feels absolutely unheard and dismissed because they tried that for as long as they can try that to the point of where some start to feel suicidal or feel like what is wrong with me. I don't even know if I want to live anymore. And so then they look outside of the box and they almost can breathe this fresh air of relief and then I, and this is where I think these are all my opinions, but our brain is just so wired to this just all or nothing, black or white thinking that too often, then I feel like there's this just break in that stage three and stage four experience where all of a sudden everything about my former faith community is all bad.
Because sometimes our brain, I think, naturally has to go to this black or white, all or nothing thinking to try to make sense of things. So then it's like, man, I am so grateful to be away from that. It's all bad. And now, I call it the burn down the village behind me theory, where sometimes in the stage four, because people are angry because they finally feel like they aren't as crazy as they were starting to think that they were now, sometimes they want to say to the stage three people, you don't even know what you're doing or talking about, and I have to rescue you and save you. And that's where I feel like, man, that stage four, it breaks my heart because it's a really tough place for people to be, I'm not saying, okay, you have to figure out a way to get back into that stage three box because my personal opinion is that is not happening. And that's okay. This is all your growth, your development. And that's okay. That's what it feels like to be you. I feel like it's the genie out of the bottle theory and that's, again, none of this is said to be negative. I just feel like it just is. But then what happens is then the stage four people say again for the stage three people, “you don't even get it. You don't know, you were never there for me. You don't understand.” And a stage three person is seriously saying, “I don't know what this is. Like, why did you read the things you're reading? Why did you stop doing the things that worked?” And so those conversations are not going to be helpful. They're not going to be productive. But if I can get somebody, I feel like, and try to help them in this stage four, anger sense. And that's where I feel like people can really start to lean into the concepts around things like acceptance and commitment therapy.
That “what's wrong with you?” Nothing. You're a human being. You're a product of all the things that make you, you, and sometimes in that stage four situation, again, we don't know what we don't know until we go through things and then we have to find the right tools. And in that situation is a real time for growth. And it's time to recognize, okay. If that stage three box did not work for me now, I want to find out who I am, but it's who I am. It's not, I just need to be the opposite of who the stage three people want me to be. What an opportunity if you really are working with someone or working on yourself in a way that you now can say, all right, you know what? It is time for me to discover what matters to me and find my values. What matters to me? This is why I talk so much about values work. Because we often just share these values of our faith community or of our parents or of society. And we think that these are the things I'm supposed to care about, and that I'm supposed to do and think and feel. But the process of growing and becoming more emotionally mature is to recognize and find what really matters to you.
If you even want to put that in a religious context, if we are all children of God with our own unique talents and abilities. I sure feel like that fits right in with this same acceptance and commitment therapy model of PS,you're the only version of you that's ever walked the face of the earth. So then part of that awakening or growth process is literally finding out what your God given talents and abilities are, also known as in the ACT world, what are your core values? And then once you find those things, now you can start to act more in alignment with your values and what matters to you because what I love about ACT is if you are not living in accordance with your values, you're in essence, acting upon these socially compliant goals. Or you're doing things because you think you're supposed to, or you'll let someone, or maybe it's your faith community, down. And so if those things aren't really important to you though now that is going to lead to good old experiential avoidance, where I will do anything other than the things that I think I'm supposed to do, because it's this socially compliant goal. But if you can really start to find what matters to you, now you're going to be met with some invalidation. And that's difficult because people want to get you back enmeshed with what they think that you need to be. And this is where I go back to that, bless our heart, our self-centeredness or this nonviolent communication, where if we're observing that you're doing something, we make a judgment because we're trying to manage our own anxiety.
And so, when people start to step outside of the box and they start to actually feel like, wait a minute, Maybe I am okay. And maybe I am a child of God, and these are my unique talents and abilities, or these are my values. And this starts to feel like something that I feel more of a connection with. Then it can be threatening to the people that have just said, no, you just do what you're supposed to. And again, if that works for that person, then who am I to say, you don't even get it? Because this is about you and this is about your journey. And as you're starting to understand, or you're starting to get it. Then really start to explore what it feels like to be you. And that is based on the things that you can start to do and do more of. Michael Twohig, a world renowned, acceptance and commitment therapy researcher that was on my podcast a few weeks ago, talked about happy, healthy people spend 80% of their time doing things that are important to them. And again, he is this world renowned ACT researcher and ACT is all about finding out what matters to you, your values, your sense of purpose. And as you take action on those things, you become one of these healthy, happy people.
So the more time you can spend in self-development, and not trying to argue your way out of the stage three box or in that stage four individuative reflective belief system we move into stage five. Here we go. The promised land. Conjunctive faith. Stage five, Fowler said, at the time, it's rare for people to reach this stage before midlife. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and they start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as a mystery and often return to sacred stories and symbols. But this time without being stuck in a theological box. Emotional maturity in my book is being able to not just have this all or nothing or black or white thinking. And I love how Fowler says, “now we can return to those sacred stories and symbols, but without feeling stuck in a theological box, we can start to find the things that work for us in our faith community.” If that's something that we want to find because a lot of times, a faith community, it's our people. And we still have this inherent need to belong to a people or a tribe. And sometimes within our faith community, there lies our social capital. There lies our rights of passage. And so oftentimes, we may want to re-engage with our faith community, because we do feel like that's our people, there are other times where people may feel like, those are not my people. And so I'm, I want to move on, but that doesn't mean that you don't still want a person or want this place where you can then have the social capital are these rites of passage. But here's what I think Fowler said was so profound in this research I believe was done in the eighties or nineties, as he says, “it's rare for people to reach stage five before midlife.”
And so what I think the significance here is, if I'm just looking at it, purely from a, you know, all encompassing belief system or faith community concept, that when somebody has spent numerous years or decades in their stage three box, and it has been a good experience or there have been a lot of good experiences, then they've got, you know, years of what it feels like to be them based off of this slow residue of lived experience are some good experiences with their faith community. So it's easier to then take essence, the good with the bad. But when people hit that stage four and they hit it quickly and they don't have much of a stage three positive experience go back to then it makes sense where that stage four experience can happen fast and it can be scary and it can feel intense. And then that's where we all want this external validation. So then we turn to wherever we can find it. I can sound like the old man and say, “on the internet”, you know, which the internet is amazing. There's so many good things there, but then we can also find these echo chambers of just finding out the, we want validation. We want people to back us up and say, yeah, I agree.
But what I love about somebody that's going through and navigating a faith journey is ultimately maybe that I need to find the people that tell me I'm okay, is a place that you can anchor on for a bit. But now what an opportunity to really start to discover who you are. Because oftentimes what I think, in my experience, the people do as they jump out of that stage three box, they are in that stage four and it feels scary underneath. So now we want to immediately jump to find our people and those people might just be a group of people that are not happy with the stage three experience. But that isn't necessarily the glue that might bind them. So oftentimes we really want to find our people and that might be in the things that we do, the books we read, the belief systems that we have. But then this is our opportunity to really start to find our people. And so when I hit that stage five, I feel like stage five is a place of, if we want to go back to them, you know, maybe the Christian view of it's Christ like love and empathy. It's compassionate. It's patients. It's kind. It's charity. And that is a stage five vibe is because I know that I'm the only version of me and this is my journey and we're all just trying to figure it out. And what if no one really has these answers and we're all seeking certainty. I have a couple of tabs here. I didn't know if we would get to on time, but, certainty. The book On Being Certain, which is a book that I've really appreciated. It's Believing You're Right Even When You're Not by Robert Burton, MD. And, it's fairly old, 2009. But my very brief summary is I feel like what the book On Being Certain talks about is that certainty is something that the brain does crave. And there's a concept that we may feel like, okay, I know certainty. And our brain thinks that certainty, two plus two is four. Whew. Okay. That feels like, that feels good. That feels certain.
So we may be craving that in everything that we do. But in reality, things like navigating a faith journey or a faith crisis, or trying to understand what it feels like to be me, or even somebody else, we're not going to find that exact certainty. And that's where starting to recognize again, that life is full of mystery and paradox. And we can start to just recognize, man. I'm just trying to figure this out. I'm just being and doing, and I can. And I can do a better job of trying to figure out what it feels like to be me, and then just go and do, and those things can change. Life can be fluid and malleable. You know, the neuroplasticity of the brain now we know is there until we die there isn't this fixed hard wired set. If we're locked in as who we are at five or 12 or any of those things. So, that stage five becomes a very, very peaceful place over time. At first, I feel like people almost do a, I think of the movie Big and Tom Hanks and he's jumping around on the piano and sometimes I feel like there's a piano key that's on three and four and five and people are just tap dancing between them. You know that I might still have, I might still have some stage three beliefs and maybe a little stage four anger and jump over into a stage five back and forth. But over time eventually, again, your implicit memory or what it feels like to be you, if you're doing this work, I think can settle into this peaceful place and the stage five conjunctive faith.
Now there is a stage six universalizing faith. Fowler says few people reach this stage. Those who do, live their lives in the full service of others without real worries or doubts. And I think that's reserved for people like Jesus and Buddha and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Martin Luther king. And these people that just live their life in full service of others. And I know that that's not somewhere that I think I'm going to see myself anytime soon. But if you put all of these pieces together, though, if we look at that concept of, we didn't know what we didn't know. And then, we're all looking at things through our own lens and that by nature, Foster Wallace said it's hardwired into our boards at birth. That other people's thoughts and opinions have to be communicated to us. And then we're still going to view those through our own filters and lenses. And then we look at that concept of nonviolent communication. So even when somebody is just being and doing, we're observing that we're throwing a judgment there to manage our own anxiety. So even when we do try to start to talk about things, we have no idea what it feels like to be someone else. You know, I love the concepts around empathy and sympathy, empathy, what it really feels like to be somebody else and get in their shoes and sympathy, oh, man. I'm so sorry you're going through that. Those are both wonderful traits and qualities. But at the core, while I still support empathy all day long, and I want to be empathetic and I strive for being empathetic in my, in my business, in my office on a daily basis. Reality is if somebody says, I know exactly what you're going through, they don't, and that's why it can feel so dismissive at times. But if somebody is saying, hey, help me understand what you're going through. Well, that feels a lot better. It really does. But so, at the end of the day, so to speak, we're navigating these faith journeys and faith crises. And there's so many of these variables that go into even the pregame before we can even have the conversations and now people are having the conversations and it still brings this feeling of uncertainty or discomfort.
And then it takes a lot of courage to be able to sit with the discomfort of someone else, sharing their own opinion. And I feel like that is really starting to become what emotional maturity feels like, being able to have your own thoughts and opinions, here comes the concepts around differentiation, and still maintain a relationship with somebody else and not feel like I have to knock down their view of the world or defend my own. That we can be too interdependent, differentiated people, both sharing experiences, because of course they're different. We're two different human beings. And when we can let down our guard and realize that's not as scary as it sounds, then we can really start to grow. And that's where I feel like we can get back to the one plus one is three kind of a vibe or energy.
On a podcast I did a long time ago, I think it had something, I think it was called “Why is everybody telling me how I feel or what to do?” I talked about someone that I'd worked with that had had some really intense scrupulosity, which is OCD of religious thought. And OCD attacks what's important to people. Religious scrupulosity can be incredibly difficult because it's the very thing that the person cares so much about is their religiosity or their spirituality, which is being continually attacked and questioned. And the person continually thinks, am I doing enough? You know, I just told somebody something, they said you're okay. But are they sure I'm okay? And so people almost make up things to confess because they really want to make sure that I put everything out there. But the reason I share that is in that scenario, in that episode and that episode has been one that's probably been downloaded more than most, any episode that I've done, I talked about how there was a person that suffered from extreme scrupulosity. It takes a lot of work and time to get that person to go from how on earth do I communicate to God? Almost where they get to a place where, is there a God? But then they rebuild their faith based off of, hey I'm okay. And looking at this stage five view of life and what matters to me, and then they can go back and they can look at some of these spiritual experiences they've had and look at them as good, but also recognize, bless their brains heart, it's trying to make sense of things that maybe don't make a lot of sense right now. And that's okay. And it's okay to sit with that uncertainty and discomfort. And the more that that is done, the more over time, what it feels like to be them is somebody that can sit with that discomfort and uncertainty. But here's the key. The reason I bring this episode up is in that episode, I believe what I shared was, but as this person now starts to do and be, and find out the things that matter to them, they felt like, oh, there was God the whole time. And turns out, God's pretty cool. And, you know, God is this God of love and it turns out I'm okay. But when I was trying to make sense of things that maybe didn't make as much sense. And I was trying to get external validation from people that were trying to tell me how I'm supposed to think, feel, or do.
It almost feels like that whole thing is a mess. But when I can start to just unburden myself from feeling like I have to perform, or I need this validation from somebody else, or when they tell me how I'm feeling. And I don't really feel that way that I guess they must be right. And I don't even know. So that's where I feel like navigating a faith journey or going through a faith crisis or whatever it looks like can absolutely be one of the, you know, in hindsight, one of the greatest things that can happen to somebody and it's because that is 100% my experience. That I went from thinking everything made sense. And there was all this certainty to this despair of doom and wondering about, you know, to just curl up in a corner halfway, or sometimes when I'm in a session and somebody starts talking about. These things to the point now, where , what a joy to be able to work with somebody who's trying to process their faith journey or faith crisis. And trying to make sense of things that maybe don't make as much sense. But then letting go of that need to try to make sense of things and just start to be, and do, and start to figure out your own God given talents and abilities or your own values and what it feels like to be you all of a sudden starts to be pretty enjoyable, pretty productive. Now there's still a bunch of stuff that goes on in life that is not very pleasant.
But the goal of life starts to become living a sense of purpose and not just trying to find joy in small moments or avoid discomfort, because discomfort comes with part of the human experience. And when we can really lean into that and accept that, then we're no longer trying to argue why, why is this happening? It just, it happens. These things happen now, what am I going to do about them? And it's much easier to do things that matter to you. And then again, whether that's what it feels like to know deity, to make sense of the universe, to find God, that is something that I feel like sounds really scary at the beginning of a faith journey or a faith crisis. But in the end, it is one of the most powerful and liberating things that you can experience. Because at the end of that journey, you find out that it turns out you're okay. And you are the only version of you. And of course you have your own thoughts and feelings and emotions and behaviors because why wouldn't you? And we really learned to lean in and embrace that and not need everybody else to tell you how you feel and what you're thinking and how you're doing. And you don't even have to tell them that's ridiculous. Bless their heart. They don't know what they don't know. It really starts to feel good. And you start to feel like this connection with whether it's God, the universe, you know, your sense of self. And that is when you can let your light so shine so that you can lift others around you.
I think in that Marianne Williamson poem, she says, “Who am I to play small so that others around me won't feel insecure or bad”, because you are this amazing being, this human being that turns out to be enough. And as you lean into that, that's how you can change the world, whether it's even just your own world or the world in your family, or why not the entire world.
So, I'd love your thoughts. If you have questions or anything else that came up in this episode, please reach out to email@example.com. Or if you see this post on Instagram, at Tony Overbay underscore LMFT or on Facebook, then let me know your thoughts in the comments. And maybe we can do a follow-up episode and really start to talk about what it feels like to be you or what has helped you navigate your own faith journey or crisis. I would love to answer some questions on the areas that you may feel stuck. So thanks for joining me and we will see you next time on the Virtual Couch, taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”.
If you want to know what you need to do with your life, ask somebody close to you. Chances are they'll immediately have an opinion. But when they do share what they think YOU need to do with YOUR life, why do you immediately think of doing the opposite? Better yet, why can they come up with an answer and direction for YOUR life easier than YOU can...because it's YOUR life!
Tony starts with Fowler's Stages of Faith, applying them to life in general, touches the bases on attachment, values, and then slides into home in a made-up land where you can be your value-based, unique, one-of-a-kind version of you...the land tentatively called "Differentiation-ville!"
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-------------------- TRANSCRIPT --------------------
[00:00:15] Come on in. Take a seat couch.
[00:00:21] Hey, everybody, welcome to episode two hundred and eighty one of the virtual couch, and today I feel like I'm just going to riff a little bit because I have had something that has been on my mind. I already feel like I'm sounding very dramatic. I'm very, very dramatic. There's something that's been on my mind the last few weeks, and I'm going to go probably in a couple of different directions. I'll try to stay somewhat on topic, but I have had an opportunity to do a fair amount of training over the last few years of my career. And recently, I've been able to train a fair amount of ecclesiastical leaders, so leaders for religious congregations. And it's been a pretty cool process, because a lot of times in the in the context of someone's religious experience, there is an awful lot of people saying, here's what you need to do, here's how you do it and here's what you need to do. And a lot of this stems from the work that I've done with James Fowler stages of faith. And I even think it might not be a bad idea to just run over those real quick, because I feel like the stages of faith also apply to our stages of life. And I did a podcast a long time ago about that. And if you stay with me here, I really feel like I'm going to make a point, but let me do a little bit of set up first.
[00:01:32] So Fouler Stages of faith is a concept where psychologists stand. And religious pastor James Fowler back in, I believe the 80s, spent over a decade researching all encompassing belief systems. So there were a lot of different views or a lot of different religious groups that he studied. And he, in essence, broke down these stages of faith that went along with, I think it was Piaget and Colberg stages of development or stages of life and in stage one, stage one faith. This is typically preschool children. And this is where fantasy and reality gets mixed together. But but our ideas about God are formed by our parents. So it's also a project of faith. So I always look at this as the kids are playing on the ground and their parent comes in and says, hey, kids, there's a God. And the kid says, OK, great. And they continue to play with their toys. And this stage, too, that they often move on to. And this might be from three to 12 or that sort of timeframe is essentially they call it mythic and literal. And so this is where children become school age and they start to understand the world in more logical ways. But they generally accept the stories told to them by their faith community, but they tend to understand them in very literal ways. And what this can look like is I often say this is where then kids are being told about the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, Batman and Superman, but also the concept of Jesus or God or and so all of these things seem very mythic and very, very literal.
[00:03:07] And so a lot of people then move on to this stage three. And right now we're talking about it in a religious context. But I would love for you to think of it in terms of even life in general, that when we move up into this stage, three faiths, this is where people start to move on as teenagers and their life is and has grown to include several different social circles. And so they start to want to put these all together. And when that happens, a person will typically adopt some sort of what Balr calls an all encompassing belief system. And this is where I like to say that you can think of this concept of a box, and this isn't a negative thing at all. But all of your beliefs and all of the things that you are told that this is what you believe, this is where this will lead to the things that you should be doing. All of those things fit in this nice, tidy box. And so at this stage, people tend to have a hard time seeing outside of their box because they're starting to really get the vibe or or they're interacting with a lot of people within their box and the stories or leadership or that sort of thing.
[00:04:07] I thought those are groups that represent one's beliefs. And a lot of people remain in this stage three faith stage, three box, or even take a look at that stage in life for the rest of their entire life. And what that can mean is that they've been told, whether it's by their parents or grandparents or community or church group or any of those, that this is not only what you believe spiritually, but this is what you believe socially, and this is what you need to do with the rest of your life. So people can operate out of this stage three box, the stage three of faith or the stage three of life. But while that can work for a lot of people, for so many others, as they start to just experience life, they start to what I like to say, bump into the sides of the box. They start to look outside of the box, peek up over the box. And this can happen in so many different ways. And the religious context that can happen when people think life happens or if they've all of a sudden a spouse cheats on them. If they have a kid that comes out as gay or any LGBTQ. Or if they have someone pass away or if they have serious health issues, or if somebody in their family does something that is so devastating to them and it has a big impact on these things in life can happen.
[00:05:19] And all the. What used to make sense in this box may not make as much sense, and because of the way that we grow up and we grow up with our own abandonment kind of attachment issues, the way that we grow up as egocentric kids, because that's what we all start out, is that everything revolves around us, that then all the sudden we feel like if things are not going right in our lives, it must be me. But I must be doing something wrong and must be unlovable and must be broken. But so as things start to get a little bit more messy or there are a lot more variables that come into play, sometimes we start to feel like what's wrong with me inside of this box, whether that's a religious box or whether it's just a life box, or if somebody if we go back over to this life concept of stage three, that people may start to realize, man, I don't want to pursue the career that my parents have always told me that I needed to pursue. I don't want to stay with the family business or I don't want to live in the area or I want to marry someone that is completely different than somebody that has been suggested that this is this is somebody who I think you would like to marry.
[00:06:26] And so you can start to see that there are a lot of things that start to have people feel like they are not doing something right. Within this stage three box, whether it's stage three, again, religion or stage three of life, but the authority is placed in individuals or groups that represent one's beliefs. That's the the layout of stage three. Or if you put that in a non-religious context, the authority is placed in groups or individuals that in essence, represent one's life. This is what we do. This is where we live. This is who we marry. These are the shows we like. This is a religious affiliation. This is our political affiliation. So when people start to have their own experiences, because guess what? They're human and they are each one of us is the only version of us that's ever walked the face of the earth. So we have our own. And I go to this all the time. But our own nature and nurture and birth order and abandonment. Darney hopes, dreams, fears, rejection. Each one of us is a product of all of those experiences that are unique to you. So it's no wonder that we will run into the sides of this box, this stage three of our faith, or the stage three of our life. But where that leads us typically is Fowler lays out is stage four.
[00:07:41] He says this is a tough stage often begun in young adulthood when people start singing outside of the box and realizing that there are other boxes. And so oftentimes they'll critically examine their beliefs on their own and become disillusioned with their former faith. And again, if we look at this as either a faith concept or a life concept, when people start to have a lot of their own experiences, they get a lot of their own feels and a lot of their own things, then they may look critically at that stage, three box of their faith or that stage three box of their life, simply because they are having their own experience. But it's Fowler talks about there. Is that typically or ironically, stage three people often feel like stage four people have become backsliders when in reality they feel like they are finally starting to move forward. And then where I think it's fascinating as there becomes a little bit of a battle in this stage three versus stage four, whether it's in a faith community or even whether it's in a life community, when somebody finally feels a little bit more empowered in stage four. They often look at stage three and say, hey, I got to go be me. I got to do the things that make me happy. But the people in stage three will often feel like, no, no, no, you can't. You're doing the wrong things or reading the wrong things.
[00:08:53] You don't really want to go pursue that career. You don't really want to marry that person. You don't really want to move to that place or go to that. But there's a couple of things that are fascinating. And this is part of what I just wanted to talk about today is I've done so many various podcasts that talk about all of these concepts, because in this one, I talk often about you can have in adult relationships, you can have, you know, love or you can have control. But I really believe that they both don't go together. So here's where sometimes people in that stage three experience are. And bless their heart, they want to control those people that are starting to pull away from that stage of life or that stage three of faith. And this is where I start talking about my four pillars of a connected conversation, that the pillar one is assume good intentions. So sometimes it's hard. But when you step back and see that stage, three percent say, no, don't don't do that. Don't read that. You're not going to be happy that they're coming from a place of love, but they maybe are using the wrong tools. And so when they're telling people in stage four of life or of faith that they're doing something wrong, we got a couple of things happen, multiple things happening. Number one, we got good old psychological reactions or that instant negative reaction of telling somebody what to do.
[00:10:10] We don't like it until your brain don't think a chocolate cake. It probably just thought a chocolate cake right now. So tell somebody that they shouldn't be reading the things that they are reading or shouldn't be watching the shows they're watching or shouldn't be hanging. Out with the friends they're hanging out with. I shouldn't be dating the person that they're dating. And already we've got that psychological reactance. But we have to look at this on my four pillars of a connected conversation. The assuming of good intentions on both sides. The person that's saying, hey, I wouldn't do that. Sometimes it's hard for the person in that stage for of life or stage for faith to view their stage. Three person is coming with good intentions. And it's really hard for the stage three person to look over at the stage for a person and say that I am assuming good intentions of even what they are doing, what you know, who they are becoming. And so here comes that desire to control. And so I work so many I work with so many people that come to me in this stage four, whether it's stage four of faith. And that's where they almost what they do. Oftentimes, they are just coming into my office saying, man, just tell me to read a certain scripture or a talk or something and watch me walk out of here, because that's what people have done.
[00:11:18] People in that stage three box have said so many times. Hey, you need to double down on your prayers or your scripture reading, which is most likely something that person has done in stage three for who knows how long, which has caused them to start to feel like what's wrong with me. And again, nothing is wrong with them. They're human. But I work with so many people to get there in that stage four. And that's why I love being able to say, tell me more. Tell me about that. That sounds hard. Here comes empathy. And a lot of times they may talk about challenges or struggles they've had with their faith community or things that they've learned about their particular faith that they no longer agree with. And that's where you want to be a safe place for that person to be able to express themselves. When I go back to what I started with today, I did a training recently with a group of religious leaders. And one of them, we were talking about these four pillars of a connected conversation, because I was saying that in order for somebody to start having a conversation around helping someone through their their faith journey, that we first need to be able to listen. Because if we don't know how to listen and have empathy, then there is no way that someone is going to come to you and want help with anything.
[00:12:26] So I started this training by talking about my four pillars of a connected conversation. I said, when someone comes into your office, that's the assumption of good intentions. They're not trying to hurt you. And pillar two is you can't put out the message that you are that the other person is wrong or that you don't agree with them, even if you feel they're wrong or even if you don't agree with them. Because at any point when you violate one of these pillars, the conversation is going to go south. It's going to shut down, it's going to devolve, and we're going to get into this psychological reactance mode. We're going to get into the tit for tat. Somebody is going to just withdraw and the conversation will stop. So somebody comes into their office, the ecclesiastical leader's office, and says, I'm really struggling with my faith, the assumption of good intentions, or they say that I'm really straight. I don't believe this particular thing anymore, that the assumption of good intentions check pillar two, you can't tell miled don't think that or you shouldn't think that or well, you're wrong, because, again, that person is going to now be on the defensive. They're going to feel unheard and certainly unseen. And then that conversation is going to shut down. Pillar three, we can ask questions, ask questions before making comments.
[00:13:33] Tell me more about that. Tell me why you feel that way. Tell me what your struggles and your challenges are. And then that person listening a pillar for is they need to stay present. They can't just say, well, looks like you're going to do whatever the heck you want to do. So good luck on that, because oftentimes that pillar for we go and do what I just referred to as a victim mentality and then the person that's speaking to then come rescue us and say, no, you know what, you're right. I don't even know what I'm talking about. So we have to be able to have the conversation. We have people to have this framework to be able to have and have a difficult conversation. So I get the people in my office, OK, this is where I was going with that story. So there's one ecclesiastical leader after we laid out the four pillars, and I can understand what they were saying and they said, let me get this straight or let me check in that that obviously, if we're going to just listen to somebody for an hour, then we're just going to feel like we're condoning their bad behavior. And here's what started this whole desire to have this this podcast episode today. And I really hope that it's going to make sense. I appreciated what this person was asking me, this religious leader, but I felt like I had to just go back into this particular mindset that I had worked so hard to move away from, to be able to even engage or address that question, because here's why.
[00:14:51] The phrase was something like obviously and obviously is a I call it a reactance hook. When somebody says, well, obviously this is what this means or obviously this is what we all know, then even our own brains are thinking that it's not obvious because I may have a different view or I may have a different opinion. So I don't even think I address that when when the person asked me this question, but they said that listening for an hour is condoning their bad behavior. So as I moved back over into this this mindset. Where and I said, OK, first of all, and I thank them for their question, but I said listening for an hour is is absolutely not condoning anything. Listening for an hour's part of the human experience, listening for an hour is going under the premise that to be heard is to be healed. If someone's coming to you and they're saying, hey, I want to talk, then isn't it only natural that the next part of that would be, well, if they would like to talk, I would like to listen. Because if I immediately just start telling them what they need to do now, we're moving back into that. Do you want love or control in the relationship? Because if it's control, then I can already tell you where that's going to go over the long haul.
[00:16:01] If the person even maybe in that moment says, oh, OK, yeah, you're right, but they don't feel heard or they don't feel seen or understood, then they may be just giving you lip service. But that isn't what's going to drive change. So, again, listening for an hour is absolutely not condoning a behavior. And then I even took a little bit exception with the concept of bad behavior. And this one can be a little bit hard to wrap our heads around, but we have to stop judging. We do need to stop judging behavior as good or bad, black or white, all or nothing. Those are cognitive distortions. So I said it's behavior. And it may seem like to you that's bad behavior, but it's behavior. And if you're watching this on my YouTube channel on hold my hand up is I constantly am doing this with clients of helping them reframe when they say, what's wrong with me, I'm thinking this thing. Why do I think this thing? I want to say, no, no, no. We got to reframe it to say, check out what I'm thinking, because I have lots of thoughts. I can have all kinds of thoughts. And so bad behavior, its behavior. And then let's if we can just look at it like, man, check out this behavior that I'm doing.
[00:17:07] We're designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human being. We desperately want to be able to process things with somebody else when we leave things just running around, kicking around in our own brain because of the way our brain is evolved. Our brains evolved from a don't get killed device to basically try to look out and overthink things so that we'll be able to survive that if we just leave our brain to its own devices, it doesn't typically go to the end. And I lived happily ever after. It goes to that. And then eventually everyone leaves me and I die. So when somebody is saying, Chaille, this behavior and that's what we need to look at it as, it's just a behavior. And there are reasons why we do behaviors. Is that addictive behavior? Maybe, but then that one's probably a coping mechanism. That's probably something that somebody has done for a long time that they turn to and they don't feel connected. And my path back recovery program, I talk about this constantly, is that when I'm talking about somebody that's wanting to turn away from pornography, it's turn away from pornography is a coping mechanism because they feel like they have a lot of these voids in their lives. They might not feel connected to their spouse and marriage. And I feel connected in their parenting. They may not feel connected to their health or their faith or their career.
[00:18:16] So they turn to an unhealthy coping mechanism. So if somebody is bringing that into your office as an ecclesiastical leader or to you as a parent, or do you as a friend or to you as a spouse, think tell them thank you. Tell them tell me more. So if you look back into this, it's not obvious that listening is condoning a bad behavior. So I hope you can see that as we start to lay all of that out. We had to do a complete mindshift to be able to really be there and listen empathetically to somebody that might be moving on from this stage. Three feels like life made sense in this little box into the stage for where all of a sudden they don't know who they are. And then when they turn to those people, their community, their family are people that are potentially in the stage three of life. And it works for them. But then to that stage four person, they're frustrated. They feel unheard and unseen and unloved and broken. And what's wrong with them? But the answer is nothing. They're just doing life. So when I have a client in there, this is where I'm hoping to move them into a stage five. This is a stage five version of life or stage five version of faith. And I've had a couple of people bring up and I can appreciate this, where they may take exception because they feel like this is this linear progression.
[00:19:28] But just because numbers go one, two, three, four or five doesn't mean that you are trying to get to the end of that, trying to get to the end, because if somebody is happy where they are, I don't care if it's they're happy in stage two and they're like Lennie of Mice and Men and life is mythic and literal, then that is good for them. If they are finding peace and joy in stage three, then that's great. It doesn't mean that they need to try to tell everybody else what to do. But if you can move on from the stage for a faith or stage four of life, get out of this reactance mode and slip into this stage five, stage five. Fowler says that he says it's rare for people to reach the stage before midlife. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and they start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as more of a mystery so they can return to sacred stories and symbols for this time without being stuck in a theological box. So the significance of that is that. Stage five starts to be this place where you feel like I am the only version of me and that I have been trained so hard to figure out how to let's jump into this religious context again, how to communicate with God, how to communicate with the divine.
[00:20:34] And I've been literally driving myself crazy because I feel like I'm not enough. I feel like everyone is telling me a different answer. I feel like I can find one scripture that says this or one talk that says that, or one leader tells me that this is what I need to do. And maybe my spouse tells me this is another thing I need to do. And sometimes when I go to pray, I don't feel anything. So what's wrong with me? Nothing. You are a going through the human experience and often you're using the wrong tool. Here's where here's the big crescendo of what I wanted to do this episode today. So I go back to a client I've been working with for a while, and they struggle with a tremendous amount of religious anxiety. And so they're in such a good place now. And we were talking before I did this training with this group of ecclesiastical or church leaders, and I just said, hey, I'm going to go start talking to these people. Tell me what to work for you, because this is a person that had religious leaders seeing them and tell them that they weren't good, that they were they didn't get certain things under control, that then they would not be happy and that could affect their family and their posterity and all of that.
[00:21:35] The religious leaders in his life were saying that they didn't know how else to try to motivate this person. When reality, motivation comes through, love, motivation comes through kindness, motivation comes through saying I'm here for you. So this person told me this is the significance. And he and I've been working together for a long time that he went from this insane amount of anxiety around how do I communicate with the divine? How do I communicate with God? And then setting up so many different arbitrary rules and ways to try to communicate. And so if he felt like he had a day or a moment or even an hour, a second, or he felt OK, I think I feel like I'm doing OK or I think I'm communicating with God or connecting with the divine, then how do I continue to replicate that? And so then oftentimes it would be, OK, I need to read longer or I need to pray more. And then if I all of the sudden thought a bad thought, which is human, then I didn't do it right. I'm going to go back and reassess. Maybe I need to start confessing to my ecclesiastical leader. And then so I'm texting him. I'm confessing to my religious leader. And if my religious leader tells me I'm OK. But I still maybe had a bad thought or I didn't do things perfectly, then maybe that's because I didn't confess everything.
[00:22:47] This is called scrupulously, by the way. I've never done a specific episode on it, but it's religious OCD, OCD of religious thought. And it is an anxiety mess because OCD attacks, what is important to you? And so when I'm working with somebody unscrupulously, you're fighting against, as you are even telling them, anything that maybe feels like it goes against their moral code or it goes against their religious beliefs or their scriptures that they read or that talks that they digest, then you may be representing the adversary, Satan, Beelzebub, the father of lies, the pawns, pitchfork, all of that sort of thing. But so this scrupulously causes this person to just overthinking, overthink religiosity, which is something that had been something so important to them. So as I'm talking with this person, he says he has to go from, do I communicate? How do I communicate with the divine to then for a while? And this is easy to talk about in my office, but sometimes people get really scared if I mention this out in the wild. But he had to go to this place where he had to say, OK, I had to accept that I may not communicate with the divine. I worry that there even is a divine. And that might be frightening. Sometimes I say that all of a sudden we're learning to do the trapeze training without the net underneath us. And that can be really, really scary.
[00:24:01] And if you are watching this on my YouTube channel, I'm going to go big with my hands here, because this makes so much sense to me now. So over here is where he's at. And I've got my hands are on the left. So this picture there on the left hand side, that is the place where you're trying to figure out how what are these rules, what are the ways that I communicate with God or what are the ways if I go back to these two stages of life, what are the ways where I just figure out life? Because I've got everybody telling me something different, my parents saying that you should marry this person or you should have this career or I'm seeing this on Instagram or I'm seeing this influencer say this or this product will make me happy or my friend is doing this and maybe I want to do that, too, or I see this guy that I run into and he makes a lot of money. So maybe I should do what he's doing. Or in that religious context, it's I should be reading my scriptures more. I should be praying more. I should do more service. I should be I should be showing any extra skin. I shouldn't be all these things that were just driving us crazy, making up all these rules in order. We're hoping that that will get us closer to God.
[00:24:58] But in reality, it's pushing us further away. Or, we're hoping in life that that's going to give us the answers. But in reality, it's making us more confused because we're doing this all wrong. We really are. So when I get people to this point where they can even accept this fact that they maybe are this this desire for control or this desire to figure things out is actually the very problem. That they are struggling with the most, that they drop the rope, that tug of war with trying to figure these things out. And at this point now I move over here to the right hand side of me. And so now is where whether we're talking in a religious context or we're just talking in a life context, this is where I say that the therapy model, I love acceptance and commitment therapy is in line with the religious teachings as well. So act and this I say act in the gospel in either of these. You are the only unique version of you that's ever walked the face of the earth. Whether that means that you are the child of God and you have divine purpose and heritage, and you've been given a certain set of beliefs or a certain set of talents and blessings, or in this acceptance and commitment therapy model. You are the only version of you with all of your thoughts and feelings and emotions and experiences.
[00:26:12] You can see that we're going to start building from the ground up over here. And as we do that, as you really start to find your sense of purpose, I did an episode a couple of weeks ago about values. And as you start to realize what really matters to me and it's unique to me and we may that's a journey in itself, we may not really have the same idea or a value around service as someone else or even honesty as someone else. And I use that example so often because it's so powerful, where someone grows up in a home where there was absolute chaos and no honesty. They may have a value of just absolute brutal honesty, even to the point where they may offend someone. But if you grew up in a home where you were just brutally raked through the coals with honesty, that honesty was used as a weapon. Well, I'm just being honest then you may not to value honesty in that same way you they value compassion or you may value connection. I give this example a couple of weeks ago. I have this value of curiosity and knowledge. So when I'm starting to feel down instead of trying to go, I don't feel this way. Why do I feel this way? What's wrong with me for feeling this way? I need to change the way I feel. All those are the wrong tools.
[00:27:19] They really are. It's oh, my gosh, I notice that I'm feeling that way. And now let me pull out my phone and turn to my value of curiosity and knowledge and start looking at things around me and finding out fun facts about them and then sharing with others and connecting. So we are all these these we're made up of our own experiences or were our children of God, whichever version of that you want to go with right now. But over here on this, as you're redefining or rebuilding who you are, the more you discover your own unique sense of self and sense of purpose and lean into that and start to just really work with that, the more authentic you can become, the more value based you can become. You're going to raise your emotional baseline and you're going to start to be more confident. And as you're more confident, you're going to start to find yourself around more like minded people. People are going to be driven to you or you're going to be moving toward people that you really feel a connection with. And here's the cool part that is going to be where people start to feel like they, oh, my gosh, this is the connection that I've always wanted with the divine, with God, with people. And so that's why I did this thing where I'm moving from this left side of me over to the right.
[00:28:27] When I go back to this client who was struggling with this religious OCD or this anxiety and trying to just figure all of these variables out that and then realize they're OK, they're a human being with all their own experiences, then they started to feel like maybe I am OK. And lo and behold, what breaks through from the clouds in the sky, a relationship with the divine or a confidence that they didn't feel before, or a lessening of that anxiety, because all of a sudden now they're starting to feel like, oh, my gosh, I think I think I'm starting to understand who I am now. Does that mean that then rainbows, unicorns, pots of gold and live happily ever after? No, but we're on our way because this is where I talked about a few weeks ago, this concept of differentiation. Doing it with my hands again. But picture your hands and together enmeshed. And so we are this enmeshed, codependent person with our spouse, with our church, with our parents, with our community. And so as we start to move toward a interdependent, differentiated feeling my sense of purpose self, as we break away from these these codependent investments, we're going to feel a tremendous amount of invalidation because the people around us go back to the stage Three view are going to say, no, no, no, don't do it. You shouldn't do that. I know what's best for you, even though you've been trying to to work under that under that set of circumstances for how? Well, this is the part where trusting that you're a child of God or trusting that you are the only version of you that's ever walked the face to the earth.
[00:29:59] And as you start to lean into that, you are going to start to feel more of a sense of purpose and confidence. And as you do that and as you learn this concept of differentiation. Now, when that invalidation comes, when somebody tells you, I think you should do this, it's no longer this battle of I, what do I do? I've tried that. It doesn't work. You don't understand me. And then. Feeling, Oh, but I don't want to let this person down. They might not like me before I know it, I'll be abandoned. But over in this other side, this differentiated world, then that's where when people are offering you the things that they think they think you should do, I look at it as if they are offering you now a platter of suggestions. Well, I think you should do this from a differentiated standpoint. It's OK. What I'm starting to really feel my sense of self and purpose, because I'm not trying to do what everybody else is telling me, because I'm not trying to do what everybody else thinks I should do. So I'm starting to try to lean into more of what I believe is right for me.
[00:30:54] But I will gladly take a look at your platter of suggestions. And if you're a safe person, if we've had some nice for pillared conversations and I trust you, then now all of a sudden I can think, OK, I think you might have a point there. I mean, I love when my wife will share with me in a very healthy, safe for pillared, productive way. Hey, I've noticed you've maybe been doing this lately. Tell me more about that. And that's the time where I might be able to say I did not really notice. Let me give you a concrete example. I sometimes give these generic examples and she always says be a little more specific with so many guys I work with. And maybe it's not just a guy thing, but I would realize that my wife stay at home mom four kids growing up. And there were days where my emotional baseline was flying high and I would come home and kids, let's go out to dinner and let's go buy all the things and let's get a toy in the store and let's plan a vacation. And then a couple of days later, I might have paid some bills or something. Maybe we might not have gotten some of this back in myself for days, but maybe we lost a deal or something didn't go right. And so then I come home and if the kids say, hey, dad, so do we go buy the toy and go out to lunch at the vacation, all a sudden I'm saying, geez, guys, come on.
[00:32:02] That's so we can't just do that all the time. You can't just spend all the money and that sort of thing. And so it was my wife at one time said, hey, sometimes we're not quite sure which version of you we're going to get when you walk in the door. That hurt. But I was so grateful because I was starting to find myself, my sense of purpose, starting to build up my emotional baseline. And she was a safe person. And she did that in a very safe, healthy, productive way. So I was able to take a look at her platter of suggestions and say, OK, man, that one hurts. So often, talk about were so afraid of contention that we avoid tension altogether. Tension is really where that growth hits. So I took a look at what she was sharing with me and I thought, man, I think you're on to something here. And that was years ago. Decade plus ago. And to this day, I still have to bring myself back to some awareness of when all of a sudden I'm coming home saying, let's go do all the things that other times where I come home. And I think I don't want to do any of the things we're doing, too many of the things.
[00:32:58] But I have to realize that's something that I need to come to terms with or I need to cope with or I need to get to presents with before I then just blurred that out to the family, because all of a sudden then they're feeling like what's wrong with them? Because sometimes they say, let's go to dinner and dad goes, woo. Sometimes they say, let's go to dinner dad says, bro come on. You can't believe you're saying that. So that's what that differentiation looks like. So when you're over here, there are side this other path. And I have to tell you, I was running this through a lot of clients the last two or three weeks, and I really wanted to name the place before I did this episode, because I wanted to say, as you get over to differentiation land, and I don't think that sounds very exciting place to go. But then over here, this is where you find your sense of self and purpose and your emotional baseline side and differentiation land. That's where you can say, OK, thank you for your opinion. Other people that have had your own experiences, that have not had my experiences, I'd love to process these things with you. But it's ultimately still my journey. And as you become more comfortable with that, then that becomes a place for you. I believe that you can be a bigger presence to be there, to lift up others around you, whether it's in your religious community where people will naturally gravitate to the person they feel like is living their authentic self and has this maybe deeper connection to God.
[00:34:18] And it's not that connection where they're afraid of what they will say because they're ecclesiastical leader may punish them. Just continuing on being a little bit here. There's an episode I did on Leading Saints a few years ago where I talked about in this religious context, again, that I really do feel at my core that when people are taking this the sacrament, the cracker and grape juice or the bread and water at their congregation to renew their covenant with God from baptism or whatever that process is for them, that in some religious organizations, they say, hey, if you haven't been if you haven't done things right, then don't take the bread and water for a couple of weeks. And I was on going to you is two or three years ago saying so I and my differentiated sense of self feel like that is not helpful. And I feel very confident with that. And helping 15, 16, maybe 17 hundred individuals start to put some distance between turning to porn as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Plug for my path back recovery program. Go, go find it, because it's just, gosh, we creating a cool community now. But I.
[00:35:19] Feel like people should have two pieces of bread. They should have a bigger cup of water. I really do, because I want them to have more hope. I want them to feel like there is more of a sense of purpose and self. And so I feel like that is such a big part of who I am as somebody that is in the helping and healing profession. Now, am I telling people who disagree that they're absolutely wrong? No. They can have their experience because that's their experience, because of the things that they've been through. But I can only be authentic. That's all I can do. And the reason I bring this part up is someone was asking me, actually, a lot of people have asked me from time to time. Well, what if then you saying that precludes you from getting a higher calling or higher office in your church? And that's where I go back over here in differentiation land over here. Well, OK. I'm not saying I don't care and I don't care like it's a bad thing way, but it's well, I don't even really I would have to go back over into this other land to then remember the times where I didn't feel like I could be authentic because I was afraid that someone would maybe not give me a new calling or somebody would not want me to be a part of their spiritual team. Where now I know that I am OK.
[00:36:31] I am enough. I am worthy. I am of worth. I am a child of God. I am the only version of me. And I have never felt more of a connection with the divine or with myself or with the people around me than as I have dropped that rope in a tug of war and trying to be the person that other people are telling me that I should probably maybe be sometimes, but sometimes not. And sometimes the rules change to this person that I am. And the more I lean into that, yes, it's going to come with some differentiation. I stand getting more and more people that will email me now and say, well, I disagree and that's OK, 100 percent. But the number of people that email me and say thank you for sharing this experience that I feel is similar to those are tenfold, because we want to be heard. We want to be understood. And so as you find your way over into this differentiation land, doggone it, I should come up with a cooler thing first. Be prepared to feel some of those pangs of invalidation. But it's OK. We need to get you finding out who you are, your sense of self, your sense of purpose into this stage, five of a life where life is more of a mystery and paradox. And now you can return to your faith community or you can return to your your family community without feeling stuck in a theological box or without feeling stuck in a life box, a familial box that you get to be you.
[00:37:54] Even if that version of you is someone that other people don't agree with, because bless their hearts, they aren't you. I have so much more to say on this, but I'm going to wrap it up right now because we're pushing 40 minutes. But thanks for taking the time to listen. I'm the world's worst promoter. I would have said at the beginning of this that my magnetic message course is coming soon. I probably. Stories or whatever. So go to Tony Overbay.com/magnetic if you want to be ready. I think it's launching in the second or third week of September. And my Pathbackrecovery.com first go there. I just launched a new podcast called Waking Up the Narcissism. Please go find and subscribe that. Subscribe to that. There's a trailer out. And my main man, my my guy, Nate Christianson, who's in the office now, just released the first episode of he and his wife's podcast called Working Change. They're talking about secondary emotions. It's amazing. So thank you so much for taking the time. I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to shoot them over to me at any point through my website. TonyBay.com and I look forward to maybe doing a part one and a half of this in the not too distant future. All right. Have an amazing day.